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Matthew 27:50-53

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

(I highlighted verses 52 & 53).

Is there any evidence outside the Gospel of Matthew for these people coming back to life, whether inside the Bible or outside?

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This questions was also on Christianity SE. – Wikis Sep 24 '12 at 7:15
up vote 5 down vote accepted

I've read speculation that these people are what Paul refers to in 1st Corinthians 15:6 (ESV):

Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.

There are a few parallels:

  • Many people involved
  • Minimal details
  • The euphemism sleep (κοιμάω) to mean death
  • Occurred around the time of Christ's resurrection
  • Provides evidence or support for the resurrection

But there just doesn't seem to be enough information to link these people together. It would be an ideal time for Paul to mention a mass resurrection since that was the point he was trying to argue in his letter. And if the resurrected people also saw Jesus resurrected, we might expect Matthew to have mentioned it. (Though this whole section is more of a side note to the main even: Jesus' crucifixion.)

I'm inclined to think that Paul did not know this story, since it would provide far more evidence of a general resurrection than what he did provide. Since Matthew was compiled later than any of Paul's letters, it's possible this story was not widely circulated at the time. It's also possible that Matthew and/or his source misunderstood what happened. There's no textual criticism evidence that I know of that the story was a later insertion.

This just seems to be one of those details in the Bible that we will never get the full story on.

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Prior to Jesus's resurrection, the followers of Jesus appeared to be lacking in knowledge, easily frightened and quick to renounce Him (Peter), and generally unwilling to stand up for what they believed. Suddenly, after Jesus's ascension, Christianity explodes over the ancient world, believers are leaving their homes and belongings and going to every part of the world. I believe this was due to 3 factors: #1) Epiphany; the coming of the Holy Spirit to dwell bodily in those who believed Jesus (not something that previously occurred before Jesus's resurrection), #2) Personal witnessing of Jesus alive (Thomas), and of His ascension, and #3) witnessing of resurrected saints, some of whom people may have known, walking and speaking in Jerusalem shortly after Jesus's resurrection. These 3 events may have made it impossible for believers who were 'on the fence' to deny Jesus's power any longer. They witnessed Jesus's death, they witnessed His resurrection, and they witnessed other people that they knew for sure had died, has seen buried, and had been dead for months or years, and then saw them alive again. It's one thing to hear testimony that someone has risen from the dead, it's another thing to see it with your own eyes, particularly someone who you know, and saw buried. So they lost all fear of death, or of persecution, or of being rejected by their peers, or families, because they had first-hand knowledge that caused them to believe that they would live forever, in paradise. Whatever happened, it divided ancient Israel, and made it practically ungovernable for the Romans. As Jesus said, I come not to bring peace, but a sword; people were divided against each other fanatically, and the issue that divided them was the identity of Jesus. Anyway, in 72 AD Titus and the Roman Legion had to march on Jerusalem, and burn the temple down, and kill a third of the Jews, and cart the rest of them off to Germania (and Poland, same district in those days), where they lived as refugees and outcasts until they were collected together by Hitler, underwent the Holocaust, and then were returned to their promised land, just as foretold in the Old Testament.

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