Tim Challies is doing a great series on the History of the Christian Church by discussing different items that represent great periods in our history. I wish I had thought of that! Well, I didn't so here is the first in his series: http://www.challies.com/articles/the-history-of-christianity-in-25-objects-introduction
And here is the latest (sixth): http://www.challies.com/articles/the-history-of-christianity-in-25-objects-codex-amiatinus?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+challies%2FXhEt+%28Challies+Dot+Com%29
Thursday, April 18, 2013
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Saturday, April 13, 2013
The Church Fathers and the Resurrection of the Saints
in Matthew 27
Norman L. Geisler
The Biblical Passage in Question
“And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from
top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The
tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had
fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his
resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch
over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled
with awe and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God’” (Matt. 27:51-54
The Current Challenge to Its Historicity
In his book on The Resurrection of Jesus (RJ), Mike Licona
speaks of the resurrection of the saints narrative as “a weird
residual fragment” (RJ, 527) and a “strange report” (RJ, 530,
548, 556, emphasis added in these citations).1 He called it
“poetical,” a “legend,” an “embellishment,” and literary “special
effects” (see 306, 548, 552, and 553). He claims that Matthew is
using a Greco-Roman literary genre which is a “flexible genre” in
which “it is often difficult to determine where history ends and
legend begins” (RJ, 34). Licona also believes that other New
Testament texts may be legends, such as, the mob falling backward
at Jesus’ claim “I am he” in John 18:4-6 (see RJ, 306, note 114) and
the presence of angels at the tomb recorded in all four Gospels
(Matt. 28:2-7; Mark 16:5-7; Luke 24:4-7; John 20:11-14; see RJ,
Licona cites some contemporary evangelical scholars in
favor of his view, such as, Craig Blomberg who denied the miracle
of the coin and the fish story in Matthew (Matt. 17:27).2 Blomberg
also said, “All kinds of historical questions remain unanswered
about both events [the splitting of the temple curtain and the
resurrection of the saints]” (Matthew, electronic ed., 2001 Logos
Library System; the New American commentary . Broadman
and Holman, vol. 22). He also cites W. L. Craig, siding with a Jesus
Seminar fellow, Dr. Robert Miller, that Matthew added this story to
Mark’s account and did not take it literally. Craig concluded that
there are “probably only a few [contemporary] conservative scholars
who would treat the story as historical” (from Craig’s comments in
Paul Copan, Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? Baker, 1998).
On the contrary, in terms of the broad spectrum of orthodox
scholars down through the centuries, there are relatively “few”
contemporary scholars who deny its authenticity, and they are
overshadowed by the “many” (vast majority of) historic orthodox
scholars who held to the historicity of this Matthew 27 resurrection
of the saints.
The Biblical Evidence for Its Historicity
In spite of these contemporary denials, many scholars have
pointed out the numerous indications of historicity in the Matthew
27:51-54 text itself, such as: (1) It occurs in a book that presents
itself as historical (cf. Matt. 1:1,18); (2) Numerous events in this
book have been confirmed as historical (e.g., the birth, life, deeds,
teachings, death, and resurrection of Christ); (3) It is presented in the
immediate context of other historical events, namely, the death and
resurrection of Christ; (4) The resurrection of these saints is also
presented as an event occurring as a result of the literal death and
resurrection of Christ (cf. Matt. 27:52-53); (5) Its lineage with the
preceding historical events is indicated by a series of conjunctions
(and…and…and, etc.); (6) It is introduced by the attention getting
“Behold” (v. 51) which focuses on its reality;3 (7) It has all the same
essential earmarks of the literal resurrection of Christ, including: (a)
empty tombs, (b) dead bodies coming to life, and (c) these
resurrected bodies appearing to many witnesses; (8) It lacks any
literary embellishment common to myths, being a short, simple, and
straightforward account; (9) It contains element that are confirmed
as historical by other Gospels, such as (a) the veil of the temple
being split (Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45), and (b) the reaction of the
Centurion (Mark 15:39; Luke 23:47). If these events are historical,
then there is no reason to reject the other events, such as, the
earthquake and the resurrection of the saints.
