Matthew 27:52

ESV The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised,
NIV and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.
NASB Also the tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised;
CSB The tombs were also opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.
NLT and tombs opened. The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead.
KJV And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,

What does Matthew 27:52 mean?

Several dramatic events took place in the moments following Jesus' death (Matthew 27:50). The temple's massive, thick curtain was ripped in half from the top down—clearly an act of God (Matthew 27:51). There was an earthquake and rocks were split. Here, Matthew begins to add a detail about disrupted tombs and the bodies of saints who had died. Verses 52 and 53 are only vaguely understood and much debated among Bible scholars. Only Matthew adds this detail to his gospel.

In direct language, this verse indicates that the earthquake caused by Jesus' death breaks open some of the graves holding bodies of "saints." In this context, that would mean god-honoring people from Israel. We aren't given further details on who these people were. They may have been prophets, heroes or simply people notable for their goodness.

Reading this verse together with the next one, it is clarified that the tombs are opened at the time of Jesus' death. More remarkably, according to verse 53, these uncovered bodies were seen alive in the city of Jerusalem after Jesus rose from the dead. A relatively minor point of debate, here, is whether the saints were raised immediately, upon Jesus' death, only going into the city after His resurrection, or whether they were uncovered but did not live again until later.

These two verses are the subject of much greater controversy over the exact meaning—and literalness—of their content. Arguments have been offered that these verses are insertions into the original text. Others suggest this is a purely symbolic reference. Some say they are "not even" symbolic, and the statement is made purely in a poetic sense by Matthew. The most reasonable interpretation, challenging though it may be, is to read these as a straightforward and literal part of the narrative.
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