AbstractsLaw & Legal Studies

The Origin and Purpose of Matthew 27:51b-53

by Douglas William Anderson

Institution: University of Otago
Year: 0
Keywords: origin; purpose; end time; Matthew 27:51b-53; eschaton; prodigia
Record ID: 1304924
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10523/4962


The pericope, Matt 27:51b-53, a unique passage peculiar to the First Gospel, raises many questions about its origin and purpose. This thesis argues that Matt 27:51b-53 is not a Matthean literary creation but rather is a fragment of a very early Jewish Christian passion tradition, a tradition closely related to some Jewish expectations of what the Messiah’s coming would achieve. This fragment Matthew has so incorporated into his narrative that it is an integral part of the message of the whole Gospel. The eschatological language of Matt 27:51b-53, reflecting that used elsewhere to characterize End Time events, creates a paradox – namely, that Matthew seems to suggest that with the death of Jesus the End came, yet clearly it did not! The thesis suggests that through the use of Matt 27:51b-53 Matthew was perhaps trying to reconcile two contradictory positions: (i) a Jewish belief that the Messiah’s coming would initiate the final End, and (ii) the Christian belief that Jesus the Messiah’s advent initiated the age of salvation but not the final End. In the light of the whole Gospel which, it is argued, reflects the thought of Israel as the covenant people of God, the thesis suggests that Matthew has used Matt 27:51b-53 to express, and highlight, the basic message of his narrative: that as the loyal and obedient vassal of the Lord God, Jesus, the Messiah, has through his death defeated Satan, initiated the final Eschaton, and created a whole new people of God – the Church. This new people consists of saints from both OT times as well as from the NT era. Further, and significantly, it includes Gentiles as well as Jews (Matt 27:54). To develop these suggestions the thesis proceeds from broad, general considerations to more specific issues. Thus, after some Introductory Remarks, questions relating to the origin, authorship, date of writing, and especially the composite nature of Matthew’s Gospel, are discussed in the opening chapter. In chapter two the Matthean themes of the kingdom of heaven and covenant are examined. Significant aspects of the Jewish and Christian understandings of the Messiah are then noted in chapter three. The controversial question of the Gospel’s intended readership is investigated in the fourth chapter, followed in the fifth chapter by an inquiry into the beginnings of the Christian Faith. The significance of the position of Matt 27:51b-53, and its relationship to Matthew’s “Special Material” is spelled out in chapter six. Chapter seven includes an in depth consideration of the prodigia associated with Jesus’ death (Matt 27:45, 51-54) and an investigation of the alleged relationship between Matt 27:51b-53 and the Gospel of Peter. Chapter eight notes various peculiarities of the pericope and probes the issue of its authorship. The ninth chapter pursues the complicated topic of the provenance of Matt 27:51b-53 and especially examines the status and origin of the difficult phrase, μετὰ τὴν 'εγερσιν α'υτοῡ. Questions relating to the interpretation of Matt 27:51b-53 and the “historicity” or otherwise of…