Further, it is highly unlikely that a resurrection story would
be influenced by a Greco-Roman genre source (which Licona
embraces) since the Greeks did not believe in the resurrection of the
body (cf. Acts 17:32). In fact, bodily resurrection was contrary to
their dominant belief that deliverance from the body, not a
resurrection in the body, was of the essence of salvation. Homer
said death is final and resurrection does not occur (Iliad 24.549-
551). Hans-Josef Klauck declared, “There is nowhere anything like
the idea of Christian resurrection in the Greco-Roman world” (The
Religious Context of Early Christianity. Minneapolis: Fortress Press,
Don Carson makes an interesting observation about those
who deny the historicity of this text, saying, “One wonders why the
evangelist, if he had nothing historically to go on, did not invent a
midrash [legend] with fewer problems” (Carson, “Matthew” in
Expositors Bible Commentary; Matthew, Mark, Luke, ed. Frank
Gabelein. Zondervan, 1984, 581).
Support from the Great Teachers of the Church
Despite his general respect for the early Fathers, Mike
Licona refers to their statements on this passage as “vague,”
“unclear,” “ambiguous,” “problematic,” and “confusing.”4 However,
this is misleading, as the readers can see for themselves in the
following quotations. For even though they differ on details, the
Fathers are clear, unambiguous, and unanimous as to the
historical nature of this event. We have highlighted their
important words which affirm the literal and historical nature of the
The apostolic Father Ignatius was the earliest one to cite this
passage, and Licona acknowledges that his writings “are widely
accepted as authentic and are dated ca. AD 100-138 and more
commonly to ca. AD 110” (Licona, RJ, 248). He adds that these
writings provide “valuable insights for knowledge of the early
second-century church…” (ibid.). If so, they are the earliest and
most authentic verification of the historicity of the resurrection of
the saints in Matthew 27 on record—one coming from a
contemporary of the apostle John!
Ignatius to the Trallians (AD 70-115)
“For Says the Scripture, ‘Many 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, 70. All emphasis in the
following citations is added).
Ignatius to the Magnesians
“…[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. l (1885). Reprinted by Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,
62. Emphasis added in all these citations).
Irenaeus (AD 120-200)
Irenaeus also was closely linked to the New Testament
writers. He knew Polycarp who was a disciple of the apostle John.
Irenaeus wrote: “…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). This is followed
(in XXIX) by this statement: “The Gospel according to Matthew
was written to the Jews. For they hadparticular stress upon the fact
that Christ [should be] of the seed of David. Matthew also, who
had a still greater desire [to establish this point], took particular
pains to afford them convincing proof that Christ is the seed of
David…” (ibid., 57Clement of Alexandria (AD 155-200)
Another second century Father verified the historicity of the
resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27, writing, “‘But those who
had fallen asleep descended dead, but ascended alive.’ Further,
the Gospelsays, ‘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).
Tertullian (AD 160-222)
The Father of Latin Christianity wrote: ‘“And the sun grew
dark at mid-day;’ (and when did it ‘shudder exceedingly’ except at
the passion of Christ, when the earth trembled to her centre, and the
veil of the temple was rent, and the tombs burst asunder?)
‘because these two evils hath My People done’” (Alexander
Roberts, ed. An Answer to the Jews, Chap XIII, Ante-Nicene
Fathers, vol. 3, 170).
Hippolytus (AD 170-235)
“And again he exclaims, ‘The dead shall start forth from
the graves,’ that is, from the earthly bodies, being born again
spiritual, not carnal. For this he says, is the Resurrection that
takes place through the gate of heaven, through which, he says, all
those that do not enter remain dead” (Alexander Roberts, Ante-
Nicene Fathers, vol. 5, The Refutation of All Heresy, BooK V, chap.
