Sunday, April 12, 2009

Do the Women Disprove the Empty Tomb?

One of the most common arguments in apologetics is that early Christians never would have invented the detail of women being the first to discover the empty tomb. The theory is that in first century Palestine, women were considered unreliable witnesses so anyone inventing the story of the empty tomb would have had men finding it in order to give it more credibility. They only would have had women finding it if it really happened that way.

Consider this hypothesis though:

Mark invents the story of the empty tomb in 65 A.D. Prior to that time, no one had ever worried about what happened to Jesus' body between the crucifixion and the time he started appearing to his disciples.

Mark's audience says "How come we never heard this before? Peter never mentioned it."

Mark thinks about it for awhile and a little light bulb (or candle) appears above his head. "Peter didn't know about it. These silly unreliable women were the ones who found the empty tomb and they ran off without telling anyone.1 We just found out about it."

Mark's audience replies, "Sure. That could happen."

Couldn't the fact that women were considered unreliable witnesses be the very reason that Mark included them in the story rather than an indication that the story is true?

As Luke, Matthew, and John added details to the story, they brought men into the picture in order to make it more credible. Nevertheless, they didn't feel quite comfortable getting rid of the women getting there first. Maybe people liked that part of the story so much that they figured they should just stick with it.

1 Most textual scholars believe that Mark's gospel originally ended with "Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” Mark 16:8. The earliest and best manuscripts do not include Mark 16:9-20.


  1. Good point, that makes perfect sense. Thanks for the insight!

  2. Mary Magdalene thought some people had taken the body.

    What a foolish woman!

    Happily there were men there to double-check what she said and find out the truth.

    And then she actually fell for a case of mistaken identity!

    What a foolish woman!

    Happily Jesus was there to correct the mistake of a foolish woman.

    Thank God men were there, or else the women would have testified that that the body had been stolen.

    Those women....

    The chief priests told the soldiers to say the body had been stolen when they were asleep.

    Now in first-century Judea, the testimony of sleeping witnesses was not admitted in court.

    You can check this out, as not many people know about it.

    But it is true.

    Staggering though it may seem, you were not allowed to testify to things which happened when you were asleep.

    Now why did the chief priests use the testimony of sleeping witnesses, knowing that such testimony would have been considered invalid.

    Obviously not because the author of Matthew is trying to create a straw-man alternative to the idea of resurrection.

    Christian apologetics tells us that nobody would use the testimony of sleeping witnesses unless it was totally true.

    So now we know exactly what happened to the body.

    It was stolen. The sleeping witnesses testified to what happened when they were asleep. Sleeping witnesses were not taken seriously. Therefore, nobody would have invented such a story.

  3. Call me if you don't get this comment.

    More to the point, if the women told no one, no one would know they told no one.

    Mark loves dramatic tension. The fact that he records the story shows they eventually told someone.

    "Consider this hypothesis" that has no supporting evidence, is completely implausible, and was pulled out of thin air. That's not much of an argument.

  4. Chris,

    All I doing is rebutting the inference that Christian apologists draw from the fact that Mark has women finding the empty tomb, i.e., that the story is true. I don't need any evidence to do that. I simply need to present a logical reason why Mark might have had the women find the tomb in a story that he invented.

    As long as we are on the topic of evidence, the simple fact of the matter is that the only evidence we have for the events of Jesus’ life are the gospels. By your logic, I would have to believe everything that is contained in the gospels because I don’t have any evidence that anything else happened. I guess I would also have to believe that an angel dictated the Koran to Mohammed because I don’t have any evidence that anything else happened. I also don’t have any evidence that Joseph Smith didn’t find golden plates after being told where to find them by the Angel Moroni. I don’t have any evidence that the Virgin Mary didn’t appear at Fatima and Lourdes. I don’t have any evidence that the evil galactic ruler Xenu didn’t visit earth 75 million years ago. There are countless fantastic stories that I would be compelled to believe by this logic simply because I cannot produce any evidence that they did not happen.

    But I don’t believe every fantastic story that I cannot disprove. You don’t either, except for one particular set of such stories. These you find sober and reasonable.

  5. Matthew is the only Gospel that mentions guards at the tomb. John's Gospel says nothing about guards. If John was an eyewitness, as Christians claim, isn't that a pretty important detail to leave out of your story? The missing Roman guards in the Book of John raises an important issue. Christians often contend that it would have been impossible for anyone to have surreptitiously removed Jesus’ corpse from the tomb because there were guards posted at the tomb who would have prevented such an occurrence. Therefore, they argue, without any possibility for the body to have been quietly whisked away, the only other logical conclusion is that Jesus must have truly arisen from the dead. A stolen body hypothesis is impossible.

    This argument completely collapses in John’s account, however, because according to the fourth Gospel, this is precisely what Mary thought had occurred! Mary clearly didn’t feel as though the scenario of Jesus’ body being removed was unlikely. In fact, according to John, that was her only logical conclusion. Clearly, Matthew’s guards didn’t dissuade John’s Mary from concluding that someone had taken Jesus’ body because Roman guards do not exist in John’s story.

    To further compound the problem of the conflicting resurrection accounts, John’s Gospel continues to unfold with Mary returning to the tomb a second time, only to find two angels sitting inside the tomb. Mary is still unaware of any resurrection as she complains to the angels that someone had removed Jesus’ corpse. As far as John’s Mary is concerned, the only explanation for the missing body was that someone must have removed it, and she was determined to locate it.

    But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying12 , one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They 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.”

    (John 20:11-13)

    Although in Matthew’s account the angel emphatically tells Mary about the resurrection (Matthew 28:5-7), in John’s Gospel the angels do not mention that anyone rose from the dead. The angels only ask Mary, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Mary responds by inquiring whether the angels removed Jesus’ body. Then, Mary turns and sees Jesus standing before her, but mistakes him for the gardener. Mary is still completely unaware of any resurrection, and therefore asks the “gardener” if he was the one who carried away Jesus’ body. It is only then that Mary realizes that she was speaking to the resurrected Jesus.

    When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?” 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.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” which means Teacher.

    (John 20:14-16)

    It is at this final juncture of the narrative that the accounts of Matthew and John become hopelessly irreconcilable. The question every Christian must answer is the following: When Mary met Jesus for the first time after the resurrection, had the angel(s) already informed her that Jesus had arisen from the dead? According to Matthew, the angels did inform Mary of the resurrection, but in John’s account they did not. As we survey the divergent New Testament accounts of the resurrection, we see that we are not just looking at contradictory versions, we are reading two entirely different stories!