John 11:42-44 – Jesus’ Prayer of Thanksgiving

Jesus prays a “prayer of thanksgiving” before commanding Lazarus to come out of the tomb. This prayer has been discussed with respect to the possibility of historicity. Is it the type of prayer that Jesus might have prayed in this context? Some scholars dispense with the historicity of the prayer as an addition by the writer of the Gospel. For example, R. H. Fuller, (Interpreting the Miracles) wrote that:

To the modern reader this prayer is irritating, if not offensive. The whole thing looks like a put-up show, anything but genuine prayer. Jesus knows he need not pray, but apparently stages a prayer to impress the bystanders.

The Tomb of LazarusRather than an “irritating prayer”, this is actually a Prayer of Thanksgiving as prayed by Jews commonly in the context of first century Palestine. Following J. M. Robinson, Bingham Hunter argued there are formal parallels to a Jewish thanksgiving prayer. As a Jewish Hodayoth, the prayer is intended to be heard by the audience for which it is prayed. The cited article lists many examples (including in the Pauline and Qumran literature) indicating that this sort of prayer was not only common enough in the first century, but expected in a religious context such as the one Jesus finds himself in John 11.

Because of its form the prayer seems to be genetically related to and a part of a tradition of piety exemplified by the Jewish personal thanksgiving psalm. Thanksgivings of this sort are characteristically prayers that both God and spectators are meant to hear.

Interpreters may legitimately feel that the way Jesus is said to have prayed in John 11 offends their religious sensitivities. Yet such sensitivities do not seem to have characterized either Christians or Jews in the first century, and a correct approach to exegesis requires that determinations of whether Jesus’ thanksgiving is a real prayer be based on first-century Jewish, not modern, criteria. In the historical context that the evangelist gives it, the prayer seems authentically real and quite uniquely appropriate. (Hunter, “Contextual and Genre Implications,” 70)

With respect to the scholars that find offense in the prayer, Hunter points that the offense is entirely modern. Read in the context of the first-century, the prayer is exactly the sort of thanksgiving prayer we might have expected.


Bibliography:  R. H. Fuller, Interpreting the Miracles (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1963); W. Bingham Hunter, “Contextual And Genre Implications For The Historicity Of John 11:41b-42” JETS 28 (1985): 53-70.

18 thoughts on “John 11:42-44 – Jesus’ Prayer of Thanksgiving

    • I fixed that for you…I think that the Gospel of John has suffered greatly at the hands of the modern order. All of the re-arrangement theories try to make the gospel flow better to a modern ear. Seems to me the gospel writer had it they way he wanted it for a reason.

      • Thanks! 🙂 Yes, I agree with you! The Gospel of John holds priority for me, somewhat like John A.T. Robinson’s book on its dating. Though I am a “Paulinist” as you know. 😉 Btw, I still love Wescott’s Commentary on John!

  1. It is clear that when you consider modern interpretations of this passage, our cultural sensibilities flare up. Perhaps it would seem disingenuous if Jesus were walking among us today and prefaced a miracle with a quick “Thanksgiving prayer”, but the fact is, when Jesus performed the miracle two-thousand years ago, to avoid uttering the prayer would have been offensive. As I peruse the modern commentaries on this section, it is so easy to identify their errors of eisegesis. In a quite literal sense, they are imposing their cultural sensibilities into the text. As Bingham Hunter (quoted above) stated, the idea of a Thanksgiving prayer in a religious context is actually requisite. Jesus, as he was expected to perform a poignant miracle, while He was establishing a context, inadvertently created a religious one. Jesus, being considerate of this, offered a fitting Thanksgiving prayer. So, the prayer was completely appropriate and even formally required. He was merely tipping his hat, so to speak, to the religious order of His day. This prayer is even more loaded with meaning when we consider the fact that Jesus was considered to be a rebel of religious tradition by the Pharisees. As Kostenberger has pointed out, the reason the Pharisees plotted to kill Jesus was because of His hostility to their established religious order. But Jesus shows, in uttering this Thanksgiving prayer, that He is aware of their traditions, and He is willing to humbly practice them–as long as they do not contradict the will of His Father.

