Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Who Was Guarding Jesus' Tomb?

Question: Matthew 27:62-66 details the request by the chief priests and the Pharisees for Pilate to secure the tomb where the body of Jesus was placed. Pilate told them, "You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how" (27:65). And Matthew records that they "went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone" (27:66). There is an issue later in Matt. 28:11, though. It says in that verse that "some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened." If the guard was Roman, wouldn't they have went and announced the news about an empty tomb to Roman authorities, not to the Jewish chief priests? Was the guard Roman or Jewish?

AP: If you ask me, none of this happened. It's an apologetic story, created by Matthew or taken by him from a source that he was using. So, if the story is fake, there's no reason to respond.

But it is also possible that the story has some truth in it. Then, we have to look at the two traditions about Jesus' tomb. One is found in the Gospels, which says Jesus he was buried in a tomb that had never been used before; the tomb was made of rock, a luxurious tomb; he was buried alone. The other is found in Acts 13:29, which say that Jesus was buried in a common tomb, one fit for criminals and prisoners, by the Jewish authorities. And because the Jews were suspicious that the disciples of the seditious Jesus might try to steal his body for apologetic purposes, they organized a group to stand guard. Those individuals would have been Jewish.


TWH: We have just one tradition of Jesus' death and burial found in the New Testament. Just one. There are different accounts in non-canonical texts, but the New Testament corpus is consistent. I understand the point Antonio is making with Acts 13:29. What are we going to do with the "they" in Luke's narrative of Paul's speech? Acts 13:28 reads, "And though they found no ground for putting Him to death, they asked Pilate that He be executed." Then we find the declaration of Jesus' death and burial in Acts 13:29: "When they had carried out all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the cross and laid Him in a tomb." We clearly have a switch with the "they" from one verse to the next. In Acts 13:28, the participle εὑρόντες ("though they found") clearly refers to the Jewish leaders. Pilate, as we see in this discourse unit and in the Gospels, expressly voiced his opinion that Jesus was not guilty. The participle refers to the Jewish leaders there, as it does with the verb that follows in the request at the end of 13:28: ᾐτήσαντο Πιλᾶτον ἀναιρεθῆναι αὐτόν ("they asked Pilate to execute him"). When we get to Acts 13:29, though, the "they" shifts and is consistent with what we find in the Gospels. While it might appear that Paul is saying the same Jews took Jesus down from the cross and that the same Jews laid him in the tomb, it is not required of the text. Paul is stressing more what has happened to Jesus, namely that he was put to death, after being found innocent by Pilate, and was subsequently taken down from the cross and laid in a tomb. What we find in Acts 13:29 is consistent with what we find in the Gospels. John 19:38-42 says that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus came and took the body of Jesus down from the cross, prepared his body for burial, and laid him in the tomb. Because both of these men are Jewish, it would not be unacceptable to continue the reference to the Jews from one verse to the next. But again, the point of Paul's message is not to stress the secondary participants. His focus is explaining who Jesus is and what happened to him. Reference to others in the discourse is secondary, and we should always first ask, "Can what we find here be reconciled to what we see in the Gospels?" The latter clearly makes an effort to identify the participants in the crucifixion and the roles each played. And I don't see an issue or problem here, not at all.

Regarding the passages in Matthew, let me just say a couple of things. I believe they were Roman soldiers standing guard outside the tomb. The Jewish leaders accompanied the soldiers to the tomb before turning in, after everything had been secured and they were comfortable leaving the guard to do what they do. We know that the Roman soldiers were there. Matthew mentions that they went to report the empty tomb. Pilate also tells the Jews who made the request to secure the tomb themselves. Matthew 26:66 says that the Jews went to the tomb with the Roman guard. Pilate dispatched a group of Roman soldiers to go with the Jewish leaders, and for this reason they go first to report the empty tomb to the ones they had been ordered to accompany. There's no problem there either.

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