Origen (AD 185-254)
“‘But,’ continues Celsus, ‘what great deeds did Jesus
perform as being a God?...Now to this question, although we are
able to show the striking and miraculous character of the events
which befell Him, yet from what other source can we furnish an
answer than the Gospel narratives, which state that ‘there was an
earth quake, and that the rocks were split asunder, and the tombs
were opened, and the veil of the temple was rent in twain from top
to bottom, and the darkness prevailed in the day-time, the sun failing
to give light’” (Against Celsus, Book II, XXXIII. Alexander
Roberts, ed. Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 4, 444-445).
“But if this Celsus, who, in order to find matter of accusation
against Jesus and the Christians, extracts from the Gospel even
passages which are incorrectly interpreted, but passes over in
silence the evidences of the divinity of Jesus, would listen to
divine portents, let him read the Gospel, and see that even the
centurion, and they who with him kept watch over Jesus, on
seeing the earthquake, and the events that occurred, were greatly
afraid, saying, ‘This man was the Son of God’” (Ibid., XXVI, 446).
Cyril of Jerusalem (c. AD 315-c. 386)
Early Fathers in the East also verified the historicity of the
Matthew 27 text. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote: “But it is impossible,
some one will say, that the dead should rise; and yet Eliseus[Elisha]
twice raised the dead, --when he was live and also when dead…and
is Christ not risen? … But in this case both the Dead of whom we
speak Himself arose, and many dead were raised without having
even touched Him. For many bodies of the Saints which slept
arose, and they came out of the graves after His Resurrection, and
went into the Holy City, (evidently this city in which we now are,)
and appeared to many” (Catechetical Lectures XIV, 16 in Schaff,
Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. VII, 98).
Further, “I believe that Christ was also raised from the
dead, both from the Divine Scriptures, and from the operative
power even at this day of Him who arose,--who descended into hell
alone, but ascended thence with a great company for He went
down to death, and many bodies of the saints which slept arose
through Him” (ibid., XIV, 17).
Cyril adds, “He was truly laid as Man in a tomb of rock; but
rocks were rent asunder by terror because of Him. He went
down into the regions beneath the earth, thence also He might
redeem the righteous. For tell me, couldst thou wish the living
only to enjoy His grace,… and not wish those who from Adam
had a long while been imprisoned to have now gained their
Gregory of Nazianzus (c. AD 330-c. 389)
“He [Christ] lays down His life, but He has the power to take
it again; and the veiI rent, for the mysterious doors of Heaven are
the rocks are cleft, the dead arise. He dies but he gives
life, and by His death destroys death. He is buried, but He rises
again. He goes down to Hell, but He brings up the souls; He
ascends to Heaven, and shall come again to judge the quick and the
dead, and to put to the test such words are yours” (Schaff, ibid., vol.
VII, Sect XX, 309).
Jerome (AD 342-420)
Speaking of the Matthew 27 text, he wrote: “It is not
doubtful to any what these great signs signify according to the
letter, namely, that heaven and earth and all things should bear
witness to their crucified Lord” (cited in Aquinas, Commentary on
the Four Gospels, vol. I, part III: St. Matthew (Oxford: John Henry
Parker, 1841), 964.
“As Lazarus rose from the dead, so also did many bodies
of the Saints rise again to shew forth the Lord’s resurrection;
yet notwithstanding that the graves were opened, they did not
rise again before the Lord rose, that He might be the first-born
of the resurrection from the dead” (cited by Aquinas, ibid., 963).
Hilary of Poitiers (c. AD 315-c.357)
“The graves were opened, for the bands of death were
loosed. And many bodies of the saints which slept arose, for
illuminating the darkness of death, and shedding light upon the
gloom of Hades, He robbed the spirits of death” (cited by
Aquinas, ibid., 963).
Chrysostom (AD 347-407)
“When He [Christ] remained on the cross they had said
tauntingly, He saved others, himself he cannot save. But what He
should not do for Himself, that He did and more than that for
the bodies of the saints. For if it was a great thing to raise
Lazarus after four days, much more was it that they who had
long slept should not shew themselves above; this is indeed a
proof of the resurrection to come. But that it might not be
thought that that which was done was an appearance merely, the
Evangelist adds, and come out of the graves after his resurrection,
and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many” (cited by
Aquinas, ibid., 963-964).
