Exegetical Notes - Matthew 28:1-10



A. Comparison of texts:

v. 1 - "in the end of the Sabbath" (KJV); "after the Sabbath" (NIV, NJB, NRSV)

v. 2 - "sepulcher" (KJV, NJB); "tomb" (NIV, NRSV)

v. 3 - "great earthquake" (KJV, NRSV); "violent earthquake" (NIV, NJB)"

v. 6 - "he is/has risen" (KJV, NIV, NJB); "he has been raised" (NRSV)

v. 7 - same as v. 6 (NRSV is in passive mode)

v. 9 - "All hail . . . held him by the feet" (KJV); "Greetings . . . clasped his feet" (NIV, NJB);

"greetings . . . took hold of his feet" (NRSV) "peace be with you" (TEV)

B. Greek criticism:

v. 1 - "after the Sabbath" (opse de sabbaton) the Sabbath ended at sunset on Saturday; this phrase apparently coincides with the phrase found in Mark's Gospel - "the Sabbath having passed" (diagenomenou tou sabbatou), though Mark further deals with something that occurred on the evening after Sabbath (Mark 16:1), but Matthew doesn't. It is difficult, then, to understand this opening phrase in this pericope as meaning other than "as the Sabbath came to an end," or "when Sabbath was over." In Matthew's context, it further describes events which relate to traditions of Sunday morning. Then , the next phrase, "towards dawn," can be rendered as "when the Sabbath had already passed into the next day." At the same time, the modern calendars give further cause for discussion. The Greek phrase "the first day of the week," found in all four gospels (mia sabbatou or mia ton sabbaton) is not necessarily an obvious referral of a particular "day" of the "week" as it is often translated into English. By the time of the Didache the plural sabbata clearly meant "week," and the order of the days certainly makes Sunday the "first day" of the week. But the notes of time in our gospels concerning the resurrection, together with the confused chronology of Holy Week, make it hazardous to say with any confidence whether the evangelists wished us to understand Saturday or Sunday at this point. (Anchor Bible 358)

There is quite a contrast in Matthew in verses 2-4 as compared to Mark. Mark has the women as the ones who question how the stone was moved. Matthew and Luke have the women find the tomb open, while John attributes a similar scenario but with Mary Magdalene.

vv. 2-3 - "Earthquake" (seismòòs), the historicity of this is not clear, or whether "earthquake" and the appearance of the angel in the form of "lightning" may be symbolic dramatizations of God's raising Jesus.

v. 4 - "paralyzed with fear", this expression describes faces affected motionless with fear. Matthew's record of the resurrection appearances is brief in relation to those of Luke and John, and his account differs from Mark. There is no mention of Simon Peter, which is interesting, considering the prominence he plays in other parts of his gospel. In Matthew's account the women heed the angel's command, and in Mark they are frightened.

v. 7 - "Galilee", some argue that the varying accounts in the gospel narratives of the appearances of Jesus in Jerusalem and Galilee provide a key to later conflicts among Jewish Christians. The assumption is that the earlier followers of Jesus in Galilee, as well as some of the inner group, were more open and looking toward the future than the so-called Judaistic Christians in the southern area near Jerusalem. This is evident in the ways that the resurrection appearances vary, and even in the earlier gospel narratives. L.E. Elliot-Binns finds contrasts in both earlier narratives and the resurrection narratives as between Mark and material peculiar to Matthew, on the one hand, and John, some parts of Luke, and the early chapters of Acts on the other. (Anchor Bible 359)

v. 9 - "peace be with you" (chairete) this is the TEV's rendering and perhaps its attempt to relate more to the Aramaic greeting (the one likely used by Jesus) instead of the Greek. The mere "greetings" seems to lose its effect and can easily be reduced to modern versions of "hello" or "hi there!" This rendering - though not closely tied with the Greek - seems to fit the way that Jesus may have indeed addressed these women. Its verb form meant "rejoice" (the imperative form as found in Phil. 4:4). This gives some credence to the TEV's rendering. It would be not only appropriate, but also theologically laced, for the first words of the risen Lord to be not just "hi there," but also, "rejoice!" (or as Bobby McFerrin would put it, "Don't worry, be happy!")

v. 10 - the final commissioning notwithstanding, this is Matthew's only record of a resurrection appearance by Jesus to his disciples. "My brothers" is rendered "my disciples" in some mss.

