This question is very similar to a question I just asked, but it's not a duplicate (just hear me out). Since there are many ways to read the Bible, I wanted to understand multiple points of view, that being: 1) those who understand this as a non-literal, non-historical event (modern, liberal scholars, perhaps) -- the previous question; 2) those who interpret the events as literal, specifically the pericope of the Resurrection of the Holy Ones as cited in Matthew's Passion narrative specifically -- this question. Of course, the main body of the question will be similar, but I wanted to direct the question towards a different audience and provide a venue for that. There are also a variety of other questions geared for those who interpret it as literal.

The scripture of focus is:

And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God. (Matthew 27:51-54. KJV)

With phenomenal events such as an earthquake so mighty it opens a number of graves and then the righteous dead arise and interact with the community, one would expect Matthew to explicate these miracles beyond the pithy lines in his text; or, at least, expect the other evangelists to also document these incidences in their narratives. The Markan narrative denotes the temple’s rented veil and the centurion’s response, but does not make any mention of an earthquake or the resurrection of saints. Similarly, Luke and John do not make even the slightest reference to these events.

Additionally, during Peter’s pontifical address during Pentecost, not even a nebulous reference to a powerful earthquake or the resurrection of these saints is conveyed. Pentecost occurred fifty days following Christ’s resurrection and the supposed Holy Ones’ appearance to “many.” Therefore, the omission of these events in Peter’s address, especially to an audience that were likely witnesses to these events, is a curious oversight.

Why didn't the other Gospel writers write about these? Why aren't there other extra-biblical sources for these events? It seems like more than Christ's followers would have witnessed these events.... And it certainly seems like something people would continue to talk about for ages thereafter... Are there other sources that may imply the opening of tombs and rising of the deceased?

Or were only the righteous ones able to "see" these?

Or is it that there weren't that many "righteous" individuals in the scheme of things -- that it was hardly noticed?

Or that the resurrected beings, looked just like everyone else?

Or did the High Priest somehow cover-up this story? (For instance, we read that they tried telling people that Christ's body was stolen).

Or did they just destroy all the records they could get their hands on? (and the general witness to these events were illiterate)?

Or we simply have not unearthed these records yet? After all, an absence of evidence is not evidence for something, right?

Just confused why no one else mentions it. (Please correct me if I'm wrong!)

Also, do we have any archaeological records of tombs breaking open?

And does the geological record correspond to an earthquake happening in this region?

***If you are interested as to a non-literal, modern interpretation, please see my other question for the answer provided there.

  • Very intriguing question. Gives us so much to think about. Thanks for providing a separate venue, giving us space to consider multiple waves of thoughts. I appreciate the tolerance of multiple points of views. Way to go Butterfly! Aug 20 '16 at 22:38
  • These are a lot of questions in one, but they're good questions. Perhaps the first thing to consider is that Matthew is the most Jewish of the Gospels. I would assume that an event like this would be more meaningful to a Jewish audience, in that it fulfills prophecy or demonstrates the nature of God in a specific way that lines up with the OT, whereas, gentile readers would not have a good context to frame the true meaning of the event.
    – Joel H.
    Aug 22 '16 at 14:07
  • You are asking around a dozen different questions. Are there any particular questions in the list that you see as being more important than others?
    – user22553
    Aug 25 '16 at 15:00
  • 1
    I understand the "too broad" reason for closing, but I disagree. The core of the question is found in the statement, "Just confused why no one else mentions it." The rest of the questions are just there as possible jumping-off points for answers, as I understand it. Seems like a reasonable and answerable question. Aug 30 '16 at 19:01
  • 1
    Jehovah's Witnesses do interpret those particular scriptures literally, but we don't believe the account is saying those people were resurrected back to life. "these verses do not describe a resurrection but merely a throwing of bodies out of their tombs". - wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200002975#h=10 Dec 26 '16 at 21:31

There is geological evidence of two Earthquakes in the middle east between A.D. 26 and 32:


One of these may have occurred at the time of Jesus' crucifixion.

The writer of the Gospel of John declares that he was selective in the material he presents. John 21:25:

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

What he states openly, we may assume that the others practiced implicitly. That is, any event may be found in one gospel but absent in another, should that event not be relevant to the point the gospel writer was trying to emphasize.

