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This post is by Dr. John Roller, an expert on the doctrine of Conditional Immortality. You can visit his blog at johnroller.com and hear an interview I (Sean) did with him on Truth Matters or download his e-book about the historical development of the doctrine of hell. The following question and answer was sent out as part of the “Roller Update.”


Q: I have never really read a good explanation of Matthew 27:52-53. Most commentators seem to think that it is a problem passage, in that it appears to say that some of the dead rose before Jesus did. Most of the commentators reject that idea and imply that these resurrections took place after Jesus arose. A few imply that there was no resurrection, but only that the tombs may have split open due to an earthquake. Almost all commentators point out that no other passage in the New Testament mentions these events. These two verses seem to contradict the clear New Testament teaching that Jesus was the “first-born” (or “first fruits”) from the dead. I think that it was Adams who questioned whether these two verses were in the original text of Matthew or (as he thought) were more likely added later. Do you know if anyone has found evidence supporting the idea that these verses were additions? What is your explanation of these verses?

A: I’m not aware of any evidence that suggests that these two verses are anything but original to the Gospel of Matthew. I don’t think that the “raising to life” of these people necessarily means that they were raised to ETERNAL, IMMORTAL life. It seems more likely to me that they were simply “revived” like Lazarus, the daughter of Jairus, the son of the widow of Nain, and others in the Bible (Old and New Testament) had been. All of those people (and the “saints” of Matthew 27:52) undoubtedly lived ordinary lives for a period of time, and then died again, and are now awaiting the resurrection of the Last Day, just as everyone else who has ever died is. This interpretation (weak as some may feel it to be) doesn’t “violate” any of the other New Testament passages that you mention, nor does it belittle the truth reported in these two verses. That’s why, for me, it is the best solution.

If you have a question that you’d like me to answer in a future issue of the Roller Update, please send it (right away!) to johnroller@faithbiblechristian.com.

12 Responses to “Puzzling over Matthew 27.52-53”

  1. on 28 May 2010 at 11:51 amWolfgang

    Hi everyone,

    the real problem is that what is reported in these two verses not only sounds but also is rather strange … the terminology used, what is actually said, the way in which it is said is rather “foreign” to the rest of the gospel of Matthew, to the immediate context and parallel passages in other gospels which do report about the event in view (an earthquake at that particular time while Jesus was crucified)

    For example: The 2 verses do not speak about people being raised, but about “bodies of” people (“saints” … a term otherwise rather foreign to Matthew) being raised and 3 days later on these “bodies” walking the streets of Jerusalem. Nowhere else is this type of language used when we read about either people being “revived” to this earthly life or even when we read about people being raised to eternal life (Cp, it was not “the body of Lazaraus” or “the body of the young man” at Nain that was revived … it was Lazarus who was raised etc … cp with the resurrection of Jesus to eternal life the records also do not speak about “the body of Jesus was raised and appeared …” etc.)

    Also, consider this: If those “bodies” (rather than people) were raised at the time prior to Jesus’ death but did not come out of the graves until after Jesus’ resurrection, what did those living bodies (saints) do for 3 days in the open graves? If one wants to insist that the bodies were not raised until after Jesus’ resurrection, then the question arises, why is the whole matter reported in the immediate context of the earthquake 3 days prior rather than at a later place in the gospel after the record of Jesus’ resurrection?

    Even if the reference is not to a resurrection of these “bodies of the saints” to eternal life, but rather is a reference to them being revived to this earthly life, the fact remains that these 2 verses as they stand are very much foreign to the immediate context, to the overall scope of Matthew and to the context of what all other passages dealing with such revivals of dead people or resurrection of the dead to eternal life.

    We should also note, that even though all known manuscripts until now which contain Mt 27 do contain those 2 verses, it does not necessarily prove that they must have been “original” … I tend to question the authenticity of these 2 verses based on the internal evidence of what they say and how they say what they say.

    Cheers,
    Wolfgang

  2. on 03 Jun 2010 at 10:14 amWolfgang

    Hello everyone,

    anyone else have some thoughts on this passage in Mt 27,52-53 and/or the article posted here? I’d be interested in learning what others have learned concerning this passage …

    Cheers,
    Wolfgang

  3. on 03 Jun 2010 at 1:03 pmrobert

    REVELATION 4:4
    And upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting

    Who are these elders? Twelve times they are mentioned in Revelation. Where do they come from? Revelation 5:9 tells us, “And they sung a new song, saying thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof; for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred and tongue, and people, and nation.” They are human beings just like you and me for they have been redeemed by Christ’s blood. Special representatives from every race and nation, who are up in heaven when John had this vision.