C. Rough translation: 1 But late of Sabbath, at the drawing on toward one of Sabbath,

came Mary the Magdalene and the other Mary to view the grave. 2 and behold

earthquake occurred a great; for an angel of Lord descending out of heaven and

approaching rolled away the stone and sat on it. 3 and was the appearance of him as

lightning and the dress of him white as snow. 4 and from the fear of him were shaken

the ones guarding and they became as dead. 5 and answering the angel said to the

women, "fear not you (plural) for I know that Jesus the one having been crucified you

seek. 6 he is not here, for he has been raised as he said, 'come see the place where he

lay.'" 7 and quickly going tell the disciples of him that he was raised from the dead,

and behold he goes before you to Galilee, there him you will see, behold I told you.

8 and going away quickly from the tomb with fear and joy great, they ran to announce to the disciples of him. 9 and behold Jesus met them saying, "Greetings," and they

approaching held of him the feet and worshipped him. 10 then says to them Jesus,

"fear not, go announce to the brothers of me that they may go away into Galilee and

there me they will see.


A. Genre: Despite all the dialogue and debate that this narrative has spawned and despite the varying accounts of chronology and historicity, this pericope is clearly a resurrection account by Matthew - a point of concurrence in all four gospels. What is key in this passage is the theological understanding that God raised Jesus from the dead. The empty tomb is the only evidence the gospel writers need. Only John and Luke attempt to explain how Jesus' post-resurrection body differed from what they had known during his time with them. The emphasis therefore is not so much on the historical raising of Jesus, as it is about revealing what God has done in Jesus of Nazareth.

B. Personal interaction/questions & observations: It's easy to become caught up in the historicity questions. However, the theology of these texts is what is at stake. What's more is that the historicity is of no importance if each person does not allow the text to stake its claim in one's life. That is, what does resurrection really mean for us today? Is it enough to make this a tenet of our faith? Is it a valid way to decide who's

in and who's not based on where they stand in relation to this doctrine? Are there ways for Christians to wrestle with these issues faithfully while retaining the existential meaning of resurreciton? These questions surface/have surfaced for me, but I've not answered them completely, probably never will. In part, the ways these questions are answered are irrelevant. It seems to come back to our existential reality. What does resurrection mean for us? If we can't articulate at least in part what God's act in Christ - the resurrection - means, then we've missed the point. What does this event tell us about God? This, to me, appears to be the ongoing challenge for theologians and preachers alike - how do we translate the meaning of resurrection for our people in a way that transforms their lives?

C. Organization: Many believers would want to use the resurrection narratives as proof for their faith. This is not Matthew's intention. Rather, Matthew's resurrection account is not so much about proof as it is about God's acting in human history in the penultimate salvific work in Jesus the Christ. Therefore, it is God's sign of redemption for human history, and not so much a proof of resurrection. The empty tomb is the once adequate sign that God had so worked in this event.


A. Immediate context: Matthew's version has the guard at the tomb just prior to his

appearance. The following pericope is known as the great commission where Jesus'

final mandate for his followers to go and make disciples is given.

B. Organization of the compositional whole: Jesus appears to Mary of Magdala and the other Mary at the tomb. An earthquake accompanies an angel who tells them not to be afraid and that he has raised as he told them. They ran from the tomb in fear and with joy to tell the disciples, and Jesus met them. He greeted them in way as to not grieve his death but to rejoice in his being now with them, "Rejoice." They then fell to his feet and take hold of his feet, and worship him. Jesus then tells them not to be afraid and that he will see them later in Galilee.

C. Authorship issues: This story is consistent with Matthew's theme throughout his

Gospel - Jesus is who he has said he was, messiah sent from God.


A. Primitive Christianity: All four gospels have varying accounts of the resurrection.

appearing to women. John does (Mary Magdalene) and they talk. John has Peter and the "beloved disciple" as being at the empty tomb. Luke and John include the burial linen wrappings inside the empty tomb. Matthew places a guard at the tomb before the resurrection and then later bribing the Roman soldiers.

