These are some of my notes for Sunday, April 12, 2009 in the Lifeway Explore the Bible series.
Books referenced in these notes are:
1. Craig Keener, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Eerdman’s, 1999 (to be reprinted 2009)
2. Michael Wilkins, NIVAC: Matthew, Zondervan, 2004
Given the large number of resurrection witnesses, it’s not surprising there are numerous accounts (1 Cor 15:5-7). A plot to deceive would likely have a more unanimous account. Instead the Resurrection accounts are almost competitive. That ancient historical accounts differ in details is not unusual. The death of Callisthenes in ancient Alexander the Great bios agree on his indictment, scorning, and death, but disagree over whether he died of sickness or hanging.
1.Mean multiple witnesses
2.Overlap of many details point to core truthful event. (Keener)
If Matthew’s account of the Resurrection seems short compared to Luke or John, it is possible that Matthew summarized the Resurrection in order to fit his book on a single scroll. He may well have been near the scroll’s end when he reached the point of recounting the Resurrection.(Keener)
After the Sabbath= Sunday. There is much splitting of hairs over the exact meaning of the Greek, but it is commonly held Matthew is saying pre-dawn to dawn, Sunday morning. Early Christians plainly held Sunday to be a special day, but it was not considered the new Sabbath until the Second Century (Ignatius, Mag 9:1; Barnabas 15:8-9). The Sunday tradtion did not derive from Mtihraism, because Mithraism was not widespread enough to be known by early Christians until the Second Century again.(Wilkins, Keener)
Jesus said he would be raised on the third day. (Mat. 16:21, 17:23, 20:19)(Wilkins)
OT and Jews counted any part of a day as a day (Gen. 42:17-18; 1 Sam 30:12-13, 1 Kgs 20:29, 2 Chr. 10:5,12; Est 4:6, 5:1) (Wilkins)
Day 1: Friday, Jesus dies about 3 pm, in tomb before sundown
Day 2: Saturday, Jesus in tomb all day
Day 3: Resurrected in the morning at dawn, roughly halfway through Jewish day (Jewish day begins at sundown) (Wilkins)
Jewish custom allowed men and women to attend corpses, but men weren’t allowed to tend female corpses. Women might tend corpses of both sexes. (Wilkins)
While a group of women go to the tomb, the two to note are Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. They are important because they had witnesses Jesus’ death and subsequent entombment on Friday. They are, logically, the best witnesses of the Resurrection, being involved in all phases.
The typical reason the women went to the tomb was to complete the preparation of the body, but there is also the tradition that held that people’s spirits stayed near their corpses for three days, and also a common ancient practice of staying near the body for three days in case the deceased wasn’t truly deceased. (Keener)
Earthquake: Is it caused by the angel’s appearance, or is it how the stone was moved, or was it a physical marker of a great spiritual event, the Resurrection? Or some combination thereof.(Wilkins)
Gabriel is the named angel of the announcements in Lk (1:11-20, 26-38), so many have assumed he is the angel here as well.(Wilkins)
The stone is rolled away not to let Jesus out of the tomb (his spiritual body hasn’t these limitations, John 20:19, 26) but to allow the believers to see the empty tomb.(Wilkins)
The angel(s) appearance matches ancient ideas of what heavenly beings would look like, shining and clothed in white. White clothes were common religious garb, worn by priests, converts, and attendees at religious ceremonies.(Keener)
The guards “become as dead men”. Did they shake, become pale, and run off? Or did they pass out? They don’t seem to know about the disciples many comings and goings when speaking to the priests later.(Wilkins)
Luke has two angels, Matt and Mark but one. The typical harmonization answer to this is that the one refers simply to the angel that speaks.(Wilkins)
The angel announces Jesus has risen, testifying to the truth of Jesus’ predictions (Mat 16:21, 17:23, 20:19)
God has raised Jesus, thus confirming his mission (Rom 1:1-3)
His disciples: likely refers only to the Eleven.
The women were excellent witnesses, because they saw Jesus entombed (Mat 27:55-61) and now see the empty tomb.
Galilee: central staging area of Jesus’ ministry, and predicted by him as where he would meet his disciples (Mat 26:32)
Verse 9: took hold of his feet: This simple statement confirms physical resurrection, that this is not just a vision.
The Greek proskyneo “worship”, can mean simply kneeling before an esteemed figure or social superior, or , as here, means actual worship. Jesus confirms his deity by allowing this here and in 28:17. Both angels (Rev 22:8-9) and apostles (Acts 10:25-26, 14:11-15) refuse this gesture as belonging only to God (Mat 4:9-10, 14:33, Rev 22:9)(Wilkins)
Verse 10: Jesus repeats the angel’s charge: “Go tell”, but switches from “disciples” to “my brothers”
1.Is he restricting it to his family?
2.Is he using language for the Eleven
3.Is he meaning all his followers, and using this intimate term to indicate his forgiveness of their abandonment?(Wilkins)
Now the women’s excellence as witnesses to the Resurrection is complete, as they have now witnessed all the phases in person: death, burial, and resurrection. Mary Magdalene is the supreme witness, the only named witness in all four gospels. Indeed in Orthodox Christian tradition Mary Magdalene is termed “equal to the apostles”, largely on account of her Easter witness. This dependence on the witness of women is out of keeping with the time, however:
1.Some Jewish authorities rejected women as legal witnesses, as natural liars and/or weak-minded. Others accepted women’s testimony, especially if it was the only testimony available. Note even the disciples disbelieved the women in Mark 16:11, Lk 24:11, and Paul does not cite Mary Magdalene as a witness in 1 Cor 15, despite her excellent credentials as a witness.
