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Found this at Scripture Studies
Posted by Dr's Denis and Marti O'Callaghan on April 1, 2009 at 3:25pm in Devotional corner

Why Did Jesus Fold the Napkin?

This is one I can honestly say I have never seen circulating in the emails so; I'll start it, if it touches you and you want to -- forward it.

Why did Jesus fold the linen burial cloth after His resurrection? I never noticed this....

The Gospel of John (20:7) tells us that the napkin, which was placed over the face of Jesus, was not just thrown aside like the grave clothes..

The Bible takes an entire verse to tell us that the napkin was neatly folded, and was placed at the head of that stony coffin..

"Early Sunday morning, while it was still dark,

Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance.
She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved.

She said, 'They have taken the Lord's body out of the tomb, and I don't know where they have put him!'

Peter and the other disciple ran to the tomb to see. The other disciple out ran Peter and got there first.He stooped and looked in and saw the linen cloth lying there, but he didn't go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus' head was folded up and lying to the side.

Was that important? Absolutely!

Is it really significant? Yes!

In order to understand the significance of the folded napkin, you have to understand a little bit about Hebrew tradition of that day. The folded napkin had to do with the Master and Servant, and every Jewish boy knew this tradition. When the servant set the dinner table for the master , he made sure that it was exactly the way the master wanted it. The table was furnished perfectly, and then the servant would wait, just out of sight, until the master had finished eating, and the servant would not dare touch that table, until the master was finished.

Now if the master were done eating, he would rise from the table, wipe his fingers, his mouth, and clean his beard, and would wad up that napkin and toss it onto the table. The servant would then know to clear the table. For in those days, the wadded napkin meant, 'I'm done'.

But if the master got up from the table, and folded his napkin, and laid it beside his plate, the servant would not dare touch the table, because...........
The folded napkin meant, 'I'm coming back!'

Views: 4277

Comment by Ray_N on October 31, 2009 at 12:14pm
Assuming that this is, in fact, an historical, well documented, "Ancient Jewish Dinner Eating Custom" (and I'm not sure it is), this is a stretch. What do meal customs have to do with burial customs?

As for the custom: I can remember reading not too very long ago three distinct "Ancient Jewish Wedding Customs," each used to give credence to competing interpretations of the same passages from the Gospels.

As for why the cloths were left as they were, I think this may be a better explanation:
Observe the posture in which he found things in the sepulchre: Christ had left his grave-clothes behind him there; what clothes he appeared in to his disciples we are not told, but he never appeared in his grave-clothes, as ghosts are supposed to do; no, he laid them aside.

[1]First, because he arose to die no more; death was to have no more dominion over him, Rom. 6:9. Lazarus came out with his grave-clothes on, for he was to use them again; but Christ, rising to an immortal life, came out free from those incumbrances. Secondly, because he was going to be clothed with the robes of glory, therefore he lays aside these rags; in the heavenly paradise there will be no more occasion for clothes than there was in the earthly. The ascending prophet dropped his mantle. Thirdly, when we arise from the death of sin to the life of righteousness, we must leave our grave-clothes behind us, must put off all our corruptions. Fourthly, Christ left those in the grave, as it were, for our use if the grave be a bed to the saints, thus he hath sheeted that bed, and made it ready for them; and the napkin by itself is of use for the mourning survivors to wipe away their tears.

[2.] The grave-clothes were found in very good order, which serves for an evidence that his body was not stolen away while men slept. Robbers of tombs have been known to take away the clothes and leave the body; but none [prior to the practices of modern resurrectionists] ever took away the body and left the clothes, especially when it was fine linen and new, Mk. 15:46. Any one would rather choose to carry a dead body in its clothes than naked. Or, if those that were supposed to have stolen it would have left the grave-clothes behind, yet it cannot be supposed they should find leisure to fold up the linen.

~Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible, John XX
Comment by plumber on October 31, 2009 at 1:03pm
Hi Ray,

I’m not a scholar so I can’t really respond to you or Matthew Henry.

Would you mind if I post your comment to Dr. O’Callaghan?


Brief Biography of Dr. O'Callaghan
Bs. Ed., M. R. E. Degree, Masters of Religious Education
Doctor of Divinity Degree (D.D.) 1979 honoris causa ad gradum
Trinity Theological Seminary Th. D. Degree (1984)
Trinity College Dublin Ireland, PhD in Ancient Biblical languages (Philology)
(2001) Continuing studies at Cambridge and Oxford U.K.
Litt.D. Degree in Early Christian Studies (2002)
Comment by Ray_N on October 31, 2009 at 1:21pm
I'm fine with it. And, if there is a response, or the argument is addressed elsewhere, I would like to read it. Thanks.
Comment by plumber on October 31, 2009 at 1:58pm
I re-posted your comment on Scripture Studies,

Comment by plumber on October 31, 2009 at 2:28pm
All I know of the shroud is that carbon 14 dating proves it to be false. As for burial practices of the time, I only have my bible, NASV to refer to.

