Matthew 8:22 (cf. Luke 9:60)—Wasn’t it absurd for Jesus to tell the dead to bury their own dead?

Problem: A man wanted to follow Jesus but first asked Jesus if he could go and bury his father. Jesus responded, “let the dead bury their own dead.” But the dead can’t bury anyone. This doesn’t seem to make any sense.

Solution: Jesus was not speaking of those who were physically dead, but of those who are spiritually dead (cf. Eph. 2:1). Jesus requested that the man follow Him (Luke 9:59). The man responded saying he wished to take care of his family first. So the issue is, who comes first—one’s family or Jesus Christ. The answer Jesus gives indicates the spiritual state of this man’s family. They were apparently not believers, and the Bible says that those who are not Christians are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1, 5). Jesus was telling the man that his spiritually dead family should take care of the burial. Jesus wanted this man to follow Him. Christian discipleship calls for high commitment.

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.