2.The cowardice of the disciples would not gain credibility in the ancient world, so like the use of women witnesses, this detail would not be told unless true.
3.Use of some women’s names fits the possible pattern of citing eyewitnesses in the gospels and epistles, people who would be known in person or in connection with known persons.(Wilkins, Keener)
Because Paul only mentions Resurrection appearances, some have suggested this is evidence that the empty tomb is made up, that the Resurrection involves an entirely spiritual Jesus, or mystic visions by his followers. The problem with this is that Second Temple Jews simply had no notion of a non-bodily resurrection. Ghosts and visions, however, they did understand. This is why Paul (1 Cor 15) stresses the appearances of Jesus to those who knew him well and large groups, to indicate visions and ghosts were not involved here. Also, the resurrection appearances all tend to involve long conversations and often meals, further countering the notion of visions and ghosts, wich tend to be silent, brief affairs.
As for borrowing a “rising god” motif from pagan religions, the parallels are not really anything near as close as they seem upon closer examination. Further, most religions don’t recount a savior’s physical death.
What is unique and telling about Jesus’ resurrection is that it defies the conventions of both Jews and Gentiles. Pagan Gentiles of the first century had notions of a spiritual afterlife, not a bodily one. Jews of the time believed in bodily resurrection, but only collectively by the righteous at the Day of Judgment.(Keener)
The story of the bribed guards and accusations of body stealing have been considered made up by some, but it only makes sense for Christians to cast doubt on their own story to refute something already in public discussion.(Wilkins, Keener)
Do some stay at tomb while others go to report to the chief priests, whom Pilate had detached them to? That seems logical. They might report the earthquake and angel, but seem to know nothing of Jesus but the body’s absence. They don’t say, “A lot of women and men are traipsing all over this tomb since dawn”.
The chief priests and elders again consult to ruin Jesus’ ministry (Mat 16:21, 12:23, 26:3-4). Why? Because they believe his ministry is empowered by Evil (Mat 12:22-32). This opinion is not universal among the religious elite, and it changes for a number of them in Acts 6:7.(Wilkins)
The priests again resort to bribes, as with Judas (Mat 26:14-15).
Christians subsequently learn of these things from Sanhedrin member Christians like Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.
The Priests come up with a story that the guards at the tomb fell asleep and the disciples took the body This has never been a convincing argument.
1.All the guards fell asleep?
2.Penalty for dereliction of duty such as sleeping on watch was severe, including execution.
3.They all slept through the big stone being moved, the body being undressed, the body being carried away?
4.How do they know it was the disciples if they were asleep? Corpses were used in magic, and corpses that died violently were reputedly better magic. (Wilkins, Keener)
Why do the guards go along with such a bad story that puts them at risk for severe punishment?
1.They are in trouble anyway. The body is gone, they have failed their duty. None of them show any sign of having fought to prevent the body’s removal. Stories of heavenly men appearing won’t help them with their superiors.
2.Profit. Money makes the world go round.
3.Priests promise to protect them.(Wilkins)
The priests close the bargain with the soldiers by assuring them that they will protect them when Pilate learns that they admit to sleeping on duty. While the gospels tend to make Pilate out as a reasonable man, the historical record paints quite a different picture. Thus we nowadays tend to read between the lines of the gospels. “We will deal with him” makes one suspect the priests would mix bribery (something Pilate and most Roman were not immune to) and political pressure to get him to see things the priests’ way.(Wilkins, Keener)
Matthew skips many of the resurrection appearances, moving on to the appearance in Galilee. This is traditionally thought to be at Mount Tabor, but the actual location is unknown.
In Matthew at least, this is the disciples first encounter with the risen Jesus, and their response is to worship him. This is of course what Jesus has been leading them to his entire ministry, but it has been a difficult concept for the disciples to grasp. Only after the resurrection is it clear to the disciples how supremely unique Jesus is.
Yet even here, in verse 17, there is a puzzling note. “They worshiped, but some doubted”. What does that mean? The Greek hoi de, “some” is ambiguous, and might mean any of three things according to scholars:
1. Some of the Eleven doubt. These are supremely unique things they are involved in, and they don’t fit the standard Jewish notion of a mass resurrection or the coming Messiah. Furthermore, Jesus after the First Easter is a different Jesus, not all glorious like a divine being or the anticipated resurrected but still, often unrecognizable and appearing and disappearing at will. If doubt then actually means “puzzled or confused”, it is entirely understandable.
2.All of the eleven doubted. Hoi de then means “they”. Again, given the unusual, unexpected events, not impossible or unbelievable.
3.“Some” is separate from “worshiped”, indicating others with the disciples doubted. This perhaps makes the most sense. This mountain appearance is normally equated with the appearance to five hundred Paul mentions in 1 Cor 15. This is logical since mountains were typically where Jesus met and taught large crowds. Just as logical is the fact that most of those five hundred have not had the benefit of meeting Jesus after the Resurrection, as the women, the disciples, and Cleopas have, to name a few. The questions in option one would apply just as well to these, who also haven’t heard Jesus’ explanations, as those he has visited since that Sunday morning have.(Wilkins)
Thus while the doubt seems a sour note, it can be seen as a further confirmation of the believability of the resurrection account.