The following two articles are from, respectively, _The Skeptical Review_, vol. 3, no. 1
The following two articles are from, respectively, _The Skeptical
Review_, vol. 3, no. 1 (Winter 1992) and vol. 3, no. 3 (Summer
1992). These articles may be freely redistributed. Copies of the
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WHAT HAPPENED TO THE RESURRECTED SAINTS?
Two short verses in Matthew raise perhaps the most serious
questions that can be put to a literal interpretation of the
resurrection stories. Matthew said that at the moment of Jesus'
death "the tombs were opened; and many bodies of the saints who
had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after
his resurrection they entered into the holy city and appeared unto
many" (27:52-53). This is an account of a miracle unsurpassed
anywhere else in the gospels. It makes the post-resurrection
appearing of Jesus "to above five hundred brethren at once" (1
Cor. 15:6) appear tame in comparison.
In this case, many saints were raised and appeared to many.
Unlike the accounts of Jesus raising Lazarus or the synagogue
ruler's daughter or Jesus himself being raised, this depicts
saints dead for way over "three days" being raised. And, from the
phrase, "they entered the holy city and appeared to many," it is
possible to infer that these many raised saints showed themselves
to many who were not believers! Yet Josephus, who wrote a history
of Jerusalem both prior to and after her fall, i.e., forty years
after the death of Jesus, knew of Jesus but nothing of this
raising of many and appearing to many. Of this greatest of all
miracles, not a rumor appears in the works of Josephus or of any
other ancient author. Surely at least one of the many raised out
of those many emptied tombs was still alive just prior to
Josephus's time, amazing many. Or at least many who had seen
those many saints were still repeating the tale. Although people
may have doubted that Jesus raised a few people while he was still
alive and although "some doubted" Jesus' own resurrection (Matt.
28:17), who could fail to have been impressed by many risen saints
appearing to many? How also could Peter have neglected to mention
them in his Jerusalem speech a mere fifty days after they
"appeared to many in the holy city"? Surely their appearance must
have been foremost on everyone's mind. So why didn't Paul mention
such a thing in his letters, our earliest sources? Why did the
women who visited the "empty tomb" on Sunday morning not take
notice that many other tombs were likewise open? Why didn't the
visitors to Jesus' tomb mention that they had met or seen many
raised saints in that vicinity, meeting them on the way to Jesus'
tomb or on the way back to town? Why did the apostles disbelieve
the first reports of Jesus' resurrection when a mass exit from the
tombs had accompanied his resurrection? Why didn't Matthew know
how many raised saints there were? Why couldn't he name a single
one or a single person to whom they had appeared? How did Matthew
know that these saints had come out of their tombs? That would be
more than anyone had seen in the case of Jesus' resurrection.
Let's look at the implications of some of these questions.
According to the literal Greek in Matthew 27:50-53, the tombs were
opened and the saints were "raised" at the instant of Jesus'
death, but they entered the city over a day later! Apparently,
neither Joseph of Arimathea nor Nicodemus, while burying Jesus
(Jn. 19:38-40), chanced to marvel at all the opened graves and the
raised saints in them waiting patiently for Sunday morning. The
women in Matthew's account were likewise oblivious to the many
graves lying opened by the earthquake and the saints supposedly
just beginning to leave the cemetery for town the same morning the
women were arriving. And the other gospels were silent on this
major miracle involving many! Paul was silent on this matter in 1
Corinthians 15, where he discussed the resurrection at great
length! Peter was silent on the matter in his speech recorded in
Acts 2, delivered a mere 50 days after the many saints entered the
city and appeared to many! Surely the "gift of tongues" would
pale in miraculous significance compared to the "raising of the
many who appeared to many." Yet Peter said nothing about the
latter. We are not talking about just the apostles, like Peter,
being witnesses to just the resurrection of Jesus; we are talking
about many people who had witnessed many saints being raised, and
some of these "many" witnesses were surely present in the audience
Peter preached to that morning. So why would he have had to speak
at length to convince them that the resurrection of one man had
happened? Having witnessed the resurrection of many, they would
have readily accepted the claim that one man had been resurrected.
