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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?

Related question on Christianity.stackexchange.com: http://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/9246/where-can-i-find-out-more-about-other-people-rising-from-the-dead-when-jesus-di

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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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Very old question, but I'm surprised that no one brought this up. In 2 Timothy 2:17-18, while dealing with the subject of false teachers, Paul mentions some significant particulars:

Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.

Why would such a teaching appear? How could it be claimed or justified that the resurrection had already happened?

Matthew 27:52-53 provides an obvious answer.

The understandable confusion between this "limited preliminary resurrection" (if you will) and "THE" Resurrection which was and is still to occur, may also explain Paul's assurances and explanations to the believers at Thessalonica in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

...and further in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3:

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.

It's clear that the people of Thessalonica were getting a lot of confusing and contradictory stories about the timing and the details of Resurrection and the Day of the Lord. Hence Paul had to do some corrective teaching and offer assurances that no, none of them had 'missed the boat.'

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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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It is defended regularly by Early church fathers such as:

Ignatius to the Trallians (c. AD 70-115)

“For Says the Scripture, ‘May bodies of the saints that slept arose,’ their graves being opened. He descended, indeed, into Hades alone, but He arose accompanied by a multitude” (chap. Ix, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. I, p. 70).

Ignatius to the Magnesians (c. AD 70-115)

“…[T]herefore endure, that we may be found the disciples of Jesus Christ, our only Master—how shall we be able to live apart from Him, whose disciples the prophets themselves in the Spirit did wait for Him as their Teacher? And therefore He who they rightly waited for, being come, raised them from the dead” [Chap. IX] (Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds. The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. I (1885). Reprinted by Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, p. 62. Emphasis added in all these citations).

Irenaeus (c. AD 120-200)

“…He [Christ] suffered who can lead those souls aloft that followed His ascension. This event was also an indication of the fact that when the holy hour of Christ descended [to Hades], many souls ascended and were seen in their bodies” (Fragments from the Lost Writings of Irenaeus XXVIII, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. I, Alexander Roberts, ibid., 572-573).

Clement of Alexandria (c. AD 155-200)

“‘But those who had fallen asleep descended dead, but ascended alive.’ Further, the Gospel says, ‘that many bodies of those that slept arose,’—plainly as having been translated to a better state” (Alexander Roberts, ed. Stromata, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. II, chap. VI, 491).

This does not include the multiple times the phrase was quoted by later church Fathers (Tertullian, Hippolytus, Origen, Cyril, etc). If one suggests that it was added to the text, they must first grapple with its extended use in these and other very early documents and decide how an error was placed within the text so early in transmission.

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There might be a reason why History does not record this event. Consider, It does not say, all people witnessed it. It rather says, they appeared to many. And this may be to a chosen people - Acts 10:38-41....Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly; 41 NOT TO ALL THE PEOPLE, but unto witnesses chosen before of God...

Also, bear in mind something that happened right after Jesus’ resurrection recorded in Matthew 28:11-15, Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests ALL THE THINGS THAT HAD HAPPENED. When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, “Tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure.” So they took the money and DID AS THEY WERE INSTRUCTED; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day. The religious authorities bribed the soldiers into keeping quiet about what had happened to Jesus. If they were so shrewd as to try to cover up the resurrection of Jesus, do you think they would not try to cover up the resurrection of others if indeed these things had occurred, especially if they gave credence to Jesus’ resurrection? Ignoring one missing body is one thing, but hundreds or possibly thousands is another.

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