MORE ALTERNATIVE THEORIES TO THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST
by Wayne S. Walker
The Bible declares that God came into this world as Jesus the Christ, lived as a human being, died for our sins, and was raised from the dead as proof of the claims made by Him and for Him. "Concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1.3-4). Eye-witnesses recorded in the scriptures their testimony attesting to Jesus’s resurrection from the dead. Therefore, those who would deny that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God must deal with the resurrection.
Their oldest theory, still most offered by unbelievers even today, is that the tomb of Jesus was empty because the body was stolen. "Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened. When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, ‘Tell them, "His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept." And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure.’ So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day" (Matthew 28.11-15).
However, this raises the question, who stole the body? It may look as if something has been stolen, but we cannot prove that a theft has taken place until we have found the thief and either located the stolen goods or received a full confession. One suggestion is that perhaps the Romans stole it, but the Romans dared not steal it. They are the ones who had been entrusted to make sure that the body stayed in the tomb (Matthew 27:65-66). Also, notice the reaction of the Roman guards who "shook for fear of him, and became like dead men" (Matthew 28.3-4). They would have to have been part of the plot, but they were as surprised as anyone at the resurrection.
Another suggestion is that perhaps the Jews stole the body, but they would not steal it because an empty tomb was the last thing in the world that they would want. They had asked the Romans to do everything within their power to secure the tomb and keep the body from being stolen (Matthew 27.62-63). Also, they were afraid that any kind of tumult such as the missing body of Jesus might cause would bring down the Romans upon them (John 11.47-50). And if the Jews did, for whatever inane and insane reason, take the body, their silence afterwards is deafening. On Pentecost, Peter said of Jesus, "Whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death because it was not possible that He should be held by it" (Acts 2.24). All they would have had to do to stop everything in its tracks was to say, "No, He did not, and we can show the body to prove it!" But they said nothing of the sort.
So we come back to the suggestion made by the Jewish rulers and proclaimed by the soldiers, that the disciples stole the body, but in point of fact they could not steal it. First, they were really not expecting a resurrection and thus were in no frame of mind to take any such action (Mark 16.9-13, Luke 24.1-26). Second, both the Jews and the Romans had taken every precaution possible to keep the disciples from doing that very thing (Matthew 27:64). Third, the only possible witnesses to this claim are the Roman soldiers, and their testimony is not reliable. It is absurd for anyone to testify about something which he admits took place while he slept. For that matter, sleeping on duty was a capital offense and a Roman soldier would admit to it only under special circumstances. The special circumstance here was the bribe that was given and the assurance of the Jewish leaders to appease the governor. People do not have to be bribed to tell the truth.
There are a couple of other reasons why it is highly unlikely that the disciples stole the body of Jesus from the tomb. This theory does not explain why the disciples continued to preach such a thing if it were lie even in the face of extreme threats and punishment (Acts 5.28-33, 40-42). Not one of them cracked. Not one of them buckled under the pressure. Not one of them even hinted that he believed that things were other than what they were preaching. To a man, they stood by their story under adverse circumstances. And finally, it is incredible that the disciples could have planned and executed this theft, and then still been surprised when they heard that the tomb was empty (John 20.1-7). This is almost more amazing that the resurrection itself!
Hence, the only acceptable interpretation of the evidence presented by the facts contained in the gospel accounts and admitted by all, which represent our only reliable witnesses in the case, is that Jesus Christ actually rose from the dead as He said that He would, as was prophesied in the Old Testament, and as His followers proclaimed. This is the foundation of Christianity. This is the basis for our faith, and the truth upon which rests our hope. (—taken from With All Boldness; Dec., 2001; Vol. 11, No. 12; p. 19)