If Jesus Wasn’t Resurrected … Who Got His Dead Body?

Here are three rock-solid bottom-line facts you can trust to be true about Jesus

Jesus told His disciples repeatedly before He was arrested, tried, tortured and crucified that those things would happen. He also told them He would be resurrected on the third day after His death.

They didn’t understand any of it before it all came down but within a few days of His death and burial, they were telling the world they had seen and talked to Him, that He was alive, that He had been resurrected.

Here we are 2,000 years later and a bunch of theories have been proposed to explain away the disciples’ claim that Jesus was resurrected. One of those theories is that Jesus didn’t come back to life, and the reason the tomb was empty was because somebody stole His body.

There are three basic groups of “suspects” who might have had motives to snatch Jesus’ dead body from the tomb, His friends, His enemies and grave robbers. Let’s take the latter group first.

What About Grave Robbers?

Grave robbing in the Middle East has been around for a long time. The tombs of the Pharaohs of Egypt, for example, were typically filled with valuable items the deceased leader was thought to need in his journey in the next world. Those graves were attractive targets for grave robbers, who over the centuries stripped many of them.

But there is zero reason to think grave robbers would have viewed Jesus’ burial chamber in the same way as they would have that of a Pharaoh. For one thing, Jesus was known to be an itinerant teacher with a small band of followers. He had no known palace, ruled over no geographical territory and collected no taxes from anybody. There simply was no reason to think Jesus had any riches with which to be buried.

“Whether they found riches or not, why would they have then taken the rotting corpse of Jesus out of the tomb?”

There are, however, two possible reasons somebody might have thought there could be treasures in Jesus’ tomb. First, Pilate, the Roman governor who gave the order to crucify Jesus, also ordered that a sign be placed His head on the cross. The sign said “King of the Jews.”

Jerusalem was full of people from far away visiting for the Passover Festival, so it’s possible thieves were around who weren’t familiar with the facts surrounding this “King of the Jews” and simply assumed He must have been a rich guy.

So let’s stipulate they did somehow manage to get into the burial chamber. Given the truth about Jesus’ poverty, they were sorely disappointed to find nothing of value, except perhaps His burial clothes.

But here’s the key point: Whether they found riches or not, why would they have then taken the rotting corpse of Jesus out of the tomb? There is no logical reason they would have done so. They were there for the riches, not the rotting body.

Video By A Smart Guy (With Six More Reasons)

The second reason somebody might have thought there could be riches in Jesus tomb is that it was not His tomb to begin with, but was owned by Joseph of Arimathea. A rich man in his own right, Joseph went to Pilate and asked to be allowed to bury Jesus’ body in a grave he owned.

Is it possible Joseph thought this tomb might be a safe place to hide some of his valuables? He undoubtedly knew of the guards Pilate ordered to be placed at the tomb, so perhaps Joseph thought the tomb would be secure, even if only temporarily.

Let’s assume that’s what happened and that’s what attracted grave robbers to the tomb. Let’s further assume they made off with Joseph’s temporarily stored treasures. That still doesn’t explain why the thieves would also carry away the dead body.

Bottom Line #1 — Chances are extremely remote, at best, that grave robbers took away Jesus’ body.

What About Jesus’ Enemies?

It’s clear from the New Testament that both the Romans and the Jewish leaders were aware of Jesus’ prediction of His resurrection. That’s one reason Pilate granted the Jewish leaders’ request that a guard be stationed at the tomb. They feared the disciples would somehow sneak away with the body and then tell everybody Jesus had been resurrected.

But, as we will see shortly, there is little likelihood of the disciples having succeeded in stealing Jesus’ body, so it’s logical to think Jesus’s enemies still had custody of His remains a few weeks later on the Day of Pentecost when the disciples put Jerusalem into an uproar with their claim He was alive.

“Pilate would likely have had no qualms whatsoever about having his soldiers reopen the tomb and remove Jesus body to be put on public display and thus expose the disciples’ resurrection claim.

So all the authorities would have had to do to discredit the disciples’s claim of a resurrection was to roll Jesus’ rotting corpse down Jerusalem’s Main Street in full public view. That would have stopped the Christian movement dead in its tracks.

Here’s something else to think about: It was not uncommon for crucifixion victims to be left on their cross, subject to vultures and other wild animals. Remember, the place of crucifixion was outside Jerusalem’s city walls in an area used as a garbage dump.

But that didn’t happen to Jesus’ body, thanks to Joseph of Arimathea. Pilate would likely have had no qualms whatsoever about having his soldiers reopen the tomb and remove Jesus body to be put on public display and thus expose the disciples’ resurrection claim.

