Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Church Fathers and the Resurrection of the Saints in Matthew 27

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 [421]. 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, 
2000, 151).
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. 
3, 54).
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).
Summary Comments
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
since Jesus 
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, 
emphasis added). 

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., 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.