Matthew and Daniel

The theme of Matthew’s Gospel gives special significance to the account of the resurrection of the saints in Matt. 27:52–53. That there is a strong link between the book of Daniel and Matthew’s Gospel has been acknowledged by scholars for many years. This link is especially strong in Matthew’s account of the transfiguration. A. D. A. Moses has closely examined the transfiguration pericope in relation especially to Daniel 7 [A. D. A. Moses, Matthew’s Transfiguration Story and Jewish-Christian Controversy (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), 89–101.]. As he says, “Since (1) Matthew shows considerable interest in Daniel 7 and Danielic motifs, and since (2) he brackets his transfiguration pericope with four Son of Man verses (16.27; 16.28–17.1-8–17.9; 17.12), we may reasonably infer that Matthew has been influenced by Daniel 7” [Moses, Transfiguration, 90–91.].

Moses goes on to make a connection between the Danielic motifs and Jesus’ resurrection:

The idea of resurrection is not seen in Daniel 7, but there is some evidence of Matthew applying Daniel 7 to Jesus’ resurrection elsewhere, (a) in Jesus’ saying anticipating resurrection (26.64) and (b) in his post-resurrection appearance and exaltation (28.19–20). The latter will be dealt with in Chapter 6. In 26.64 where Jesus’ inquisitors are told that ‘from now on’ they will see the Son of Man coming…, the force of ap arti [“from now on”] has often been missed. ap arti [“from now on”] here, as in 23.39; 26.29, signifies a new period beginning from now; and it is arguable that this must in context include the immediately forthcoming events, including Jesus’ death-resurrection (note also Matthew’s distinctive ‘saints-resurrection’ motif in 27.52-53). Thus it is arguable that theologically Matthew has linked the resurrection with Daniel 7 [Moses, Transfiguration, 98.].

Unless the raising of the saints in Matt. 27:52–53 is taken literally, this association is lost and the significance of this event is completely missed. By not making the connection between Matthew’s Gospel and the book of Daniel in terms of Danielic motifs Licona seems to have missed the significance of these events and consequently the evidence that these events actually occurred [Mike Licona does indeed refer to the book of Daniel and many passages in Daniel in his book The Resurrection of Jesus (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2010), but he never makes the connection between these books the way A. D. A. Moses discusses them.]. An example of this lacuna by Licona is his discussion of  the term ‘the vision’ [to horama] as this is used by Matthew in reference to the transfiguration [Licona deals specifically with this term on pages 330–33 of The Resurrection of Jesus.]. Licona deals with this term by considering its use in the LXX and the New Testament. In his conclusions, he does not refer to Matthew’s use as a characterization of the transfiguration. A. D. A. Moses, however, focuses on this word as important for understanding Matthew’s depiction of the transfiguration: “Of the evangelists Matthew (alone) categoises the transfiguration as to horama. This usage functions as a window into his unique understanding of the transfiguration, since he blends Moses-Sinai particularly with Danielic motifs. This blending in his transfiguration story also contributes to his understanding of the passage in terms of the ‘coming of God’” (Moses, Transfiguration, 89–90.).

Moses devotes many pages to his discussion of the Matthew’s depiction of the transfiguration and its connection with Daniel 7. He points out that it is not without significance that Daniel uses the same term, horama, in his depiction of the coming of the Son of Man in Dan. 7:13: “I kept looking in the night visions [horamati], and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him” (NASB). Moses points out the significance of the similarity of structure between Daniel 7 and Matthew’s account of the transfiguration:

Dan. 7.13–28 is a passage that includes (1) a ‘vision’ (7.13–14), (2) the seer’s reaction to the vision (7.15 also 28), (3) request for its explanation (7.16, also v. 19), and finally (4) interpretation of the vision (7.16–27, which also takes into consideration the vision in 7.2–12). Matthew’s portrayal of the transfiguration is somewhat similar. For (1) the disciples see the ‘vision’ (to horama) of the transfiguration (Mt. 17.2–5). (2) They react to what they saw and heard (17.6–8). (3) They query Elijah’s coming (Mt. 17.9–13), presumably prompted by his appearance at the transfiguration, and (4) receive an explanation from Jesus, with Matthew alone stressing that they ‘understood’. Mt. 17.9–13, of course, parallels Mk 9.9–13, but Matthew alone describes the transfiguration as to horama (compare Dan. 7.13 LXX), and, given his use of apocalyptic language in 17.2 (to be compared with 13.34 and Dan. 12.3 etc.), the comparison with Dan. 7.13–18 is arresting (Moses, Transfiguration, 91.).

The significance of the discussion, as we have alluded to already, is the connection that is made between the account of the transfiguration, with its Danielic motifs, and the resurrection, also in light of Danielic motifs. As A. D. A. Moses pointed out, although Daniel 7 does not refer to a resurrection, the connection with Daniel and Matthew’s use of Danielic motifs strongly implies a connection between Danielic motifs and Matthew’s account of the resurrection (see block quote above). A. D. A. Moses specifically argues that Matthew links Jesus’ resurrection with Daniel 7. Also, he goes on to point out, “Another general but contributory argument is that the concept of ‘resurrection’ is found in Dan. 12.2–3. This Danielic description of resurrection is drawn on in the M passage Mt. 13.41–43, where it is applied to the final vindication of the ‘righteous’” (Moses, Transfiguration, 98.).

The Daniel passage reads, “Many of those who sleep in the dusty ground will awake – some to everlasting life, and others to shame and everlasting abhorrence. But the wise will shine like the brightness of the heavenly expanse. And those bringing many to righteousness will be like the stars forever and ever” (Dan. 12:2–3 NET). The Greek of Daniel uses the expression “those who sleep,” which in the NET Bible is a translation of the participial construction, tõn katheudontõn. The use of the concept of sleeping as a euphemism for death is not unusual. However, it is significant that of all the Gospels, only Matthew uses this expression in reference to a resurrection of saints. The following is the transliterated Greek text of Matt. 27:52.

kai ta mnemeia aneõchthesan kai polla sõmata tõn kekoimemenõn hagiõn egrethesan.

As we said, of the four Gospels, Matthew is the only one that speaks of a resurrection of saints in terms of “having fallen asleep.” The use of the term ‘fallen asleep’ in other places in the Gospels is listed below in Table #2.

Table #2: Uses of ‘Fallen Asleep’ in the Gospels

“The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep [kekoimemenõn] were raised” (Matt. 27:52).

“and said, ‘You are to say, “His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep [koimõmenõn]”’” (Matt. 28:13).

“When He rose from prayer, He came to the disciples and found them sleeping [koimõmenous] from sorrow”  (Lk. 22:45).

“This He said, and after that He said to them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep [kekoimetai]; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep’” (Jn. 11:11).

“The disciples then said to Him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep [kekoimetai], he will recover’” (Jn. 11:12).

This connection between Daniel and Matthew indicates the necessity of taking the statement in Matt. 27:52 as an historical event. Also, this connection is used by Matthew as evidence that Jesus is the promised Messiah of Daniel’s prophecies. By taking references in Matthew’s Gospel, such as 27:52–53, as non-historical, Licona has inadvertently robbed the text of its witness to the Messiahship of Jesus.

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About Tom Howe

Professor of Bible and Biblical Languages at Southern Evangelical Seminary
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