11:44 The one who had died came out, his feet and hands tied up with strips of cloth, 1 and a cloth wrapped around his face. 2 Jesus said to them, “Unwrap him 3 and let him go.”
20:7 and the face cloth, 4 which had been around Jesus’ head, not lying with the strips of linen cloth but rolled up in a place by itself. 5
1 sn Many have wondered how Lazarus got out of the tomb if his hands and feet were still tied up with strips of cloth. The author does not tell, and with a miracle of this magnitude, this is not an important fact to know. If Lazarus’ decomposing body was brought back to life by the power of God, then it could certainly have been moved out of the tomb by that same power. Others have suggested that the legs were bound separately, which would remove the difficulty, but the account gives no indication of this. What may be of more significance for the author is the comparison which this picture naturally evokes with the resurrection of Jesus, where the graveclothes stayed in the tomb neatly folded (20:6-7). Jesus, unlike Lazarus, would never need graveclothes again.
2 tn Grk “and his face tied around with cloth.”
3 tn Grk “Loose him.”
4 sn The word translated face cloth is a Latin loanword (sudarium). It was a small towel used to wipe off perspiration (the way a handkerchief would be used today). This particular item was not mentioned in connection with Jesus’ burial in John 19:40, probably because this was only a brief summary account. A face cloth was mentioned in connection with Lazarus’ burial (John 11:44) and was probably customary. R. E. Brown speculates that it was wrapped under the chin and tied on top of the head to prevent the mouth of the corpse from falling open (John [AB], 2:986), but this is not certain.
5 sn Much dispute and difficulty surrounds the translation of the words not lying with the strips of linen cloth but rolled up in a place by itself. Basically the issue concerns the positioning of the graveclothes as seen by Peter and the other disciple when they entered the tomb. Some have sought to prove that when the disciples saw the graveclothes they were arranged just as they were when around the body, so that when the resurrection took place the resurrected body of Jesus passed through them without rearranging or disturbing them. In this case the reference to the face cloth being rolled up does not refer to its being folded, but collapsed in the shape it had when wrapped around the head. Sometimes in defense of this view the Greek preposition μετά (meta, which normally means “with”) is said to mean “like” so that the comparison with the other graveclothes does not involve the location of the face cloth but rather its condition (rolled up rather than flattened). In spite of the intriguing nature of such speculations, it seems more probable that the phrase describing the face cloth should be understood to mean it was separated from the other graveclothes in a different place inside the tomb. This seems consistent with the different conclusions reached by Peter and the beloved disciple (vv. 8-10). All that the condition of the graveclothes indicated was that the body of Jesus had not been stolen by thieves. Anyone who had come to remove the body (whether the authorities or anyone else) would not have bothered to unwrap it before carrying it off. And even if one could imagine that they had (perhaps in search of valuables such as rings or jewelry still worn by the corpse) they would certainly not have bothered to take time to roll up the face cloth and leave the other wrappings in an orderly fashion.