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Christian apologists confidently maintain that because there are good reasons to believe God exists (more>>), it is rational to believe God could have supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead (more>>).

Moreover, in support of the proposition God did supernaturally raise Jesus from the dead, Christian apologists point to the historically documented evidence that within days of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial, the tomb Jesus was buried in was found empty.

Some skeptics attempt to explain away the evidence of the empty tomb by proposing that nobody ever went to the tomb to find it empty either because 1) the disciples saw Jesus in the form of a spirit and just assumed the tomb was empty or 2) they didn’t know where the tomb was located.  However, as delineated in this article, Christian apologists maintain the proposition that nobody even went to the tomb to find it empty ignores historical evidence and is an inadequate explanation of the fact recorded in the historical record.

Summary of the Historical Evidence of Jesus’ Grave Being Found Empty

The historical record establishes Jesus’ tomb was found empty just days after his crucifixion and burial. The empty tomb was attested to by several witnesses, was publicly addressed in speeches given in Jerusalem where the events took place, was inferentially admitted by both Roman and Jewish leaders and was believed by at least two skeptics (James the Just and Paul fka Saul).

For a complete discussion of the historical evidence that Jesus’ tomb was found empty, go here.

Did Anyone Ever Go to the Tomb to Find it Empty?

Some skeptics challenge the evidence of Jesus’ tomb being found empty by proposing the witnesses never went to the tomb to see if Jesus’ body was in the tomb.

Some skeptics hypothesize that after Jesus appeared in a spiritual form to some of his disciples, the disciples mistakenly assumed Jesus had been physically raised from the dead and nobody bothered to check to see if Jesus’ physical body was still in the tomb.  Under this hypothesis, the historical accounts of the women going to the tomb are usually called into question on the grounds that there was no reason for the women to go to the tomb with burial spices because the tomb had been sealed and there was no way for them to get into the tomb.

Other skeptics propose the disciples never went to Jesus’ tomb because they didn’t know where the tomb was.  Such skeptics propose that if Jesus’ early disciples knew where his tomb was located, the burial site would have become the destination of early Christian pilgrimages.  Since the historical record lacks evidence of such pilgrimages, they propose Jesus’ disciples must not have known where the tomb was; and, if the disciples didn’t know where Jesus’ tomb was, they couldn’t have known whether the tomb was empty.

Reasons Christian Apologists Maintain Theories Premised on Nobody Going to the Tomb to Find it Empty are Inadequate

Christian apologists raise the following points in rebuttal to the proposition that nobody ever went to Jesus’ tomb to find it empty:

Rebuttal Point No. 1: The Theory Nobody Went to the Tomb to Find it Empty Ignores the Historical Record

The historical record reports several people  went to Jesus’ tomb and found it was empty (Mary Magdalene, Salome, Peter aka Cephas, John the disciple and Mary the mother of James):

Christian apologists further point out the guards posted at the tomb would have thoroughly checked the tomb for the body before reporting to the Jewish leaders Jesus’ body was missing (Matt. 28:11-15). This is especially true since the guards knew they would be subjected to severe punishment and/or execution if they allowed someone to steal the body (see, e.g., Acts 12:19). [See, Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, pg. 645 (1999)]  Matthew 28:11-15 states when the guards reported what had happened to the Jewish leaders, the Jewish leaders bribed them to say Jesus’ disciples had stolen the body and promised to keep them from being killed when Pilate found out what had happened. [See, Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, pg. 183 (1994)]  If Jesus’ body was still in the tomb, there would have been no reason for the Jewish leaders to conspire with the guards to spread such a story. [See, Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, pg. 645 (1999)]  According to the writings of Justin Martyr, Jerusalem authorities dispatched representatives throughout the Mediterranean to explain Jesus’ followers had stolen Jesus’ body. [See, Josh McDowell & Bill Wilson, A Ready Defense, pg. 232 (1993)] However, if there was persuasive evidence Jesus’ body was still in the tomb, there would have been no reason for Jerusalem authorities to explain why the tomb was empty.

