Questions From Readers
Does Matthew 28:17 mean that some apostles continued to doubt long after the resurrected Jesus had appeared to them?
No, we need not reach that conclusion from Matthew 28:16, 17, which reads: “The eleven disciples went into Galilee to the mountain where Jesus had arranged for them, and when they saw him they did obeisance, but some doubted.”
Well in advance Jesus tried to help the disciples to realize “that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the older men and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised up.” (Matthew 16:21) Nonetheless, his arrest and execution left the disciples disappointed and confused. His resurrection seems to have come as a surprise. And when he manifested himself in human form, at first some “were still not believing for sheer joy.” (Luke 24:36-41) His postresurrection appearances did, though, help his close followers to accept the fact of his resurrection; even the apostle Thomas was convinced that Jesus had been raised.—John 20:24-29.
After that the 11 faithful apostles “went into Galilee.” (Matthew 28:16; John 21:1) While they were there, Jesus “appeared to upward of five hundred brothers at one time.” (1 Corinthians 15:6) It is in this setting that Matthew 28:17 mentions that “some doubted.” So those who yet had doubts could well have been among those 500 followers.
Notice the interesting comment on this that C. T. Russell, first president of the Watch Tower Society, made:
“The ones who doubted we cannot reasonably suppose to have been any of the eleven apostles, for they were fully satisfied, thoroughly convinced, and had so expressed themselves previously. Those who doubted must, we think, have been of the ‘five hundred brethren’ present at this appointed meeting, who had had no previous intercourse with him since his resurrection, and some of whom, we may reasonably suppose, were much weaker in the faith than the apostles and the special friends already communed with. The statement that ‘some doubted’ is an evidence of the candor of the Evangelist’s record. It shows us, too, that the Lord’s followers were not over credulous, but rather disposed to sift and weigh the evidences presented, and the subsequent zeal, energy and self-sacrificing spirit of those who believed gives us abundant evidence of the sincerity of their convictions respecting our Lord’s resurrection, which they as well as we recognize to be the very keystone of our faith in him. If Christ be not risen our faith is vain and we are yet in our sins.—1 Cor. 15:17.”—Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence, May 1, 1901, page 152.
We might note in passing that the way Matthew mentions this point provides us with an evidence of the reliability and honesty of the Bible. If a person was fabricating an account, he would tend to supply details that would make his invented story seem believable; he likely would feel that omitted details or seeming gaps would cast doubt on his fabrication. What about Matthew?
He did not feel obliged to provide a detailed explanation of his remark that “some doubted.” The accounts by Mark, Luke, and John say nothing about this, so Matthew’s remark taken alone might seem to implicate the 11 apostles, of which he was one. Nevertheless, Matthew made the brief comment without providing any clarification. Some 14 years later, the apostle Paul wrote the book of First Corinthians. In the light of the detail that he provided at 1 Corinthians 15:6, we can reach the likely conclusion that those who doubted were not apostles but disciples in Galilee to whom Jesus had not yet appeared. Thus, Matthew’s comment that “some doubted” rings true; it rightly has the sound of an honest writer presenting a truthful account without trying to explain every last detail.