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Resurrection


DWIGHT WASHINGTON
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WHILE CONDUCTING A BIBLE STUDY THE OTHER DAY, A QUESTION RELATED TO THE RESURRECTION CAME UP. IT HAD TO DO WITH MATTHEW 27 CHAPTER VERSES 52 AND 53. THE STUDENT WANTED TO KNOW WHO WERE THE HOLY ONES WHO HAD FALLEN ASLEEP IN DEATH, WERE THEY  RESURRECTED? IN VERSE 53 WHO ARE THE PEOPLE COMING OUT FROM AMONG THE TOMBS AFTER HIS BEING RAISED UP? LAST BUT NOT LEAST, WHO IS BEING IDENTIFIED AS "HIS BEING RAISED UP?"

NOT HAVING A SOUND ANSWER THAT WOULD SATISFY THE STUDENT, I SAID THAT I WOULD FIND AN ANSWER FOR HIM. I NEED YOUR HELP IN ADDRESSING HIS QUESTIONS.

 

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*** w90 9/1 p. 7 ‘Many Bodies of the Holy Ones Were Raised Up’ ***
‘Many Bodies of the Holy Ones Were Raised Up’

“THE earth quaked, and the rock-masses were split. And the memorial tombs were opened and many bodies of the holy ones that had fallen asleep were raised up, (and persons, coming out from among the memorial tombs after his being raised up, entered into the holy city,) and they became visible to many people.” (Matthew 27:51-53) Catholic scholar Karl Staab calls this event that occurred at Jesus’ death “most mysterious.” What happened?

Epiphanius and other early Church Fathers taught that the holy ones literally came to life and went with the resurrected Jesus to heaven. Augustine, Theophylactus, and Zigabenus believed that these dead ones received a temporary resurrection but later returned to their tombs. The latter opinion, however, “did not gain wide recognition,” comments scholar Erich Fascher. When rendering Matthew 27:52, 53, many modern Bible translations give the impression that a resurrection took place. Not so the New World Translation, which points to the effects of an earthquake. Why?

First, whoever “the holy ones” were, Matthew did not say they were raised up. He said their bodies, or corpses, were. Second, he did not say these bodies came to life. He said they were raised up, and the Greek verb e·geiʹro, meaning to “raise up,” does not always refer to a resurrection. It can, among other things, also mean to “lift out” from a pit or to “get up” from the ground. (Matthew 12:11; 17:7; Luke 1:69) The upheaval at Jesus’ death opened tombs, tossing lifeless bodies into the open. Such occurrences during earthquakes were reported in the second century C.E. by Greek writer Aelius Aristides and more recently, in 1962, in Colombia.

This view of the event harmonizes with Bible teachings. In 1 Corinthians chapter 15, the apostle Paul gives convincing proof of the resurrection, but he completely ignores Matthew 27:52, 53. So do all other Bible writers. (Acts 2:32, 34) The corpses raised up at Jesus’ death could not have come to life in the way Epiphanius thought, for on the third day thereafter, Jesus became “the firstborn from the dead.” (Colossians 1:18) Anointed Christians, also called “holy ones,” were promised a share in the first resurrection during Christ’s presence, not in the first century.—1 Thessalonians 3:13; 4:14-17.

Most Bible commentators have difficulty explaining verse 53, although several of them suggest that verse 52 describes the opening of tombs by the earthquake and the exposing of newly buried corpses. For example, German scholar Theobald Daechsel gives the following translation: “And tombs opened up, and many corpses of saints laying at rest were lifted up.”

Who were those that “entered into the holy city” a considerable time later, namely after Jesus had been resurrected? As seen above, the exposed bodies remained lifeless, so Matthew must refer to persons who visited the tombs and brought news of the event into Jerusalem. Thus, the rendering of the New World Translation deepens Bible understanding and does not confuse readers concerning the resurrection.
 

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There really is no difficulty in translating this. The Greek is as perfectly simple and clear as any other verses in the Bible that discuss resurrection. The problem is finding a way to understand it that fits the common beliefs about the resurrection.

The explanation that the Watchtower article gives is very possible, but getting that explanation into the translation itself is just about impossible. Hardly anyone who studies the Bible would blame us for understanding it the way we do, however, because the verse actually says something that very few people can believe. In this particular place, the NWT is not really a translation, but as the Watchtower article quoted above indicates, it's a "rendering" that "does not confuse readers concerning the resurrection."

To get a better idea of what the verses say, follow an interlinear to see what the verses say in Greek. If this is done with an online tool, you can easily look up each word in a good Bible dictionary and you can quickly see how that Greek word is used in every other place it occurs in the Bible. There are now several ways to do this. Here's one:

  • Go to blueletterbible.com
  • Look up Matthew 27:52
  • Click the link where the text of the verse is preceded by a column that says [TOOLS] and a column with the link: Matthew 27:52
  • The link opens up a table under the English verse with the Greek text, then a link to each word in the text that acts like an interlinear, a concordance, a link to Strong's, and a link to Thayer's. There are also tabs that take you to a list of about a dozen different translations, or commentaries, and cross-references for the particular verse.
  • Let the mouse pointer sit over any of the Greek words of the verse under "Textus Receptus"
    • 27:52  καὶ τὰ μνημεῖα ἀνεῴχθησαν καὶ πολλὰ σώματα τῶν κεκοιμημένων ἁγίων ἠγέρθη,
  • Hovering the mouse over each word brings up the basic meaning of each word, which you can see in the table just below where each word is spelled out in its basic form for linking to other reference tools.

Using this method, it's a quick online interlinear with quick links to some of the same reference tools that the NWT translators have used. Hovering the mouse over the last word in that verse, ἠγέρθη [egerthe], you could see a small 'text tool' that pops up to say [ 'arose' - From the root ἐγείρω (G1453) ]. If you click on the link G1453 below that place, you will see the definition based on the Bible usage along with Strong's Dictionary definition, Thayer's Lexicon reference, and every place in the Bible that this word is used, starting from Matthew to Revelation. 

 

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