St. Augustine (AD 354-430)
The greatest scholar at the beginning of the Middle Ages, St.
Augustine, wrote: “As if Moses’ body could not have been hid
somewhere…and be raised up therefrom by divine power at the time
when Elias and he were seen with Christ: Just as at the time of
Christ’s passion many bodies of the saints arose, and after his
resurrection appeared, according to the Scriptures, to many in
the holy city” (Augustine, On the Gospel of St. John, Tractate
cxxiv, 3, Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. VII,
“Matthew proceeds thus: ‘And the earth did quake, and the
rocks rent; and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the
saints which slept arise, and come out of the graves after the
resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.’
There is no reason to fear that these facts, which have been related
only by Matthew, may appear to be inconsistent with the narrative
present by any one of the rest [of the Gospel writers)…. For as the
said Matthew not only tells how the centurion ‘saw the earthquake,’
but also appends the words [in v. 54], ‘and those things that were
done’…. Although Matthew has not added any such statement, it
would still have been perfectly legitimate to suppose, that as many
astonishing things did take place at that time…, the historians were
at liberty to select for narration any particular incident which they
were severally disposed to instance as the subject of the wonder.
And it would not be fair to impeach them with inconsistency,
simply because one of them may have specified one occurrence
as the immediate cause of the centurion’s amazement, while
another introduces a different incident” (St. Augustine, The
Harmony of the Gospels, Book III, chap. xxi in Schaff, ibid., vol.
VI, 206, emphasis added).
St. Remigius (c. 438-c. 533) “Apostle of the Franks”
“But some one will ask, what became of those who rose
again when the Lord rose. We must believe that they rose again
to be witnesses of the Lord’s resurrection. Some have said that
they died again, and were turned to dust, as Lazarus and the rest
whom the Lord raised. But we must by no means give credit to
these men’s sayings, since if they were to die again, it would be
greater torment to them, than if they had not risen again. We ought
therefore to believe without hesitation that they who rose from
the dead at the Lord’s resurrection, ascended also into heaven
together with Him” (cited in Aquinas, ibid., 964).
Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274)
As Augustine was the greatest Christian thinker at the
beginning of the Middle Ages, Aquinas was the greatest teacher at
the end. And he too held to the historicity of the resurrection of
the saints in Matthew 27, as is evident from his citations from the
Fathers (with approval) in his great commentary on the Gospels
(The Golden Chain), as all the above Aquinas references indicate,
including Jerome, Hilary of Poitiers, Chrysostom, and Remigius (see
Aquinas, ibid., 963-964).
John Calvin (1509-1564)
The chain of great Christian teachers holding to the
historicity of this text continued into the Reformation and beyond.
John Calvin wrote: “Matt. 27.52. And the tombs were opened. This
was a particular portent in which God testified that His Son had
entered death’s prison, not to stay there shut up, but to lead all free
who were there held captive…. That is the reason why He, who was
soon to be shut in a tomb opened the tombs elsewhere. Yet we may
doubt whether this opening of the tombs happened before the
resurrection, for the resurrection of the saints which is shortly
after added followed in my opinion the resurrection of Christ. It
is absurd for some interpreters to imagine that they spent three
days alive and breathing, hidden in tombs. It seems likely to me
that at Christ’s death the tombs at once opened; at His
resurrection some of the godly men received breath and came
out and were seen in the city. Christ is called the Firstborn from
the dead (1 Cor. 15:20; Col. 1:18)…. This reasoning agrees very
well, seeing that the breaking of the tombs was the presage of new
life, and the fruit itself, the effect, appeared three days later, as
Christ rising again led other companions from the graves with
Himself. And in this sign it was shown that neither His dying nor
His resurrection were private to himself, but breathe the odour of
life into all the faithful” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries,
trans. A. W. Morrison. Eds. David and Thomas Torrance. Wm. B.
Eerdmans, 1972, vol. 3, 211-212).
