The “Zombies” of Matthew

by Lisa Quintana

How to better understand the Bible

Shortly after Jesus was killed by crucifixion, Matthew records a very strange reaction happening in chapter 27:52-53. Something akin to our modern-day zombie fascination occurred – dead bodies came out of their tombs and terrorized the city of Jerusalem! That imagery could have inspired an episode of the Walking Dead series. What are we to make of it?

In a recent debate between two New Testament scholars, Bart Ehrman brought up this exact passage in Matthew, stating emphatically that this proves that the Bible cannot be historically reliable. Ehrman, an agnostic, sees these verses as problematic and another reason to dismiss belief in the Bible as being inspired.

Mike Licona, a Christian New Testament scholar, explained that the “zombie” story in Matthew is a literary idiom (e.g. raining cats and dogs) that was in common use in ancient biographies of that day. This is what Licona, and other critical scholars, think was used as a rhetorical literary device; in other words, the zombies were meant to produce an effect in the reader, or to elicit the WOW factor of this event. Ehrman didn’t seem to comprehend what Licona meant by literary devices. (Perhaps Ehrman should consider reading other genres of literature sometime, so that he can better understand how writers often use imagery to make a point.)

Other commentaries on Matthew 27:52-53 take a different interpretation. Some speculate that this passage denoted the ‘personality of the bodies’ of the saints arose and were permitted to show themselves, or that they may have been the resuscitated saints to whom Christ preached (1 Peter 3:19) when he descended into hell and that they accompanied him into glory when he ascended into heaven. Regardless of the interpretation, this is a difficult passage to understand. The point to remember, however, is…

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