Why did neither Peter nor Paul mention an Empty Tomb?

Peter preaching to thousands
on Pentecost

Acts chapter 2
Peter preaches to the crowds in Jerusalem on Pentecost

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

…“You that are Israelites,<sup class="footnote" data-fn="#fen-NRSV-26961a" data-link="[a]”>[a] listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth,<sup class="footnote" data-fn="#fen-NRSV-26961b" data-link="[b]”>[b] a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23 this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24 But God raised him up, having freed him from death,<sup class="footnote" data-fn="#fen-NRSV-26963c" data-link="[c]”>[c] because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.  

…This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. 

….Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers,<sup class="footnote" data-fn="#fen-NRSV-26976i" data-link="[i]”>[i] what should we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” 40 And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Gary:  What’s wrong here?  Why didn’t Peter mention the empty tomb, the “smoking gun” of the Christian Resurrection claim; the principle evidence used by every Christian apologist for 2,000 years to declare as historical fact the resurrection/reanimation of the dead body of Jesus of Nazareth?  Yes, it is true:  Peter talks about a “resurrection”.  Yes, it is true:  Peter says that God has “raised Jesus up from the dead”.  But neither of these statements necessarily infers a resurrection/ a raising up from a hand-hewn rock tomb located on the Mount of Olives, where anyone who chooses could inspect it.  One must assume this.  Both of these statements are perfectly compatible with Jesus’ body being raised by God from an unmarked, unknown-other-than-to-a-couple-of-Roman-guards, hole in the ground.

There are two options here for Peter’s omission of the empty tomb:  1.)  Everyone in Jerusalem knew about the empty tomb, so there was no need for Peter to mention it.  

Every resident and visitor to Jerusalem knew that they could take a short stroll up to the Mount of Olives and inspect the empty tomb, and many of them had likely done just that.  The empty tomb, guarded by professional Roman soldiers, had been found empty on the third day after Jesus’ crucifixion.  All Jerusalem had been shell-shocked by the news!  The Sanhedrin had tried to pass it off as a grave robbery by the disciples, but obviously no one, including Pilate, believed this:  tampering with graves was a serious crime; especially the grave of a man executed for high treason against Rome.  Yet the disciples of Jesus were walking around Jerusalem, preaching to crowds of thousands.  If they were thought to be guilty of the most infamous case of grave-robbing in recent Judean history, Pilate would have seized them immediately.  Yet he didn’t.  It is true that the Jews immediately went after Peter and some of the other disciples after Peter’s sermon, but not the Romans.   Obviously the Romans did not suspect the disciples as responsible for the empty tomb.  So who did they think was?

So if well-trained, professional Roman guards had been guarding the tomb of Jesus, and three days later it was found empty, and everyone in Jerusalem knew this, and, the disciples of Jesus were walking around Jerusalem proclaiming to crowds of thousands that Jesus had been raised from the dead by God himself…why on earth didn’t Josephus, Philo, the Romans, or any other first century contemporary of this event say one single word about the disappearance and alleged resurrection, allegedly by the Jewish God, of the man alleged to have been the most serious threat to Roman rule in decades??

Yet every contemporary of Jesus is silent on this most spectacular of alleged events!

2.  Jesus ministry, trial, and crucifixion were not the major news events that the Gospels seem to infer they were.

Some Christian apologists explain the silence from Josephus, Philo and others due to this explanation.  Jesus really wasn’t that big of a deal…at least not to the Jewish authorities or the Romans.  Jesus was just one of many trouble-makers who was quickly disposed of.  His importance did not become apparent until decades or even a century later when mass numbers of Jews and Gentiles began converting to this new faith.

But if that were the case, Peter would have had even more reason to mention the empty tomb; to pronounce the empty tomb as the absolute proof that Jesus had conquered death and risen from the dead just as he had prophesied; any skeptic in Palestine could be taken to the empty tomb…the tomb that had been guarded by highly-trained Roman guards, Roman guards under the threat of execution for allowing anyone to take the body under their guard…to confirm the Christian claim that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah and the Son of God.  Why didn’t Peter mention the empty tomb and offer to take the crowds to see it?

A crucified messiah was a shameful, shameful belief.  The early Christians would have needed some very strong evidence to support their claim that the Jewish expectations about the Jewish Messiah were wrong; the Messiah would not be a conqueror of Rome, but a crucified/resurrected messiah, and not only the messiah, but the Son of God, and in some sense, God himself, Yahweh, the Creator of Heaven and Earth!!  Even if five hundred Christians were running around Jerusalem saying that they had seen the risen Jesus, all at the same time and place, Jewish society would have surely demanded an empty grave as proof of these fantastic claims.

But Peter never mentions an empty tomb.  Neither does Peter mention an empty tomb later in Acts when he preaches to the Gentile house of Cornelius, the Roman centurion.  And neither does Paul mention an empty tomb, either in his own epistles nor as recorded in the Book of Acts…ever.

Face the facts, dear Christians:  the evidence and common sense say that there was no empty tomb.  There was no empty tomb until circa 70 AD when the author of “Mark” writing in Rome or Antioch, made it up.


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