We’ve looked at the eyewitness evidence for the resurrection of Christ, noting that the eyewitnesses pass all 3 standard tests for legal witnesses. Now we turn to the second main type of evidence, the forensic.
Forensic evidence is tangible, something you can touch. Is there any evidence like that for the resurrection? I’d suggest that the Scripture offers two, one you’ve probably already thought of, and another one that perhaps you haven’t.
The one you’ve thought of, because everybody mentions it, is the tomb itself.
[Sidebar: today there are two sites alleged to be the tomb of Jesus. We’ll never be entirely sure which of them is the correct one—or even whether either of them is. For what it’s worth, I’m inclined to think that the “Garden Tomb” is not likely to be it, mostly because nobody identified that site as the Real One for centuries, and it’s unlikely that the early church would have completely forgotten it immediately. More here if you’re interested.]
The key characteristic of the tomb is simple and obvious.
And even more important, it was empty at the time; nobody can say that a century or two later, some Christians came along and removed the skeleton when nobody was looking.
How do we know that?
Well, a number of Jesus’ close followers arrived on Sunday and confirmed that the body was not there: first Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Salome, and Mary the mother of James, early Sunday morning (Mt 28.1; Mk 16.1; Lk 24.10; Jn 20.1); then Peter and John (Lk 24.12; Jn 20.2ff), as soon as the women told them what they had seen. And to raise the ante, the Roman guards reported to the Jewish leadership that the body was gone (Mt 28.11).
It was empty,
There have been a couple of attempts to account for this. One we’ve already mentioned. It was the very first cover story (Mt 28.11-15)—that the disciples stole the body. We’ve noted that the disciples’ credibility argues against the theory. But the story was incredible on its face, since the tomb would typically have been guarded by 16 soldiers in 4 squads of four (cf Ac 12.4), who worked in shifts. How likely was it that all 16 soldiers would have fallen asleep simultaneously? Four of them on watch? When the penalty for doing so was death? And even if they had, how likely was it that the disciples could have rolled the stone away and retrieved the body without waking anybody up?
I’m supposed to believe that? And I’m the fideist?
There’s another attempt to explain the problem, indirectly. The “wrong tomb” theory says that when the women first came to the tomb Sunday morning, they came to the wrong tomb, one not yet used. In their grief, they misinterpreted what the tomb attendant told them. In the following paragraph from Matthew 28, the struck-through text indicates what was not actually said:
5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. 6 He is not here,
for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying. 7 Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you.”
Hmm. How shall I say this? If a conservative had posited this, he would immediately be accused of sexism. Women are so emotional, you know. And not good at directions. And they never listen when men talk to them.
Nope. I don’t buy that one, either. None of it. The women had earlier observed where the body was buried (Mt 27.61; Mk 15.47), and they had every reason to remember it well. They had no reason to fail to hear more than half of what the “attendant” told them—and the fact the he had “an appearance like lightning” (Mt 28.3; cf Lk 24.4) should have been a clue that something was up. And then the emptiness of the tomb was confirmed by men, who, as we all know, are more reliable witnesses. (Sarcasm alert.)
Another evidence against the story is that the religious leaders at Pentecost, less than two months later, produced no body when Peter announced the resurrection publicly. They certainly would have if a body had been available. But I’ve said that already.
The tomb was empty. On Sunday morning. Inexplicably.
Next time, we’ll look at the other key piece of forensic evidence. You’re gonna like this one.