Was the Tomb Really Empty?


Was the Tomb Really Empty?

In his essay “Was the Tomb Really Empty?” Robert H. Stein believes that Christianity without resurrection of Jesus Christ is no more gospel or “good news”. The foundation of Christian faith is laid on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The gospel without resurrection has no hope and future. For this very reason, the authenticity of the empty tomb of Jesus transformed the lives of the disciples – turning them to bold, courageous, and confident men as well as assuring and guarantying of their victory over death and of salvation. Despite historical evidences, non-Christian scholars have been rationalizing against the foundation of Christian faith for thousands of years regarding the resurrection of Jesus.

In defense of the historicity of the resurrection, Stein writes that evangelical apologetics have supported the fact of resurrection by the rational arguments of periodical resurrection appearance. Secondly, the existence of the Church also testifies the bodily resurrection. Thirdly, he says that the transforming life of believers around the world is also the “existential experience of the risen Christ”. Fourthly, the witness of the empty tomb is the evidence of the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

Similarly, Stein argues that the empty tomb and resurrection cannot be separated from each other. Without assessing the effect, the cause cannot be explained. So, he summarizes the fundamental hypothetical theories of the scholars who do not believe in the resurrection against the empty tomb. The theories are as follows: 1. Women went to the wrong tomb. 2. Joseph of Arimathea stole the body of Jesus. 3. Jesus did not really die on the cross but merely “swooned”. 4. The disciples stole the body of Jesus and 5. The gardener of the tomb removed the body of Jesus and placed it elsewhere to protect his lettuce from the spectators.

The arguments against resurrection did not end up here. Some people argue that Jesus’ body was decomposed within 36 hours. In recent years, the further developed argument is that the early church fabricated the story of Jesus and resurrected him.

As a critical assessment against these fallacies, Stein stresses in the main witness to the risen Lord rather than the empty tomb. He argues that the empty tomb itself does not lead people to faith in the resurrection. However, he also makes cases for supporting the fact of the empty tomb by presenting powerful arguments. First, all four gospels contain the story of the empty tomb and three gospels: Mark, Matthew, and John functions on stratum simultaneously. Second, the gospel accounts were written in Semitic customs most probably in a Palestinian setting. Third, the empty tomb itself was the obliged evidence of the bodily resurrection for Jews. Fourth, if the resurrection account is fabricated, then why would the gospel writers include the testimony of women? Fifth, the Jewish polemic against Christianity was not necessary if Jesus was not raised from dead. They could have presented the dead body in order to settle the controversy, if the the bodily resurrection was a mere hoax. Sixth, the fact of the specific tomb that belonged to Joseph of Arimathea also supports the historicity of the empty tomb. Seventh, the major religious change of worshiping God on Sunday instead of Sabbath also validates the empty tomb.  Finally, the effect of the cause is the empty tomb. Therefore, the death-burial-resurrection of Jesus implies that the tomb was empty.

To sum up the entire arguments of Stein, each supporting argument is plausible enough to support the empty tomb and the bodily resurrection of Jesus. The author has compiled all the potential argument for and against the empty tomb theory and resurrection. And he concludes with the rational consideration that every cause has effect.

Moreover, the author has presented the cases in simpler terms which are very apprehensible. He has developed coherent and lucid arguments to corroborate the factual resurrection. All of these logical arguments are very convincing. As a Christian, I would like to hold on the fact of the empty tomb and bodily resurrection and present some cases against five theories against Christianity.

1. Women went to the wrong tomb.

As the scholars have said, women would not have gone to wrong tomb, because it was a well-known tomb in the city. The women themselves were present in the tomb that Jesus was buried (Mt 27:61).

2. Joseph of Arimathea stole the body of Jesus.

Next, why would Joseph of Arimathea put his life in jeopardy in order to steal the body of Jesus? He needs help from Roman soldier as well as the soldiers of High Priest to push about two tons heavy stone which covers the tomb.

3. Jesus did not really die on the cross but merely “swooned”.

The swooned theory turns into a nonsensical jumble of words, if we understand the very background of crucifixion. It is the horrendous, painful, and barbaric way of executing people on the cross. The crucified one will not die owing to pain but of slow suffocation. It is ludicrous to assume that Jesus did not die on the cross but merely “swooned”.

David Terasaka, a medical doctor assesses medical aspects of the crucifixion of Jesus:

Death by crucifixion: slow suffocation –

  1. Shallowness of breathing causes small areas of lung collapse.
  2. Decreased oxygen and increased carbon dioxide causes acidic conditions in the tissues.
  3. Fluid builds up in the lungs. Makes situation in step 2 worse.
  4. Heart is stressed and eventually fails.

The slow process of suffering and resulting death during a crucifixion may be summarized as follows:

“…it appears likely that the mechanism of death in crucifixion was suffocation. The chain of events which ultimately led to suffocation are as follows: With the weight of the body being supported by the sedulum, the arms were pulled upward. This caused the intercostal and pectoral muscles to be stretched. Furthermore, movement of these muscles was opposed by the weight of the body. With the muscles of respiration thus stretched, the respiratory bellows became relatively fixed. As dyspnea developed and pain in the wrists and arms increased, the victim was forced to raise the body off the sedulum, thereby transferring the weight of the body to the feet. Respirations became easier, but with the weight of the body being exerted on the feet, pain in the feet and legs mounted. When the pain became unbearable, the victim again slumped down on the sedulum with the weight of the body pulling on the wrists and again stretching the intercostal muscles. Thus, the victim alternated between lifting his body off the sedulum in order to breathe and slumping down on the sedulum to relieve pain in the feet. Eventually , he became exhausted or lapsed into unconsciousness so that he could no longer lift his body off the sedulum. In this position, with the respiratory muscles essentially paralyzed, the victim suffocated and died. (DePasquale and Burch) [1]

Only for this very purpose of crucifixion, the Roman Empire had highly professional death squad who were very smart to get their job done. Even if Jesus was just swooned, how could he move the stone and come out of the tomb? Would the soldiers be simply staring and let him go?

4. The disciples stole the body of Jesus.

The adjacent claim was the disciples stole the body of Jesus also is very incongruous accusation. Was it possible for the fearful and despondent disciples to come and steal the body from the tomb? Some people have said that the disciples stole the body when all the soldiers felt asleep. Can we sleep when we are curious, or have fear in our heart and mind? Those Roman soldiers knew the consequence for failing to do their duty. Their punishment would be death penalty.

5. The gardener of the tomb removed the body of Jesus and placed it elsewhere to protect his lettuce from the spectators.

The theory of moving the body from the specific tomb by the gardener is also impractical because of the high security. There would not have been a time that the soldier would not have been guarding the tomb because of sensational and scandalous claim of Jesus that he would rise from dead.

Therefore, all these theories are very impractical and irrational. The facts why Jews could not refute the claim of the disciples that Jesus rose from the dead by displaying the body of Jesus and investigating the empty tomb also surprisingly validate the empty tomb of Jesus and his bodily resurrection.


Work Cited:

[1] Terasaka, David. “Medical Aspects of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ.” . Blue Letter Bible.1 Jan 2000. 2010. 15 Mar 2010.
< http:// www.blueletterbible.org/commentaries/comm_view.cfm?
AuthorID=3&contentID=3129&commInfo=8&topic=Crucifixion >

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