In my last post we examined the accuracy of the burial account. We learned who was responsible for burying Jesus and the implications that knowledge has on the story as a whole. In this post I want to examine the accounts of those that discovered the empty tomb. This is important because we need to know that we have credible testimony as to what really happened.
The Bible presents women as key eyewitnesses to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Now unless this was actually the case, there is no reason to portray anyone other than the disciples as having been there at the cross. If you and I had sat down and were inventing the story of Jesus, would it make sense to include these minor players as opposed to the disciples? After all the disciples were major players during the life of Jesus so why shouldn’t they be major players at his death and burial? It just doesn’t make sense unless it truly happened that way. However the story doesn’t stop there. Mark writes in his gospel (Mark 16:1) the very names of these women! Since the Mark’s account was written so early this has huge implications. By listing these women’s names these women could have easily been questioned about the truthfulness of the event.
But I think there is an even stronger piece of evidence than just the fact the eyewitnesses were known by name. The written record of the empty tomb being discovered by women is unheard of in the ancient world. Now we must look at these records through the eyes of a 1st century Jew. I’m not sure if you know this or not, but women had zero status in ancient Jewish society. Their testimony was considered so worthless that they were not even allowed to serve as legal witnesses in court. So why would the gospel writers state that women were the initial discoverers of the empty tomb unless it historically happened that way? If I were living in that culture at that time and I was making up a story, I would be a fool to use women as eyewitnesses to an event I was trying to record as truly happening. No one would take that account seriously. Instead I would have recorded the disciples as being the discoverers of the empty tomb. But we know the disciples were nowhere to be found but rather were probably hiding, fearful for their own lives, somewhere in Jerusalem. Why would the gospel writers, or even the early Christian church intentionally humiliate its male leaders by recording them as hiding in Jerusalem while mere women carried out the proper burial procedures? I can find no reasonable explanation other than because it actually happened that way. The criterion of embarrassment (that an event is more likely to be true if it is embarrassing for those recording it) strongly supports the historical account of women finding the empty tomb.
So we know that women discovered the tomb empty, but what about the disciples? Well both Luke (24:12, 24) and John (20:3) tell us that both Peter and John went to the empty tomb to investigate it for themselves. Now both Luke and John’s accounts are independent of each other so we have the criterion of Multiple Independent Attestation occurring in our records of their investigation. Secondly, John writes of himself as an eyewitness (John 21:24). Being an eyewitness exponentially increases both the credibility and accuracy of his testimony. Sometimes I am asked why only two of the disciples went to go check out the women’s story. Although we don’t know for sure there are several plausible possibilities. First, the other disciples may not have believed the women (after all, women held no status and no one would believe their friend came back from the dead). Second, maybe the disciples were fearful of their lives so they only felt comfortable sending out two. Thirdly, it’s possible that the women only came across Peter and John and the other disciples weren’t present. Regardless of which reason is true, the important thing isn’t the number that checked out the tomb, but rather that someone did in fact go and check it out. It seems to me that it is more implausible to think they would have stood by, listened to the women’s account, and not gone to check it out.