The following article entitled “Why did Jesus fold the napkin?” is being circulated around the Internet via email.  It is said to have been launched some time in 2007 (apparently from a sermon by a Baptist preacher, Jerry Shirley, preached in 2006)....


Why did Jesus fold the napkin?

An unusual approach to a biblical story. Why did Jesus fold the linen burial cloth after His resurrection? I never noticed this....

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.

Early Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb to find that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved.

She said, 'They have taken the Lord's body out of the tomb, and I don't know where they have put him? Peter and the other disciple ran to the tomb to see. The other disciple out ran Peter and got there first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen cloth lying there, but he didn't go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus' head was folded up and lying to the side.

Is that important?


Is it really significant?


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 folded napkin meant, 'I'm coming back!'

He is Coming Back!


Many Christians reading this article above may not think twice about accepting it as truth. Why? Because it sounds good, it sounds right, it feels good, it feels right, and therefore it must be right, it must be true.

Friends, the INTERNET is a machine that churns out a mixture of good and bad stuff, and also truth and falsehood. There are many Christians, who have good intentions to want to share with others their blessings.  However, they go about it the wrong way. Some of the articles they put forth are either true but greatly exaggerated, or presumptuous. In the former, it is a shameful thing to do so; in the latter, it is a sin to teach presumptuously what is not Biblical (cf. Psa.19:13).

The preacher of the sermon-article “Why did Jesus fold the napkin?” presumed that there was a certain Hebrew tradition regarding the folded napkin. He wrote: “The folded napkin had to do with the Master and Servant, and every Jewish boy knew this tradition.” Now is that really true? Has he any verity for it? Or, is that just an invention of his fertile mind that sprouted forth from the table napkins that are commonly seen on European dining tables?

Back in the days of Jesus, the Jews, the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans did not sit on upright chairs around the dining table with their legs underneath the table to dine as is portrayed by Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous painting, “The Last Supper”. Much like the Japanese people would sit on the floor around a low table to dine or they would recline on couches or cushions around a low table to dine. They would usually recline on one side while eating with one hand. There were no forks, no spoons and no knives on the table and certainly there was no table napkin.

As one reclined to eat his meal, he first washed his hands in a bowl of water (usually borne by a servant). He might or might not dry his hands with a towel provided. And after the meal, he obviously washed his hands again.

The word “napkin”, used in the King James Version Bible, certainly gives some readers a wrong picture of what was actually put around the head of Jesus Christ. The Greek word is “soudarion”, from a Latin word “sudarium”. The cloth is akin to our modern day handkerchief, though larger in size, like a bandana or a “mitpachat” (head scarves) worn by Jewish women. The word "folded" found in John 20:7 in many Bible translations also gives readers the impression that the “soudarion” was folded like one would fold his handkerchief or a towel. 

After Jesus expired on the cross, His body was taken down by Joseph of Arimathea. With the help of Nicodemus, Joseph prepared the body for burial. The body of Jesus was wrapped in a clean linen cloth (Matt.27:57-60; Mark 15:42-46; Luke 23:50-53; John 19:38-41). Some translations have re-worded John’s text to read “strips of linen clothes” instead of a linen cloth. The single linen cloth according to Jewish sources, from the Jewish Mishnah which describes burial in a simple, linen shroud is not knotted or fastened in any restricting way. The shroud in the present Jewish custom is made up of several garments.

The large single piece of linen cloth was wrapped around the body of Jesus. Another smaller piece of linen cloth, a kerchief (“soudarion”/“sudarium”) was placed over His face and wrapped over and around His head.

The preacher of the sermon-article “Why did Jesus fold the napkin?” carelessly stated that “that the napkin, which was placed over the face of Jesus, was not just thrown aside like the grave clothes.”  The grave clothes was not thrown aside nor was the napkin simply placed over the face of Jesus as this preacher and many like him have implied.

John wrote: "And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself" (John 20:7). The word "wrapped" ("wrapped together") comes from the Greek word "entulissō"; meaning to entwine, roll or coil round and round. The napkin (“soudarion”/“sudarium”) was placed over the face of Jesus and then wrapped around His head.

The New Testament Greek word "entulissō" is used also in two other places only.

"And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth," (Matt.27:59).

"And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid" (Luke 23:53).

These two verses tell us, that like the head of Jesus which was wrapped by a napkin or kerchief (“soudarion”/“sudarium”), the body of Jesus was also wrapped around (swathed) by a linen cloth.

On the day of Christ’s resurrection, we read in John 20:12 that Mary Magdalene "saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain". Their sitting positions indicate to us that the area between them contains the evidence to prove that Jesus Christ has resurrected. In that spot was where the shroud and kerchief (“soudarion”/“sudarium”) still lie wrapped up ("entulissō").

Peter and John had seen the grave clothes before Mary Magdalene. John 20:4-8 reads:

"So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed."

John was the first to reach the sepulchre. He stooped and looked in, and he saw the linen clothes. But what made him stop short of going into the sepulchre for a closer look? I believe that John was momentarily shaken in what he saw. He probably could not believe his eyes. By then Peter had arrived and entered into the sepulchre. He saw where the linen clothes (shroud) lay and also the napkin
(“soudarion”/“sudarium”) for Christ's head) lying by itself and not with the shroud. And the grave clothes were both still in a wrapped state. This is what caught the eyes of the Apostle John. And when he went into the sepulchre right after Peter, once again he saw, and then he believed.

John had witnessed the evidence that Jesus had resurrected, that His body was not stolen by friends or foes. Had Jesus' body been stolen, the thieves would not have had the time to unwrap Him.

The evidence of the intact and not unwrapped grave clothes, both the shroud and the "sudarium"  prove that Jesus Christ rose up, from His sleeping position, right though the wrappings, and then passed through the wall of the sepulchre in His resurrected glorified body!  Amen. He was unlike Lazarus who need to be loosed from his wrappings after He raised him from the dead (John 11:44).