In Defense of the Empty Tomb
by Paul Rezkalla
Was the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth found empty three days after he was crucified? If not, then Christianity is the biggest lie and the biggest waste of time in history. While the historicity of the empty tomb does not, by itself, constitute a convincing argument for the Resurrection, it plays an indispensable role as Jesus could not have risen from the dead if his tomb was not empty. There are several good historical reasons to accept the historicity of the empty tomb. Contrary to common belief, it is not something that needs to be taken solely on faith.
1. The belief in the empty tomb predates the Gospels and even the writings of Paul.
In 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, Paul lays down the earliest-known creed of the Christian church:
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles”
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1 Corinthians was penned by Paul in the mid-50s AD. Therefore, this creed had to have come about sometime before that! If Jesus died around 30 AD, that means this creed can be dated to, at most, 25 years after Jesus’ death! Furthermore, there are good arguments to show that Paul received this creed when he met with the leaders of the church in Jerusalem around 37-39 AD, and this is recorded in Galatians 1:18-20. If this is the case, then the creed can be dated to no later than 9 years after Jesus’ death! Within 9 years of Jesus’ death, the early church was circulating a creed which affirmed that Jesus rose from the dead, and thus the empty tomb. Many New Testament scholars date this creed to between 2-5 years of Jesus’ death.
2. Jesus’ body was buried in Jerusalem.
You might be thinking, “Ok…so what? How does that show anything special?”
Think again. Where did Christianity start?…Jerusalem. Did the implications hit you yet?
The disciples started going out and preaching the message of the risen Jesus in the same city where Jesus was publicly crucified, buried, and had supposedly resurrected. It would have been so easy to crush this movement of unruly peasants who were causing a stir in the powder keg state of Palestine in the Roman Empire by simply going to Jesus’ tomb, pulling out the body, and exposing the followers of Jesus as liars. Both the Romans and the Jews were fed up with this new group of Christians and they could have easily produced the body of Jesus to quench the Christian movement if the tomb was not empty. But this never happened. The body of Jesus was never produced from the tomb in an attempt to undermine the new Christian church…
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