QUESTION: When Jesus died there was a massive earthquake as described in Matthew 27. It says that the dead bodies of holy ones were raised up and many saw them. Was this an actual resurrection of those holy ones or just their graves and dead bodies exposed by the effect of the earthquake? If it was a resurrection does it signify anything in the future?

Here is the account in question: And, look! the curtain of the sanctuary was rent in two, from top to bottom, and the earth quaked, and the rock-masses were split. And the memorial tombs were opened and many bodies of the holy ones that had fallen asleep were raised up, (and persons, coming out from among the memorial tombs after his being raised up, entered into the holy city,) and they became visible to many people. But the army officer and those with him watching over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things happening, grew very much afraid, saying: ‘Certainly this was God’s Son.’”

This is one of those passages that is difficult to understand. Perhaps it is a scribal error in some of the earliest copies. I don’t know. But for starters, although some translations say the holy ones were raised to “life,” that is not what the Greek says. It merely states that the tombs were opened  and “bodies” were raised up – perhaps meaning entombed, lifeless corpses became exposed. That horrific phenomenon is not uncommon. At times floods and earthquakes have been known to unearth the dead.

One problem with a literal resurrection is the fact that the expression “holy ones” is used almost exclusively in connection with the chosen ones. Yet at the time of Jesus’ death the holy spirit had not anointed the disciples. The outpouring did not occur until fifty days later. In other words the holy ones had not been born, so it is confusing that they are said to be sleeping in death. Besides, Jesus is called the firstborn from the dead – meaning he was the first to be resurrected to everlasting life. So, if there was a resurrection then those “holy ones” would have died again.

If it had been a literal resurrection probably the other Gospel writers would have written about it too.  But none of them did.

As regards the possible scribal error, it would make more sense if the phrase “and they became visible to many people” followed immediately after the sentence that described the tombs being opened and the dead being raised. Those persons coming out from the tombs were witnesses to the event and they then entered the holy city and told others what had happened.



Related Posts