Rebuttal Point No. 2: As Described in the Bible, a Spiritual Body is Not Devoid of All Physical Matter Even though it is Immortal

As explained by Christian apologist Norman Geisler, the Bible describes spiritual bodies as being immortal but not immaterial. A spiritual body as described in the Bible is a body dominated by the spirit but it is not devoid of all matter. The Greek word used by Paul in reference to spiritual bodies (pneumatikos) means a body directed by the spirit, as opposed to one controlled by the flesh. So, a spiritual body is immortal and imperishable but it is not immaterial. According to Geisler, Paul’s reference to a spiritual (pneumatikos) body denotes a supernatural body, not a non-physical one. For example, in 1 Corinthians 10:4, Paul speaks of the “supernatural (pneumatikos) rock” from which the Israelites got “spiritual drink.” However, Exodus 17:5-6 and Numbers 20:8-9 make it clear the rock was a physical rock from which the Israelites got physical water, but by supernatural means. Further, when Paul spoke about the spiritual man in 1 Corinthians 2:11-15, he was not referring to an invisible, immaterial man without a physical body but a man with a fleshly body whose life was lived by the supernatural power of God. Geisler further asserts Paul’s use of the word “spiritual” (pneumatikos) in 1 Corinthians. 15:44 clearly does not refer to purely immaterial things (see, 1 Cor. 15:42-44, 52-55). [See, Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, pg. 658 (1999)]

Rebuttal Point No. 3: Spirits Can’t be Touched and Don’t Eat but Jesus was Touched and Did Eat

Luke 24:33-39 records Jesus’ response to the question of whether he was appearing as a spirit. In this account, two of Jesus’ followers had encountered the risen Jesus as they were traveling on the road to Emmaus. After seeing the resurrected Jesus, they returned to Jerusalem to tell the remaining 11 original disciples Jesus had risen from the dead. While they were relating their experience, Jesus appeared in the midst of the room. The initial response of those in the room was fear because they thought they must be seeing a spirit but Jesus responded as follows:

Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; touch me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have. And while they still could not believe it for joy and were marveling, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat’ And they gave him a piece of broiled fish; and he took it and ate it in their sight.

By inviting the disciples to touch his “flesh and bones” and by eating in front of them, Jesus clearly demonstrated he was not appearing in the form of a spirit. [See, Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, pg. 647 (1999)]

Rebuttal Point No. 4: Theorizing Jesus’ Appearances were Spiritual in Nature Doesn’t Obviate the Necessity of a Supernatural Act

Many who propose Jesus’ appearances were merely spiritual seem to do so because they reject the supernatural nature of the resurrection. However, any proposal Jesus appeared in a spiritual form would also require the involvement of supernatural phenomena. Consequently, those who make such proposals must recognize they are merely substituting one supernatural act for one or more other supernatural acts. [See, Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, pg. 646 (1999)]

Rebuttal Point No. 5: Conjuring-Up Spirits Was Forbidden by Jewish Holy Scripture and Not Something Jesus’ Jewish Followers Would Have Engaged In

Deuteronomy 18:9-12 strictly forbade Jews from engaging in acts involving conjuring up spirits:

“There shall not be found among you anyone who … practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For whoever does these things is detestable to the Lord….”

Engaging in conduct that involved calling up the dead, as in a séance, would have made Jesus and/or his followers participants in a practice specifically condemned by their Holy Scripture. [See, John Ankerberg & John Weldon, Ready with an Answer, pgs. 113-114 (1997)] Additionally, there is no explanation as to why the disciples would have stopped conjuring up Jesus’ spirit if they were able to do so multiple times during the 40 day period following Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. However, other than the one appearance of Jesus by Paul on the road to Damascus, there are no recorded physical appearances of Jesus to any of his followers after the first forty (40) days following is crucifixion and burial.

Rebuttal Point No. 6: The Explanation Jesus Appeared as a Spirit Presumes the Disciples Could not Distinguish Between a Spirit and a Physical Body

The explanation Jesus appeared in a spiritual form presupposes all the people who saw Jesus, including his disciples, could not distinguish between the manifestation of a spirit and a literal, resurrected body that could be touched and could eat. [See, John Ankerberg & John Weldon, Ready with an Answer, pgs. 113-114 (1997)] Additionally, the proposition Jesus appeared as a spirit ignores the fact the disciples specifically affirmed Jesus was physically raised from the dead. For example, in Peter’s sermon recorded in Acts 2:31-32, Peter stood up with the other disciples and began speaking to men who were in Jerusalem around the time of Jesus’ death and burial and boldly proclaimed that all of them were witnesses of the fact Jesus’ flesh did not suffer decay:

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words…. 29 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption [see, Psalm 16:10]. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.

