Pilate Listens to the Jewish Leaders’ Case Against Jesus (by Mihaly Munkacsy more)

Christian apologists confidently maintain 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>>).

In support of the proposition that God did, in fact, 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 Jesus’ disciples stole his body out of the tomb. As set forth in this article, Christian apologists maintain the theory Roman or Jewish authorities moved the body is inadequate.

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.

Was Jesus’ Tomb Found Empty Because Roman or Jewish Leaders Moved the Body?

Some skeptics attempt to explain away the empty tomb on the basis Roman or Jewish authorities moved Jesus’ body and when the disciples found the empty tomb, they simply presumed Jesus had risen from the dead.

Reasons Christian Apologists Maintain the Theory that Roman or Jewish Authorities Moved Jesus’ Body is Inadequate

Christian apologists raise the following points in rebuttal to the proposition Jesus’ tomb was found empty because Roman or Jewish authorities moved Jesus’ body:

Rebuttal Point No. 1: If  Roman or Jewish Leaders Moved Jesus’ Body, the Jewish Leaders Wouldn’t Have Accused the Disciples of Stealing the Body

Matthew 28:11-15 states after Jesus rose from the dead, “some of the guards came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. And when they had assembled with the elders and counseled together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers and said, ‘You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep’….[A]nd this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day.”

If Roman or Jewish leaders moved Jesus’ body out of the tomb, the Jewish leaders would have had no reason to bribe the Roman soldiers to accuse Jesus’ disciples of stealing the body, which was the very thing the Jewish leaders were trying to prevent when they convinced Pilate to have the tomb guarded (Matt. 27:62-65). [See, Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, pg. 644 (1999)]

Rebuttal Point No. 2:  If Roman or Jewish Leaders Moved Jesus’ Body, they Would Have Publicized the Location of Jesus’ New Burial Site

Within seven weeks of Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus’ disciples were in Jerusalem (the very city where Jesus was crucified and buried), publicly declaring Jesus had risen from the dead (see, Acts 2:1, 22-32).  [Note: Pentecost was 50 days (about 7 weeks) after the Jewish Feast of First Fruits which some Christian scholars maintain was they same day Jesus was resurrected from the dead].

If Roman or Jewish authorities moved Jesus’ body, they would have simply pointed to the location of Jesus’ body to discredit the claims of the disciples that Jesus had been raised from the dead. [See, Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone?, pgs. 112-113 (1958)]  Instead of refuting the claims of Jesus’ disciples by simply producing Jesus’ new tomb or his dead body, Roman and Jewish leaders undertook the job of hunting Christians down, arresting them, threatening to imprison and/or martyring them for preaching the gospel, none of which successfully stopped the rise of Christianity which the Romans and Jewish leaders considered so threatening.

The reaction of the Jewish leaders in coming up with the story Jesus’ disciples had stolen Jesus’ body is a clear indication they didn’t know where the body was.

Rebuttal Point No. 3:  The Jews Stated their Intention Was to Prevent Jesus’ Body from Being Taken Out of the Tomb

As stated in Matthew 27:62-65, after Jesus’ body was placed in the tomb, the chief priests and Pharisees met with Pilateand reminded him that Jesus (who they referred to as the “deceiver” or “imposter”) had said, “After three days I am to rise again.” (Matt 12:39-49; John 2:19). The Jewish leaders then asked Pilate to “give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, lest the disciples come and steal him away and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’” Accordingly, rather than having a reason to move Jesus’ body out of the tomb in secret, the Jewish leaders had a stated motive (which Pilate also recognized) to ensure Jesus’ body was not moved during that three day period.  Moreover, if for whatever reason Roman or Jewish leaders had decided to move Jesus’ burial site, they would have known where Jesus’ dead body was and had every reason to publicize the new location of the body to discredit the claim of the disciples that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Finally, if the Jewish leaders knew where Jesus’ body was, they wouldn’t have had any reason to bribe the Roman guards to say Jesus’ body had been stolen when they fell asleep (Matt. 28:11-15).  [See, Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone?, pgs. 93-96 (1958)]

As reported by Justin Martyr, the Jewish authorities sent representatives throughout the Mediterranean to explain that Jesus’ followers had stolen Jesus’ body which makes no sense if they moved the body and knew where the body.  If the Jewish authorities knew where Jesus’ body was, they could have pointed to that location to discredit the claim of Jesus’ disciples that Jesus had been raised from the dead. [See, Josh McDowell & Bill Wilson, A Ready Defense, pg. 232 (1993)]

