Tuesday, May 12, 2020

But some doubted

And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted (Mt 28:17).

Why did some observers harbor doubts about the Risen Jesus? Short answer is that I don't know the answer because Matthew doesn't say, but I'll venture a few observations:

i) It's a credit to Matthew's intellectual honesty that he mentions that some observers were unconvinced by what they saw. And that tells you something important about the reliability of his Gospel in general. This could easily be taken as a damaging admission, yet Matthew volunteers the information despite that. 

ii) In biblical theology, the resurrection of the body isn't just a reversion to the status quo ante. It isn't returning to what you were like before you died. 

The resurrection confers immortality. The individual is youthful and ageless. 

Assuming that Jesus was about 33 when he died, a result of the resurrection would be to rejuvenate him. He'd look younger than when he died. And he wouldn't have a weathered appearance. He'd look like a younger twin brother. So that would be a bit confusing.

iii) In addition, not all observers had the same proximity to Jesus. Some were closer while others were further away. 


  1. The text doesn't says whether there was a singular doubt or many different kinds of doubts. More likely, there were a varieties of doubts, but with one or two which were the primary or significant ones. Matthew doesn't tell us what it/they were.

    Maybe they doubted Christ was raised. Verse 16 mentions the eleven disciples. But it may not be saying ONLY the eleven were present. Merely that they were the main intended attendees. Some disciples might have been new and not have spent much time with the pre-crucifixion Jesus. So, a comparison between pre and post would cause some doubts. He'd look younger as Steve pointed out.

    But maybe the doubt was with respect to whether it was appropriate to worship Him. Which is part of the immediate context. Some might have had questions and doubts about who this Jesus really was now that He had been resurrected in a glorified eschatological body. Unlike resurrections/revivifications of the OT or those performed by Jesus. Their bodies would die again. In a sense, He's no longer the same Jesus they knew prior to the crucifixion. At least He didn't look it, sans tan, oxidation, and the usual senescence for a thirty-something year old.

    16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.
    17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.- Matt. 28:16-17

    Some might not have been fully convinced yet that He was God in the flesh. Or that that was even His intended claim. The earlier incident in John 20:28 still doesn't convince modern Unitarians. To help settle the issue and remove that doubt might be part of why Jesus says that all authority was given to Him, both in heaven and earth. Then He gives the baptismal formula where the singular Name of God ["name" in reference to the tetragrammaton, and/or "name" in the sense of character/attributes] is applied to all three persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Making Jesus fully divine along with the Father and Holy Spirit.

    We tend to think that after the scene Jesus rises to heaven as in Acts 1. But those are two different contexts. Matthew 28:16ff. is on a mount in Galilee. Probably near the beginning of the 40 days mentioned in Acts 1:3, but after the meeting with doubting Thomas. Acts 1:1-11 is in Jerusalem at the end of 40 days. It's not implausible that Jesus took those 40 days to periodically visit them and give "many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3). Proofs that He was the same Jesus who died on the cross. Along with being the Divine Lord of Heaven and Earth.

    Skeptics tend to assume that the doubts in Matt. 28:16ff. are doubts of disciples at the end of the 40 days when Jesus was making appearances. Right before His alleged Ascension. But it's probably early in the 40 day period. Sometime after He appeared to Thomas (which itself was 8 days after His resurrection). It would have taken some time to get back to Galilee from Jerusalem.

    1. AP's reply above very closely matches DA Carson's exegesis. In Carson's view the context is worship, and the Greek translated "doubt" may also be translated as "hesitated". Maybe it's a distinction without a difference, but the nuance is less that they doubted the Resurrection, or were hardened, but that they didn't know what to make of what they were experiencing. They had no category for this. Again the "some doubted" was a group other than the 11 who by this time had experienced the Resurrected Christ 1, 2, or even 3 times (this text being the 3rd).

      So it's easy to put oneself in their shoes. Their minds were blown. And this event is before Pentecost so the filling of the Spirit had not yet occurred.

      It's also a witness against the claim that Jesus' early followers were eager, gullible rubes, or that they made up a resurrection narrative. The hesitating doubters weren't expecting this. They're bewildered. Again as steve points out this goes to the integrity of the text.