Part 2: The Theft Theory
Part 2: The Theft Theory This is the view that proposes the idea that the disciples stole Jesus' body from the tomb and that is why the tomb is empty. The Bible sheds some light on this subject: 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 wit 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 di as they were intructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day. (Matt 28:11-15) History corroborates the fact that for some time after Jesus' resurrection, the Jews still held to this belief. Among these, Justin Martyr and Turtullian are examples. Jewish medieval literature also supports this idea. However, is it true? Let's examine this more closely. Two options There are only two alternatives to the empty tomb: Either it was a Divine work, or it was a human one. E. F. Kevan remarks, "No difficulty presents itself, however, when the decision has to be made between such alternatives as these. The enemies of Jesus had no motive for removing the body; the freinds of Jesus had no power to do so. It would have been to the advantage of the authorities that the boyd should remain where it was; and the view that the disciples stole the body is impossible." It is my opinion that, as Kevan says, "The power that removed the body of the Savior from the tomb must therefore have been Divine."
Stolen by Enemies? Did the Jews steal the body? I don't think so. They were the ones who had set up the guard, "therefore they had no intention of causing Him to disappear, " Le Camus says. "Moreover, their prudence could not counsel this. This would have made the way too easy for stories of the resurrection which the disciples might invent. The wisest course was for them to guard Him as proof. Thus they could reply to every pretension that might arise: ' Here is the corpse, He is not risen...'" Actually, the Jews did not question the fact that the tomb was empty when the guards came telling what had happened. This is verified by the fact that the Jews didn't rush out to see if it was true; they just made up a story, which wasn't even plausible. Let's consider it for a moment.
The Story "Tell them, 'His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.'" Now, think about it for a moment -- who knows what happens while they are asleep? So how could they know that the disciples, or anybody else, for that matter, had stolen the body? They were asleep, according to this tale, so how could they know what happened? To quote David Brown, "This story is so obviously false that Matthew does not even bother to refute it! What judge would listen to you if you said that while you were asleep, your neighbor came into your house and stole your television set? Who kows what goes on while he's asleep? Testimony like this would be laughed out of any court." In actuality, if they had really been asleep, they would have been executed. According to A. B. Bruce, "The ordinary punishment for falling asleep on the watch was death. Could the soldiers be persuaded by any amount of money to run such a risk? Of course they might take the money and go away laughing at the donors, meaning to tell their general truth. Could the priests expect anything else? If not, could they propose the project seriously? The story has its difficulties." I believe that the soldiers took the money because they were afraid of the punishment for their failure to guard the body. Speaking of the soldiers gullibility to receive the money, William Paley, wrote: "...Men in their circumstances would not ahve made such an acknowledgment of their negligence, without previous assurances of protection and impunity." Another aspect to this claim that must be observed is this: Is it possible that ALL of the soldiers should fall asleep at once? Hardly! Generally, you might expect that one or two might fall asleep, but not all of them at once! Smith cites Edward Gordon Selwyn: "That without an exception ALL should have fallen asleep when they wee stationed there for so extraordinary a purpose, to see that the body was not stolen... is not credible: especially when it is considered that these guards were subjected to the severest discipline in the world. It was death for a Roman sentinel to sleep at his post. Yet these guards were not executed; nor were they deemed culpable even by the rules, woefully chagrined and exasperated as they must have been by failure of their plan for securing the body.... That the Jewish rulers did not believe what they instructed and bribed the soldiers to say, is almost self-evident. If they did, why were not the disciples at once arrested and examined? For such an act as was imputed to them involved a serious offence against the existent authorities. Why were they not compelled to give up the body? Or, in the event of their being unable to exculpate themselves from the charge, why were they not punished for their crime? ... It is nowhere intimated that the rulers even attempted to substantiate the charge." Now, back to the question, "Did the Jews steal the body?" If they had, why didn't they excaim, "Wait! We have the body!" when the disciples came proclaiming that Jesus had risen? They could have taken the corpse and wheeled it around town to prove that Jesus was still dead. Why didn't they? Why didn't they deny the claims that Jesus had risen from the dead? Instead, they only got mad; they didn't claim that it wasn't true. Why? Because they didn't have the body! Some would add to this, "Well, what if Joseph of Arimathea decided to move the body?" This is very unlikely, because, as a secret