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51 When Jesus died, the curtain in the Temple was torn into two pieces. The tear started at the top and tore all the way to the bottom. Also, the earth shook and rocks were broken. 52 The graves opened, and many of God’s people who had died were raised from death. 53 They came out of the graves. And after Jesus was raised from death, they went into the holy city, and many people saw them. -Matthew 27:51

Aside from Jesus healing people, this appears to me as the biggest supernatural event in the Gospel: Other people rising from the dead, out of graves!

However, there is only 1 line given to this?

Are there any more details about what happened here?

Thanks!

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Have you looked at commentaries on this passage? –  DJClayworth Aug 21 '12 at 20:02
    
I suppose, from God's view, the "biggest supernatural events" are as significant or insignificant as the smaller, more subtle ones. –  Matt Aug 22 '12 at 4:31
    
@Matt: I guess so. –  Greg McNulty Aug 22 '12 at 20:30
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The LDS church believe fully in this event. If you're interested, visit scriptures.byu.edu and navigate on the left to Matt 27:52-53 for a list of talks by church leaders that mention the subject. –  JustinY Aug 23 '12 at 17:57
    
@JustinY: great reference, thank you! –  Greg McNulty Aug 24 '12 at 23:53

5 Answers 5

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Yes, you are right, this would have been a pretty significant event. The fact this story is only mentioned in one of the gospels (and incredibly briefly at that) is interesting. More interesting, perhaps, is that we have a range of non-Biblical records from a similar time, and this event is not recorded. Frankly, it would have been. Corpses stumbling through the streets is not something that people idly dismiss. Even for the people not all that interested in "yet another prophet", but just wanted to eke out their existence - this would have been a huge event.

I know this won't be popular, but it seems the most likely explanation is that this was an embellishment, perhaps intended to resonate with a particular audience, but equally perhaps just accidentally added during the oral tradition (IIRC the gospel of Matthew is usually dated between 40 and 70 years after these events).

The problem, though, is that it is not kosher to suggest/acknowledge this view, because it raises the ugly question: "if that bit is an embellishment, what else is?", and throws the "divine inspired" into chaos. But: I know plenty of Christians who raise an eyebrow at this part of Matthew, particularly because it is so throwaway. Your confusion over this event (I'm looking in particular at your comments on Randy's answer) are not unique to yourself.

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@Greg for the record, this probably shouldn't be the accepted answer, as arguably it officially cannot be a church position - even if many Christians might be tempted to agree with it –  Marc Gravell Aug 23 '12 at 17:09
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doesn't mean I believe any less in Jesus. When I answer to God I will tell Him I did question this part...and he may say yeah, that's Matthew but he's cool with me. –  Greg McNulty Aug 23 '12 at 17:15
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@Marc It depends on the church. Many denominations teach that the Bible is authoritative in matters of doctrine, but may not be reliable in matters of history. –  Bruce Alderman Aug 23 '12 at 17:24
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I think its incorrect to assume that those who rose resembled corpses. The whole idea of the resurrection implies that they at least looked normal, or perhaps even glorified. –  JustinY Aug 23 '12 at 17:52
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@JustinY it would be speculation either way, but: in either event - pretty note-worthy by anyone's standards. –  Marc Gravell Aug 23 '12 at 18:06

Why it is not found elsewhere in New Testament and why only one-line mention for this event?

We can only speculate. Nevertheless we can certainly deduce following conclusions by having a closer look at these passages:

If one visualizes this event happening then it is likely that the same was possibly not a public fanfare as it is made out in this question:

  1. “The graves opened”. It would be not right to take these words literally because when someone is raised from the death, this is likely to be an expression in describing that event.
  2. “Many of God’s people who had died were raised from the death”. Note that not all the dead people came out of graves but only God’s people (Holy people) came back to life.
  3. Also note that the next passage is very specifically saying that they went to holy city- meaning Jerusalem. It is not that these dead people came out of the grave and strolled the streets of their respective localities where they lived. We can safely conclude here that they were seen by a very few people, that too by those who were in the know of recognising them.
  4. This event would be a personal experience for each one of these people who saw the risen people and would not be a public phenomenon or an exhibition, where all the dead people would be parading through the holy city with a tag on them so that all people will see.
  5. These “God’s people” could also be from all over the world. So it is unlikely that all the people who saw them in (holy city) Jerusalem would recognise them.
  6. There is another possibility: These few chosen people witnessing the event, could be also holy people who were witnessing their presence in holy city something similar to encounter of Jesus with a few chosen, for we find something like this here:

Acts. 10:40 but God raised him up on the third day and caused him to be seen, 10:41 not by all the people, but by us, the witnesses God had already chosen, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.

What Mathew is recording was possibly his own testimony of this unique event or of those pious witnesses who confided in him during his ministry in the holy city.

Hence it is likely that this event was occurring in isolation with the knowledge of few and failed to rattle everyone in the holy city to become it known to everyone at that time. We would never know God’s mind but one possible reason for restricting the knowledge of this event to few chosen could be that Jesus was not yet resurrected and for that reason the Jews were not be alerted about it till it happened. This event in Mathew could be one of such kind, which was known only to a very few and somehow Mathew was one of the few who knew it.

Regarding second sub-question: The context where this event is narrated is in the midst of narration of yet another great event that was occurring: Dying of Son of God on cross for the humanity. Deviating from the narration of this and detailing on an event of people rising from the dead (when there are already other detailed narrations running into several verses on such similar events elsewhere in Gospels) would have diluted the importance of this main event of dying on the cross.

In general:

Each and every miracle that Jesus performed, including numerous other phenomenons that surrounded Him (His birth, transfiguration etc.) were not ordinary but were all greatest supernatural events. Regardless of this, we find that some of these events are not mentioned in all the Gospels.

