Matthew 27:51-53: Meaning, Genre, Intertextuality, Theology, And Reception History -- By: Charles L. Quarles

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 59:2 (Jun 2016)
Article: Matthew 27:51-53: Meaning, Genre, Intertextuality, Theology, And Reception History
Author: Charles L. Quarles


Matthew 27:51-53: Meaning, Genre, Intertextuality, Theology,
And Reception History

Charles L. Quarles*

* Charles Quarles is professor of NT at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 120 S. Wingate St., Wake Forest, NC 27587.

Abstract: Matthew 27:51-53 is characterized by Matthean vocabulary, style, and theological themes that support viewing the passage as Matthew’s composition rather than an early scribal interpolation or pre-Matthean tradition which he adopted. The structure of the text presents the account as historical narrative rather than poetry. The earliest extant interpretations treated the passage as literal history rather than fiction. Matthew viewed the resurrection of the saints at the time of the crucifixion as a fulfillment of Ezekiel 37 which signaled that the era of the new covenant and new creation had arrived.

Key Words: Matthew 27:51-53, Ezekiel 37:12-13, genre, intertextuality, resurrection of the saints, history of interpretation.

No Gospel text has been more hotly debated in recent years than Matthew’s account of the phenomena surrounding Jesus’s crucifixion in Matt 27:51-53. Modern scholars seem quite befuddled by the text. Many NT scholars, likely constituting a majority of the guild, hold that, despite its potential theological value, the text should not be regarded as historical but merely as poetic symbolism or apocalyptic imagery. Recently, highly respected evangelical scholars have proposed that the puzzling text may be best explained as a scribal interpolation1 or an example of “special effects.”2 Some recent proposals have not received the thoughtful response they deserve.

This essay will explore this much-disputed passage by analyzing its meaning, genre, OT allusions, related Matthean theological themes, and early reception by the church.

I. A Brief Exegesis Of The Text

This section will offer a brief exegesis of the text based on an analysis of the vocabulary, grammar, and syntax of the Greek text of the passage.

1. Καὶ ἰδοὺ τὸ καταπέτασμα τοῦ ναοῦ ἐσχίσθη ἀπ᾿ ἄνωθεν ἕως κάτω εἰς δύο. Matthew’s word order stresses that the direction of the tear in the temple veil was downward, from heaven to earth. Matthew likely saw the direction of...

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