Historical Analysis: The Empty Tomb

The third step in the Christological Argument (That’s what I call it) is the Historical Evidence for the Empty Tomb.

Question 1: Did Jesus Exist?
Evidence: Yes, see here.
Question 2: Did Jesus Die?
Evidence: Yes, See here.
Question 3: Was Jesus’ tomb empty?
Evidence: Read Below.
Question 4: Did Jesus actually resurrect?
Evidence: See here

I’m finding more and more that “Skeptics” (I use quotes because most of the skeptics I speak to are actually hard-nose atheist) haven’t examined the complete and total evidence for Jesus Christ for a multitude of reasons. Whether they say that the Bible is ancient news, it’s fraudulent, it’s mystical, or whatever else - they are missing the fact that if we can provide enough evidence for the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ that all of the above objections fade away.

Here is a stunning fact that we must take seriously and we must bring to the forefront of the conversation about Jesus - The empty tomb is widely considered to be an established fact of the ancient world.  Not all scholars agree as to what caused the tomb to become empty, but as far as the tomb itself actually being left without the body of Jesus, this is pretty well-established even among critical scholars.

According to a comprehensive and in depth survey of New Testament scholars, it is large consensus (roughly 75%) that Jesus’ tomb somehow became empty. A study by New Testament scholar Gary Habermas published in the peer-reviewed Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus found that:

APPROXIMATELY 75% FAVOR ONE OR MORE OF THESE ARGUMENTS FOR THE EMPTY TOMB, WHILE APPROXIMATELY 25% THINK THAT ONE OR MORE ARGUMENTS OPPOSE IT. THUS, WHILE FAR FROM BEING UNANIMOUSLY HELD BY CRITICAL SCHOLARS, IT MAY SURPRISE SOME THAT THOSE WHO EMBRACE THE EMPTY TOMB AS A HISTORICAL FACT STILL COMPRISE A FAIRLY STRONG MAJORITY.

The Austrian scholar Jacob Kremer informs us that “By far most exegetes hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements concerning the empty tomb”. Likewise, scholar Van Daalen argues that:

“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” (3).

All of the Gospels touch on the empty tomb and it is because of this fact that it’s widely studied by all level of scholars. The issue of “because the bible says so” is another article for another time that I will tag here. However, the use of the New Testament (once proven to be a reliable historical document) is warranted on all grounds as we’ve seen from doctoral level analysis. The Gospel according to Mark is especially insightful because it’s most likely true that he was reliant on eye-witness accounts to form his testimony. William Lane Craig, who did one of his doctorates on this, says “Mark’s Passion source didn’t end with Jesus’ burial, but with the story of the empty tomb, which is tied to the burial account verbally and grammatically.”

The Women

In that time we know, thanks to Josephus the Historian, that women were not even allowed to be a witness in Jewish court. That makes them finding Jesus a potential blunder for the New Testament, but in it’s analysis, it actually brings reliability to the story of the New Testament because it proves that the writers were being authentic and accurate with their information. If they wanted to lie, they could have, but they remained in full integrity.

The Enemy

Reports by Justin Martyr and Tertullian [along with Matthew’s Gospel] tell us that the Jewish leaders tried to explain that the tomb was empty because Jesus’ disciples stole his body, see the Talmud for more of this. This suggests that the Jewish authorities acknowledged the fact that Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb.

They didn’t object to the tomb being empty, they tried to explain this fact away, which suggests to us it really was empty.  Historian Paul Maier explains that this early Jewish anti-Christian polemic is:

“POSITIVE EVIDENCE FROM A HOSTILE SOURCE. IN ESSENCE, IF A SOURCE ADMITS A FACT THAT IS DECIDEDLY NOT IN ITS FAVOR, THE FACT IS GENUINE” 

This is further backend by the fact that if someone had produced the body of Jesus, Christianity as a whole would have been done. It would have lost all credibility, all power, all momentum and would have been brought to its knees before it even left Jerusalem. Paul Althaus comments that the resurrection proclamation:

“COULD NOT HAVE BEEN MAINTAINED IN JERUSALEM FOR A SINGLE DAY, FOR A SINGLE HOUR, IF THE EMPTINESS OF THE TOMB HAD NOT BEEN ESTABLISHED AS A FACT FOR ALL CONCERNED” 

Through a historical analysis of weighing the evidence and arguments, one is on good grounds in accepting the historicity of Jesus’ empty tomb. This is the building block and the pinnacle of what is about to happen next: The Appearance of Jesus Christ.

Sources and Rights:
Habermas, G. The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus: The Role of Methodology as a Crucial Component in Establishing Historicity.

Kremer, J. 1977. Die Osterevangelien—Geschichten um Geschichte. p. 49-50.

Van Daalen quoted by William Lane Craig in Jesus’ Crucifixion.

Craig, W. The Historicity of the Empty Tomb of Jesus.

Habermas, G. 2005. Recent Perspectives on the Reliability of the Gospels

Early Christian Writings. The Passion Narrative.

See Craig. W. Independent Sources for Jesus’ Burial and Empty Tomb. & Craig, W. The Historicity of the Empty Tomb of Jesus.

Craig, W. The Historicity of the Empty Tomb of Jesus.

Paul Maier quoted by Christopher Persaud in: CONTENDING FOR THE FAITH: 22 Methodical Arguments for Biblical Truth. p. 467

Althaus, P. quoted by Dale Allison in: Resurrecting Jesus: The Earliest Christian Tradition and Its Interpreters. 2005. p. 317.



RC