And what about the raised saints themselves? Wouldn't they
have made terrific evangelists? But we don't read anything about
that; instead, we have silence. We admit that to argue from
silence is not equivalent to disproof; however, it is not the
silence of extrabiblical sources that makes us doubt this account
of multiple resurrections. It is the silence of other biblical
authors that is generating our doubt.
A few extrabiblical sources did expand Matthew's tale of the
many raised saints. These expansions were composed over one
hundred years after Matthew's gospel was written. Remarkably,
they even mentioned the names of some of the "many saints" raised,
like Simeon and his sons, Adam and Eve, the patriarchs and
prophets, etc., names that Matthew neglected to include. Of
course, these expansions of the two extraordinary verses in
Matthew and the list of names are found only in apocryphal
gospels, which are full of all sorts of marvelous miracles that
even surpass the ones attributed to Jesus in the four gospels that
the church now endorses (like the story of the talking cross that
followed Jesus out of his tomb in the Gospel of Peter).
Perhaps Matthew, like the authors of the apocryphal gospels,
collected tales he had heard from other believers and/or composed
gospel fictions. Perhaps when he composed those two short verses,
he was only giving mythical form to the belief that "the
resuscitation of the righteous was assigned to the first
appearance of the Messiah, in accordance with the Jewish ideas"
(D. F. Strauss, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined). He was
also indulging in miracle enhancement: multiplying signs and
wonders said to accompany Jesus' death and resurrection, i.e.,
Matthew's unique account of two earthquakes, one that opened the
tombs of the many saints (at Jesus' death) and one that moved the
stone to open Jesus' tomb (Easter morning). The other gospel
writers remarkably neglected to mention that even one earthquake
took place. That leaves Matthew's account on doubly shaky ground.
Neither did Matthew use the most precise words to depict this
wonder, because the verses state, literally, that the saints were
raised at the time of Jesus' death and then lay around in their
tombs for a day and a half before entering the city! That
absurdity arises from what appears to be a sloppy interpolation of
the phrase "after his resurrection":
And Jesus cried again with a loud voice, and yielded up
his spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was rent in
two from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake; and
the rocks were rent; and the tombs were opened; and many
bodies of the saints that had fallen asleep were raised: and
coming forth out of the tombs after his resurrection they
entered into the holy city and appeared unto many (27:50-53).
The verses make more sense without that phrase than with it.
Without it, they would simply state that the raised saints
immediately entered the city upon Jesus' death. But some
Christian copyist, or perhaps the gospel's chief editor, felt
obligated to add the phrase "after his resurrection" to ensure the
priority of Jesus' resurrection, regardless of the literal
People who believe that many tombs were opened and that many
saints appeared to many will of course have little trouble also
believing that Jesus was resurrected. However, those of us who
doubt the story of the many raised saints see in it a reflection
of the kind of blind faith that made the story of Jesus'
resurrection catch on in the first place.
(Ed Babinski's address is 109 Burwood Drive, Simpsonville, SC
MORE ABOUT THE RESURRECTED SAINTS
The attention it has received indicates that Ed Babinski's
article about the resurrected saints (TSR, Winter 1992, pp. 14-
15) touched a sensitive spot in the thick skin of Bible
inerrancy. A reader in Georgia wrote a "response" to it as did
also Tom Fishbeck in his newsletter The Bible Answers, which he
presents as a bulletin published to express the views of SIG, a
special interest group of MENSA, on biblical issues. A reader
receiving a free subscription to TSR at the request of a friend
called to ask that his name be removed from our mailing list. When
asked if he would mind telling us his specific objections to the
paper, he cited the "stupid nonsense" in articles like "the one
about the resurrected saints" as the reason why he preferred not
to have TSR "polluting his mail box."
