Evidence of the Empty Tomb: Part 4: A Realistic Tomb and Uncommon Eyewitnesses

A sixth reason we herald the historicity of the empty tomb is the description of the tomb itself.

The New Testament accounts match actual evidence of first-century Jewish tombs. The disciples ran to it—implying some distance, and we know tombs needed to be outside the city walls (and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was during the first century).

Mary and the disciples had to stoop to enter—matching the lower floor where the masons would stand to carve the rest. The bench was visible from the door where they had laid Jesus—matching the primary burial process (after a year the body would then be placed in an ossuary, or bone box).

The controversial “James ossuary box” and that of Caiaphas are prime examples of a first-century Jewish custom. You can see Caiaphas’s box on display in the Israel National Museum. The grave clothes reflect yet another aspect of these burials.

Seventh, is the obvious fact that if a forger from the late-first or early-second century was trying to fool readers, “women” would not be used as “witnesses.” Why would people go through all this trouble trying to recruit followers to a life of persecution, making up a narrative, spending considerable funds to produce a text, then choose witnesses whom they knew could not be used as proof, or in court, in biblical times?

And the list goes on, from the place names in the New Testament stories, to people’s names, an “upper room,” and the events of Pentecost—all strengthening the historical trappings of the Resurrection accounts.

Ultimately, however, it’s not merely a matter of whether these Christian writings are authentic and accurate, but whether they have authority in your life.

Many of Jesus’s day saw him hang between the thieves on Golgotha, perhaps out of curiosity visited the empty tomb, observed from the street as the Holy Spirit descended at Passover, and were within earshot of many accounts of Christ’s reappearing. But not all believed. The same happened in John 11 after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Some went to the religious leaders and traded the truth for ephemeral silver.

However, many believed—enough so that we are discussing this today. Enough that in the United States alone there are around 400,000 churches. Enough that the recent Pew survey prompted a journalist to note that “Christianity is the only religion in the world with a major presence on every continent.” (Washington Post, 12.18.2012) Throngs threw themselves at his feet or jumped to theirs to follow him. It’s a story, a true one, that spread to the ends of the earth.

Jesus died once so we do not have to die twice.

Written by:

Jerry Pattengale, Author of dozens of books, including Inexplicable: How Christianity Spread to the Ends of the Earth—and co-author of the accompanying TBN docu-series. Also, the inaugural University Professor, Indiana Wesleyan University, and a founding scholar of the Museum of the Bible (DC).

Read the rest of the “Evidence of the Empty Tomb” series.