Post Author: Bill Pratt
I have been having an interesting discussion with a gentleman on the issue of the empty tomb. We’ve touched on some of the evidence, but I decided to present a brief synopsis of William Lane Craig’s arguments for the empty tomb (from Jesus Under Fire). Here goes!
- The historical credibility of the burial story supports the empty tomb. If the burial story is accurate, the site of Jesus’ tomb would have been known to Jew and Christian alike. Anyone could have, and would have, just marched to the tomb and produced the body. In fact, the burial story is widely recognized as a historically credible narrative.
- Paul’s testimony implies the fact of the empty tomb. The sequence in 1 Cor 15 is death- burial – resurrection. Surely this sequence implies a tomb, or else where would Jesus be buried?
- The presence of the empty tomb narrative in the pre-Markan Passion story supports its historical credibility. Scholars believe that Mark’s sources from which he wrote his Gospel contained the Passion story of Jesus. Therefore, this source material would have been very old and date back to right after Jesus’ death (about A.D. 37).
- The use of the “first day of the week” (Mark 16:2) instead of “on the third day” points to the primitiveness of the tradition of the empty tomb. Scholars believe that the “third day” motif found in the New Testament developed later in Christian preaching. The fact that Mark leaves those words out speaks to a very early date for the material in Mark.
- The nature of the narrative itself is theologically unadorned and nonapologetic. Mark’s account of the empty tomb is simple and straightforward.
- The empty tomb was discovered by women. Given the low status of women in 1st century Jewish society and their inability to serve as legal witnesses, it would be nonsensical for the New Testament writers to fabricate the story of the women finding the empty tomb. The most reasonable explanation is that they really did.
- The investigation of the tomb by Peter and John is historically probable. The visit of the disciples to the tomb is attested both in tradition (Luke 24:12, 24; John 20:3) and by John himself.
- It would have been virtually impossible for the disciples to proclaim the resurrection in Jerusalem had the tomb not been empty. When the disciples began to preach the resurrection in Jerusalem and people responded, and when the religious authorities stood helplessly by, the tomb must have been empty.
- The earliest Jewish polemic presupposes the empty tomb. Matthew tells us in Matt. 28:15 that the Jewish opponents of Christianity did not deny that the tomb was empty. They claimed the disciples stole the body.
- The fact that Jesus’ tomb was not venerated as a shrine indicates that the tomb was empty. It was customary in Judaism for the tomb of a prophet or holy man to be preserved or venerated as a shrine because the bones of the prophet lay in the tomb. The only reason Jesus’ followers would not have venerated his tomb is because it was empty.
Aside from those 10 reasons, there is very little evidence.