[See, Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, pg. 647 (1999)]

Rebuttal Point No. 7: The Explanation Jesus Appeared as a Spirit Makes Jesus a Deceiver because Jesus Specifically Referred to His Physical Body in Reference to His Resurrection

Theories which propose Jesus appeared as a spirit necessarily make Jesus a deceiver both before and after the resurrection. Before the resurrection when the Jews at the temple demanded Jesus give them a sign to establish his authority, Jesus responded, “Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:18-19). John 2:21 specifically states Jesus was referring to “the temple of His body”, not his spirit. If Jesus was only going to reappear as a spirit, his statement that his body would be raised in three days was a deception. Further, at the time of the resurrection, Jesus left his grave clothes behind (see, Luke 24:12; John 20:3-7) which was evidence he had been physically raised from the dead. However, if his body was not physically raised from the dead, then leaving such evidence behind was deceptive. Finally, after the resurrection, Jesus presented the scars in his hands and side as evidence he had risen in the same body that had been crucified (see, John 20:27). In Luke 24:36-39, Jesus asked the disciples why they had doubts and he told the disciples to touch him and see him because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as he had. If Jesus had only been raised from the dead in a spirit form, then his presentation of his supposed physical wounds had to be intentionally fraudulent. [See, Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, pg. 647 (1999)]

If Jesus appeared in a spirit form, Jesus was lying and committing a fraud because Jesus did not claim to be appearing as a spirit; Jesus claimed to be appearing in a physical body (see, Luke 24:33-39). Lying and committing fraud would have required Jesus to violate his own teachings (e.g., Matt. 5:33-37; Matt. 5:16-18) also making him a hypocrite. However, as reflected in the following passages, Jesus clearly despised hypocrites:

  • Jesus condemned people who judged others for “a speck of sawdust” in their eye when the person paid no attention to the “plank” in their own eye. He said, “you hypocrite take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” See Matt. 7:1-5, Luke 6:41.
  • In Matthew 23:1-33, Jesus criticized the teachers of the law and Pharisees for being hypocrites condemning them for many things including: 1) Tithing 1/10thout of obedience to the law while neglecting “the more important matter of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness”; 2) For being hypocrites by keeping themselves looking clean on the outside while being “full of greed and self-indulgence” on the inside.

Engaging in deception is also inconsistent with Jesus’ reputation for being honest and truthful, which even his enemies recognized. For example, in Matthew 22:16-21, disciples of the Pharisees stated: “We know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.”

There simply is nothing about what Jesus taught or the way he lived his life that would lead a reasonable person to believe Jesus would have lied about appearing in a physically resurrected body or fraudulently lead others to believe he was appearing in a real physical body.

Rebuttal Point No. 8: The Words Used in the Bible to Describe Jesus’ Appearances Describe the Appearance of a Physical Body

Some point to passages in the New Testament which state that after the resurrection Jesus “appeared” or “let himself be seen” (Luke 24:34, Acts 9:17, 13:31, 26:16, 1 Cor. 15:5-8) and infer from those passages that Jesus was invisible but had the ability to make himself “appear” or be seen. In response, Christian apologistNorman Geisler notes the writers of these passages used the Greek word “harao” which means “to see” whereas the usual word used to convey the appearance of a “vision” was “orama.” The apostle John used the word horao to describe seeing Jesus’ body before the resurrection (John 6:36, 14:9, 19:35) and after the resurrection (John 20:18, 25, 29). As maintained by Geisler, the phrase “he let himself be seen” means Jesus took the initiative to disclose himself and does not require one to assume Jesus’ body had been invisible. Geisler also points to 1 John 4:2 and 2 John 7 in which the apostle John declared that even after the resurrection, Jesus had come in a physical body. [See, Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, pg. 659 (1999)] Geisler acknowledges not everything involved in Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances is that clear. Some maintain Jesus came and went in a usual bodily way. Others maintain Jesus was supernaturally transported from one place to another. [Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, pg. 659 (1999)] In either case, when Jesus appeared, he did so in a resurrected physical body.

Rebuttal Point No. 9:  The Women Didn’t Necessarily Know the Tomb was Sealed

The following should be considered with regard to the claim the account of the women going to the tomb is questionable because they had no to take burial spices to the tomb if the tomb had already been sealed:

  • It may not have been unusual to return to tombs to put spices on a body buried just before Passover such that there was insufficient time to complete the burial process. Although the women knew the stone had been placed in front of the tomb opening (Matt. 27:55-61; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 24:50-56), there is no evidence they knew a Roman seal had been placed over the stone. Therefore, they may not have been aware of the necessity of getting authorization from the Roman government before the stone could be rolled away.