It is common to see that some people attack the Bible for having four versions of the same story in the Gospels and other people attack the Bible for not having four exact copies of the same stories in the Gospels. Birth of Jesus is mentioned only in Matthew and Luke. Since it is not mentioned in Mark and John does it means that we should discard the fact that he was ever born?

Likewise, the event of Lazarus rising from the dead is recorded only in John’s Gospel and in no other gospel. This event in Mathew in similar manner is recorded only in Mathew. Both are not ordinary events yet they are not appearing in all the Gospels.

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In the Book of Mormon (which you might accept as Holy Scripture or not, at least i do), the same event is prophesied by Samuel the Lamanite in the following words:

Helaman 14:25 And many graves shall be opened, and shall yield up many of their dead; and many saints shall appear unto many.

Later, when Christ appears after his resurrection, he says:

3 Nephi 23:9 Verily I say unto you, I commanded my servant Samuel, the Lamanite, that he should testify unto this people, that at the day that the Father should glorify his name in me that there were many saints who should arise from the dead, and should appear unto many, and should minister unto them. And he said unto them: Was it not so?

10 And his disciples answered him and said: Yea, Lord, Samuel did prophesy according to thy words, and they were all fulfilled.

11 And Jesus said unto them: How be it that ye have not written this thing, that many saints did arise and appear unto many and did minister unto them?

12 And it came to pass that Nephi remembered that this thing had not been written.

13 And it came to pass that Jesus commanded that it should be written; therefore it was written according as he commanded.

So what i take from this passage is that we need to imagine this as personal experiences as jayyeshu already pointed out. This event was probably more like many people having apparitions/visits of the risen than them actually walking the streets randomly. From what i understand, they did not just "come to life" again, and did not stay with, let's say, their family, for the rest of their life(and then die again as Lazarus). I understand it more as a form of Resurrection, which would explain why

  1. The people are not mentioned afterwards (they didn't stay on earth after they appeared)
  2. the other people didn't freak out about open graves (after all, Christ was able to leave his grave without opening it) - on the other hand, Christ's open grave didn't get much public attention either...

This is mostly my interpretation, but it clears a lot of the confusion around this event, and also explains why there is only one line in the New Testament that even speaks about it - heck, in the sciptures i mentioned we even have people that were perfectly aware of the matter, but still didn't write it down until Jesus commanded them.

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There is no doubt this truly happened, but in many of the events in the gospels, they are the only records of the history which is why they written. I think when one gospel has something and the others do not, we can assume this is not to be central in our view of the ministry of Christ, but that it is important from the angle that the individual writer takes.**

For example take Alfred Edresheims way of categorizing the gospels (which I like):

Matthew (Jewish view of the Christ) - has for its main object the Discourses or teaching of the Lord, around which the History groups itself. It is intended as a demonstration, primarily addressed to the Jews, and in a form peculiarly suited to them, that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

Mark (general view of the Christ) - is a rapid survey of the History of the Christ as such. It deals mainly with the Galilean Ministry.

Luke (Gentile view of the Christ) - complements the narratives in the other two Gospels (St. Matthew and St. Mark), and it supplements them by tracing, what is not done otherwise: the Ministry in Peroea. Thus, it also forms a transition to the Fourth Gospel of the Judæan Ministry.

John (the Church’s view of Christ) - which gives the highest, the reflective, view of the Eternal Son as the Word, deals almost exclusively with the Jerusalem Ministry.

With this category of Mathew we could say why did Mathew think the many dead raising to life and the thunder was important along side of the curtain tearing? We must keep in mind the gospels only select certain highlights of the miracles the Lord did and we can assume those that are recorded are only a drop in the bucker, juts as the words he spoke were much, much more than what was recorded. The words in the gospels are just little snippet summaries.

One possible answer is that Mathew, as writing to a Jewish audience, really wanted to stress the end of the Jewish Law and power in Christ’s death to end it. Besides the Jews expected Messiah to bring about a resurrection of the dead soon after his arrival to this earth (see here). The other three may have not have included it in their limited selection of material, because the focus should really be on Christ’s death at this point, who cares in a sense about his miracles now that the great event has arrived. So this is a great miracle and thankfully Mathew recorded it, but we must not let any miracles cloud the greatest event which was Christ’s death.

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thank you very much for the info about the angels of each writer. –  Greg McNulty Aug 23 '12 at 17:04
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I only read the first sentence, and already must downvote, for There is no doubt this truly happened. There clearly IS a doubt--just look at the accepted answer. You may have legitimate reasons to disregard those doubts, but that doesn't mean the doubts don't exist. An honest answer doesn't ignore the opposing view--it rather explains why the opposing view is wrong. –  Flimzy Nov 7 '13 at 23:45

Since the other three gospels are silent on this topic and it is not mentioned elsewhere in the NT (that I am aware of and I did some research before posting), I think the honest answer to this question is simply: nowhere. At least, not in this life. :)

The MacArthur Study Bible says:

Matthew alone mentions this miracle. Nothing more is said about these people...

and the ESV Study Bible says, among other things:

No other historical information about this event has been found...

Both sources do comment further, but IMO its reasoned conjecture and not really that helpful in the end.

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Stuff like this confuses the crap out of me. Matthew throws something out like this and it waters down some of the things I did believe without question before. Does that make sense? Is there a name for this experience? –  Greg McNulty Aug 22 '12 at 20:30
    
It's like his credibility goes down or something. I mean how could no one else write about this? –  Greg McNulty Aug 22 '12 at 20:39
    
Finally an answer with an actual answer to the question: nowhere –  Flimzy Nov 7 '13 at 23:50

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