Excerpt from: Atheist Biblical Criticism
In chapter 1 of Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection (DJR), Komarnitsky addresses the empty tomb legend. When people read the New Testament they probably start reading the four gospels; indeed some people never get beyond them! But for those who do make it as far as Paul’s letters, which are now placed in printed editions after the four gospels and indeed after Acts of the Apostles, it will already be established in their minds that Jesus was buried in a tomb that was discovered empty a few days later.
The Resurrection According to Paul
However Paul, who was writing his epistles long before the gospels were written, never mentions such a tomb, and certainly not an empty one. To be fair, he does say Jesus was buried*, and rose again, but he never says anything about his burial, whether it was in a tomb or in the ground, or whether the place that he was buried was ever found empty. Most readers, of course, won’t notice this when they read Paul’s epistles because they already “know” that Jesus was buried in a tomb subsequently found empty because they have already read the gospels; thus they harmonize in their minds (or their churches harmonize it for them) what Paul has to say with what the gospel writers had to say.
Komarnitsky first attends to the question of why should
Paul have written about the tomb, empty or not. After all, he was writing not to set out the story of Jesus, rather he was addressing particular issues that had arisen in the churches with which he was corresponding. Komarnitsky rightly points out, though, that in 1 Corinthians the “resurrection of the body” had become just such a particular issue, and Paul spends quite some time dealing with it, using Jesus’ presumed resurrection as a model in his argument. Indeed, as you read 1 Corinthians 15 and see his detailed arguments about “the resurrection of the body”, both Jesus’ and those who had died in Christ, “it is hard to understand why Paul did not mention a discovered
empty tomb if he knew about it.” (Komarnitsky’s italics, chapter 1, paragraph before endnote 3).
Sometimes christian apologists try to argue that Paul does, in some undetectable way, imply the existence of an empty tomb (I remember one arguing this on the former Richard Dawkins forum which has sadly been deleted so I can no longer find our conversation). I think this kind of argument shows that these christian apologists recongnise that there is an issue here, and they want to find a way of reading into 1 Corinthians that there was an intimation of an empty tomb; I think that unwittingly they are surrendering the case that Paul’s resurrection is different in this respect to the gospel writers’ resurrection.
Komarnitsky picks up on some other explanations that christian apologists can give in this area, and shows how unconvincing they are. In summary (and a good one at that) he cites Geoffrey Lampe:
If Paul and the tradition which he cites lay no emphasis on the [discovered] empty tomb the question arises whether Paul nevertheless may have known of it. Many New Testament scholars hold that he did. Certainly it would be quite unsafe in the ordinary way, to infer that he did not from the fact that he does not actually allude to it. But in this case I think the argument from silence has unusual force. For the situation in which Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 15 was that some of the Corinthians were denying that there is a resurrection of the dead (1 Cor 15:12). In answer to them Paul marshals every possible argument, and in particular, he adduces the known fact that Jesus was raised from the dead as the foundation for belief in the future resurrection of Christian people. If Jesus’ resurrection is denied, he says, the bottom drops out of the Christian gospel. And the evidence that he raises consists in the appearances to himself and to others. Had he known that the tomb was found empty it seems inconceivable that he should not have adduced this here as a telling piece of objective evidence.
(DJR, chapter 1 at endnote 4, citing from GWH Lampe, “Easter: A Statement” in The Resurrection, ed. William Purcell, 1996, p.43)
Paul’s version of the resurrection is thus easier to argue for. He doesn’t need any supernatural force to leave physical evidence like an empty tomb. His idea of the resurrection thus seems more primitive than Mark’s (which is itself the most primitive of the 4 canonical gospel’s resurrections). And it is to Mark’s gospel that Komarnitsky turns next.