Bottom Line #2 — It’s a near certainty that Jesus’ enemies didn’t have His dead body

What About the Disciples?

So this brings us to the disciples, the group most often accused of somehow stealing their dead leader’s body and then proclaiming a lie, that Jesus had come back to life, just as He said He would three days after His death.

There are two facts that are beyond dispute here: The disciples were a bunch of cowards and there was an armed guard defending the tomb. Cowards don’t suddenly find courage and overcome armed guards.

How do we know the disciples were cowards? The New Testament tells us that in multiple ways. There’s Peter’s denial of Christ three times before the cock crowed. Given Peter’s aggressive personality, the fact he felt compelled to disassociate himself from Jesus after the arrest should tell us there is no surprise in the cowardice of the rest of the disciples who hid from the authorities, fearing no doubt that they would be next in line for execution.

“People give their lives for causes they believe to be true and legitimate, but not when they know the cause is false.”

But for the purposes of discussion here, let’s assume the disciples did somehow gather their courage, hide Jesus’ body, then proclaim His resurrection, knowing all the while they were spreading a lie.

Here’s why that explanation makes no sense: People don’t die for something they know to be a lie. People give their lives for causes they believe to be true and legitimate, but not when they know the cause is false.

Most, if not all, of the disciples died horrendous deaths. Peter was crucified upside down. James was beheaded. Not one of the original disciples recanted. Had there been a conspiracy among them to conceal the truth that Jesus really wasn’t alive, that all that stuff they’d been claiming about Him being resurrected was a lie, one of them at least would have confessed in order to save his own skin.

Bottom Line #3 — Nobody dies for what they know to be a lie

So where does that leave us? The most logical conclusion, based upon the preceding analysis, is the empty tomb can’t be explained by theft. Jesus told His disciples He would be resurrected and He was.

And what does that mean for you, my friend on the Hill? If Jesus is alive, we have to take seriously His claim to be God incarnate. That’s not something you can just walk away from and ignore.

You’ve got to deal with it. That’s where I come in because I was once where you are now. Let’s talk. There’s so much more evidence from history, archeology and logic.

For example, if you think the disciples could have stolen Jesus body, you have to explain how they defeated one of the most feared military guard units of the Roman Army, the Kustodian.

Want to go deeper? Here’s a great place to start: More Than A Carpenter, by Josh and Sean McDowell. Quick, easy to read, absolutely based on the latest research and facts. There’s a reason 15 million copies have been sold.

But you can get a copy for free. Just let me know you want it, give me your snail-mail address and I will send you a copy at no cost.


NEWS FLASH! Millennials Run Congress

Great post today in Roll Call by reporter Alex Gangitano titled “Politicians Worry About Millennials But They’re Already Running The Hill.” If you work on the Hill, you knew that before today but Gangitano’s post puts some interesting human faces on the reality.

Gangitano quotes Chris Carter, 31, who is chief of staff for Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), who at the age of 25 was Hudson’s district director and moved up to his present position at age 29.

“When you get constituents who come up to D.C. to lobby … I do think it’s a little surprising to them when they come in and are talking about a very important issue and they’re sitting across from a 20-something who’s in a senior role in an office,” Carter told Gangitano.

The Roll Call reporter also talked to Matt Klapper, who became Sen. Cory Booker’s chief of staff four years ago at the age of 31. Klapper was blessed to have more experienced people around to help him:

“Having little to do with my age, and more to do with being relatively new to the Hill, I had a steep learning curve when I became chief of staff — if anything, people were eager to lend a hand and help show me the ropes,” he said of joining the staff of the New Jersey Democrat.

Gangitano also talked to Mitchell Rivard, Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.) chief of staff, age 28, and Joe Hack, who became Sen. Deb Fisher’s (R-Neb.) chief of staff at age 27. Hack started on the Hill nine years ago as an intern in then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).

Also quoted in the post are Caroline Cash, 29, chief of staff to Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), and John McCarthy, 27, chief of staff to Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.).

Klapper quotes something his boss told him that has stuck with him and that strikes this former young Hill chief of staff (at age 28, for Rep. Jim Collins, R-Texas) as especially useful to remember: “My boss [Booker] likes to say, ‘purpose, not position. I’ve found that won’t only help you keep your compass and stay happy, it will help you accomplish far more.”

That’s solid advice whether you are 28 and working on the Hill for a senator or representative, or 58 and running a K Street lobbying firm working the Hill on behalf of clients.

And it brings to mind an even more basic question that has been discussed here on HillFaith and will be a continuing topic of discussion in the days ahead.


Which Are More Reliable, Aristotle and Plato, or Matthew, Mark, Luke And John?

