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.

The Swoon Theory

“And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.” (Luke 24:50–53) - As we continue to look at the theories which seek to disprove the resurrection, we come to one which is quite common: Jesus did not actually die on cross, but simply fell into coma and later recovered in the tomb. Given the flogging, the crucifixion itself and the thrusting of a spear into Jesus side it is simply not feasible that he would have survived. The Roman soldiers were professional executioners.

The Misplaced Body

“They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).” (John 20:13–16) - This body of soldiers was placed at the tomb on Good Friday with the express commandments to guard Jesus’s body. For the misplaced body theory to be credible, we have to believe that the two Marys both forgot where their beloved Jesus was buried, and that the Temple Guard managed to guard the wrong tomb. No, the misplaced body theory does not work.

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