The Huge Importance of the Empty Tomb to Christians

The Huge Importance of the Empty Tomb to Christians October 11, 2020

We know from Paul’s writings and from pretty much every other mainstream Christian that the Resurrection is massively important to anyone professing faith in Christianity. Without belief in the death and rising of Jesus, you get no atonement and no real point to Jesus living, and therefore to Christ and therefore of Christianity.

Okay, that much is obvious.

What I have really come to realise since writing my present book project, The Resurrection: A Critical Analysis of the Easter Story, is the importance of the empty tomb narrative.

Without the empty tomb, there is no account of the resurrection. This is the “evidence” for Christ’s resurrection and thus the evidence of atonement, and Christianity as a whole (in any meaningful sense). This is why apologists like William Lane Craig put so much store in setting out the historical “evidence” and “facts” that underwrite the empty tomb story, because this is the foundation to their belief.

As I have drafted:

The empty tomb thesis is the claim that Jesus’ tomb, where he was buried by Joseph of Arimathea, was eventually found empty, leading to further claims of resurrection. I must stress here that the Resurrection in question is a physical resurrection because this is somewhat contested, as we will see in a later chapter. To whet your appetite:

I want to stress that adjective [physically]. Without an empty tomb, there would be no ground for saying that Jesus was physically raised…. [S]ome early Christians believed that Jesus was raised in spirit, but that his body decomposed. Eventually, this view came to be prominent among different groups of Christian Gnostics. We can see evidence of its presence even in the communities of the authors who produced our canonical Gospels. The later gospel, the more the attempt to “prove” that Jesus was raised bodily, not simply spiritually.

So the empty tomb is not only essential for the Resurrection narrative but a particular type of resurrection – a physical one.

William Lane Craig is a famous exponent of the idea that the empty tomb is fundamental to historically validating the Easter Story, and the support he gives for the empty tomb is as follows:[1]

(1) Paul’s account suggests the historical authenticity of the empty tomb, (2) the existence of the empty tomb text in the pre-Markan passion narrative supports its historical authenticity, (3) the usage of ‘on the first day of the week’ rather than ‘on the third day’ indicates the primitiveness of the oral history, (4) the account is theologically unembellished and non-apologetic, (5) the finding of the tomb by women is very likely, (6) the inspection of the empty tomb by the apostles is historically likely, (7) it would have not been possible for the apostles to declare the resurrection in Jerusalem had the tomb not been empty, (8) the Jewish polemic presumes the empty tomb.

He originally included a few more, such as the lack of veneration of the tomb, as further evidence but these seem to be lacking from later writing (I deal with a lack of veneration and concluded antithetically to him in a later chapter). The superb book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond The Grave (edited by Robert M. Price and Jeffery Jay Lowder) is an exhaustive refutation of these points and you can see the trouble I will have in summing up a huge book into a short chapter.

[1] More recently rewritten into an updated version of his argument, “The Historicity of the Empty Tomb of Jesus”

I spend the chapter looking in detail at the evidenced for and against the empty tomb narrative and another chapter on what will be the topic for my next piece: a spiritual versus a physical resurrection. Again, having read so much about this almost fifteen years ago, it is only now that the whole jigsaw is clicking, and why the Gnostics are so important here to undermine the whole Gospel accounts and showing the potential chasm between Pauline and Gospel theology, all of which show the empty tomb to be a later, additional embellishment.

In the meantime, please grab my Nativity book (UK):

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