Pages 14-15: winter 1992
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 any-
where else in the gospels. It makes the postresurrection appearing of Jesus
"to above five hundred brethren at once" (1 Cor. 15:6) appear tame in
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 ap-
peared 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 his-
tory 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 ap-
pearing 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 doubt-
ed" Jesus' own resurrection (Matt. 28:17), who could fail to have been im-
pressed 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
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 ceme-
tery 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 resur-
rection of many, they would have readily accepted the claim that one man had
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 dis-
proof; 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 mythi-
cal 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 halfbefore 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 consequences.
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 29681-
JESUS ADVANCED IN WISDOM?
A TSR reader who also subscribes to Christian Courier has pointed out
another flaw in editor Wayne Jackson's thinking. In an article entitled
"Amazing Grace" (October 1991, p. 1), without even as much as a mental
blink, Jackson quoted Luke 2:52, where it was said that Jesus "advanced in
wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men." "How could this be?"
our subscriber asked, since Jesus, allegedly, was God, the Word who had
created all things in the beginning (Jn. 1:1-3).
This does appear to pose a problem for Jackson and his inerrantist col-
leagues. If Jesus was God who created all things (Col. 1:16), then surely he
was omniscient. How could it possibly be, then, that he "advanced in wisdom"
when he was a child? Are we to understand that omniscience can increase its
knowledge? Furthermore, when Luke said that Jesus advanced in favor with
God, what did this mean? That Jesus had advanced in favor with himself? We
invite Mr. Jackson to answer these perplexing questions, but his past record
of refusing such invitations, tells us that he will probably refuse this one
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