|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.