One of the most frequently mentioned myths about the Gospels (the first four books of the New Testament, written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) is the claim they cannot be historically accurate because they were written decades after the events they purport to report.

Several of the commenters to yesterday’s post here — “Are Christians The Biggest Fools Of All Time?” — repeated variations of the claim the Gospels are unreliable because so much time elapsed between the events and the writing of the individual books. The actual facts, the critics argue, were lost to the myths and legends that grew up around the events related in the Gospels.

The German higher critics of the 19th Century made this claim a standard argument in the conventional wisdom scholarship of the 20th century among those who reject the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ and His claim to be the incarnate creator of the universe and everything in it. And the argument continues in popular culture and debate to this day, as seen in the comments to yesterday’s post.

There has been a tremendous amount of scholarship on the accuracy and reliability of the Gospels in recent decades. Below is a link to a recent podcast of Frank Turek’s interview with Dr. Craig Blomberg, who is one of the most respected scholars in the world on this issue. I highly commend it to anybody on any side of the debate.

But more immediately, let’s address the question posed in the headline above. Nobody today doubts when they read Plato’s “Republic” or Aristotle’s “Nicomachean Ethics” that they are reading what the Greek philosophers actually wrote, even though what they hold in their hands are copies of copies of copies … stretching back centuries.

Even so, when was the last time you heard anybody say Plato’s discussion of the shadows on the wall of the cave cannot be trusted as what Plato actually wrote or believed because so much time elapsed between his original manuscript and the earliest copies used by copyists in the millennia before Mr. Gutenberg invented the printing press? Or that Aristotle’s Golden Mean as the key to human virtue was a creation of a later copyist and thus was not the philosopher’s original view?

Nevertheless, that’s a commonly expressed argument whenever the Gospels are under discussion.

But guess what? There are far more copies of the Gospels, written much closer to the original authors, than there are for any other of the ancient classics, including Plato and Aristotle.

Aristotle’s works were written between 386 B.C. and 322 B.C. The first copies came along in about 1,100 A.D., or roughly 1,400 years after Aristotle did his thing. As for Plato, he wrote between 427 B.C. and 347 B.C, and the first copies date to 900 A.D., for an interval of roughly 1,200 years.

Compare that to the New Testament, which, regarding the Gospels, the critics claim were written, at the earliest, around 70 A.D., with copies first appearing around 130 A.D.

In other words, if the same standards of reliability and accuracy are applied to the New Testament that have long been accepted without question for other ancient authors, then the Gospels must be viewed as among the most reliable of the ancient classics. You can check out this post by Matt Slick of Christian Apologetics and Research for more specifics on this angle.

And as I always say, a great place to start in assessing these issues is “More Than A Carpenter” by Josh and Sean McDowell. Just tell me your address and I’ll get a copy of MTAC for free.

Now, here’s Frank Turek’s extended audio conversation with Dr. Craig Blomberg:



Why Work On The Hill … If There’s No God?

If that seems like an apples-and-oranges kind of question posed in the headline, be assured that it’s not. Think about it: Why would anybody put in such long hours, usually for low pay and little or no recognition on the Hill unless they are convinced that doing so will somehow advance them towards something that is both important and worthwhile.

And that’s the point of the question in headline. What gives your life its ultimate meaning and purpose? What makes you get up every day and slog over to Rayburn or Russell or another of the congressional office buildings to do your thing as a press secretary, case worker, committee flack, legislative assistant or whatever?

Is it to get experience and contacts, or develop a specialized knowledge or skill set, to set you up later to “earn the big bucks” working for some corporation, lobbying outfit or advocacy group? This is a question of central importance regardless if you are a liberal, Republican, conservative, Democrat, independent, Mug-Whump or don’t-have-a-cluer.

It also applies if you happen to be slaving away in the executive branch in a political appointee slot or a career civil service position. Ditto if you’ve already scored the big one, drive a Bimmer or Benz to work, routinely rub elbows with the rich-and-powerful and have the names and numbers for everybody who is anybody in this town in your cell phone’s contact file.

“This is a question of central importance regardless if you are a liberal,  Republican, conservative, Democrat, independent, Mug-Whump or don’t-have-a-cluer.”

So where am I going with this one? Right here, to The Poached Egg. Yes, you read that right, The Poached Egg. It’s a web site that “is a large and continually expanding virtual library of articles and essays compiled from all over the World Wide Web. Noted apologists, biblical scholars, philosophers, scientists, historians, students, and laymen all come together under this one site.” Founder Greg West is also the editor. He knows his stuff.

Check out this video discussion that lays out the basic underlying issue behind the question in the headline above. Then, I hope you will tell me what you think of it in the comments below — be it positive, negative, lukewarm, whatever.