It is one thing to hurl insults at ideas embarrassing to
one's personal beliefs; it is another to refute the ideas with
logical arguments. I read Fishbeck's "rebuttal" of Ed Babinski's
article and found it weak as water. He suggested four possible
explanations he is "willing to believe" about the problem of these
mysterious, unnamed saints who were resurrected from their tombs
at the moment Jesus died on the cross: (1) Matthew was accurate,
(2) Matthew was accurately reporting the occurrence of false
testimony of others without knowing it was false, (3) the original
gospel of Matthew asserted at least one error, or (4) a change was
made to one of the earliest copies of the gospel of Matthew (The
Bible Answers, Nov. 1991, p. 4).
The first of these explanations is no explanation at all,
because the whole thrust of Babinski's article was that such an
event as this would have been so extraordinary that news of it
would surely have reached contemporary historians and thus been
passed down to us in secular records or, if not that, the other
gospel writers would have considered the event to be such
convincing evidence of the divinity of Jesus that they too would
have included it in their accounts of the crucifixion and
resurrection. To say, then, that a possible explanation of this
problem is that Matthew was accurate explains absolutely nothing.
The mystery of the exclusion of this stupendous miracle from the
other gospels still begs for a sensible explanation.
Fishbeck's second and third explanations are even worse
solutions, because they totally destroy the Bible inerrancy
doctrine. How could Matthew have been inerrantly guided in what he
was writing if he reported as truth "the occurrence of false
testimony of others"? That he may have unknowingly done this is
beside the point, because the whole purpose of divine inspiration
would have been to protect the inspired writers from error. So if
Matthew were in fact verbally inspired by the Holy Spirit in what
he wrote, he wouldn't have made mistakes unknowingly.
Furthermore, this Matthew was presumably one of the apostles who
were present in Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified, so if such an
event as this really happened, wouldn't he have had personal
knowledge of it? Unless he was incredibly dense, he couldn't
possibly have been duped by false testimony about a miracle that
he would have known from his own personal experience had not
happened. Also, if "the original gospel of Matthew asserted at
least one error," as Fishbeck said he was "willing to believe,"
then the gospel of Matthew was not inerrant, and if the gospel of
Matthew was not inerrant, how can we believe that any of the
gospels and other allegedly inspired books were inerrant?
Fishbeck, who has often bent over backwards in his newsletter to
defend the Bible against error, seemed not to be thinking too
clearly when he offered the possibility of an error as a defense
His fourth and final explanation was almost as damaging, for
if "a change was made to one of the earliest copies of the gospel
of Matthew," that would merely underscore a problem sensible
Bible readers have long recognized: the original autographs of the
Bible have been so corrupted by redactions and copyist errors that
no rational-thinking person can have an iota of confidence in the
integrity of the present text. God verbally inspired the original
manuscripts of the Bible, we are told, but then left the
transmission of them to error-prone scribes and translators. That
makes about as much sense as belief in astrology and crystal
In a letter to Fishbeck, Ed Babinski pointed out an
interesting bit of information that was not included in his
original article or in a written exchange on the same subject that
he had earlier made with Gary Habermas of Jerry Falwell's Liberty
University: "Both Mark and Luke contain in sequence the passages
which immediately precede and follow the Matthean 'raising of the
many'" (personal correspondence, April 17, 1992). Perhaps the best
way to emphasize the force of Babinski's point would be to
juxtapose Matthew's account with Mark's:
Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was
darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour Jesus
cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Eli, Eli, lama
sabachthani?" that is, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken
Some of those who stood there, when they heard that,
said, "This man is calling for Elijah!" Immediately one of
them ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put
it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink.
The others said, "Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah
will come to save Him."
And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded
up his spirit.
Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two
from top to bottom; _and_the_earth_quaked,_and_the_rocks_were
So when the centurion and those with him, who were
guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake, and the things that had
happened, they feared greatly, saying, "Truly this was the
Son of God!"
And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee,
ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar, among
whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses,
and the mother of Zebedee's sons (Matt. 27:45-56, NKJV).
