If you’ve ever attended RTB’s outreaches or heard scholar interviews, you know we use the “new” reasons emerging from science as a starting point to engage in dialog that moves toward the “core” reasons for faith in Jesus Christ. The Resurrection is definitely a core reason, but people may be hesitant to talk about it. No wonder, given the magnitude of its implications!
Once a conversation gets to the topic, your preparation to discuss alternate explanations for the empty tomb can help keep the exchange alive. In the inaugural issue of Reasons, I outlined the six most popular “natural” scenarios for what happened to Jesus’ body after his burial, and I challenged you to consider how you might respond. Now I offer some brief comments on the first of the six—the idea that the disciples stole the body to perpetrate a hoax.
It’s worth noting that the Jewish religious leaders had more to gain from this hoax explanation than anyone else. Their livelihood (and more) hung in the balance. According to Matthew, they bribed the Roman guards to report that they fell asleep at the tomb while Jesus’ disciples came in the night to steal the body (Matt. 28:11-15). One must wonder about the magnitude of the bribe, given that the soldiers could have been executed for dereliction of duty. And how did they see through their closed eyelids anyway?
One must also ask what would have motivated these frightened, grieving men to steal the body—even if they were somehow (miraculously) capable of doing so. They had nothing to gain and everything to lose. Telling others about Jesus' resurrection brought them ridicule, hatred, torture, imprisonment, and death. Their own consciences would have condemned them of blasphemy. Such a ruse would never have held up under this intense pressure, given what the Gospels reveal of their individual characters.
Further, if the apostles or later Christ followers fabricated the account of the Resurrection, their story most likely would not have included mention of Jesus’ initial appearance to women. In that era women were not considered credible witnesses. It’s doubtful the apostles would have presented themselves in such an unflattering light. This peculiar detail seems more consistent with honesty than with invention.
The hoax hypothesis lacks credibility from every angle, including that of the hundreds of individuals other than the apostles who saw Christ alive after his execution. There must be a better explanation. Look for remarks on the five remaining natural explanations in future issues of Reasons.