One of the arguments I see frequently from Bible believers is that Jesus’ tomb must have really have been empty on that first Easter morning because there is no way the story could have gained traction if it wasn’t true. After all, if there were people around Jerusalem in 33 A.D. who could prove that Jesus was still in the tomb, they would have debunked the resurrection story and nipped Christianity in the bud. Therefore, we know that the empty tomb was accepted by the people of the day.
Assuming that the empty tomb story dates to the earliest days of Christianity (which many scholars do not), the fact that it was not successfully debunked does not seem to be in any way probative of the truth of the story. For example, there might have been a first century Lee Strobel who, when faced with hundreds of witnesses swearing on a stack of Torahs that Jesus’ body was still in the tomb, dug up (pardon the pun) five believers who claimed that had seen Jesus walking around. After all, when faced with the overwhelming weight of scientific opinion in favor of the theory of evolution, the modern Lee Strobel shamelessly asserts that “more and more” scientists are being persuaded by the theory of intelligent design. Why should we think that first century believers were any more willing to acknowledge contrary opinion than modern believers.
No doubt, the first century Strobel would reassure his followers: “Don’t worry, I have carefully examined both sides of the question and considered all the evidence.” Then, just like the modern Strobel did in “The Case for Christ,” he would talk to a handful of people who agreed with his position while ignoring everyone who didn’t. No doubt he also would have attacked the atheistic world view of anyone who challenged the resurrection as well, telling his followers that such skeptics were in league with the devil.