    Naturally one might wonder how they are in heaven, how did they get there. Fortunately there is some information in the Holy Scriptures regarding this matter. Matthew 27:52, 53 says, “And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose. And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many”.

    There was a special resurrection at the time of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. Ephesians 4:8 says, “Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive (margin, A multitude of captives) and gave gifts unto men.” This verse says that when Christ ascended to heaven after His resurrection “he led a multitude of captives” (margin). These elders as they are called have an important part in the redemption story.

    In Israel, the word “elder” designated a person holding an official rank and position among their brethren. God directed Moses to choose 70 elders to aid him in his great responsibility of governing Israel. In the Christian church, the word “elder” referred to a church leader.

    These twenty-four elders serve at the throne of God. Seated on thrones they apparently participate in the administration of the universe. In the temple service of ancient Israel there were twenty-four courses or orders of the Levitical priesthood (see 1 Chronicles 24, 25). There were 500 priests serving in courses or orders.

    Clothed in white raiment

    To be clothed in white raiment suggests that previously they were clothed in other garments. Seeing they have been redeemed, their white garments symbolize purity of character. Revelation 19:8 says, “And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.”

    And they had on their heads crowns of gold

    They are clothed in white raiment and have crowns of gold on their head. There are two Greek words translated ‘crown’ in English: ‘diadema’ is the crown of a potentate, a king or queen; ‘stephanos’ is the crown of a victor. It is the word ‘stephanos’ that is used here. These elders are victors in the fight with evil.

    “I find, then, in these enthroned Elders, the highest manifested glory of the risen and glorified saints. They are in heaven. They are around the throne of Deity. They are pure and holy, wearing white, ‘which is the righteousness of the saints.’ They are partakers of celestial dominion. They are kings of glory, with golden crowns. They are settled and at home in their exalted dignities; not standing and waiting as servants, but seated as royal counsellors of the Almighty. They are assessors of the great Judge of quick and dead, the spectators of all that transpires in heaven and earth, and participants in the judgment of the world for its sins.” J.A. Seiss, The Apocalypse, Vol. 1. p. 253.

  4. on 03 Jun 2010 at 5:20 pmKarl

    I agree Robert. The resurrection of the saints in Matthew was most likely the 24 old testament prophets who are called “elders” in Revelation.

  5. on 17 Nov 2015 at 1:45 pmSteve

    You might be interested to read the following. It may help to clarify what could not have been a premature resurrection;

    Observe that, strictly speaking, the account does not say that the “bodies” came to life. It merely says that they were raised up or thrown out of the tombs by the earthquake. A similar thing happened in the town of Sonson in Colombia in 1962. El Tiempo (July 31, 1962) reported: “Two hundred corpses in the cemetery of this town were thrown out of their tombs by the violent earth tremor.” Persons passing by or through that cemetery saw the corpses, and, as a result, many of the people in Sonson had to go out and rebury their dead relatives.
    Without wresting the Greek grammar, a translator can render Matthew 27:52, 53 in a way that suggests that a similar exposing of corpses resulted from the earthquake occurring at Jesus’ death. Thus the translation by Johannes Greber (1937) renders these verses: “Tombs were laid open, and many bodies of those buried there were tossed upright. In this posture they projected from the graves and were seen by many who passed by the place on their way back to the city.”—Compare the New World Translation.

    Hope this helps.

    Regards

    Steve

  6. on 18 Nov 2015 at 10:15 pmMichael

    Matthew 27:52-53 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,
    And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.

    I’m always curious as to why people want to explain away a part of a scripture that they don’t like (It may help to clarify what could not have been a premature resurrection) by not posting the actual scripture and then rewriting it to fit their agenda.

    Steve quotes- “Tombs were laid open, and many bodies of those buried there were tossed upright. In this posture they projected from the graves and were seen by many who passed by the place on their way back to the city.”

    Response…And there’s the subtle rewrite….” who passed by the place on their way back to the city.”

    But Matthew did not write that people passed by dead bodies on their way back to the city he wrote “and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.”

    It was those that came from the graves that went to the city and appeared to many, not those that came from the city and saw dead bodies.

