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.

10 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.

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