The 2001 Translation Translator NotesNote

Spurious text: Matthew 27:52-53

We have deleted the words that are found in Matthew 27:52-53, which speak of ‘Holy Ones’ or ‘Saints’ arising from tombs and being seen in ‘the Holy City’ after the resurrection of Jesus. Why? The words are spurious (fake, added to the Bible later on).

Why do we say this? There are six main reasons.

First, there are no similar reports in the parallel account at Luke 23:45, despite the incredible and shocking nature of the events. Surely, if dead people had been resurrected from their graves, and then walked around JeruSalem, it’s quite suspicious that Luke failed to include it.

Second, why are there no accounts (or even references) elsewhere in the Bible as to who these people were, what they did, what they said, or anything at all?

Third, the only possible reference to a resurrection happening in the past was in 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul goes to great lengths to argue that there had been no resurrection of ancient people yet, and that the teaching was dangerous nonsense. This ‘event’ could well have been what he had in mind. If so, then we have Paul himself confirming that it is false.

Fourth, do you notice how these words are out of context? The words are inserted right in the middle of Matthew’s description of the things that happened at the time of Jesus’ death! Yet the words relate that the supposed resurrected ones left the cemetery much later. When? According to verse 53, after Jesus’ resurrection! That was three days later.

Indeed, if you remove the words, the entire passage flows better. This is often the case with other words that we know to be spurious.

Fifth, older manuscripts report the events with different words. For example, the words “and the graves were opened” (και τα μνημεία ανεώχθησαν) in verse 52 and the words “and went” (εισήλθον) are missing from the Codex Sinaiticus. This is also very suspicious, and typical of spurious words and passages that we know to be fake.

So the extraordinary events are oddly absent from the other Gospels, are mentioned nowhere else (but were possibly called false by Paul), are out of sequence, and the oldest manuscripts don’t agree on the wording. Further, they detract from the far more important symbolic miracle of the Temple curtain (that separated ‘the Most Holy’, the entrance to the presence of God) being ripped in two.

There is actually a sixth, broader reason: the text of Matthew is the most corrupted text of any in the Bible.

Textual corruption in Matthew

Normally we would not question a miracle, as such things are supposed to be unlikely and miraculous by their very nature. However, as pointed out in several other translator notes, the surviving manuscripts of Matthew contain more provable corruptions than any other Gospel. It seems that this is probably just another one of them.

We have no complete manuscripts of Matthew from before the 4th century CE. According to ancient sources, Matthew was the first Gospel written, and it was originally penned in Aramaic. Back then the Christian community was small, and copying scrolls was expensive. The number of copies of Matthew was likely tiny for many decades. Now was the perfect time to corrupt the text of Matthew, and it seems that’s what happened in many places.

How did the corruption happen?

Since there were so few copies, they were not personal copies; they were living documents used in worship services. Readers and teachers would leave marks and scribble notes into the margins and between the lines to clarify what the text meant, or to act as reminders when giving sermons.

Eventually these manuscripts became old, worn out, and needed to be copied. It seems that during this process, many of the scribbled notes were copied into the main body of the text. This is probably how most spurious words, notes, explanations, and added details made their way into Matthew.

Therefore, this corruption probably happened in the late 1st or early 2nd centuries while there were a small number of copies. Also, ancient sources report that the Greek Matthew we have today comes from a 2nd century translation. For the Greek Matthew to contain the words, it must have been made from a corrupted Aramaic copy. So all of these corruptions entered the text quite early, probably within 50 to 75 years of Jesus’ execution.

Another reason to believe that the words were added quite early is because the spurious words about this ‘resurrection’ are quoted by many early ‘church fathers’. The first was Ignatius, who died around 107 CE.

In the future, someone may discover additional ancient manuscripts of Matthew. Perhaps we may even find a copy from the 1st century. Then we might be able to fully restore the Gospel. However, until then, we can only do our best to spot possible corruptions such as this and act accordingly.

Why added?

If the words are spurious, then we must ask, why would anyone make up such things?

Well, in ancient times, it was common for myths to arise around the deaths of great people. The Oxford Bible Commentary notes that people would “encircle the ends of great figures with extraordinary events”, such as trees blooming out of season, the heavens shaking, and birds calling at the wrong time of day.

Perhaps some early Christians decided to embellish the death of Jesus in a way that would enhance his greatness in their culture, or make him seem more respectable to unbelievers. So they spread the story that a large number of dead people came to life and were later raised to heaven.

See the list of spurious texts that are crossed out in our Bible.

See more translator notes