    Steve writes- Hope this helps.

    Response….How does rewriting scripture help?

  7. on 19 Nov 2015 at 11:10 pmJas

    Michael writes- How does rewriting scripture help?

    Response… It doesn’t !

  8. on 20 Nov 2015 at 1:22 amTimoteo

    Hello Jas,

    I was concerned that you had gone South for the winter!

    Nice to have your company again and that without being shadowed by triceraclopsrexreas.

  9. on 21 Nov 2015 at 12:12 pmJas

    Timothy
    I am going nowhere as long as I am still seeking the complete truth and there are others here with the same, like you

  10. on 22 Nov 2015 at 2:53 amTimoteo

    Jas,

    Yes we continue to seek the truth and GOD through Jesus and our brethren with teacher ministrys, a gift to our church from GOD.

    Ephesians 4:
    11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

    To day, finally there are those who are taking a stand against the being politically correct and returning to the truth.

    Wolfgang has approached bible interpretations which are untrue or mainstream politically correct and given simple teachings to better understand what is truth and what is private interpretational error.

    INDEX from his English website

    Who is the Father of Joseph?

    Abraham – was righteousness accounted to him by faith or by works?

    Was Jesus 3 days and 3 nights in the grave?

    Did the malefactor go to Paradise on the day of the crucifixion?

    How many were crucified with Jesus?

    When did Jesus come to Nazareth after his birth?

    How many men were healed when Jesus left Jericho?

    Jesus was physically a descendant of David (Romans 1,1-3)

    Which cross did Jesus bear?

    The Denials of PeterHow long was Jesus’ public
    ministry?

    Did the men accompanying Paul to Damascus hear a voice?

    Jesus’ last words on the cross.

    How long did the Hebrews live in Egypt?

    Who smote Goliath?

    How many men were involved in the casting out of Legion?

    Did anyone ascend to heaven before Jesus?

    Anointing of Jesus and Entry into Jerusalem.

    Can God tempt?

    Was Schelach Arpachschad’s son or grandson?

    How old was Terach, Abraham’s father?

    How many were killed by the plague?

    When did Judas Iscarioth kill himself?

    Who was the mother of Abijam (Abijah)?

    Where was Simon’s and Andrew’s home?

    How many years of famine?

    How many children did Michal, the daughter of Saul, have?

    How many children did Jesse have?

    Did Saul ask of the LORD?

    Where did Uzza die?

    Did Asa take away the high places?

    How did God tempt Abraham?

    Does God forbid killing people?

    When did the figtree whither away?

    To whom did God speak?

    Did Jesus go to the desert or to a wedding?

    Did the women buy spices before or after the Sabbath?

    Did Jeremiah or Zechariah write?

    One God or several gods?

    Was Paul a Christian or a Pharisee?

    Who will find God?

    How old was Ahaziah when he began to reign?

    When did Baasha die?

    Who commanded David to count Israel?

    Whom did God create first – animals or man?

    How many pairs of animals taken onto the ark?

    Was God satisfied with His works or not?

    Would God get tired and need rest?

    Does God dwell in light or in darkness?

    Does God know all things or not?

    Is God everywhere present or not?

    Does God know what is in the heart of man?

    Does God freely give or does He withhold?

    Good works – to be seen or not to be seen of men?

    Being angry – approved or not?

    Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart?

    Jas, it is a long list, but has been profitable for my learning to see Wolfgangs take from the bible answers.

    **BIBLE CENTER**(English)

    http://www.biblecenter.de/bibel/contradictions.php

  11. on 22 Nov 2015 at 1:18 pmJas

    Timothy
    I have read Wolfgangs site and have learned much from his knowledge .

  12. on 23 Nov 2015 at 4:07 amTimoteo

    Jas,

    Wow, I am happy to hear we both are learning from dear Wolfgangs labors.

    I am also happy you are faithful to confront those who still believe the politically correct untruth rather than searching the scriptures for themselves, as the Bereans are reported,
    discovering that one only stands approved before GOD by a right cutting of his word.

    I do not even try to understand why the writer in the other thread uses the word “ontological” which is all Greek to me.

    We have studied all in 1 Corinthians 15 and even tried to share with Mr. “Ray” about the spiritual matters side of Jesus changing from a deader than a door nail human, into a raised from the dead spiritual human being.

    Thanks again.

  

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