  2. My first response to the idea behind Jesus praying an “irritating” prayer is, why would He have that attitude? Jesus is not going to be showy or flaunt His abilities because that goes against everything else He has been trying to demonstrate about humility. As for the prayer of Thanksgiving, this makes more sense. However, I guess I am not familiar enough with the idea behind the Jewish tradition of having a prayer that both God and an audience were supposed to hear. Then again, we are reading this and understanding this type of prayer with our modern minds. The way it is described here makes it sound like an arrogant type of prayer, one said to make the person praying look good. However, this is not the case here. First of all, it is Jesus saying the prayer, and this is not the type of attitude that He would be portraying; and second this is something that would have been seen as a type of prayer that was tradition to this time frame, so it is not out f place at all. Jesus’ prayer is genuine, and He does this for a reason because if there was a reason to say this type of prayer out loud to irritate or make bystanders angry I highly doubt that He would have done it.

  3. To speak from modern day society much of what we do is the exact opposite of exegesis. We don’t take the scripture, from the context in which it was given. We read the Bible today, with about as little of knowledge on the context or history of the culture during the time the Bible was written. The problem with today and modern society is that we are over-sensitive to the truth when it comes to translating scripture. For instance during this prayer in John 11, they found it truly offensive to them. They bend the truth to fit modern day culture, and that is the problem with these offensive topics that deal with culture that don’t look at the truth through history. our responsibility as modern day readers is to not taking the text out of context, and yet we find ourselves doing just that. This such a huge problem with taking the Bible truthfully, and making sure we aren’t taking a truth that wasn’t revealed to the original readers.

  4. Right away after reading the perspective of Jesus’s prayer being irritating and a show, I know for a fact that this was not the mindset behind the prayer. Those who see Jesus this way are projecting their own sinful nature of pride and selfishness upon Jesus, which is not a part of Jesus’s character. The prayer seems to be more of Jesus connecting with God for the benefit of the people around him rather than to show off. Even though Jesus is fully God, he still is separate from God as the Son. Everything that Jesus does has to be in accordance with God’s will as well. Addressing the fact that it was custom of the Jews to do these kinds of prayers would also play an important part in why Jesus would say the prayer in the first place. A prayer like this was just considered the normal thing to do. Either way, the Bible makes it clear that the prayer was for the benefit of the people that were there. When Jesus addresses God as Father, that was his claim to being from God. Those then who caught the title and then saw the resurrection of Lazarus may then believe in Jesus as the Messiah.

  5. I never knew that Jesus’ prayer when he raised Lazarus made people feel upset. I can understand how they may get the feeling it is inauthentic, because Jesus says, “I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me” (John 11:42).But when I look at the whole prayer, I see more behind it. Jesus is honestly and earnestly praying to God in that situation. In the end of verse 41 and the beginning of 42, Jesus thanks God that he always hears him. When in prayer, it is important to be honest with God, despite the fact that he already knows what is going on and what you are going to say. Jesus was being authentic with his thanksgiving and praise, and also honest in his explanation of why he is praying in front of these people, which was not common outside of events with meals I believe. I also found it interesting when Hunter says that this would be a common prayer, and that it was not outside of normal practices of Jews at the time.

  6. Yes it’s true Jesus didn’t have to pray like that in order for his miracle to work. The reason he prayed a prayer of thanksgiving was because he was thanking God for the opportunity that he was given in order to show the power of God so that those who saw would believe in God. The God of their ancestors and the God who raised the dead man before their eyes. The Jewish belief was that a person’s soul left their body three days after they died. But the Bible tells us that Lazarus was dead long enough for him to start decomposing while in the burial tomb. So the miracle that Jesus did was an even greater sign to the Jews because of their beliefs. To preform this miracle required something extraordinary that only God, could have performed.