So what was Matthew's emphasis? He wrote to Jews, about their laws, prophecies, and hopes, their kings and their messiah. But at the end of the gospel, the curtain of the temple is torn in two, removing the separation between priest and laity. The tombs are split open, removing the separation between living and dead. And when the centurion feels the earthquake and sees the other events, he declares that Jesus is the Son of God- the separation between Jew and Gentile is gone.

In Revelation, John mentions five earthquakes. Preterists and partial preterists would say that some of the events of Revelation have already occurred. One of those earthquakes may be an allusion to the earthquake at the time of the crucifixion.

  • "removing the separation between priest and laity" actually the veil separated God and his people. The priests only went past the veil once a year.
    – PyRulez
    Feb 13 '18 at 16:56

1. Mt 27:52-53 as literal fulfillment of Eze 37:12-14

It can be immediately seen that the passage in question fulfills literally this promise that the LORD made to Israel through prophet Ezekiel:

Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people. I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken and done it,” declares the LORD.’ (Eze 37:12-14).

I will highlight the exact correlation between the two passages by placing each action promised by the LORD through Ezequiel, in its two statements, next to its fulfillment recorded by Matthew:

Behold, I will open your graves / when I have opened your graves

The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised;

and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; / and [I have] caused you to come up out of your graves, My people.

and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection

and I will bring you into the land of Israel. / and I will place you on your own land.

they entered the holy city and appeared to many.

Actually, I think that Matthew did not state that this event was fulfillment of a prophecy in the Old Testament, as he did in many other passages of his Gospel, because the correlation between these two passages was so precise, so clear, so evident, that he thought it was not even necessary to point it out. Since he was writing for people familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures, his readers would notice the correlation immediately by themselves.

We should note that this physical fulfillment of the prophecy in Eze 37:12-14 is a sign of its way more important spiritual fulfillment in all Christian faithful. In other words, this multiple resurrection to physical mortal life was, just as Lazarus' resurrection to physical mortal life, a sign of the spiritual resurrection to eternal life which Jesus earned for us with His death and resurrection, which we receive when we are united to His death and resurrection in baptism (Rom 6:3-5), and which will result, at Christ's glorious return, in our resurrection to physical immortal life.

2. Mt 27:52-53 as undoing of Mt 2:16-17

Considering the following data:

a. "For this reason the Son of God was revealed, so that He might undo the works of the devil." (1 Jn 3:8).

b. Matthew is the only Evangelist who recorded the fact that king Herod "the Great" sent men to "put to death all the boys in Bethlehem and in all its vicinity from two years old and under," (Mt 2:16) after the visit of the Magi.

c. This fact, together with many others narrated by historian Josephus, shows clearly that Herod was a man to whom these words of Jesus applied fully: "You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning," (Jn 8:44).

and looking in parallel at the narrations - exclusive to Matthew - of these two events that happened at the beginning and the end of Jesus' life respectively:

  • the execution of children by Herod after Jesus' birth and as a reaction against it

  • the resurrection of saints by Jesus (*) after his death and as a fruit of it

we can perceive an additional logic in Matthew's inclusion of both events in his Gospel: while Jesus' birth gave occasion for Herod to - as a reaction against this event - put innocent children to physical death, Jesus' death in filial obedience to the Father - which was his full manifestation as Son of God, according to his words: «When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I Am, and that I do nothing from Myself, but as the Father taught Me, I speak these things. And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.» (Jn 8:28-29) - gave occasion for Him to - as a fruit of this event - bring back to physical temporal life people who, spiritually, were innocent (which is clear from their description as "saints" by Matthew), as a sign of the superabundance of spiritual eternal life available to all men thanks to his merits in his obedience to the Father to the point of death, even death on a cross (Rom 5:19 and Phil 2:8). In other words, this undoing of the privation of physical temporal life of perhaps a few dozen was a sign of the undoing of the privation of spiritual eternal life of perhaps thousands of millions.

(*) Let us note that this undoing a work of the devil was performed by the Son of God through the human nature that He had assumed, since it was Jesus Who, on arriving in the state of disembodied soul to the Limbo of the Fathers or Abraham's Bosom, ordered these saints who were there awaiting the Redemption to rise from the dead.

3. Hypothesis: identity of the subjects of Mt 2:16-17 and Mt 27:52-53

To the exegesis done to this point, I add now the following hypothesis: the saints raised in Mt 27:52 were precisely the children murdered in Mt 2:16, so that Jesus, on the occasion and as a fruit of his death, undid the specific works of the devil done by Herod on the occasion of his birth. In my view, this hypothesis:

a. is fully compatible with the universal liturgical practice since the V century of commemorating the Holy Innocents, because commemorating them as saints implies to believe that they are enjoying the beatific vision, not that they were taken to the beatific vision right after Jesus' death together with Moses, the prophets, and all the rigtheous that were awaiting the Redemption in the Limbo of the Fathers or Abraham's Bosom. They could have arrived to the beatific vision through a holy life on earth. Let us note that leading these people to the beatific vision through a holy and spiritually fruitful life on earth procures more glory to God (epistemic glory = manifestation of his ontic glory) than taking them directly to the beatific vision.

b. explains the term "the Holy City" in Mt 27:53, which, if understood as referring to physical Jerusalem, carries a strong cognitive dissonance. Would precisely Matthew, who a few lines before had narrated that "All the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!”" (Mt 27:25), refer to Jerusalem as "the Holy City"? It is far more plausible that Matthew is referring here to the New Jerusalem, the spiritual Jerusalem, the Church: the raised saints appeared, or better said manifested, disclosed, revealed themselves as such (*), to members of the Church.

c. explains the total absence of social impact in Jerusalem out of that resurrection of "many" (around 20 in this hypothesis) saints, since given that they had died 35 years ago while being less than 2 years old, and that they had been raised as adults, any inhabitant of Jerusalem that crossed ways with one of them would have no idea at all of whom he was, even less of the fact that he had been raised from the dead, and would simply take him as just another Jew that had come from far away to Jerusalem for the Passover. Only those members of the Church to whom these raised saints manifested, disclosed, revealed themselves as such (*) could come to know what had really happened.

(*) The word in Mt 27:53 usually translated as "appeared" is enephanisthēsan, 3rd person plural of the aorist indicative passive tense of the verb emphanizō, which appears 10 times in the NT, with the following meanings in the other passages:

Jn 14:21-22: manifest, disclose, reveal (oneself)

Act 23:15: give notice, make a report, notify

Act 23:22: report, notify

Act 24:1; 25:2; 25:15: present (a case against X), inform (Y about X)

Heb 9:24: appear

Heb 11:14: make manifest, make it clear

From these occurrences, it is clear that the expression in Mt 27:53 can be plausibly understood as meaning that the raised saints manifested, disclosed, revealed themselves (as such) to many, that they notified many about their resurrection.

It is also clear that these "many" to whom the raised saints manfested themselves were exclusively members of the initial community of disciples of Jesus, because they were the only ones who could believe their testimony. Just think of the reaction of an inhabitant of Jerusalem in 30 AD (or of any other place in any other time) if a stranger approaches him saying: "Hi, I was dead for 35 years and have just been raised from the dead. Would you be so kind as to provide me with lodging and food for a while?"


This may be challenging to answer within the bounds of this site but I will begin by pointing out that the description of these events are stated plainly and without ambiguity.

Your point that there seems to be no Biblical or extra Biblical reinforcement of this is understood but, sadly, the temple guards were not, at that time required to wear body cams. Yes, a little tongue in cheek there but, in all your writing and in all your questions you seem to miss the point.

What is the point?, you ask.

It has nothing to do with earthquakes, veils torn in two, saints being resurrected or even the commentary of a Roman soldier. This was all "side show". The MOST SIGNIFICANT EVENT OF ALL TIME was taking place and these were "collateral effects" of such a cataclysmic event. That the side show receives only a passing mention should not be a surprise.

People choose "literal" or "non-literal" interpretations according to which reinforces their belief on a particular topic. (I may be guilty of this myself but I try to follow established principles when considering such things).

As for extra-biblical references, if I were in charge of writing history, and history made me look bad, I might be tempted to adjust it and, without the Holy Spirit to guide me, I would probably yield.

  • I don't understand the down votes, as this is more or less a frame challenge. Apr 24 '17 at 15:08

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