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The Resurrection - Part 3

What to do with an empty tomb!

‘It is extremely difficult to object to the empty tomb on historical grounds;

those who deny it do so on the basis of theological or philosophical assumptions. Because of the strong evidence for the empty tomb,

most recent scholars do not deny it.’[1]

Let’s assume Jesus died and was buried as we argued yesterday. To produce the rotting corpse of Jesus would therefore prove beyond reasonable doubt that the resurrection of Jesus never happened.

But the problem is no body was, or has ever been produced. So what is the ‘strong evidence’ for the empty tomb? Let’s look at two of the arguments:

Wrong Tomb

The women disciples, people claim, were so distraught after the death of Jesus, they went to the wrong tomb. Knowing Jesus was dead left them in a state of emotional confusion. They found an empty tomb but it was the wrong one. If they went to the right one they would have found a body. Apart from being sexist it goes against the evidence.

First, having been there just two days before, it’s hard to imagine that you would forget where the tomb was. People are not in the habit of forgetting where their loved ones are laid to rest. You don’t mix up graves.

Second, the owner of the tomb was Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish Council, a kind of ruling court.[2] If the women were starting rumours that the tomb was empty then the easiest thing for the ruling authorities to do would be to check with the well-known and respected owner. If it was the wrong tomb, then Joseph would have put the record straight. The empty tomb theory would never have gained traction, unless of course it was.

Craig comments: ‘Historians don’t buy the empty tomb theory because those in power could have easily used the dead body from the real tomb to expose the hoax. When rumours of a resurrection started, they would have simply rolled out his body.’[3]

Stolen Body

The women’s first conclusion when they found the empty tomb was not - a resurrection has taken place - but ‘they have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we don’t know where they have put him!’[4]

So who stole the body? Three suggestions are put forward none of which are conclusive.

First the Roman soldiers stole the body. Perhaps they had heard Jesus talk about rising again, and so to prevent any rumours they hid the body. But that only left an empty tomb, leading to speculation that Jesus did in fact rise. Of course if they did have the body all they needed to do was produce the body putting an immediate end to any resurrection claims. It all seems elaborate and counterproductive.

Second the disciples stole the body. One wonders how you would manage to get past the guards, steal the body and get away without being caught. Possible? Perhaps! The stolen body theory actually comes from the enemy camp. Matthew records for us that when the tomb was discovered empty, the chief priests paid off the Roman Guards telling them: ‘You are to say, His disciples came during the night and stole him away while you were asleep.’[5] Are we meant to think that the disciples took advantage of these lies and false accusations and started preaching a resurrection that only got you arrested and killed? As I have said already why would they be willing to die for a lie? The fact that the chief priests concocted a story of lies strongly suggests they knew the tomb was empty. Dr. Paul Maier calls this: ‘positive evidence from a hostile source. In essence, if a source admits a fact that is decidedly not in its favour, the fact is genuine.’[6]

Third local thieves stole the body. Money was to be made, not from the body but the burial cloth the body was wrapped in. It contained expensive preserving spices. The problem is, in this theory the robbers left what was most lucrative, the cloth, and took what was of no value, the body! Thieves can be foolish but not that foolish!

None of the ‘stolen body’ theories hold up. Even the critics don’t deny the tomb was empty and when pushed for a reason why, it is considered an ‘inexplicable mystery’! Christians claim that this mystery is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, no other historical explanation has been given.


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[1] D.H. Van Daalen quoted by Matt Perman in ‘Historical evidence for the resurrection’. [2] Lukes Gospel chapter 23 verse 50 [3] The problem of God [4] Johns Gospel chapter 20 verse 2 [5] Matthews Gospel chapter 28 verses 11-15 [6] Quoted by Matt Perman in ‘Historical evidence for the resurrection’

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