Near the end of Matthew’s Gospel, some Roman guards tell the chief priests of their encounter with an angel at Jesus’ empty tomb. The priests and elders respond, “Say that his disciples came by night and stole him as we slept” (Matt 26:13). According to most English translations, Matthew adds that “this story has been spread among the Jews to this day” (28:15). This translation makes it sound like the priests’ propaganda was heard and accepted by all Jews, so that there remains widespread ignorance about Jesus’ resurrection among the Jewish nation in Matthew’s day. This rendering also suggests that the “the Jews” do not believe in Jesus’ resurrection, but “the Gentiles” do. Yet this is not what the Gospel says. Instead, Matthew asserts that a false story had spread to some of the people living in Judea, but not to all Jews everywhere.

Unfortunately, most English translations state that the canard about Jesus “has been spread among the Jews” (Matt 28:15; cf. ASV, ESV, KJV, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NRSV). However, the Greek sentence contains no definite article. Therefore, the most that Matthew could say would be “among Jews”—that is, among some Jews but certainly not all Jews. Moreover, the Greek word translated “Jews” (Ἰουδαίοις; Ioudaíois) can also be rendered “Judeans,” the inhabitants of Judea in the south of Israel. This translational choice would transform the English from saying that the lie had been spread “among the Jews” into a story that has spread “among Judeans.”

Matthew’s narrative context supports the translation of “Judeans,” rather than “Jews.” Immediately after mentioning the story that has spread among Ἰουδαίοις, the Gospel states, “But the eleven disciples went to the Galilee (εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν; eis ten Galilaían), to the mountain to which Jesus had appointed [for] them” (28:16). This reference to the Galilee (in the north of Israel) shows that Matthew wants to make a directional distinction between the disciples in the north—the ones who know that Jesus really was raised from the dead—and those in the Judean south. Therefore, Ἰουδαίοις in Matt 28:15 should be translated “Judeans” rather than “Jews.”

This inter-Israel geographic divide in Matt 28:15 appears earlier in the Gospel as well. Matthew’s note that the priests’ story had “spread” (διαφημίζω; diaphemízo) among Judeans recalls the moment when two Jewish men whom Jesus had healed “spread” (διαφημίζω) his fame throughout the northern region of Israel (9:31). Whereas Jesus’ success spreads in the Galilean north, a denial of his resurrection spreads in the Judean south. This parallel between these verses offers further evidence that Matt 28:15 does not speak of “the Jews,” but of some “Judeans.”

For modern English readers, the imprecise rendering of Matt 28:15 can make it sound like all “the Jews” have been duped by a perpetual falsehood. But this is not Matthew’s message. The evangelist favors the Galilee—the place of Jesus’ upbringing and ministry—and is troubled by the continued influence of the priests in Judea. Matthew’s assertion about some first-century Judeans indicates an ongoing southern issue, but it is not an indictment of the entire Jewish people. It will be the disciples’ job to clarify the truth when they teach “all the nations” (28:19)—including Israel (19:28)—of the post-resurrection Good News.

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17 COMMENTS

  1. The problem with "labeling" people is that the sticky part of the label extends far beyond the few people who might deserve to wear it. I believe that Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg suggests that the gospel of John uses the same word intending to refer to Judeans (as distinct from Galileans and Samaritans) but has come to apply to all Jews everywhere. Thank you for challenging us.
  2. Dr Nicholas, thank you for highlighting this again. Dr Eli covers this in his lectures oh John’s Gospel and states the very same. It is good to emphasise this point as I have heard, many times, that all Jews believed the lie but you, here, have categorically proved that it was only a few. Thank you. I really enjoy your lectures.
  3. Your style of teaching is so interesting and easy to listen to. His joy is apparent in you as you unfold the Scriptures and give us understanding of the original text and context. Just love it! Thank you.
    • Thank you for the kind words and for studying with us, Tami. We're glad that you're enjoying our teaching and resources.
    • Seven is the number of completeness in Hebrew thought. So, for Samson to have 7 braids means that his strength is "total" or "perfect."
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  4. This lays emphasis on the fact that the Bible needs not be written but re - read. Thanks for the clarification
  5. Thank you for this clarification. We find it disturbing to read translations that wrongly referr to `the Jews´ as common term representing the entire Jewish population! Some Judeans/Jews followed Jesus, some did not. It is remarkable that these translations also are read in the Lutheran and Catholic mass liturgy. Kind regards, blessings,
    Ylva and Tom Vladic Stjernholm
    Sthlm, Sweden
    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including The Jewish Gospel of Matthew and The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!
  6. TQ for your sharing, the argument of some Jews but not all Jews seems quite persuisive. Yet I have doubts: If Mathew used the noun "Ἰουδαῖος" refer to some Jews of southern region, which means the related verb "διαφημίζω" (spread aboard until today) refers to sounthern region? Make sense?
    • Yes, that makes sense. It's a very good question. Matthew doesn't use διαφημίζω in the sense of "spread abroad" to other countries or areas in the way we use "abroad" today. Instead, διαφημίζω just means "spread around" (literally, "reported throughout"). Elsewhere, Matthew uses διαφημίζω when Jesus' fame "spreads throughout" a single region (Matt 9:31); therefore, it's best to understand 28:15 as being limited to the single region of Judea.

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