If one would just omit the underlined part, for all intents and
purposes, he would have Mark's version of the same events, but to
make this point as emphatic as possible, I will show the entire
parallel passage from Mark:
Now when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness
over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth
hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Eloi, Eloi,
lama sabachthani?" which is translated, "My God, My God, why
have you forsaken me?"
Some of those who stood by, when they heard that, said,
"Look, He is calling for Elijah!" Then someone ran and filled
a sponge full of sour wine, put it on a reed, and offered it
to him to drink, saying, "Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah
will come to take Him down."
And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His
Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to
bottom. So when the centurion, who stood opposite Him, saw
that He cried out like this and breathed His last, he said,
"Truly this man was the Son of God."
There were also women looking on from afar, among whom
were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of
Joses, and Salome, who also followed Him and ministered to
Him when he was in Galilee, and many other women who came up
with Him to Jerusalem (Mark 15: 33-41, NKJV).
I could have started the quotations several verses earlier
and extended them several more, and the results would have been
the same. The two accounts are alike detail for detail, except
for Matthew's statement about the earthquake that opened the
graves of the resurrected saints.
This startling fact requires bibliolaters to believe that the
Holy Spirit in his omniscient wisdom guided Mark to record such
trivial details as the casting of lots for Jesus's garments
(mentioned earlier in both accounts) and the offering of sour wine
(vinegar) to Jesus, just as Matthew reported, but for some reason
chose not to have Mark tell about the resurrection of many saints
who later went into the holy city and appeared to many! Only the
gullibly naive could possibly believe that.
Some inerrantists will no doubt argue that the details just
mentioned were far from trivial in that they fulfilled OT
prophecies. However, that these alleged prophecy fulfillments were
more imaginative than factual can easily be seen by examining the
whole contexts of the OT scriptures that they referred to (Ps.
22:18; 69:21). On this issue, Babinski scored another important
point in his letter to Fishbeck through several quotations that
underscored the absurdity of believing that a miracle of this
magnitude would have been omitted not just from the other gospel
accounts but also from alleged prophecies of the crucifixion. A
particularly significant one was from Christianity's old nemesis
Matthew concludes his book by saying that when Jesus
expired on the cross, the rocks rent the graves open, and the
bodies of many of the saints arose; and Mark says, there was
darkness over the land from the sixth hour until the ninth.
They produce no prophecy for this; but had these things been
facts, they would have been a proper subject for prophecy,
because none but an almighty power could have inspired a
foreknowledge of them, and afterwards fulfilled them.
Since then there is no such prophecy, but a pretended
prophecy of an old coat ["They parted my garments among
them..."], the proper deduction is, there were no such
things... (An Examination of the Passages in the New
Testament... Called Prophecies concerning Jesus Christ, pam.,
Bible believers boast that Thomas Paine's best known work, The Age
of Reason, has been repeatedly and soundly refuted, but in reality
his arguments against belief in divine inspiration of the Bible
have never been satisfactorily rebutted. In 1776, he wrote a
political tract that he entitled Common Sense. Bibliolaters would
do well to apply that title to the matters referred to in Paine's
pamphlet just quoted. The omniscient Yahweh had his prophets
predict such piddling crucifixion events as casting lots for the
Messiah's garments and giving him vinegar on a sponge but didn't
have the prophets predict an earthquake that would resurrect many
dead saints! Who can believe it?
Inerrantists may cry argument from silence as loudly as they
wish, but in all that he has said about these resurrected saints,
Babinski has addressed some very serious problems in the inerrancy
doctrine. They deserve a response, not flippant dismissal.
(Readers wishing to contact Tom Fishbeck about this subject
or his newsletter may do so at P. O. Box 105, Pasadena, MD 21122.
Ed Babinski's address is 109 Burwood Drive, Simpsonville, SC
Jim Lippard Lippard@CCIT.ARIZONA.EDU
Dept. of Philosophy Lippard@ARIZVMS.BITNET
University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ 85721
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank