Jn 11:37 question tag OUK

Iver Larsen iver_larsen at sil.org
Sat Mar 16 08:47:33 EST 2002

> The basic Greek texts all teach about the expected yes answer of OU
> indicative questions.
> Is the above verse intended to express that those who asked the question
> expected that Jesus could have acted so that Lazarus might not have died?
> Perhaps the question is intended rhetorically.  Even in that case, though,
> the question would seem to be an evaluation of the actions of Jesus, who
> is evidently seen by the questioners as being able to accomplish this
> miracle of stopping Lazarus'death, but did not.
> Is the sense of the verse that the questioners expect that Jesus could
> have prevented Lazarus' death and did not act, or that Jesus was evidently
> not up to the task of preventing the death, despite His strong desire to
> do so?
> Thanks,
> Richard Smith
> Chattanooga, TN

In our introductory courses in Bible translation we teach six different
functions of rhetorical questions in the GNT. In this case, it seems that
the rhetorical question could have several functions at the same time. One
common function is to express what is seen by everyone as obviously true.
Another function is to express wonder and surprise. A third common function
is rebuke. Often more than one function come into play at the same time in a
particular question.

The strong emphasis on EDUNATO and hOUTOS indicates to me that the topic is
this special person's ability and I would go with your first option. The
last part of the sentence indicates that they were not thinking of Jesus
bringing Lazarus back to life, but of the lost importunity to heal him
before he died. They knew that he was able to heal even incurable diseases
like a man born blind. I sense all three functions of rhetorical questions
mentioned above as playing a role:

1) He obviously could have healed him before he died, since he healed the
blind man.
2) Why didn't he come running to heal him before he died, since it was a
close friend?
3) He should have come before so that Lazarus had not died and people would
not be weeping like this.

V. 37 is some people's reaction to Jesus crying in v. 35. They probably
interpreted his crying as if he was very sad over Lazarus' death and that he
had arrived too late. *We*, the readers, know from 11:4,23 that Jesus was
going to raise him from the dead, but the speakers in v. 37 do not know
that. It is part of the plot that the readers know something that the actors
do not. The text does not tell us why Jesus cried, only two assumptions by
the bystanders. Personally, I think Jesus cried because of their lack of
faith and lack of understanding of his power and who he was. No one even
imagined that he could raise Lazarus from the dead. This lack of faith is
about the only thing than seemed to upset Jesus greatly about even his
closest disciples.

Iver Larsen

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