Hard Questions or Bad Objections? Part 9

The next set of objections from J.H. McKenna’s article that make up this series of responses deals with issues in the gospels.

And what happened to all those people who rose from their graves when Jesus rose from his grave? Did they return to their former occupations and to their their former (and remarried) husbands and wives? How is it that no one got their names and their stories?

This is addressed to these verses in Matthew 27:52-53 that reads,

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. (ESV)

These two verses have posed a definite quandary for Christians because they are parenthetically inserted into a flowing narrative, and are not qualified or mentioned in the other gospels or any other extant writing. Dr. Mike Licona has written a rather controversial paper that downplays apparent problems with the verse as a historic event in favor of a apocalyptic motif common to Jewish writers such as Ezekiel. I, at one time, had found a source that argued that the verses were an early interpolation and may have been the reason for the Apostle Paul’s 1 Corinthians 15 discourse as it seems to be responding to an early heretical movement, but I cannot find it at the moment. This paper addresses certain textual issues within the text itself, but does nothing to state whether or not it is original to Matthew, but does point out that there is an early variant that acts as a clarifier. And this very brief discussion seems to support Licona’s view. So, how do I respond to it?

Simply put, it’s an argument from silence. No other source but Matthew records it. Since Matthew isn’t here to defend what he wrote, and the earliest witnesses to Matthew possess some form of the pericope I have to assume that it is original to Matthew. But since there is no contradicting account I am left to either see it as a historical event or a figurative event. Let me explain.

If it is a historical event, that means that certain saints were raised to testify about what the Jews had done. If it’s figurative, then it’s pointing to the events at Pentecost. If it’s historical, we aren’t told what happened to them, meaning that they could have ascended with Christ. If it’s figurative, meaning it was the apostolic proclamation at Pentecost, then most went on to die as martyrs. Simply put, there’s just not enough information to draw an informed conclusion. I’m willing to let Matthew be Matthew and simply shrug at it rather than engage in speculation. I’m willing to allow some questions to go unanswered than die on a particular hill at this point.

The second that I want to look at is this one,

Joseph was deflected from jealousy because Mary convinced him a ghost impregnated her?

Simply put, no. Mary didn’t convince Joseph of anything. Turning to Matthew’s gospel, which gives us Joseph’s side of the story,

When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (1:18b-21, ESV, emphasis added)

It was a visionary experience that caused Joseph to change his mind, Mary had nothing to do with it. In fact, the best thing for Mary to do, in her culture, was to be silent and not try to convince anyone of anything. Joseph, as her betrothed husband was the one who had been wronged by Mart’s pregnancy, but his acceptance of it allowed both to save face. People would know that Joseph was not the father, but that also meant that no one else could come forward and make a claim against his adoption of Jesus as his own son, which would make Jesus a person who could legitimately make a claim to throne of David. This objection just ignores what the text clearly says.

In the end, both of these objections simply fail because they ask the wrong questions in light of the facts reported by one author, Matthew.

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