Thursday, April 18, 2013

Up from the grave they arose

In his recent commentary on Matthew, Craig A. Evans argues that Mt 27:52-53 is a scribal gloss. If you’re going to question the historicity of this incident, I think his approach is better than Michael Licona’s.

I’m not going to quote his argument. If you’re curious, you can read it for yourself. Use the “search this book” feature, type Akhmim in the search box, and it will pull up his discussion (pp466-67):

That said, I’m puzzled by why so many otherwise conservative scholars balk at this account. I understand why liberals deny this account. At least they’re consistent. They deny all the Gospel miracles.

For some reason, many conservative scholars find this scene bizarre. But isn’t this scene the resurrection of the just in miniature?

Both OT and NT have a doctrine of the general resurrection, as well as the resurrection of the just–in particular. That lies in the future.

What do they think that will look like when that happens? Won’t it be similar to Mt 27:52-53, only on a vaster scale?

So I don’t see how we can question Mt 27:52-53 in principle without questioning the general resurrection. It’s a difference in degree, not in kind.


  1. Steve,

    This is a point that I have been making for some time.

    It is okay for Lazarus and Jesus to come alive from being dead, but a group of righteous Jews, it is not.

    The larger point is to show what will happen when the righteous are resurrected at Christ's Parousia. They are not immediately translated to the clouds to meet Jesus, as some wrongly read into Paul's statement in 1 Thess 4. Instead, the point is to show God's glory in the resurrection—not hide it! The wicked will see God's resurrected people at the time of his return.

    Academia has the propensity to minimize—or deny—God's glory in the supernatural.

  2. I understand what your getting at. I personally have no problem accepting it as a historical account but setting it within the larger context, historical and theological, of the new testament seems a little difficult.

    1. You seem to assume these saints have been resurrected with their glorified bodies. Glory-resurrected saints does not seem to fit well with what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 especially vv.22-23.

    2. There is also the seemingly odd nature of this incident (and I am not talking about the supernaturalness of it). It seems that according to the text these saints were raised at the time of Jesus' crucifixion and therefore stayed within their tombs until Jesus was resurrected, at which point they came out of their tombs.

    3. There is no mention of this incident anywhere else in the New Testament. Not that this in itself means we should doubt the account, just that it seems odd that if something like that happened that Paul especially wouldn't utilize it in 1 Corinthians 15.

    1. i) How does it fail to comport with 1 Cor 15:22-23?

      ii) Concerning the time-frame, the syntax is ambiguous.

      iii) Why assume Paul would even know about it–unless he was in Jerusalem during Holy Week.

    2. i)* 1 Cor 15:22-23 seems to suggest that Glory-resurrection for everyone other than Christ is at his coming. If this reading is correct then we should understand the resurrected saints, and the resurrected Lazarus in a non-glory-resurrected sense, along with other resurrections not Christ's in the NT, Acts 9:36-43, etc.

      ii)* I agree.

      iii)* I agree with what your getting at. Even if Paul knew that the event occurred that doesn't mean he would utilize the information. I think it is probably a safe bet to assume Paul knew whether Jesus was married or not but he didn't use this information in his discussion in 1 Cor 7. Still both seem odd if he knew both things, but something being odd doesn't hold a lot of weight especially if we have other reasons for believing the account. I assume that the best reason for believing it to be original is because we have no reason text-critical reasons for believing it to be an interpolation.

    3. Tristan Weeks-Galindo

      “i)* 1 Cor 15:22-23 seems to suggest that Glory-resurrection for everyone other than Christ is at his coming.”

      Mt 27:52-53 would be proleptic and representative. A harbinger of things to come.

      “If this reading is correct then we should understand the resurrected saints, and the resurrected Lazarus in a non-glory-resurrected sense, along with other resurrections not Christ's in the NT, Acts 9:36-43, etc.”

      i) Well, two verses isn’t much to go on, so that’s possible. You’re suggesting that God restored them to mortal life rather than immortal life. Gave them renewed mortal bodies. They died twice. Perhaps.

      ii) However, in the case of Tabitha and Lazarus, there’s an intact body. And in the case or Tabitha, there probably wasn’t much necrosis, given the brief interval between death and restoration.

      But in the case of Mt 27:52-53, we’re dealing with, in many cases, skeletal remains at best. So God would be practically recreating their bodies from scratch.

      iii) Actually, I think glorification fits the eschatological flavor of this pericope, which prefigures the Day of Judgment and resurrection of the just.

  3. Remarkably, Evans claims that the passage isn't cited or even alluded to prior to the Council of Nicaea in the fourth century. He claims that the tradition probably originated no earlier than the late second century. Yet, one of the sources he cites in his notes in that section of his commentary, namely the Matthew commentary by W.D. Davies and Dale Allison, mentions multiple ante-Nicene references to the passage and/or the events behind it. The earliest is Ignatius, near the beginning of the second century. For other relevant ante-Nicene sources, see the section on Matthew 27:52-53 here.

  4. By the way, Origen makes reference to the passage repeatedly, at least three times in his commentary on Romans alone. He treats the raising of the saints as a historical event, and he refers to it as something written in scripture, not just an oral tradition or something that was circulating in an extra-Biblical document. Even though he refers to the passage so often, I'm not aware of any place where he discusses textual variants related to it. By contrast, he does frequently discuss variants when addressing other passages.