The Resurrection Narratives In Matthew’s Gospel -- By: D. Wenham

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 24:1 (NA 1973)
Article: The Resurrection Narratives In Matthew’s Gospel
Author: D. Wenham

The Resurrection Narratives In Matthew’s Gospel*

D. Wenham

* This paper was read at a meeting of the New Testament Study Group of the Tyndale Fellowship at Tyndale House, Cambridge, in July 1972.

The Historical Problems Of Matthew 28

Of the four versions of the Easter story preserved in the canonical gospels Matthew’s is probably regarded by scholars as the least reliable historically. His account is thought suspect in at least three ways:

(1) He alone of the evangelists describes the opening of the tomb by the angel and the accompanying earthquake. Mark by comparison has an unadorned description of the opened tomb, and it is supposed that Matthew has introduced legendary elements into the story in accordance with his known partiality for the sensational and miraculous.1 In describing the angelic action and the earthquake Matthew comes nearer than any of the other canonical evangelists to describing the resurrection event itself (as distinct from the discovery of the empty tomb and the appearances of the Risen Lord), and this together with Matthew’s supposed heightening of the miraculous encourages some scholars to associate Matthew here with the apocryphal gospels. The gospel of Peter, for example, which has a number of notable agreements with Matthew, describes the emergence of three men from the tomb, two of them helping the third and the cross following them. The heads of the two men reach the heavens and that of the third surpasses the heavens.2

(2) Matthew is the only one of the evangelists to describe the setting of a guard over the tomb of Jesus and the subsequent bribing of the soldiers by the Jews. This story is suspected not only because of its evident apologetic purpose, but also because of supposed improbabilities in the narrative.3 It is argued, for example, that, if they had feared interference with the body of Jesus from the disciples, the Jews would scarcely have waited until the morning after Jesus’ burial before requesting a guard for the tomb. In any case it is unlikely that the Jewish leaders would have defiled themselves by approaching the Gentile governor, Pilate, and then by sealing the tomb on the sabbath day.4 Another supposed improbability in Matthew’s story is his implied assumption that the Jews were familiar with and took seriously Jesus’ prediction of His resurrection after three days. But if Jesus did predict His resurrection, which many would doubt,

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