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Was Jesus’ Burial Cloth Folded or Rolled? - John 20:7 (Monday with Mounce 101)

Categories Mondays with Mounce

Monday with Mounce Having heard the the resurrection story today at church, I reminded of the translation issues in this verse. Peter ran into the tomb and saw “the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen” (NIV 2011). 

This is a change from the NIV 1984. “The burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen.”

The ESV has the cloth “folded up” (also HCSB, NLT).  The RSV has “rolled up” (also NRSV, NASB, NET). 

There are differences of where the cloth was. Most translations have it in a separate place by itself (i.e., not with the other grave clothes, see NASB, ESV, RSV, NRSV, NIV, NET, NLT). Some commentaries talk about the face cloth being separate from the other linens the same distance as the head is from the chest, but all the Greek says is χωρὶς … εἰς ἕνα τόπον “apart … in one place.”

ἐντετυλιγμένον generally means to wrap something around an object (BDAG), such as linens wrapped around  dead body (Lk 23:53; Mt 27:59). But BDAG give a second meaning of “fold up of a σουδάριον. (Jn 20:7). These are the only three uses of ἐντυλίσσω in the New Testament.

This illustrates one of the challenges of translation. When a word occurs rarely, it is hard to be precise in its meaning. It is a compound word of ἐν and τυλίσσω, and the later means “to twist up, to bend.” That doesn’t help much.

The “burial cloth” (σουδάριον) was evidently tied around the head so as to keep the mouth shut. Some have argued that the burial cloth still retained the shape of Jesus’ head, but most commentators agree that this says more than the text.

Whether it was folded or rolled up, the point is that robbers had not stolen the body, as they would have given little care for the neatness of the grave clothes. Whether Jesus’ body simply disappeared, raised as it were through the clothes, or whether the cloth covering his face was neatly placed to the side, the point is that the lie being spread by some of the Jewish leaders was not true. 

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Mouncew William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at  Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and is the general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV. Learn more and visit Bill's blog (co-authored with scholar and his father Bob Mounce) at


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