Thirty Percent of New Testament Scholars do not believe in the Empty Tomb

The Empty Tomb
Fact or Fiction?

Christians often say that there are no plausible, alternative, natural explanations for the early Christian Resurrection belief. However, this statement is typically used in relation to the Empty Tomb claim. What if there was no empty tomb? What if there was no tomb at all? What if Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross and tossed into an unmarked common grave/hole in the ground as was the Roman custom? What if the location of this unmarked hole in the ground was known to only a few Roman soldiers who never told anyone?

Remember, only 70% of NT scholars (if Gary Habermas is correct) believe that there was an empty tomb. That means that a sizable minority of NT scholars do not believe that there is sufficient evidence to state that the empty tomb story is historical. The majority of NT scholars could be wrong on this issue.  Thirty percent is not a fringe position.

“But what about the post-death appearances of Jesus?” Christians will counter.

I acknowledge that the majority of NT scholars believe that the early Christians had experiences which led them to believe that they had seen a resurrected dead Jesus. The disciples did not make up this belief out of thin air. But I think you will find a sizable number of NT scholars would refrain from describing these “experiences” as literal sightings of a walking/talking dead body. Whether these experiences were vivid dreams, visions, hallucinations, or misperceptions of natural phenomena, (non-evangelical) NT scholars are usually hesitant to say.  So Christians cannot claim that the overwhelming majority of NT scholars are convinced that the disciples saw a literal, resurrected dead body.

If the sizable minority of New Testament scholars who don’t believe in the historicity of the Empty Tomb is correct, we are left with no need to explain an empty tomb with natural explanations, but only the post death appearances. And if the majority or a sizable minority of NT scholars are unwilling to state that the evidence strongly indicates that the disciples saw a literal, resurrected dead body, Christians are left on pretty shaky ground in their claim that no plausible natural explanation exists for the early Christian Resurrection Belief.

Therefore, a plausible natural explanation for the early Christian Resurrection Belief could be this: Jesus’ body was dumped in a common grave, the location unknown to the disciples. However, three days after his death, one or a few disciples had trances, vivid dreams, or visions of a resurrected Jesus, based on his prediction to be killed but rise again on the third day. Soon more and more disciples were having trances, vivid dreams, visions and misperceptions of natural phenomena, such as a large group of people seeing a bright light at the top of a hill and believing it to be an “appearance” of Jesus.

And that is possibly, and plausibly, how the early Christian Resurrection Belief began.

Christians can say they believe that a literal bodily resurrection is more probable than this natural explanation based on their theistic worldview, but they cannot say that this natural explanation is implausible.

 Scholarship says otherwise.

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6 thoughts on “Thirty Percent of New Testament Scholars do not believe in the Empty Tomb

  1. Have you looked into Gary Haberdashery arguments for the resurrection? He spoke at such places as Oxford and Edinburgh and many countries. Have fun searching.

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  2. Here you are proposing that they could have sincerely had visions. In the Bible, it's presented as if the apostles were awake when the appearances happened. So you can ask yourself what mental state they were in when this happened.

    On one hand, if they were normal people, I would expect that they would be in a normal mental state when this happened. Otherwise, it seems that you should look to some part of the Bible that suggests that they were not mentally normal, ordinary people. The Bible never says that they were on drugs or so drunk that they hallucinate. That would seem to go against the teachings against drunkenness repeated in the Bible.

    One possible analogy it seems might be the Charismatics' mental states today. Charismatics can be educated and reasonable, but when it comes to their religious experiences, they have visions that mainstream Christians don't trust.

    In 1 Cor 14, we read about the Church in Corinth speaking in tongues. Is there a way to tell whether the gift of tongues was the same babbling phenomenon that Charismatics have today, or whether the Corinthians spoke in national languages like occurred at Pentecost and like Paul was able to do a few times in Acts?

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  3. Peter is alleged to have seen a floating sheet full of animals in the middle of the day.

    Frankly, I think all these “appearance” stories were made up by the authors.

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  4. How can you prove that?
    It sounds unlikely normally, but this is supposed to be a miracle vision.

    To give a better example, how about John's vision in Revelation? It sounds like a composer has deliberately thought it out. How does one argue that it was dictated? Did John sit there with a pen? Or did he remember it (including the letters to the seven churches) to the best of his ability and put it in legible, literate form as a composition?

    It APPEARS like the genre of apocalyptic writing like The Book of Enoch's vision.

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  5. Gary,

    One of the challenges is whether even if we can show that a certain event described in the Bible did not actually occur, that the Bible intended to factually narrate the event.

    This is because based on a liberal hermeneutic, when a liberal scholar comes across a passage he doesn't believe matches factual reality, he sometimes proposes that it was only meant as an allegory.

    So Peter had a vision of eating forbidden animals, like Tesla had a vision of vast use of electrical power or like Thomas Jefferson had a vision of a successful democracy.

    For their part, even if they take a passage literally, conservatives may reinterpret it to mean something in line with their view of scientific or natural reality.

    Please, I invite you to the thread:
    http://www.theologyweb.com/campus/showthread.php?10637-Waters-over-Firmament-Flat-Earth-and-whether-the-Bible-can-be-factually-incorrect&p=318688#post318688

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  6. My great grandmother heard a knock at the door during World War I. She went and opened it and her son who was fighting in France stood before her as real as anything that day. Then instantly he vanished. She later found he had died in France. Jesus is seen then vanishes in John. These very vivid post death experiences are not so uncommon. Now what if you also lived in a culture where a segment of you believed in the concept of a bodily ressurection? One experience could be rationalised by belief in another.

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