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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Objections to the Resurrection of Jesus

Don Stewart :: Did the Women Go to the Wrong Tomb on Easter Sunday?

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Did the Women Go to the Wrong Tomb on Easter Sunday?

Objections to the Resurrection of Jesus – Question 10

What about the possibility that the women who looked for Jesus’ body that first Easter actually went to the wrong tomb? Kirsopp Lake, the great textual scholar of the early part of the twentieth century, came up with this ridiculous theory. We can summarize it as follows.

The Wrong Tomb Theory Explained

The theory says there were many tombs in the area in which Jesus was buried, and the women were not sure where one contained the body of Jesus. It would not have been easy to distinguish one tomb from another. Joseph of Arimathea was not a public disciple of Jesus so the believers would not have known anything about him, or his family tomb. He was a representative of the Jews.

When Jesus was buried, they only saw the actual tomb from a distance. Add to this the fact that they were distraught over His death. Consequently, it would have been difficult for them to know the exact burial spot. Thus, they went in the semi-darkness to an empty tomb, thinking it was the tomb where Jesus was actually buried. When they found the tomb empty they assumed He had risen.

The young man, whom they saw at this empty tomb, they saw on that dark morning, confirmed they were at the wrong tomb. In referring to Jesus, he said, “He is not here.” In doing so, he was probably pointing to another tomb. However the confused women thought he meant that Jesus had risen.

Evaluation of the Wrong Tomb Theory

There are a number of serious problems with the wrong tomb theory. They include the following obvious difficulties.

1. The Young Man Said He Has Risen

To begin with, the Bible says that the young man testified to the women that Jesus had risen! Mark wrote the following:

The man said, “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus from Nazareth, who was nailed to a cross. God has raised him to life, and he isn’t here. You can see the place where they put his body.” (Mark 16:6 CEV)

Professor Lake omits the words “he has risen” or “God raised him to life” from the text. Therefore, the young man is saying to the women, “He is not here, He is over there. Come see where they have placed Him.”

2. There Is No Reason to Omit the Words He Has Risen

This brings us to the next problem with this theory. To argue for this hypothesis, you have to omit from the text the words, “He has risen.” There is no justification for this omission for every manuscript has these crucial words. Consequently, this theory is based upon no evidence whatsoever!

3. The Body Would Still Have Been in the Tomb

There are many other problems with this theory—not the least of which is that the body would still have been in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb. When Peter preached the resurrection on the Day of Pentecost, it would have been a simple thing to go to the correct tomb and produce the body. Yet, this was never done.

4. It Was Too Dark for the Gardener to Be Working

In addition, if it were too dark for the women to find the right tomb, it would have been too dark for a gardener or caretaker to be working. He would not have been working in semi-darkness.

Moreover, this young man was sitting inside the tomb not working outside of it. Furthermore, Mark says the stone of that particular tomb had been rolled away. This is another reason as to why the women visited that particular tomb, the right tomb!

5. Everyone Would Have Gone to the Wrong Tomb

If this theory is correct, then everyone went to the wrong tomb to see if the body of Jesus was still there. This includes all the different groups of people who visited the tomb on Easter Sunday as well as the Roman soldiers who were guarding the tomb, the Jews who asked for the guard, and Joseph of Arimathea, who owned the tomb!

6. The Young Man Was an Angel, Not the Gardener

It is also clear that the young man mentioned in Mark’s account was an angel, not a gardener or caretaker. The Bible says,

When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; they were amazed and alarmed. (Mark 16:5 HCSB)

He is wearing white. White apparel is consistent with an angelic personage.

This is consistent with the testimony of the other gospels. Two angels were at Jesus’ tomb on Easter Sunday morning.

7. What Were the Empty Grave Clothes Doing in the Wrong Tomb?

There is another question that this theory must answer: why would there be empty grave clothes in the wrong tomb? John explains what the Peter and John found on that first Easter when they came to the tomb where Jesus had been placed:

And the two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter, and came to the tomb first; and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. Simon Peter therefore also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he beheld the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth, which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb entered then also, and he saw and believed. (John 20:4-8 NASB)

If this was not the tomb where Jesus had been placed, then what were these empty wrappings doing there? The existence of these grave clothes must be explained in some manner. How did they get to this empty tomb? The simplest explanation is that this was the tomb where Jesus was placed and that He had indeed risen from the dead.

8. The Empty Tomb Did Not Cause Belief: It Was Seeing the Risen Christ

Finally, it was not the empty tomb that convinced the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead, it was the fact they saw Him after His death. It was the appearances of Jesus that caused the people to believe He was alive; not the mere fact that the tomb was empty. The empty tomb only created astonishment for Peter and the other disciples. Except for John, it was not until they saw the risen Christ that the disciples believed He had risen from the dead.

No one really takes this wrong tomb theory seriously because it answers absolutely none of the crucial questions associated with Jesus’ resurrection.

Summary – Question 10
Did the Women Go to the Wrong Tomb on Easter Sunday?

The theory that the wrong tomb was visited on Easter Sunday supposedly explains why the disciples of Jesus believed in the resurrection. Certain women, not knowing the actual burial spot of Jesus, mistakenly went to the wrong tomb. A young man at the tomb, trying to help them find the correct burial place, only caused further confusion. The distraught women understood his words to mean that Jesus had risen. This is how the story of Jesus’ resurrection came about.

But this is not the case. For one thing, the text explicitly says that the young man at the tomb testified that Jesus had risen. Omitting the words of the young man, “he has risen,” has no basis whatsoever in fact. However, this is what must be done to support this theory.

To believe this theory one would have to assume that everyone went to the wrong tomb. This includes the Jews, Romans, Jesus’ disciples and Joseph of Arimathea himself! Even the angel couldn’t find the right tomb.

There is also the matter of the empty grave clothes that Peter and John found inside the tomb on that first Easter. How did they get inside that tomb whose stone was rolled away? It does not make sense that someone would merely leave empty grave clothes inside a tomb. The existence of the empty grave clothes in that particular tomb is consistent with the idea that Jesus had risen from the dead. The women were not at the wrong tomb.

Furthermore, the empty tomb did not cause the disciples to believe in Jesus’ resurrection. The empty tomb only created more questions. What caused their belief was seeing the risen Christ.

This theory has never been taken seriously by anyone. However, what it does go to show, is that some people will go to any lengths, no matter how absurd, to try and explain away the evidence.

Did Jesus Actually Die on the Cross? ← Prior Section
Did the Gardener Remove the Body of Jesus? Next Section →
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