I See Dead People: The Function of the Resurrection of the Saints in Matthew 27:51-54
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SubjectBible. Matthew, XXVII, 51-54--Criticism, interpretation, etc.
The grammar of the death-resurrection scene points forward toward a literary reading based on the compositional structure of the words themselves as well as their exact placement in the pericope. A literary reading of a text incorporates an historical-grammatical exegesis and a presumed theological significance by means of architectonic interpretive keys that both construct and relate different phenomena toward the intended theological meaning. The architectural process of construction and relation (both building and connecting) becomes the hermeneutical key to understanding seemingly irreconcilable texts with corresponding theological ideas. J. W. Wenham’s seminal article became the impetus for a shift in interpretation of Matthew 27:51-54 by various theologians who separated the first three portents from the latter two resulting in a displacement of the pericope in the Matthean narrative. Questions emerging from this practice rendered the text all but un-interpretable as to its theological meaning. In the contemporary context, the resulting interpretive dichotomy has obscured the function and meaning of the pericope and established two distinct and opposing readings. Matthew 27:51-54 is the crux interpretum enabling an examination of corresponding resurrection texts (both prophetic and apostolic) that provide interpretive clues toward a resolution between the interpretive polarities. Lexical thought connections compared with Matthew 28:1-15 reveal a parallelism whereby Matthew emphasizes the death-resurrection scene of Jesus as regulative for the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27:52b-53. Ezekiel 37:1-14 provides the primary prophetic witness for which the resurrection of the saints is foreshadowed and, thereby, partially fulfilled in Matthew 27:52b-53. Examination of each passivum divinum is connected by a coordinating conjunction that manifests the entire pericope as one textual hinge in the death-resurrection scene. Matthew 27:52b-53 is a yet another sign bearing theological ramifications at Jesus’ cross-death. As such, it becomes the lens whereby the cumulative theological effect of the pericope is constructed. Each portent, therefore, builds toward a theological crescendo evidenced by the centurion’s confession. The events of the text are transposed to broader antinomous theological realities taking place simultaneously. Identification of Jesus as the Son of God by the soldiers attending to the crucifixion bears Christological import whereby he becomes the focus for future missiological endeavors as evidenced by the eschatological realities of the velum scissum and the resurrection of the sleeping saints in this pericope.