The Empty Tomb


In the previous post I mentioned that any explanation of the resurrection event would have to account for an empty tomb. Alternative explanations like hallucinations don’t add up when we consider that if the tomb were not empty as the biblical authors claimed, then the authorities would only have had to display Jesus’ corpse to refute the preaching of the apostles.

There are some alternative theories that take the empty tomb seriously:

1. Jesus’ body would most likely have been thrown in a shallow common graves, where it was devoured by stray dogs.

This is a relatively new theory proposed by former Roman Catholic priest and member of the Jesus Seminar John Dominic Crossan. The problem with this theory is that it is nothing more than an educated hunch by Crossan based on what occurred in other historical accounts of crucifixion. There is no alternative historical account or tradition describing Jesus’ burial in a common grave or His body being eaten by dogs. It isn’t plausible that the

Jews would have permitted shallow graves that were accessible to stray dogs, since they were so concerned with ceremonial cleanliness. We have four independent accounts in the Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John of Jesus being buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Since Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin, who condemned Jesus to death, it is unlikely that the Gospel authors would have made this detail up.

2. Jesus’ disciples stole the body and then lied about encounters with the risen Jesus.

The is a very old theory. It’s origin is recorded in the New Testament! And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men…

…[S]ome of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day. – Matthew 28:2-4, 11-15, ESV

Although a skeptic might find it difficult to believe that an angel descended on Jesus’ tomb and rolled the stone away, the theory that the disciples stole the body is also unbelievable. A band made up mostly of former fishermen would have had to overcome a guard of Roman soldiers, the most highly trained military men of the time. We do not know exactly how many guards were posted at the tomb, but we know from Matthew 27:62-66 that Roman soldiers were obtained by the chief priests and Pharisees to prevent the disciples from stealing the body. At minimum, they most likely posted 11 guards, anticipating the 11 remaining apostles. It would not have been implausible to post two or three times the expected number of disciples.

And, of course, there were other disciples of Jesus in addition to the apostles. In Acts 12:4, Herod posted a guard of four squads (a squad consisted of four soldiers) over just Peter, who was shackled in prison. Although we still cannot be certain about the number of Roman soldiers posted over the tomb, we can reasonably assume that they would have posted overwhelming force to discourage Jesus’ disciples from stealing His body.

Even assuming that Jesus’ disciples were able to overcome the highly trained Roman guard, they probably would not have maintained a lie about Jesus’ resurrection in the face of violent persecution and death. The alternative explanations don’t hold water. The best explanation for the empty tomb is that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead.

~ Jared Abbott


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