There is no point is in trying to harmonize this apparent contradiction. Paul's writing presents strictly historical and ignores all legendary stories such as the Matthew 27:52-53, and even the virgin birth narrative.
The account of the zombies is clearly a theological fiction, and is not supposed to be taken as a historical fact. The passage is not just disturbing to the modern man, but it was so since the beginning; as a result we see that the third century Egerton Papyrus 3, which is attributed to Origen, removes the phrase of tombs opening and appearing to many. He apparently tries to allegorize the passage of resurrected saints surrounding the holy city. The textual details of that papyrus are found in this article ΜΕΤΑ ΤΗΝ ΕΓΕΡΣΙΝ ΑΥΤΟΥ A Scribal Interpolation in Matthew 27:53? by Charles Quarles, 2015 (TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism) arguing in defence for the textual authenticity of the phrase "after his resurrection". Note, the fact that the saints after resurrecting waiting till Christ's resurrection does not solve the contradiction, since they had already been woken up; they were apparently waiting and lingering to walk few steps to enter the city.
The Matthew 27:52-53 account is best explained as a Haggadic Fiction. Dale C. Allison, Jr. in the book The Resurrection of Jesus Apologetics, Polemics, History 2021, nicely summarizes the scholarly interpretations and handling of the passage. It is a fact that even some good conservative scholars have begun to correctly interpret the passage as an allegorical fiction. See chapter 7 Resurrected Holy Ones?, page 167 onwards:
The questions are so strange because Mt. 27:51b-53 is so strange. Strauss remarked: “to render this incident conceivable is a matter of unusual difficulty.”14
Michael Licona shares Hagner’s judgment, although his justification is a bit different. Focusing on the prodigies often associated, in antiquity, with the deaths of important figures,15 he comes to this verdict: Mt. 27:51b-53 is written in the language of “special effects,” The piece is “poetic.” It emphasizes “that a great king has died,” and perhaps that “the day of the Lord has come.”16
CONSCIOUS HAGGADIC FICTION?
I concur with Licona’s historical judgment: Mt. 27:51b-53 is not history. I very much doubt, however, that the evangelist Matthew—as Licona and others hold17—was being consciously poetic, or that he anticipated readers who would find purely theological meaning. John Calvin, because of his Renaissance education, was quite aware that “the ancient poets in their tragedies describe the sun’s light being withdrawn from the earth when any foul crime is committed, and so aim to show a portent of divine wrath: this was a fiction that drew from the common feelings of nature.”18 Yet Calvin simultaneously thought that the sun did indeed go dark when Jesus died.19 In other words, the Reformer could discover a literary trope and history in one and the same sentence. Maybe it was not so different in Matthew’s time and place.
The issues here quickly become complex. An increasing number of scholars have proposed that some stories in the gospels should be understood as purely metaphorical. Such stories, in the words of Marcus Borg, “are not based on the memory of particular events, but are symbolic narratives created for their metaphorical meaning. As such, they are not meant to be historical reports. Rather, the stories use symbolic language that points beyond a factual meaning.”20 Roger David Aus is of like mind: the gospels preserve haggadic tales that, in their original Jewish-Christian settings, were not mistaken for history as it really was. Hearers instead “greatly appreciated” a “narrator’s creative abilities in reshaping traditions already known to them in order to express a religious truth (or truths) about Jesus, their Lord, the Messiah of Israel.”21
If Borg and Aus are right, the way is open to supposing that a Jewish evangelist could have incorporated or created an episode, such as the resurrection of the holy ones, whose fictional character he and his first audience took for granted.22 Literal readings came later, through misunderstanding.
Yet the gospels do little, in my judgment, to make us think that their authors intended any of their narrative materials to be understood as purely metaphorical.23 The same is true, I now wish to argue, of Mt. 27:51b-53 in particular.
(1) Matthew 27:51b-53 makes three large claims. First, there was an earthquake. Second, “holy ones” came to life. Third, they appeared to many in Jerusalem. While all this may strike us as fantastic, we have no reason to imagine that any of it would have surpassed the boggle threshold of Matthew or his first readers. He, who otherwise believed that miracles enveloped Jesus’ life, knew scriptural texts that recount earthquakes in the past and that prophesy them for the future.24 The evangelist also believed that God had raised Jesus from the dead and would raise others at the last judgment.25 And he knew about the resurrected Jesus appearing to others (28:7, 9-10, 16-20). Nothing in 27:51b-53 transgresses the possibilities that the rest of the narrative establishes for believing readers.
(2) We must not confuse what seems legendary to us, or at least many of us, with what seemed legendary to those in another time and place.26 Consider the list of wonders in y. ‘Abod. Zar. 42c (3:1)