The Stolen Body
Posted under The Rectory Bulletin | Easter
While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day (Matthew 28:11–15).
This is the earliest of the attempts to discredit the crucifixion, which is not only found in the gospel of Matthew but also in debates between Christians and Jews in the second century. Jesus really did die on the cross, the argument goes, but his disciples stole his body from the tomb.
There are a few things which are worth bearing in mind as we consider this theory. First of all, there was a guard of Roman soldiers placed at the tomb and the tomb itself was sealed by a large stone. It is not credible to believe that the disciples either crept past the guard and rolled back the stone without being noticed, or that they could have overpowered the guard.
Then there is the issue of motive. Why would the disciples do this? They had all fled and gone back to their jobs and there is no hint that they expected a resurrection. After all, dead men tend to stay dead. And if this was all a lie, how did they have the courage to withstand persecution for something which they know to be false? Remember, many were executed for their faith - something had happened which changed them, something for which they were ready to die.
Also, we should note the resurrection appearances which were recorded, and the fact that Jesus’s own family were converted from skeptics to believers after the resurrection. Note too the bold preaching about the resurrection which marked the Apostles, this was something front and centre in the proclamation.
And finally, ponder this. What event could have been momentous enough to cause these Jewish disciples to change the sabbath from a Saturday to a Sunday? No, the theory that the body was stolen by the disciples does not hold water.