As asserted by William Lane Craig, “the notion of visiting a tomb to pour oils over a body [was] a historical Jewish practice; the only question is the feasibility of who would move the stone for [the women]. And, I don’t think we’re in the right position to pronounce judgment on whether or not they should have simply stayed home.”  [Lee Strobel, The Case For Easter, “Interview with William Lane Craig, Ph.D., D.Th.”, pgs. 50-51 (1998)]

Rebuttal Point No. 10:  If Jesus’ Physical Body Never Left the Tomb, His Body Could Have Been Produced to Discredit the Claims of the Disciples that Jesus Had Been Resurrected

If Jesus’ physical body was still in the tomb, Jewish and/or Roman leaders could have simply pointed out the right tomb. Instead, the Jewish leaders claimed Jesus’ disciples had come during the night and stolen they body (Matt. 28:12-15) which at least implies they agreed the tomb Jesus had been buried in was empty. [See, William Lane Craig, The Apologetics Study Bible, “Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?” pg. 1728 (2007); Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, pg. 645 (1999); Lee Strobel, The Case For Easter, “Interview with William Lane Craig, Ph.D., D.Th.”, pg. 55 (1998)]  It doesn’t appear they ever thought differently since Justin Martyr later reported Jerusalem authorities had dispatched representatives throughout the Mediterranean to explain that Jesus’ followers had stolen Jesus’ body. [See, Josh McDowell & Bill Wilson, A Ready Defense, pg. 232 (1993)]  Additionally, if authorities had ever identified a tomb where Jesus’ body remained buried, it most certainly would have been venerated by Jesus’ followers but there is no evidence in the historical record of any tomb or grave site being venerated for Jesus.

Rebuttal Point No. 11: The Theory Nobody Went to the Tomb to Find it Empty Doesn’t Explain Jesus’ Post-Crucifixion and Burial Appearances

As set forth in the article entitled “The Resurrection Best Explains Jesus’ After-Death Appearances to Multiple Eye Witnesses – Introductory Summary (here), Jesus appeared to over 500 people, on twelve separate occasions, over a forty day period (except for his appearance to Paul) and to at least two skeptics, James the Justand Paul fka Saul. [For a complete index of the witnesses with referenced notations of when each witness saw Jesus and what they observed, go here.]

The explanation the nobody ever went to the tomb to see that it was empty doesn’t explain why so many people saw Jesus alive in a physical after he died on the cross and was buried in the tomb. Even James the Just and Paul fka Saul (both of whom were skeptics at the time) claimed to have seen the resurrected Jesus. [See, Gary Habermas, The Apologetics Study Bible, “Can Naturalistic Theories Account for the Resurrection?”, pgs. 1621-1622 (2007)] If Jesus’ body still lay dead in the tomb, Jesus’ post-crucifixion and burial appearances must still be explained. [See, Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, pg. 645 (1999)]. Although alternative explanations for the eyewitness accounts of Jesus being seen alive have been offered, Christian apologists steadfastly maintain none of the alternative explanations are adequate much less rationally compelling (more>>).

Rebuttal Point No. 12:  There is No Reasonable Basis to Presume Jesus’ Disciples Would Have Made Pilgrimages to a Tomb they Knew was Empty

Only if Jesus’ early disciples believed Jesus’ body was still in the tomb would it be reasonable to postulate their lack of pilgrimages to the tomb rationally implies they didn’t know where the tomb was; because, even if the disciples knew where Jesus’ body had been buried, they wouldn’t have necessarily been motivated to visit a tomb they did not believe contained Jesus’ body. [See, William Lane Craig, Question of the Week, No. 309, “Local Knowledge of Jesus’ Empty Tomb” (www.ReasonableFaith.com, 2012)]

 

Conclusion

The principle of Occam’s razor, which states simple explanations are preferable to more complex explanations, only states one should not multiply causes beyond necessity. Therefore, Occam’s razor can only be relied on to exclude the need for a supernatural explanation if a sufficient natural explanation can be offered (more>>).

In the case of Jesus’ resurrection, the rebuttal points set forth above weigh against the explanation that Jesus’ tomb was never found empty because nobody ever went to the tomb to look for his body. The other alternative explanations skeptics have offered to explain away Jesus’ empty tomb are similarly inadequate (more>>).Consequently, Christian apologists maintain it is reasonable to look beyond the alternative explanations offered by skeptics for an explanation that adequately explains all of the historical evidence, including the explanation that God supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead.