Of course, there are some aspects of this Matthew 27 text of
the saints on which the Fathers were uncertain. For example, there
is the question as to whether the saints were resurrected before or
after Jesus was and whether it was a resuscitation to a mortal body
or a permanent resurrection to an immortal body (see Wenham
article below). However, there is no reason for serious doubt
that all the Fathers surveyed accepted the historicity of this
account. Their testimony is very convincing for many reasons:
First, the earliest confirmation as to the historical nature of
the resurrection of the saints in the Matthew 27 passage goes all the
way back to Ignatius, a contemporary of the apostle John (who died
c. AD 90). One could not ask for an earlier verification that the
resurrection of these saints than that of Ignatius (AD 70-115). He
wrote: “He who they rightly waited for, being come, raised them
from the dead”[Chap. IX].6 And in the Epistle to the Trallians he
added, “For Says the Scripture, ‘Many 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, 70). The author who is a
contemporary of the last apostle (John) is speaking unmistakably of
the saints in Matthew 27 who were literally resurrected after Jesus
Second, the next testimony to the historicity of this passage
is Irenaeus who knew Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle John.
Other than the apostolic Fathers, Irenaeus is as good as any witness
to the earliest post-apostolic understanding of the Matthew 27 text.
And he made it clear that “many” persons “ascended and were
seen in their bodies”(Fragments from the Lost Writings of Irenaeus
XXVIII. Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. I, ibid., 572-573).
Third, there is a virtually unbroken chain of great Fathers of
the church after Irenaeus (2nd cent.) who took this passage as
historical (see above). Much of the alleged “confusion” and
“conflict” about the text is cleared up when one understands that,
while the tombs were opened at the time of the death of Christ,
nonetheless, the resurrection of these saints did not occur until
“after his resurrection” (Matt. 27:53, emphasis added)7
is the “firstfruits” (1 Cor. 15:23) of the resurrection.
Fourth, the great church Father St. Augustine stressed the
historicity of the Matthew 27 text about the resurrection of the
saints, speaking of them as “facts” and “things that were done” as
recorded by the Gospel “historians” (St. Augustine, The Harmony
of the Gospels, Book III, chap. xxi in Schaff, ibid., vol. VI, 206,
Fifth, many of the Fathers used this passage in an apologetic
sense as evidence of the resurrection of Christ. This reveals their
conviction that it was a historical event resulting from the historical
event of the resurrection of Christ. Irenaeus was explicit on this
point, declaring, “Matthew also, who had a still greater desire [to
establish this point], took particular pains to afford them convincing
proof that Christ is the seed of David…” (Irenaeus, ibid., 573).
Some, like Chrysostom, took it as evidence for the
resurrection to come. “For if it was a great thing to raise Lazarus
after four days, much more was it that they who had long slept
should not shew themselves above; this is indeed a proof of the
resurrection to come” (cited by Aquinas, ibid., 963-964).
Origen took it as “evidences of the divinity of Jesus”
(Origen, ibid., Book II, chap. XXXVI, Ante-Nicene Fathers, 446).
None of these Fathers would have given it such apologetic weight
had they not been convinced of the historicity of the resurrection of
these saints after Jesus’ resurrection in Matthew 27.
Sixth, even the Church Father Origen, who was the most
prone to allegorizing away literal events in the Bible, took this text
to refer to a literal historical resurrection of saints. He wrote of the
events in Matthew 27 that they are “the evidences of the divinity of
Jesus” (Origen, ibid., Book II, chap. XXXVI. Ante-Nicene Fathers,
Seventh, some of the great teachers of the Church were
careful to mention that the saints rose as a result of Jesus’
resurrection which is a further verification of the historical nature of
the resurrection of the saints in Mathew 27. Jerome wrote: “As
Lazarus rose from the dead, so also did many bodies of the
Saints rise again to shew forth the Lord’s resurrection; yet
notwithstanding that the graves were opened, they did not rise again
before the Lord rose, that He might be the first-born of the
resurrection from the dead” (cited by Aquinas, ibid., 963). John
Calvin added, “Yet we may doubt whether this opening of the tombs
happened before the resurrection, for the resurrection of the saints
which is shortly after added followed in my opinion the
resurrection of Christ. It is absurd for some interpreters to image
that they spent three days alive and breathing, hidden in tombs.”