Rebuttal Point No. 4: The Jews Wouldn’t Have Removed the Roman Seal Used to Secure Jesus’ Tomb

As noted by Professor A.T. Robertson and Vegitius (a military historian), a Roman seal could have only been placed on the stone in the presence of a Roman guard. [See, Josh McDowell & Bill Wilson, A Ready Defense, pg. 230 (1993)]  and there is no historical evidence indicating the Jews had the authority to break Roman seals like the one placed on the entrance to Jesus’ tomb (Matthew 27:66).  By breaking a Roman seal, the Jewish leaders would have had to knowingly subject themselves to the wrath of the Roman government.  However, the Jewish leaders had no reason to risk incurring the wrath of Roman by removing Jesus’ body which was being guarded just as they had requested (Matthew 27:62-65). [See, Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone?, pgs. 94-96 (1958)]

Rebuttal Point No. 5: If Roman or Jewish Leaders had Moved the Body, Paul Would Have Suspected It and Wouldn’t Have Converted to Christianity

Paul fka Saul was a Pharisee and a very well educated man. If the Jewish leaders moved the body or if there was any suspicion the Romans had moved the body, Paul would have known about it because he was part of the Jewish leadership and the Jewish leaders had no reason to keep that information from him. The Jewish leaders would have wanted Paul to spread the news that Jesus’ dead body was still dead and he had not risen from the dead as claimed by Jesus’ disciples. Despite Paul’s original hatred for Christians, he came to believe Jesus had risen from the dead (see, Galatians 1:1, 1 Thess. 1:9-10, 1 Cor. 15:3-4, 12). In fact, Paul came to so fervently believe in the resurrection that he endured great persecution and, ultimately, died as a martyr for that belief. [See, Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone?, pgs. 133-145 (1958); Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, pg. 644 (1999)]

Rebuttal Point No. 6:  If Roman or Jewish Leaders Moved the Body, they Wouldn’t Have Left Jesus’ Graveclothes Behind

According to John 20:3-7, when John the disciple got to the tomb, he looked in the tomb and “saw the linen wrappings lying there.” Shortly thereafter, Peter aka Cephas arrived and went inside the tomb to see “the linen wrappings lying there and the face-cloth, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself.”

If Roman or Jewish authorities moved the body, they wouldn’t have removed the linen grave clothes Jesus’ body had been wrapped in (which John 19:39 says were covered with about 75 lbs. of burial spices) or taken the face-cloth off and folded it before leaving it behind (see, John 20:3-7).  They had to know that by leaving these materials behind, they were would be opening the door to the claim that Jesus had been raised from the dead which is the very claim they specifically stated they wanted to prevent when they asked Pilate to have the tomb guarded (Matthew 27:62-65).

Rebuttal Point No. 7: The Explanation that Jesus’ Tomb was Found Empty because Roman or Jewish Leaders Moved the Body, Doesn’t Explain Jesus’ Post-Crucifixion 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 that the reason Jesus’ tomb was found empty was because Roman or Jewish authorities moved the body out of the tomb doesn’t explain why so many people saw Jesus alive 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 Roman or Jewish authorities had moved Jesus’ body, Jesus was still dead and his body was somewhere. Accordingly, those who attempt to explain away the empty tomb by proposing the Roman or Jewish authorities moved Jesus’ body must also explain the post-crucifixion appearances of Jesus. [See, Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, pg. 645 (1999)]. Although skeptics have attempted to provide a reasonable alternative explanation for the eyewitness accounts of Jesus being seen alive, Christian apologists steadfastly maintain none of the alternative explanations are adequate much less rationally compelling (more>>).

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 found empty because Roman or Jewish authorities moved Jesus’ body out of the tomb. 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 agree that 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, in fact, 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 he 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. 9, 2012 / Last Updated:  Feb. 26, 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“Can 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)

IMAGE CREDITS & LICENSING

Slideshow Photo:  Cropped photograph of an 1881 oil painting by Mihaly Munkacsy (1844-1900) entitled “Christ before Pilate.”  Downloaded from www.wikimedia.org which stated the image is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.

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