Thursday, January 23, 2014

Craig Evans, Robert Stewart, and Matthew 27:52-53

NT Scholar Craig Evans [1] in the book The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N. T. Wright in Dialogue (edited by Robert Stewart, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Theology at SBC New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary) [2] thinks that the Matthean account in 27:51-53 is legend.  He footnotes:

I do not think the tradition in Matthew 27:51b–53…has any claim to authenticity. This legendary embellishment, which may actually be a late-first- or early-second-century scribal gloss, is an attempt to justify the Easter appearances of Jesus as resurrection, in the sense that Jesus and several other saints were the “first fruits” of the general resurrection. This is, of course, exactly how Paul explains the anomaly (see 1 Cor. 15:23) [3]

            Evans not only comments on this passage once, but twice in a different publication.   In his book, Jesus and the Ossuaries, he labels the rising of the saints passage as an “exceedingly odd story” that is “unparalleled” except maybe in John 5:28-29.  He again concludes that this “amazing story” [4] is a “later interpolation” which may have been placed in the text in the second century. [5]

Finally, he comments on the passage again in a commentary for Cambridge where Evans postulates, “The story of the opening of the tombs and the emergence of dead saints may represent an early scribal supplement” [6] listing a few reasons for this. 1) This might be a desperate attempt to offer an answer to Jesus’ promise in Matthew 16:18 when he said, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”[7] 2) Not cited explicitly or implicitly by any church father till after the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. 3) Its sequential awkwardness as how can Jesus be the first fruits if they are already raised? 4)The position that the Akhmim Gospel fragment, which Evans dates in the second century, [8] might allude to Matthew when it says in the  gospel of Peter 41 “have preached to  them that sleep” is a stretch so that information for the gospel of Peter did not come from Matthew but from somewhere else. 

Evans concludes that the Matthean interpolation came from a, “tradition of Christ’s harrowing of hell (cf. Acts of Pilate 20–26), is probably no earlier than late second century.”[9]

[1] NT Professor at at Acadia Divinity College of Acadia University, in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada.  Received his Doctorate . in Biblical Studies from Claremont Graduate University in South California.  Before that, he received his Masters of Divinity from Western Baptist Seminary in Porland, Oregon.; It is being noted where Evans went to school because Geisler has commented that contemporary scholars have a tendency to erode the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy who obtained their education in Europe.  Geisler writes in his critique of NT Scholar Craig Blomberg response to the Matthew 27 debate, who obtained his doctorate from Europe, the following: “Such a response by Blomberg serves as an illustration of the startling erosion of inerrancy among NT scholars, especially those who have been schooled in the European continent.  Blomberg serves as a salient example in many ways of such erosion.  Many of these European-trained scholars ignore the lessons of history that evangelicals have undergone at the turn of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first that was highlighted in the Chicago Statements of 1978 and 1982.” (obtained 3/24/2013 5:30pm)
 [2]   This is a Southern Baptist Convention Seminary:

[3] The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N. T. Wright in Dialogue, ed. Robert B. Stewart (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2006), p.56 footnote 30.

[4]Cross and Livingstone define the Palestinian Syriac text as a, “…version of the NT in the Palestinian dialect of Syriac (properly called Christian Palestinian Aramaic). The date of the translation is disputed, but there are MSS surviving from the 6th–7th cent., albeit very fragmentary. The text is attested mainly in *lectionaries of the Byzantine type. The Greek underlying this version cannot be identified with any single type of text; in the Gospels some traces of *Diatessaron influence have been discerned. Parts of the OT also survive in this dialect.”. F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1217;Ehrman and Holmes say a,  “Lectionary MSS are those in which the text of the NT is divided into separate pericopes, rearranged according to the fixed order in which they are read as lessons for the church on particular days during the year.” Bart D. Ehrman and Michael W. Holmes, The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research : Essays on the Status Quaestionis (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), 62.

[5]Craig A. Evans. Jesus and the Ossuaries: What Burial Practices Reveal about the Beginning of Christianity (Kindle Locations 257-260 or pages 15-16). Kindle Edition. 2003

[6]Evans, Craig A. (2012-02-06). Matthew (New Cambridge Bible Commentary) (Kindle Locations 11802-11830). (Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition)Matthew 27:52-53

[7]New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Mt 16:18.

[8]Evans writes, “Akhmîm Gospel fragment…cannot date earlier than the middle of the second century.”  He also doubts that it is even the gospel of Peter saying, “there are grave doubts that this document is the Gospel of Peter in the first place. The Akhmîm Gospel fragment may be part of an unknown writing from an even later period of time.” Craig A. Evans, Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2006), 98.

[9] Evans, Craig A. (2012-02-06). Matthew (New Cambridge Bible Commentary) (Kindle Locations 11802-11830). (Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition)Matthew 27:52-53


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