For “It seems likely to me that at Christ’s death the tombs at once
opened; at His resurrection some of the godly men received
breath and came out and were seen in the city. Christ is called
the Firstborn from the dead (1 Cor. 15:20; Col. 1:18” (Calvin’s New
Testament Commentaries, vol. 3, 211-212).
Eighth, St. Augustine provides an answer to the false
premise of contemporary critics that there must be another reference
to a New Testament event like this in order to confirm that it is
historical. He wrote, “It would not be fair to impeach them with
inconsistency, simply because one of them may have specified
one occurrence as the immediate cause of the centurion’s
amazement, while another introduces a different incident” (St.
Augustine, ibid., emphasis added).
So, contrary to the claims of critics, the Matthew 27
account of the resurrection of the saints is a clear and
unambiguous affirmation of the historicity of the resurrection of
the saints. This is supported by a virtually unbroken line of the
great commentators of the Early Church and through the
Middle Ages and into the Reformation period (John Calvin).
Not a single example was found of any Father surveyed who
believed this was a legend. Such a belief is due to the acceptance of
critical methodology, not to either a historical-grammatical
exposition of the text or to the supporting testimony of the main
orthodox teachers of the Church up to and through the Reformation
Ninth, the impetus for rejecting the story of the resurrection
of the saints in Matthew 27 is not based on good exegesis of the text
or on the early support of the Fathers but is based on fallacious
premises. (1) First of all, there is an anti-supernatural bias beneath
much of contemporary scholarship. But there is no philosophical
basis for the rejection of miracles (see our Miracles and the Modern
Mind, revised. www.BastionBooks.com, 2013), and there is no
exegetical basis for rejecting it in the text. Indeed on the same
grounds one could reject the resurrection of Christ since it is
supernatural and is found in the same text.
(2) Further, there is also the fallacious premise of double
reference which affirms that if an event is not mentioned at least
twice in the Gospels, then its historicity is questioned. But on this
grounds many other Gospel events must be rejected as well, such as,
the story of Nicodemus (John 3), the Samaritan woman at the well
(John 4), the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19), the resurrection of
Lazarus (John 11), and even the birth of Christ in the stable and the
angel chorus (Luke 2), as well as many other events in the Gospels.
How many times does an event have to be mentioned in a
contemporary piece of literature based on reliable witnesses in order
to be true?
(3) There is another argument that seems to infect much of
contemporary New Testament scholarship on this matter. It is
theorized that an event like this, if literal, would have involved
enough people and graves to have drawn significant evidence of it in
a small place like Jerusalem. Raymond Brown alludes to this,
noting that “…many interpreters balk at the thought of many known
risen dead being seen in Jerusalem—such a large scale phenomenon
should have left some traces in Jewish and/or secular history!”8
However, at best this is simply the fallacious Argument from
Silence. What is more, “many” (Gk: polla) can mean only a small
group, not hundreds of thousands. Further, the story drew enough
attention to make it into one of the canonical Gospels, right
alongside of the resurrection of Christ and with other miraculous
events. In brief, it is in a historical book; it is said to result from the
resurrection of Christ; it was cited apologetically by the early
Fathers as evidence of the resurrection of Christ and proof of the
resurrection to come. No other evidence is needed for its
A Denial of Inerrancy
According to the official statements on inerrancy by the
International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI), the denial of the
historicity of the Matthew 27 resurrection of the saints is a denial of
the inerrancy of the Bible. This is clear from several official ICBI
(1) The Chicago Statement on Inerrancy speaks against this
kind of “dehistoricizing” of the Gospels, saying, “We deny the
legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying
behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting
its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship” (Article XVIII,
emphasis added in these citations).