So When Was The Last Time You Checked Your Unstated Assumptions?

You know what I mean; assumptions like if a person is a Harvard graduate, he or she must be smart. Or anybody who becomes a plumber or a carpenter isn’t likely to be reading philosophy at night. Or Texas really is God’s country.

OK, maybe not that last one about the Lone Star State, but here’s another one that is clearly among the most important influences on American public life these days: Modern science has liberated us from the shackles of beliefs and values based on ancient myths.

There are multiple variations on the theme but what they all come down to, more or less, is the unstated assumption that “science” is the only path to truth. Anything that claimed to be truth prior to, oh say, 1900 is almost prima facie considered by the current generation to be wrong or worse.

I would bet next month’s paycheck — assuming I get one! — that if you asked 100 randomly selected congressional aides about this, the vast majority of them would quickly agree with that proposition.

A closely related proposition and one that also has profound influence on the way issues are analyzed on Capitol Hill is the idea that there are “facts” and there are “opinions,” and public policy ought always be based solely on the former, not the latter. Stuff like faith and patriotism are mere opinions.

So, think about this: To be “true” in the scientific sense, according to this assumption, something must be observable, repeatable and measurable. That being the case, it must also be concrete, material. That means it cannot be non-material, or, to put it bluntly and in layman’s terms, there ain’t no such thing as the “supernatural” or “spiritual.”

So much then for the fundamental claim on which the entire Christian faith rests – the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, the Son of God. Given the science assumption, Jesus may have been a great teacher, an itinerant preacher with a real knack for turning a phrase or maybe just a lunatic, but what He couldn’t be is dead, buried and then alive again on the third day.

Normally at this point, I would launch into a discussion of the many apologetical “proofs” for the veracity of the Resurrection claim. But there’s another way to go at this issue and that is to examine the historicity of the claim.

Brit N.T. Wright — a former university lecturer/turned bishop, delivered a lecture some years ago in which he made an extremely persuasive case for the proposition that:

The Christian claim was from the beginning that the question of Jesus’ resurrection was a question, not of the internal mental and spiritual states of his followers a few days after his crucifixion, but about something that had happened in the real, public world, leaving not only an empty tomb, but a broken loaf at Emmaus and footprints in the sand by the lake among its physical mementoes, and leaving his followers with a lot of explaining to do but with a transformed worldview which is only explicable on the assumption that something really did happen, even though it stretched their existing worldviews to breaking point. More of that anon.

What we now have to do is to examine this early Christian claim more thoroughly, to ask what can be said about it historically, and to enquire, more particularly, what sort of ‘knowing’ or ‘believing’ we are talking about when we ask whether ‘a scientist’ can ‘believe’ that which, it seems, ‘the resurrection’ actually refers to.

I could give you the link to the text version of Wright’s lecture, but it’s so much better to watch and listen to him deliver “in person” via this video:

Thanks, by the way, to Wintery Knight for bringing this superb lecture to my attention so that I can share it with all my friends and future friends on Capitol Hill. Wintery Knight notes of Wright that he “has taught at Cambridge University, Oxford University, Duke University, McGill University, and lectured on dozens of prestigious campuses around the world. He’s published 40 books.”

In other words, Wright is somebody to whom we would be wise to pay attention. That is not to say I agree with everything he says because I don’t. But his point about thinking historically is an important one, especially if you happen to work in a job in an institution in which making history is an everyday occurrence.

Are Christians The Biggest Fools Of All Time?

Why yes, if Jesus Christ was not resurrected from the dead on the third day following His crucifixion, as He repeatedly told His disciples beforehand He would be, then every one of the billions of people who have lived who professed their faith in Him has been a schmuck, a fool, conned, etc.

This may come as a shock to some, but St. Paul put it rather succinctly at 1 Corinthians 15:14: “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”

Spartacus, the favorite gladiator of a certain famous New Jersey senator, might shrug and say “party hearty tonight, dudes, cauz tomorrow half of us are going to die.”

Now, think of it from a slightly different angle — If He was resurrected, that means He’s God. And that changes everything for everybody, including you and me, my friend. So with that thought in mind, take 3.30 and give a listen to this from Bobby Conway, “The One-Minute Apologist.” Yes, I know, that’s not just one minute. It’s branding, I guess.

By the way, I found this particular video on The Poached Egg, a web site you should definitely check out if you work for a senator or representative in the Congress of the United States.

Or if you just care about groovy stuff like epistomology, the ultimate purpose of your life, the significance of the ancient Roman Army’s Kustodian to everything that has happened since it briefly guarded a certain tomb near Jerusalem, and so forth.