John 11:20 Parallel Verses [⇓ See commentary ⇓]

John 11:20, NIV: "When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home."

John 11:20, ESV: "So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house."

John 11:20, KJV: "Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house."

John 11:20, NASB: "So then Martha, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed in the house."

John 11:20, NLT: "When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house."

John 11:20, CSB: "As soon as Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him, but Mary remained seated in the house."

What does John 11:20 mean? [⇑ See verse text ⇑]

Several passages in Scripture show the contrast between the personalities of Mary and Martha. In summary, Martha is a "doer," and Mary is a "thinker." Martha comes across as practical and direct, and Mary is passionate and devoted. In an earlier meeting (Luke 10:38–42), Martha was frustrated by Mary's choice to sit and listen to Jesus while she was busy as a hostess. Mary was also involved in anointing Jesus with expensive oil; that happened at least once (John 12:1–7), and possibly on two separate occasions (Mark 14:3–9). A similar incident involving a prostitute, however, is not the same person as Martha and Lazarus' sister (Luke 7:36–50).

The unique character of these women is also reflected in their reaction when Jesus arrives. This verse explicitly says that Martha was aware that Jesus was approaching. Whether or not Mary knew, at this moment, the Bible does not say. It would be consistent with their respective personalities, however, for Martha to rush to meet Jesus while Mary sits and cries.

Later verses suggest that Mary might not have known, yet, that Jesus was coming. Martha's comment in a later verse might mean Mary waited until Jesus specifically called for her (John 11:28). Or, it might imply that Martha went to see Jesus without telling her sister that He had arrived. As the next verse shows, Martha immediately confronts Jesus with her heartache—she may have wanted to do this without the added drama of her sister's tears. The presence of many other people, also, might have inspired Martha to attempt a private meeting with Jesus, rather than announcing His presence (John 11:30–31).