(2) The statement add: “all the claims of the Bible must
correspond with reality, whether that reality is historical,
factual or spiritual” (Sproul, Explaining Inerrancy (EI), 43-44).
(3) ICBI framers affirmed, “Though the Bible is indeed
redemptive history, it is also redemptive history, and this means
that the acts of salvation wrought by God actually occurred in the
space-time world” (Sproul, EI, 37).
(4) Again, “When the quest for sources produces a
dehistoricizing of the Bible, a rejection of its teaching or a rejection
of the Bible’s own claims of authorship [then] it has trespassed
beyond its proper limits (Sproul, EI, 55).
Subsequently, Sproul wrote: “As the former and only
President of ICBI during its tenure and as the original framer of the
Affirmations and Denials of the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, I
can say categorically that Mr. Michael Licona’s views are not
even remotely compatible with the unified Statement of ICBI”
(Letter, May 22, 2012, emphasis added).
(5) Also, “We deny that generic categories which negate
historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which
present themselves as factual” (Explaining Hermeneutics (EH),
XIII). “We deny that any event, discourse or saying reported in
Scripture was invented by the biblical writers or by the
traditions they incorporated” (EH XIV, bold added in all above
(6) Finally, as a framer of the ICBI statements I can testify
that Robert Gundry’s similar view which deshistoricized parts of
Matthew were an object of these ICBI statements. And they led to
his being asked to resign from the Evangelical Theological Society
(by a 70% majority vote of the membership). Since Licona’s views
do the same basic thing, then they should be excluded on the same
basis. Gundry used Jewish Midrash genre to dehistoricized parts of
Gospel history, and Licona used Greco-Roman genre and legends,
but the principle is the same.
1 Licona has subsequent questions about the certitude of his view on
Matthew 27 but has not retracted the view.
2 Craig Blomberg, “A Constructive Traditional Response to New
Testament Criticism,” in Do Historical Matters Matter to the Faith
(Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012) 354 fn. 32.
3 Carl Henry noted that “Calling attention to the new and unexpected, the
introductory Greek ide—See! Behold!—stands out of sentence
construction to rivet attention upon God’s awesome intervention” (Henry,
God Revelation and Authority.Texas: Word Books, 1976) 2:17-18.
4 Mike Licona, “When the Saints Go Marching In (Matthew 27:52-53):
Historicity, Apocalyptic Symbol, and Biblical Inerrancy” a paper given at
the November, 2011 Evangelical Philosophical Society meeting.
5 Despite the curious phrase about the “mysterious doors of Heaven are
opened” when the veil was split, everything in this passage speaks of
literal death and literal resurrection of Christ and the saints after His death.
The book of Hebrews makes the same claim that after the veil was split
that Christ entered “once for all” into the most holy place (heaven) to
achieve “eternal salvation” for us (Heb. 9:12).
6 See ibid., Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds. Ignatius to the
Magnesians in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. I (1885), reprinted by Grand
Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 62. Emphasis added in all these citations.
7 See an excellent article clearing up this matter by John Wenham titled
“When Were the Saints Raised?” Journal of Theological Studies 32:1
(1981): 150-152. He argues convincingly for repunctuating the Greek to
read: “And the tombs were opened. The bodies of the sleeping saints were
raised, and they went out from their tombs after the resurrection.” While
this affects the alleged poetic flavor of the passage, it is certainly Bizzare
to hold like some that the saints were raised at Christ’s death and then sat
around the opened tombs for three days before they left. It also contradicts
1 Corinthians 15:20 which declares that Christ is the “firstfruits” of the
resurrection and Matthew 27:53 which says they did not come out of the
tombs until “after” the resurrection of Christ.
8 Raymond E. Brown, “Eschatological Events Accompanying the Death of
Jesus, Especially the Raising of the Holy ones from Their Tombs (Matt.