follower of Jesus, if he had move His body, he would have informed the other disciples. Some also ask, "Did the Romans steal the body?" But as is the case with the Jews, so it is with the Romans: it was to the their advantage to keep the body where it was, especially considering the fact that Pilate wanted to keep things peaceful. Moving the body would cause much unrest between the Jews and Christians, and that would not be in Pilate's best interests. Therefore, it's unlikely that the Romans stole the body. Stolen By Friends? Did the disciples of Jesus steal the body? It's highly unlikely, since the disciples had been cowardly just a few days before and had deserted Jesus. And when Jesus was dead, they became very depressed. Wilbur M. Smith states, "These disciples were in no mood to go out and face Roman soldiers, subdue the entire guard, and snatch that body out of the tomb. I think, myself, if they had attempted it, they would have been killed, but they certainly were in no mood even to try it. On Thursday night of that week Peter had proved himself such a coward, when a maid twitted him in the lower hall of the palace of the high priest, accusing him of belonging to the condemned Nazarene, that to save his own skin, he denied his Lord, and cursed and swore. What could have happened to Peter within those few hours to change him from such a coward to a man rushing out ot fight Roman soldiers?" (It is important to note that Peter was not a coward until the maid asked him the question; he did, after all, courageously follow Jesus into the courtyard. This is a point that many overlook.) And the disciples all thought it was the end, that Jesus was dead and would stay dead. Even if they had attempted to steal Jesus' body, they would have had to contend, not only with the Roman soldiers, but also the Roman seal. The Bible states that Pilate placed a seal on the tomb entrance. To break that seal meant death. The disciples, feeling so depressed and in no mood to fight the soldiers would not have dared to break the Roman seal. Albert Roper says, "Let us be fair. We are confronted with an explanation which to reasonable minds cannot and does not explain; a solution which does not solve. When the chief priests induced Pilate to "command... that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day," the factual record justifies the conclusion that the sepulchre was in very truth made "sure." Reasoning, therefore, from that record, we are inescapably faced with the conclusion that the measures taken to prevent the friends of Jesus from stealing His body now constitute unimpeachable proof that they could not and did not steal it." Also, the stone was extremely large, according to the Scriptures, so even if the disciples somehow managed to get past the soldiers and the seal, which is impossible, they still would have had to roll away the stone somehow. And that would have been impossible to do without waking the supposedly sleeping guards. "The disciples had absolutely no reason for taking away the body, which had been honorably buried," says Smith, "They could do no more for the body of their Lord than had been done. Joseph of Arimathea never told them to remove the body from its first burial place; it was not suggested by anyone else; and therefore, if they HAD undertaken such a task, it would only be, not for the honor of the Lord, or for their own preservation, but for the purpose of deceiving others; in othe words, to foist a lie concerning Jesus upon the people of Palestine. Now whatever else these disciples were, who had followed the Lord for three years, they were not liars, with the exception of Judas, who was already dead. They were not mean men given to deceit. It is inconceivable that the eleven, after having companioned with the Holy Son of God who, Himself condemned falsehood and ever exalted the truth, after hearing Him preach a gospel of more exalted righteousness than had ever been heard anywhere in the world before, it is inconceivable that these eleven disciples should all suddenly agree to enter into such a vile conspiracy as this." After Jesus appeared to them, these were the men who proclaimed His resurrection until their deaths. They would hardly have been interested in propogating a lie. In Fallow's encyclopedia he writes, "...How could they have undertaken to remove the body? Frail and timorous creatures... People of this character, would they have dared to resist the authority of the governor? Would they have undertaken to oppose the determination of the Sanhedrin, to force a guard, and to elude or overcome soldiers armed and aware of danger?" He continues, "If Jesus Christ were not risen again (I speak the language of unbelievers), He had deceived His disciples with vain hopes of His resurrection. How came the disciples not to discover the imposter? Would they have hazarded themselves by undertaking an enterprise so perilous in favor of a man who had so cruelly imposed on their credulity? But were we to grant that they formed the design of removing the body, how could they have executed it?" The disciples were men of honor; they were proclaiming what they knew and believed to be true, and they proclaimed it with such a passion that it showed in what they said and did. If they knew that the body was stolen by someone, they would not propogate a lie; and if they found out later, they would immediately stop proclaiming the resurrection. They became martyrs for their beliefs, and no one dies for what they KNOW is a lie. Stay tuned for Part 3: The Hallucination Theory