B. Old Testament and Judaism: The concept of a resurrection was absent in the Old

Testament. The idea of Sheol as the permanent place for the evil seems to be the only trace of a teaching about immortality, until later in apocalyptic themes in Daniel 12:2. There it is an answer to the crisis for faith as found in the Maccabean conflict. It came in the form of a double resurrection - life for the faithful who lived under persecution, and damnation for those who didn't. Inter-testamental literature shows the development of beliefs concerning resurrection that took several forms: 1.) resurrection for righteous Israelites only, of righteous and unrighteous Israelites, of all humanity to judgment; 2.) to earth, to a transformed earth, to paradise; 3.) in a body, in a transformed body, with no body. In Wisdom and IV Maccabees, the individualism of Greek thought is found in the concept of immortality of the soul. By the time of the first century CE, it was probably widespread within Judaism, being embraced by the Pharisees, but not by the Sadducees, nor is it found present in Qumran with the Essene community. Also within this development came the attachment of resurrection with eschatological meanings, i.e., God's action in the consummation of creation would settle the dualisms concerning humanity (good vs. evil, righteous vs. unrighteous, reward vs. judgment, etc.). (Westminster Dictionary)

C. Hellenistic world: The Greeks believed in immortality of the soul in the classical dichotomous ways of thinking - body-spirit or body-soul. Sometimes this is interpolated in Christian understandings of resurrection. This is seen in how we talk about loved ones who've gone to heaven, or at funerals in how we refer to the body versus the actual person. I think there's something more at stake in the biblical accounts of resurrection.


A. Summary of salient features: Like the other gospel accounts, the empty tomb is evidence that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Matthew doesn't give much detail other than the empty tomb. The sole witnesses in Matthew are the women. Since women were not regarded as competent witnesses in Jewish courts, it is clear that their presence in this narrative guarantees that it was not created to impress outsiders. The story is cherished by the faith community, in which women play an indispensable role as witnesses to the power of God. (Hare, Interpretation) As the angel tells them, it is not just that Jesus has been raised, but that the 'crucified one' has been raised. The women in Matthew become the first ones to not only witness the risen Lord, but the first ones to proclaim the risen Lord. Their encounter was with both fear and joy. This appearance to the women is Matthew's only post-resurrection appearance other than the commissioning at the end of chapter 28.

B. Smooth translation: After the Sabbath and toward the next morning on Sunday, Mary

Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, and an angel from heaven appeared, rolled away the stone, and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow; for fear of him the guards were paralyzed with fear. To the women, however, the angel said, "Don't be scared, for I know that you're looking for Jesus who was crucified. But he isn't here. He has been raised, as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Go quickly, and tell his disciples, 'he has been raised from the dead' and 'he is going before you into Galilee, and you will see him there.' See I have told you." They therefore left the tomb quickly, with awe and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And then Jesus met them and said, "Shalom! Don't worry, be happy!" They came up, grabbed his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Don't be scared; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee and they will see me there."

C. Hermeneutical bridge: This text reminds us of the deeper meaning of resurrection. As

important as faith in the resurrected Christ is, there is a deeper reality. Matthew reminds us that Jesus did not raise himself, but God. God's act in resurrection is the message that still comes to us today. Just as God raised the crucified Christ, so does God continue to raise us from our realities of death. Just as God was present in the risen Lord, so does that same presence reside with us in the midst of our pain, struggle, doubt, fear, and death. The resurrection then transforms our present realities. Further, the resurrection is not just an escape or departure from death. The one who was crucified was raised. But not just a return to life from death, resurrection is God's working in a new reality of life. Likewise God transforms our lives into something new, not just once, but over and again as our life situations remind us of the need for God's grace. A new life, a new creation, a new reality in Christ is the present reality of resurrection for us today.



W.F. Albright and C.S. Mann. The Anchor Bible: Matthew (New York: Doubleday, 1971)

Hare, Douglas R.A. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching - Matthew (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1993)

Marshall, Alfred. The Interlinear KJV-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1975)

Richardson, Alan and Bowden, John. The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1983)