Matthew 27:51-54 Revisited: A Narratological Re-Appropriation -- By: Raymond Johnson

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 18:4 (Winter 2014)
Article: Matthew 27:51-54 Revisited: A Narratological Re-Appropriation
Author: Raymond Johnson

Matthew 27:51-54 Revisited: A Narratological Re-Appropriation

Raymond Johnson

Raymond Johnson is a Ph.D. candidate in New Testament at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Raymond also serves as an adjunct professor at Boyce College and on the ministerial staff at Ninth & O Baptist Church, Louisville, Kentucky. Raymond has published various book reviews and articles in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, the Evangelical Homiletical Society, Baptist Press, the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood Blog, Family Ministry Today, the Gospel Coalition, and the Discipleship and Family Ministry Journal.


At the moment of Jesus’ death on the cross, after crying out with an earth-rending voice and yielding his spirit (Matt 27:50), Matthew recounts several cataclysmic events for his readers. He includes five signs1 that accompany Jesus’ death: 1) the curtain of the temple is torn (v. 51a), 2) the earth shakes (v. 51b), 3) the rocks split (v. 51c), 4) the tombs open (v. 52a), and 5) lifeless people whom Matthew calls “hagiōn” are raised to life (v. 52b).2 The most perplexing of these cosmic events is the resurrection of the dead saints. Their resurrection from the dead has confounded interpreters and led to many crucial interpretive questions: What kind of bodies did these “holy people” have? Did they die again? How public was their appearance and how many people saw them? Were they raised before or after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead? If they were raised before, what did they do after they were raised but before Jesus was resurrected (did they just wait in their tombs)? Was their resurrection like that of

Lazarus in John 11 or like the resurrection described by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, i.e., glorified bodies? Is it possible that these “saints” were taken up to heaven like Enoch (Gen 5:24)? Was Matthew speaking of a historical event or merely using apocalyptic and metaphorical language here in his Gospel narrative?

Though these questions highlight the difficulty in asce...

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