Evidence #15 for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ: The Weakness of the Theft Theory

Matthew 28:13 “Tell your superiors ‘His disciples came at night and stole His body while we slept.’”

Skeptics have invented 6 theories to try and debunk a physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. The challenge: can Christians show all of them are false? This week, we will look at the Theft Theory.

There are 5 historical facts surrounded the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that are clear and undisputed by scholars, regardless of their worldview: 1) Jesus died by crucifixion, 2) Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, 3) The tomb was discovered empty about 36 hours after His body was placed in it, 4) Jesus’s body, to this day, has never been found, 5) All of His disciples believed Jesus rose from the dead.

We have expounded on all 5 facts in articles this year. What know the body of Jesus Christ disappeared. The question we have been addressing is what caused the tomb to become empty? We have gone through 3 of the 6 alternative theories to the bodily resurrection of Jesus: 1) Swoon Theory, 2) Hallucination Theory, and 3) Impersonation Theory. Now, let’s look at the Theft Theory, as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew.

The Theft Theory = The disciples stole the body and claimed that He rose from the dead.

“While they were going, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that happened. When they assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, ‘Tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure.’ So, they took the money and did as they were instructed, and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.” (Matthew 28:11-15).

Why were there Roman soldiers guarding the sealed tomb of Jesus Christ? Roman soldiers would never be detached to guard someone’s dead body in a sealed tomb unless someone thought this was very important.

We get our answer in Matthew 27:62-66: “On the next day, following the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, saying, ‘Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After 3 days I will rise.’ Therefore, command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ So, the last deception will be worse than the first.’ Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard. Go your way, make it as secure as you know how.’ So, they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard.”

We have irrefutable evidence that: 1) everyone, even His most hostile witnesses, knew Jesus claimed He would rise from the dead, 2) The Jews set a plan that would prevent the disciples from trying to steal His body and claim He rose, by using Roman soldiers and sealing the stone, 3) those same soldiers who were put in place to guard the tomb of Jesus, by order of Pontius Pilate, came to the Jews, their enemies, after the sealed stone was found rolled away and the tomb empty, to help them against their own Roman battalion!

The Jews bribed the soldiers to lie to their commanding officer that they fell asleep, and Jesus’s body was stolen, promising the soldiers they would go to Pilate in their defense so they would not be put to death.

The Refutation = As with the other theories, the theft theory ignores the evidence of the linen wrappings left in the tomb. A stolen body would have either been taken wrapped or the wrappings left scattered in the tomb. Only resurrection explains the perfect position of the linen wrappings without the body. There is also the question of who could and would steal the body.

  1. The Jews would not. The presence of the Roman soldiers and the Roman seal over the door made the possibility of the Jews’ claims of theft nearly impossible.
  • The Romans would not. They were guarding it with their lives by Roman law. They sealed the tomb and were charged to protect it against theft. As explained above, the Jews provided their refutation against theft.
  • The women could not. They even wondered who would remove the stone for them: “Who will roll away the stone from the tomb for us?’ But they saw the stone had been rolled away, for it was very large.” Mark 16:3-4.
  • The disciples would not. They were frantic and scattered, hiding together after His death. The likelihood of these timid, scared Galilean disciples stealing the body of Jesus out from under the noses of a guard of highly disciplined and skilled Roman soldiers while they all slept (an offense punishable by death) is ridiculous.

The complete debunking of the Theft Theory is yet another convincing case for why the Resurrection is true.

“The Evidence of Faith’s Substance” _ Article #523

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