(ἐδάκρυσεν ὁ ἰησοῦς) is a phrase famous for being the shortest verse in the Christian New Testament
(but, in some translations, not the shortest in the Bible
). It is found in the Gospel of John
, chapter 11, verse 35.
The phrase occurs in John's narrative of the death of Lazarus
, a friend of Jesus
. Lazarus' sisters Mary
sent word to Jesus of their brother's illness. Jesus arrived four days after Lazarus' death. Jesus, after talking to the grieving sisters and seeing Lazarus' friends weeping, was deeply troubled. After being shown where Lazarus was laid, Jesus wept
in front of Lazarus' tomb. He then ordered the people to remove the stone covering the tomb, prayed
aloud to his Father
, and ordered Lazarus to come out.
Significance has been attributed to this phrase for a number of reasons, including the following:
- Weeping demonstrates that Christ was indeed true man, with real bodily functions (such as tears, sweat, blood, eating and drinking - note, for comparison, the emphasis laid on Jesus eating during the post-resurrection appearances). His emotions and reactions were real; Christ was not an illusion or spirit (see Docetism). Pope Leo I referred to this passage when he discussed the two natures of Jesus: "In his humanity Jesus wept for Lazarus; in his divinity he raised him from the dead."
- The sorrow felt by Jesus presages the suffering of his own crucifixion.
- The sorrow, sympathy, and compassion Jesus felt for all mankind.
- Jesus's weeping demonstrates that Lazarus had genuinely died. The raising of Lazarus was therefore not a fraud or a case of misdiagnosis.
- Most people interpret his weeping to mean that Jesus was sorrowful for the fact that Lazarus had died (which was the interpretation of the bystanders in verse 36). However, an alternate explanation considers this to be unreasonable, given his full knowledge that he was about to resurrect Lazarus. This view instead argues that every single person whom Jesus talked to in John chapter 11 (his disciples, Martha, Mary, and the Jews) was blinded by their misconceptions of Jesus and by their failure to recognize that, as he declared in verse 26, he himself was "the resurrection and the life". Thus, "he groaned in the spirit and was troubled" (New King James, verse 33). This view holds that he wept because even those who were closest to him were still blinded by their concepts to the fact that he really was "the resurrection and the life"—beyond mere doctrine (verses 25-27)—in spite of all his plain words to them. A striking point in this view is that the only person in the chapter who had no misconceptions was the dead man Lazarus, who promptly obeyed and received life when commanded to come forth. Finally, this view holds that the bystanders in verses 36-37, just like most readers today, were blinded by their own misconceptions and so did not understand that Jesus was actually weeping for them, not for Lazarus.
- The sadness shown by Jesus may not be for the death of Lazarus, but rather his resurrection. Considering Christ's knowledge of the afterlife and personal (as well as divine) knowledge of Lazarus' character, he may instead have been filled with grief knowing that Lazarus would be taken from the promise of paradise (cf Limbo) and returned to an imperfect world. His Knowledge that Lazarus would soon be raised would not seem to warrant this sorrow.
Jesus's tears have figured among the relics attributed to Jesus.
Use as an expletive
In some places in the western English-speaking world, including the UK, Ireland (particularly Dublin) and Australia, the phrase "Jesus wept" is a common expletive, curse or minced oath spoken when something goes wrong or to express mild incredulity.
It is commonly used as an expletive in novels by author Stephen King. In his book On Writing, he explained that in grade school he was forced to memorize a verse from the Bible, so he picked "Jesus wept" due to its short length. Other authors using it as an expletive include Neil Gaiman in the Sandman series and Mike Carey in The Devil You Know.
This usage is also evidenced in films and television programmes including Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Razorback (1984), Hellraiser (1987), The Stand (1994), Dogma (1999) and Notes on a Scandal (2006).
Other usage in media