As discussed in another question, on why Matthew, Mark, and Luke didn't mention the raising of Lazarus, this miracle is only related in John 11 – the Synoptics, though they presumably knew about it, didn't include such an apparently spectacular and pivotal miracle.

A number of explanations have been provided, but one in particular has been around a long time: that Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written during Lazarus's (second) lifetime, and that they did not want to expose Lazarus to persecution from the Jews (cf. John 12:9–11).

Two Methodist commentators, Adam Clarke and Daniel Whedon, offer this as their primary explanation for the silence of the Synoptics. Adam Clarke attributes it to Hugo Grotius, a 17th century theologian. But Whedon seems to go further:

The ancient reply is, (and perhaps no better can be given,) that the other Evangelists wrote while Lazarus was still living, and from delicacy, or for safety, avoided exposing him to notoriety and danger from the hostile Jews. [bold added]

In the context of church history, the word "ancient," at least to me, indicates the early church period – ending around the 6th century. However, I've not found any reference to this theory in the several early commentators I've checked – Augustine, Chrysostom, Eusebius – or in Aquinas's commentary on John.

What is the origin of this particular explanation of the Synoptic silence on Lazarus? Does it have truly "ancient" origins, or is Hugo Grotius its originator?

  • I cant say I know the origin of the idea. Not sure I have ever read on anyone who has given one either. Would be good water to swim on for a while if we knew how to get to the lake. Maybe the origin lies in the writings of Eusebius or Polycarp. Anyone here that can cross-reference this on a program?
    – TJ Smith
    Jan 24, 2017 at 22:32
  • 2
    William Baird also attributes this to Grotius.
    – Cannabijoy
    Jun 1, 2017 at 11:57
  • 3
    He says "...Grotius adopts the hypothesis--popular with later apologetic exegetes..." and "adopts" seems to imply it comes from an earlier source, but none is given.
    – Cannabijoy
    Jun 1, 2017 at 11:58
  • This is also the view of Richard Bauckham who wrote about this in 'Jesus and the Eyewitnesses' who determined the reason why John mentions a new set of people that were not named specifically in the Synoptic Gospels was because of fear by the early Gospel writers that these people who were probably still alive at the time would have been persecuted by the authorities. It was only when John finally wrote his Gospel was it safe to mention them by name. Aug 21, 2017 at 12:34

2 Answers 2


Reconsidering Johannine Christianity: A Social Identity Approach, by Raimo Hakola, page 17 and 18, elaborates that Hugo Grotius (d. 1645) was the first to theorize this need for not mentioning Lazarus with Matthew and Mark, yet further, according to [Richard] Bauckham that as for Luke, certain more intimidating details like a person being raised from the (3rd day, definitely) dead may have been left out for political reasons; to make the Christians seem less threatening.

From one miracle to the next, there is one more detail of significance to the raising of Lazarus. I have heard audible discussions of professors of ancient religion at Brigham Young University (difficult to source) include mention of a belief of the Jews at that time that a person is really finally dead and the spirit is finally left after three days, hence the drama and added uncertainty that might be directed at anyone who could then raise that person alive again. Even without that detail, this was the pinnacle of miracles publicly accepted as literal facts that could not reasonably be denied at the time (John 11:44-48).

[ and ] denote a guess of which Bauckham that Raimo was referring to.

  • Welcome to Christianity.SE. For a quick overview, please take the Site Tour. For more on what this site is all about, see: How we are different than other sites. Meanwhile, I hope you'll browse some of the other questions and answers on this site. Dec 21, 2017 at 18:24
  • Thanks for the answer Micah! Though I don't see Hakola specifically saying that Grotius was first, it does seem to be implied that he was at least the first major proponent. Dec 21, 2017 at 18:44

Evidently the idea for why the raising of Lazarus is not mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels is known as "protective anonymity".

Grotius' comment about "ancient" appears to reflect the various anonymous accounts in the Gospels of other events. For example in Mark, the "naked man" who ran off or the disciple who cut off the ear of the servant are anonymous presumably to protect them from the authorities. But there doesn't appear to be any other sources that I can find who actually outline this "protective anonymity" idea prior to Grotius.

  • I'm not sure how "ancient reply" can be understood to refer to other anonymous accounts... it seems to clearly refer to a claim that "the other Evangelists wrote while Lazarus was still living." But perhaps Grotius is mistaken. Sep 20, 2017 at 12:52

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .