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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

apocalyptic genre and historicity: Matt. 27:51b-53

Matt. 27:51b ... καὶ ἡ γῆ ἐσείσθη καὶ αἱ πέτραι ἐσχίσθησαν,  52 καὶ τὰ μνημεῖα ἀνεῴχθησαν καὶ πολλὰ σώματα τῶν κεκοιμημένων ἁγίων ἠγέρθησαν,  53 καὶ ἐξελθόντες ἐκ τῶν μνημείων μετὰ τὴν ἔγερσιν αὐτοῦ εἰσῆλθον εἰς τὴν ἁγίαν πόλιν καὶ ἐνεφανίσθησαν πολλοῖς. 

Matt. 27:51b NRSV  … The earth shook, and the rocks were split.  52 The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.  53 After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.  54 Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” 

“Many evangelical scholars interpret the celestial phenomena in Acts 2 and Matthew 24 as apocalyptic symbols with no corresponding literal events involving those celestial bodies. I became persuaded that the raised saints in Matthew 27 belonged to the same genre.”
Michael Licona, Roundtable [2012:74].

“STR: Dr. Licona, is it not better to understand the description in Matt. 27:52-53 simply as a historical description of what happened at the moment of Jesus’ death?”

“Licona: Not necessarily. The “better” way to understand Matthew’s description of the raised saints is the way Matthew intended for them to be understood. If they are an apocalyptic symbol or poetic device, interpreting them in a literal-historical sense, that is, to “historicize” them, could lead one to misinterpret what Matthew was actually saying.” — Roundtable [2012:75].

J. J. Collins [Collins 1997:110-112] considers resurrection a major component within the apocalyptic world view. It isn’t anything remotely like “special affects” or “atmosphere” added to lend a numinous mood to the narrative. Rather, the resurrection of the dead is a significant thematic element within the content of apocalypticism. 

Several members of the Roundtable [2012] pointed out that the reference made to eyewitnesses in Jerusalem makes it perfectly plain that Matthew intends to anchor the resurrection of the saints in space and time.      

[1] “A Roundtable Discussion with Michael Licona on The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Danny Akin, Craig Blomberg, Paul Copan, Michael Kruger, Michael Licona, and Charles Quarles)” in Southeastern Theological Review 3.1 (2012), 71-98.

[2] The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010).

[3]  Apocalypticism in the Dead Sea Scrolls (The Literature of the Dead Sea Scrolls) by John J. Collins, 1997.


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