  7. To anyone who knew Jesus’ intentions they would know it wasn’t to “put on a show”; the Thanksgiving prayer was prayed by a lot of Jews as stated above in Longs blog. Now, I agree with Charlie Jesus didn’t have to pray, He just could have worked his miracle and be done with it, but there was more context to the raising of Lazarus than just a rising and done. This connects to the weeping of Christ, He sees all these bystanders who are unbelievers and doubt Him, so Jesus decides to pray a traditional prayer of thanks to God to show how genuine He is in this situation. He also wanted to demonstrate the power of God as well; so no Jesus didn’t need to pray but He did because it either seemed like the right thing to do or because He wanted to show the unbelievers.

  8. I am a part of a Bible study and one thing that has always felt wrong in doing is asking each other how a passage made us feel after reading it once. I can read a billboard and feel differently than the next person. The point of Scripture is not to dwell on how it makes us feel, but rather what it truly means in its own context and how that might apply to our lives. While some may find Jesus’ prayer irritating or offensive, Long (2012) describes the context of this prayer and states, “this is actually a Prayer of Thanksgiving as prayed by Jews commonly in the context of first century Palestine” (para. 3). This type of modern interpretation reminds me of John 2:4 when Jesus refers to His mother as “woman.” From a modern perspective, this sounds rude and offensive but in a historical context, it was common and non-offensive. Köstenberger (2013) brings to light another reason Jesus prayed this prayer, describing Jesus as benefiting those around Him (p. 115). This could be referring to the religious leaders whose traditions were respected through this prayer, or to the crowd who later used this as a model of how to pray in this way. This prayer is neither irritating nor offensive and the fact that modern ‘scholars’ suppose this proves the importance of scriptural contexts over personal feelings.

  9. The first reaction I had when reading this blog post was, “it cannot be in Jesus’ character to do something just for show, without any specific intention”. Every part of Jesus’ ministry was purposeful, especially considering the words He spoke. In the gospel of John, the “word of God” is such an important idea/theme that it allowed me to reflect on the intentionality of Jesus’ words. After speaking to Martha, but before proceeding to command Lazarus to come out of the grave, Jesus thanked God for hearing Him so that the people around Him could believe in the works of God (John 11:41-42, ESV). Jesus knew of the power of God, and had unexplainable faith that He’d hoped the people nearby would share with Him. John records Jesus explaining his prayer of thanksgiving, “I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around that they may believe that you sent me” (v. 42). Jesus knew what He was saying and what He was doing. He was very intentional in expressing His faith in the power of God, even though there were bystanders. It seems to me that people were offended by the truth, and tried to spin it on Jesus explaining how He might have been “putting on a show”. This short passage shows Jesus being public in His expression of faithfulness, but there is not enough evidence to define this as something other than intentional.

  10. Immediately, when thinking about Jesus and his personality, I do not believe that he said this prayer to draw attention or pray just to “show off” or something like that. From reading Scripture and having a relationship with the Lord, I know he is not self-seeking or would do something that did not have purpose. Even with Jesus coming into the temple and “flipping tables,” there was purpose in that, and it was not to do it out of selfishness. John 41 says, “And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you for that you have heard me.” Jesus does this in the presence of others and there is purpose in that. Jesus had all the power of God, he even displayed that by raising Lazarus, yet he thanks God. To me, this shows that Jesus was not beneath thanking God, and neither should anyone else. Why would Jesus thank God? Jesus was very upfront about his devotion to God and fulfilling the purpose that God had set before him. Jesus is also being authentic and genuine with God, showing the importance of speaking with God and building a relationship with him. Jesus even says, “I knew that you always here me…” (v.42) and despite that, Jesus presents that it is importance to thank God and converse with him. For anyone who thinks that Jesus was “showing off,” I could not agree with that perspective. Jesus is publicly expressing his devotion and relationship with God and setting an example for believers.