In sum, Christian apologists candidly concede if God does not exist, Jesus was not resurrected from the dead. Nevertheless, Christian apologists confidently maintain there are good reasons to believe God exists (more>>) and the following seven independent lines of evidence reasonably establish God did supernaturally raise Jesus from the dead:

  1. The resurrection best explains the historical evidence of Jesus being seen alive in a resurrected body on at least twelve (12) separate occasions by more than 500 witnesses, including at least two skeptics (James the Just and Paul fka Saul) (here>>)
  2. The resurrection best explains why the tomb Jesus was buried in was found empty within days of his crucifixion and burial (here>>)
  3. The resurrection best explains why Jesus’ disciples were transformed from fearful fleers to faithful followers who endured great persecution and became martyrs for their faith (here>>)
  4. The resurrection best explains why even Jewish leaders and skeptics converted to Christianity after Jesus was crucified, even though Christianity was foundationally centered on Jesus’ resurrection
  5. The resurrection best explains why there is no evidence any site was ever venerated as Jesus’ burial site even though it was common practice to venerate the burial sites of religious and political leaders
  6. The resurrection best explains why the early Church centered its teachings and practices around a supernatural event like Jesus’ resurrection instead of something less controversial like Jesus’ moral teachings
  7. The resurrection best explains the sudden rise and expansion of Christianity so soon after Jesus death even though he had been crucified by the Romans as a political traitor and declared a religious heretic by the Jewish religious leaders

Following a two day debate over the evidence of the resurrection between Dr. Gary Habermas and well-known skeptic, Dr. Anthony Flew, a panel of five philosophers from American universities (including the University of Virginia, James Madison University and the University of Pittsburgh) voted 4 to 1 in favor of the case for the resurrection, with 1 judge voting the debate was a draw. After listening to both sides of the debate, one of the judges concluded the historical evidence of Jesus’ resurrection was “strong enough to lead reasonable minds to conclude that Christ did indeed rise from the dead.” [Ankerberg & Weldon, Ready With an Answer, pgs. 132-133 (1997) citing to Terry L. Miethe (ed.), Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? The Resurrection Debate, pg. xiv (New York Harper & Row, 1987)]. Another of the judges stated:

Since the case against the resurrection was no stronger than that presented by Dr. Flew, I would think it was time I began to take the resurrection seriously.

[Ankerberg & Weldon, Ready With an Answer, pgs. 132-133 (1997) citing to Terry L. Miethe (ed.), Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? The Resurrection Debate, pg. xiv (New York Harper & Row, 1987)] Because there are good reasons to believe God exists and that God supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead, Christian apologists insist it is not only unfair for skeptics to claim Christians are intellectual simpletons for believing in Jesus’ resurrection but it is intellectually dishonest to write off the resurrection as mere foolishness.

For information on how to know God personally, go here.

© 2012 by Andrina G. Hanson

Published:  Nov. 12, 2012 / Last Updated:  January 12, 2013

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QUICK LINKS TO SOURCES REFERENCED OR RELIED ON IN THIS ARTICLE

John F. Ankerberg and John Weldon, Ready With an Answer(Harvest House Publishers, 1997)

Kenneth D. Boa and Robert M. Bowman, 20 Compelling Evidences That God Exists: Discover Why Believing In God Makes so Much Sense(River Oak Publishing, 2002)

Chuck Colson, Loving God (Zondervan, 1997)

William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics(Crossway; 3rd Edition, 2008)

Norman L. Geisler, BAKER ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS(Baker Books, 1999)

Norman L. Geisler, The Battle for the Resurrection: Updated Edition(Wipf & Stock Publishers; Updated Edition, 2004)

Gary Habermas, The Apologetics Study Bible: Understand Why You Believe“Tan Naturalistic Theories Account for the Resurrection?” pg. 1621 (Holman Bible Publishers, 2007)

Peter J. Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics(IVP Academic; 1St Edition, 1994)

Josh McDowell (compiled by Bill Wilson), A Ready Defense The Best Of Josh McDowell(Thomas Nelson, 1992)

Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone?(Zondervan,1958)

Lee Strobel, The Case for Easter: Journalist Investigates the Evidence for the Resurrection (Zondervan, 2004)

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Slideshow Photo: “Green Pattern” by Cilliers. Downloaded from www.Christianphotos.com

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