Jesus and the folded cloth / napkin.

Last year someone asked me about an email they received regarding the resurrection. Here’s one version of it:

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. Is that important? You’d better believe it! Is that significant? 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 was 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 servant knew that the folded napkin meant, “I’m not finished yet.” The folded napkin meant, “I’m coming back!”

He is Coming Back!

For those of you with limited time, let me just say this. That’s bullshit. For those who want more info, keep reading.

Brett Royal posted this email recently on his blog, and the he agrees with me in questioning the authenticity of the story. I’m not a Hebrew scholar, and what I know about Jewish traditions at the time of Christ is roughly equivalent to zero, but what sense would this story make? Jesus knows and participates in master/servant relationships from the master perspective? He uses his burial clothes in the same way that people use napkins at a table?

The email explanation tells us nothing that the Bible isn’t already telling us. The clothes let us know one thing which is obvious. The body wasn’t stolen. He’s coming back has been assured to us in many passages of scripture. We don’t need a contrived, unsigned, unresearched email to tell Christians what they believe about the resurrection and the return of Christ.

There are a few sites that can back me up on this. is one of them. I also asked a professor who has well-known wisdom on the subject. This email tells us nothing that we didn’t already know from scripture. It tells us a lot about our culture though. More on that later.

3 thoughts on “Jesus and the folded cloth / napkin.”

  1. it is a nice story…but it is untrue….
    the truth of the matter is that during a first century jewish burial the body was treated with oils….and herbs…and wrapped tightly in linen strips….not unlike a mummy but not quite……anyway the face was left uncovered…and a small square cloth (or napkin) was placed over the face…the body would remain perfumed like this for a year or two…and then the bones would be placed in an ossuary and the grave used again……

    this is the lifes end of the start which was swaddling clothes……this was not the pretty baby crib seen from Christmas cards….when an infant was born (within an hour) it was cleaned and the the limbs and the torso were wrapped tightly with thin strips of cloth…(to set the ways staright for the youth) also it was then that the youth prayed over and the salt covenant was taken by the parents….
    see see Ezekiel 16:4…

    the point is that a similar procedure was done at death to re-affirm the life of the person….

    the real significance of the napkin is that the body of Christ had to be transformed to get out of the tightly wrapped linens surrounding his limbs…(kind of like he morphed through them….or…not to be gross …but got sucked through the face.) because the linens would have been too tight for anyone to have taken his body and re-wrapped the linens to form around his (now absent body) the napkin folded is significant because…of the neatness and ordination of the affair…in other words he was not stolen (the clothes are still there) and the folded napkin means that “he did it” he got up…and took the time to prove that others had not done this….

  2. I have heard another version of the explanation. It has been said that the folded knapkin was a tradition meaning that the meal was disagreeable and that they were not returning to that house or table,( i.e. the grave) again. Our pastor has told this both ways on two different Easter services 2 or 3 years apart. Not good to not check your facts before you tell others. can any one tell me the truth on this one.

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