  11. Everyone mindset is different and not everyone understands the same like the person near them. Jesus did not pray to show off, everything he did was meant for a reason, and he did it out of love. People who do things for show and tell aren’t doing it out of love they are doing it for the recognition. Jesus has never been that way. He may have demonstrated miracles and signs in his teachings but he never did those things to show off. I think that we can often struggle with that today in our modern day life. We may think we understand or fully know what is happening when reading the Bible. There are times where people are not comprehending the context of the scripture, and interpret it the wrong way. We need to understand that when Lazarus died, Jesus was deeply moved, and had emotions come over him seeing others mourn. Jesus praying of thanksgiving was him communicating to the Father and thanking him. Jesus could have very well did the miracle but I believe he wanted to communicate with God and give him thanks. I have been able to do that after devotions, being able to pray thanksgiving to the Father for giving me wisdom, and the knowledge that I gained from devotion and to have the opportunity to be able to dive into devotion.

  12. This prayer that Jesus prayed is unique. Jesus prayed out loud so all around could here him and it is brutally honest about the intention. He said, “I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me”(John 11:42b). To me it seems as if Jesus prayed these things out loud to help show and prove his intent. Christ was praying how others would have prayed during this time. So, His prayer should not be labeled as “irritating” or “offensive”. Jesus was praying honestly and openly and He did it righteously. Christ was on a mission to share the good news He was and is the messiah they were waiting for. If people see His prayer as offensive then they need to check their mindset. If anyone has the right to pray out loud in front of a crowd it is Jesus. Jesus is our Lord which gives Him all the authority to do as He sees fit.

  13. Jesus clearly preached against praying for show in His Sermon on the Mount (specifically Matthew 6:5). Therefore, the assertion that Jesus was “praying for show” is clearly false since Jesus wouldn’t offer a command in word and then break it in practice. What then is the difference between praying for show and Jesus’ public prayer? I think it is the purpose for the public nature of the prayers. The purpose of the public prayer of the hypocrites in Matthew 6:5 is for selfish glorification to gain the reward of man’s approval. In contrast to this, Jesus’ public prayer was for the sake of those around Him, that they may believe that God has sent Him. Therefore, the purpose of God-honoring public prayer is outward: for the sake of the listeners rather than the one praying.

  14. I can always count on these blogs to teach me something new this time I was quite shocked to learn that people find Jesus’ prayer annoying. Even without context, I feel like it has always been a sign of his true identity, he has always been one to pray and commune with God, so why not in this situation? But now with even more context from reading Köstenberger and the blog, I see how it is even more important to review background culture when reading the Bible. There is a whole new layer added when looking at the cultural context, this was a normal prayer and action. In today’s society, we frown upon those who pray publicly for attention, but Jesus was not doing this at all. Even though Jesus didn’t have to pray, I think we can see him being an example to us in this circumstance. Jesus, without needing to, went to the Father in Thanksgiving, something I think we as a society miss often. Jesus is doing a miracle yet giving thanks where thanks are due. As a society, I think we are super quick to ask and ask, but when we get, we forget to give thanks. As I have stated in other comments before, I think that a lot of passages in Scripture have many meanings and this is one of them.

  15. Context matters. Here we see the dangers of improper exegesis and a modern meaning being read into the text. When this occurs, we end up with a completely different interpretation of the passage and thus the greater text(s). Take this passage for example, if we were to go with the “modern” interpretation of Jesus’ prayer, as a snarky heel biting move to upset religious ideals, we might be inclined to read the rest of the Gospel as an movement focused on shock value rather than any core truth. While on the other hand, with a proper understanding of traditions and culture at the time, the Prayer is not offensive and shock based but serves to inform and build up the faith of the crowd. With this being said, we must be careful not only to simply read the text and interpret, but to do our due diligence and understand the world that the Gospel springs from. If we do not, we may end up twisting the Word to meet our western 21st century expectations.

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