27:51-53)” in John P. Galvin ed., Faith and the Future: Studies in
Christian Eschatology (NY: Paulist Press, 1994), 64.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
from "How Christians Should Regard Moses"
By Martin Luther
"But we will not have this sort of thing. We would rather not preach again for the rest of our life than to let Moses return and to let Christ be torn out of our hearts. We will not have Moses as ruler or lawgiver any longer. Indeed God himself will not have it either. Moses was an intermediary solely for the Jewish people. It was to them that he gave the law. We must therefore silence the mouths of those factious spirits who say, "Thus says Moses," etc. Here you simply reply: Moses has nothing to do with us. If I were to accept Moses in one commandment, I would have to accept the entire Moses. Thus the consequence would be that if I accept Moses as master, then I must have myself circumcised, wash my clothes in the Jewish way, eat and drink and dress thus and so, and observe all that stuff. So, then, we will neither observe nor accept Moses. Moses is dead. His rule ended when Christ came. He is of no further service....
...The sectarian spirits want to saddle us with Moses and all the commandments. We will just skip that. We will regard Moses as a teacher, but we will not regard him as our lawgiver - unless he agrees with both the New Testament and the natural law. Therefore it is clear enough that Moses is the lawgiver of the Jews and not of the Gentiles. He has given the Jews a sign whereby they should lay hold of God, when they call upon him as the God who brought them out of Egypt. The Christians have a different sign, whereby they conceive of God as the One who gave his Son, etc.
Again one can prove it from the third commandment that Moses does not pertain to Gentiles and Christians. For Paul [Col. 2:16] and the New Testament [Matt. 12:1-12; John 5:16; 7:22-23; 9:14-16] abolish the sabbath, to show us that the sabbath was given to the Jews alone, for whom it is a stern commandment. The prophets referred to it too, that the sabbath of the Jews would be abolished. For Isaiah says in the last chapter, "When the Savior comes, then such will be the time, one sabbath after the other, one month after the other," etc. [Isa. 66:23]. This is as though he were trying to say, "It will be the sabbath every day, and the people will be such that they make no distinction between days. For in the New Testament the sabbath is annihilated as regards the crude external observance, for every day is a holy day," etc.
Now if anyone confronts you with Moses and his commandments, and wants to compel you to keep them, simply answer, "Go to the Jews with your Moses; I am no Jew. Do not entangle me with Moses. If I accept Moses in one respect [Paul tells the Galatians in chapter 5:3], then I am obligated to keep the entire law." For not one little period in Moses pertains to us....
...I have stated that all Christians, and especially those who handle the word of God and attempt to teach others, should take heed and learn Moses aright. Thus where he gives the commandments, we are not to follow him except so far as he agrees with the natural law. Moses is a teacher and doctor of the Jews. We have our own master, Christ, and he has set before us what we are to know, observe, do, and leave undone. However it is true that Moses sets down, in addition to the laws, fine examples of faith and unfaith - punishment of the godless, elevation of the righteous and believing - and also the dear and comforting promises concerning Christ which we should accept. The same is true also in the gospel. For example in the account of the ten lepers, that Christ bids them go to the priest and make sacrifice [Luke 17:14] does not pertain to me. The example of their faith, however, does pertain to me; I should believe Christ, as did they.
Enough has now been said of this, and it is to be noted well for it is really crucial. Many great and outstanding people have missed it, while even today many great preachers still stumble over it. They do not know how to preach Moses, nor how properly to regard his books. They are absurd as they rage and fume, chattering to people, "God's word, God's word!" All the while they mislead the poor people and drive them to destruction. Many learned men have not known how far Moses ought to be taught. Origen, Jerome, and others like them, have not shown clearly how far Moses can really serve us. This is what I have attempted, to say in an introduction to Moses how we should regard him, and how he should be understood and received and not simply be swept under the rug. For in Moses there is comprehended such a fine order, that it is a joy, etc."
[Martin Luther, "How Christians Should Regard Moses," trans. and ed. by E. Theodore Bachmann, Luther's Works: Word and Sacrament I, vol. 35 (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1960), 161-174. This sermon was delivered on August 27, 1525, in Luther's long series of seventy-seven sermons on Exodus preached from October 2, 1524, to February 2, 1527.]