For Lazarus, John 11:44 and for Christ, John 20:5-7. In both places a seperate facial covering is commented on.

From my simple basic viewpoint, that of a layman only, I don't believe the shroud is real.

There is also the thought of "relics" having been highly prized and valuable. Forgery has been known to man for many years. It's still big business today.

Comment by New John on October 31, 2009 at 4:41pm
I haven't heard that particular explanation. But, I had a teacher once that had an interesting hypothesis that I find plausible. He noted that today when we use paper napkins, we all tend to just wad them up when finished. But, when using a cloth napkin, many people have their own unique way of folding it each time when finished. He suggested it was possible that Jesus had his own way of folding a napkin after each meal, and what they noticed is that the cloth in the empty tomb was folded in that way that was unique to Jesus.
Comment by Daniel on October 31, 2009 at 5:17pm
Doesn't this whole thing assume that Christ folded the "napkin" burial clothes? From the text, and from what I can tell, all we really know is that he was probably wrapped in it at one time, and at some later date they were folded.


Comment by Char on October 31, 2009 at 7:13pm
Yep passive voice. The cloth was folded. Doesn't say by whom.

Also did ancient Jewish people commonly associate dining customs with funerary customs? I mean did they just reuse their burial rags for napkins? Cause that's just nasty.
Comment by New John on November 1, 2009 at 11:25am
Good grief, you really are a contrarian. And a word-twister. But, have it your way. I'm sure it was completely common for relatives and friends to visit tombs only to find them empty. And not only that, but to find the napkin-sized cloth that once covered the corpse's head to be nicely folded or rolled up. Nobody is suggesting they confused dining customs with funerary customs. The hypothesis centered around the folding of a cloth. Geez, you are so annoying when you take something that is said and twist it into something entirely different.

As for who folded the clothes cloth only that covered his head, you're right, it doesn't say that Jesus folded or rolled it. Let's see, it was probably the angel who was seen there. In waiting for someone to come to the tomb, the angel got bored or maybe was appalled at the messiness of Jesus and started to pick up a bit. And then, was interrupted after only folding the cloth. Or maybe, the angel had brought a sack lunch, forgot a napkin, saw the cloth, looked shiftily around before using it and folding nicely after eating. Or maybe one of the guards was a neat freak and stopped to fold it before running off in fear. Or, one of the Mary's, being women after all, deciding to pick up a bit. In any event, passive voice or not, the clear implication is that the two disciples believed after seeing the folded or rolled up cloth. Something about that cloth spawned belief, it seems. You are ignoring that part in your objection to assuming Jesus was the one who folded it.
Comment by plumber on November 1, 2009 at 1:03pm
In Matthew 27:64-66 Guards are placed at the tomb entrance and set a seal upon it.

Guards and a seal make thieves or tampering of any kind unlikely.

Matthew 28:2- Earthquake and an angel to open the tomb. Mark 16:4-5- Tomb open with a young man inside. Luke 24:3-5- Tomb open with angels appearing inside.
John 20:1- Tomb open.

As Matthew Henry points out, the linen was the valuable item as far as thieves are concerned and it was left behind.

Matthew Henry does seem to say that it was Christ who folded or rolled the napkin up. I just can’t get behind the concept of its being used to dry tears. Wouldn’t this make the person unclean?

All four gospels refer to the presence of one or more angels which is a possibility.

Mary Magdalene seems to be the first human to arrive. I doubt that she would have folded or rolled the napkin.

The time period between Mary leaving the tomb and bringing Peter and John back is unspecified. During this time the guards would have left to inform the priests so someone could have done it then. This is at sunrise in a cemetery. I don’t think many people would have been around.

So I agree with Matthew Henry that Christ did fold the napkin but not his reason for doing so.

I notice that only the napkin is folded. The wrappings are not described as folded or unfolded. The implication I get is that the wrappings are in a pile. There is significance to the specific mention of the napkin being folded or rolled.

New John’s professor’s hypothesis is close to the op. A wadded up napkin tossed onto a plate or place setting does indicate you’re through with a meal. The possibility that Christ folded a napkin a certain way at the end of a meal exists. Would the implication here be, if there is one, that death is done?

The concept that a folded napkin indicates that you have left the table briefly and you intend to return is also a possibility. If this practice or signal was common knowledge at the time, then the implication or message would be that HE is coming back.

Funeral wrappings or clothing were a single use item. To re-use the napkin that wrapped a dead person’s face as a napkin to wipe your mouth with after a meal would be nasty. It would also be a desecration of the body.

Taharah-Jewish purification-

Tachrichim- Burial Shrouds-


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