One of many Problems

Easter having passed, and thoughts of Resurrection problems blooming in the air, I had a chance to delve into a question I pondered long ago. Why weren’t the disciples charged with grave-robbing?

It is fun to discuss Christianity globally, and broad topics such as the Problem of Evil, and the Sovereignty/Free Will issue. But entire books have been written in those areas, and to cover it in a blog is impossible.

For many deconverts, Christianity did not fall because of one argument, or one paper, or one concept. It was the build up of many ideas, many problems, that individually would only cause questions, but exponentially grew to convincing us that Christianity is not true.

I thought I would focus on just one of these plethora of problems for a breather—the soldiers at the tomb.

Of course, as we all know, the Original Gospel of Mark has no post-resurrection happenings. It leaves us with an empty tomb, the failure of the disciples (Mark 15:40-41) an unknown young man directing to Galilee, and finally, the failure of the women. (Mark 16:8)

Mark has Joseph taking Jesus body, and Joseph rolling the rock in front of the tomb. (Mark. 15:46) No soldiers, no seal, no guard. The Gospel of Luke faithfully records Mark’s tale. (Luke 23:53) No soldiers, no seal, no guard. The Author of John, liking that Nicodemus chap from the third chapter, includes Nicodemus helping Joseph with the burial. (John. 19:39) No soldiers, no seal, no guard.

However, the author of Matthew has decided to “up the ante” as it were and include soldiers and seals on this tomb, at the request of the Priests. (Mt. 27:66) No other Gospel records these fighters. We are often informed that the reason for the various discrepancies in the Gospel accounts is that each author was focusing on differing aspects. Apparently the authors of Mark, Luke and John did not find the soldiers and seals important in their account.

But wait a minute. Luke and Mark both have the women bringing spices to anoint Jesus on the first day after Sabbath, and John has Mary approaching the tomb. While these three authors may not have found the soldiers and seal important, they still have to deal with them in their accounts! How were the ladies supposed to get around the guards? Were they to break the seal? In fact, Mark notes that the ladies DID take into account physical problems associated with getting to Jesus’ body. “Who will roll away the stone for us?” Mark 16:3.

They weren’t worried about the men with swords and spears and shields, there specifically to keep people like them out of the tomb. No, that wasn’t going to be the problem. They weren’t worried about breaking a seal that apologists inform me would result in the penalty of death. Naw, who would worry about that? The thing they were worried about is having the physical strength to roll back a stone.

While the other three authors may not have focused on soldiers and seals, this does not allow them to ignore them either! We are still well within the three-day period the priests were worried about, no reason to think the job was done. Already, we start to have serious questions about whether these soldiers really existed. The authors of Mark, Luke and John recount no knowledge of them, and the persons in their Gospels act as if they do not exist.

We are often informed they were Roman soldiers. They were not. There are four reasons we know this. First, the chief priests and Pharisees asked Pilate to make the tomb secure. Pilate tells them, “You have a guard” (they did) “make it is secure as you want.” (Matthew 27:66) Pilate didn’t offer a guard; he said “Use your own.”

Second, after the incident, who do the soldiers report to? A commanding Roman officer? No, they go back to the Chief priests. (Mt. 28:11) A Roman guard, reporting to Jewish religious leaders, and taking their advice? What is the likelihood of that? We have to assume that the authors of the other Gospels somehow missed the soldiers, now (in order to keep the story straight) we have to assume that Roman soldiers would answer to Jewish authorities. How far can we stretch credibility until it snaps?

Thirdly, the soldiers take a bribe! Mt. 28:12. How does the author of Matthew know of this? A bribe is, by its very nature, secretive. A soldier, taking a bribe from leaders of a conquered, troublesome nation, is no way for the soldier to advance their career! If this author knew it, it is very likely others did as well. The soldiers would have been severely disciplined, if not executed.

But the most important reason, is the excuse—“We fell asleep.” (Mt. 28:13) When apologists like to bolster how impossible the “stolen body” theory is, they trot out the fact that if a Roman guard fell asleep on his watch, the entire squad would be killed. “How it would have been possible for the disciples to sneak around the guards, since they would never have slept?” claims the apologist.

Assuming this for a moment—isn’t the dumbest reason in the WORLD for the guards to use for not fulfilling their job is to say, “We fell asleep”? I was just told that this excuse would result in a death penalty. Now they dredge it out. (And, if it would result in a death penalty, they would owe their lives to the priests to convince their commanding officer not to kill them. Hence, no bribery of money would have been necessary; the soldier’s very lives were in the priests’ hands.) No soldier, thinking that if they were to be accused of falling asleep at the job they would be killed, would ever use that excuse. Their response to the priests would have been, “You ignorant dolt. We say that, we are walking dead-men.”

Besides, why forget the earthquake? If “we fell asleep” would work, why not “the earthquake knocked us out”? It is there, it is convenient, and it won’t get them killed. Better, more believable, and gets around that nasty death penalty. It is as if they just completely forgot about the earthquake happening. Other Gospels do not account for it, Romans reporting to Jews, earthquakes forgotten about, excuses that result in death penalties—credibility is at the breaking point.

Unless, of course, the guards weren’t Roman. If they were temple guard, they would be under no such penalty, bribery would be necessary (since they could have fallen asleep), they would report to the priests—it all falls nicely in place.

Except one thing. If the priests were willing to pay Judas to betray Jesus, were willing to go to extraordinary lengths to have him killed, they equally could go to extra-ordinary lengths to pay off guards to say whatever they wanted them to say. Again, caught in the quandary. The apologist wants them Roman, so they could not be bribed, and then the apologist says they spread lies because…they were bribed!

We have three gospels that indicate there were no guards, no seal. One that claims there was. In the one that claims there was, we have priests, bribing their own guards to say whatever the priests want them to say. The credibility of this story of guards is now gone.

But there is more….

Assume for one moment it is true. That there were guards, that there was a seal. That we have an empty tomb to explain. We now have ready-made reasons to substantiate crimes against the disciples resulting in capital punishment. The simplest end of Christianity?

“Local Jerusalem news: ‘Disciples Charged: Death penalty likely.’” Remember, desecrating a tomb resulted in banishment at the least, death at the most.

The priests had used false witnesses before, in the plot to kill Jesus. Mt. 26:59-60. Mark 14:58-59 Now they have ready, willing and motivated witnesses to testify against the disciples.

As a generalization, religions enjoy controversy, but despise competition. Controversy allows one to rally the troops, weed out the faint-hearted, and re-instill loyalty. Jesus provided just the controversy need to substantiate the Pharisees’ position. Look what happened to him! By the time of his death, he had no followers, a mob had just chanted to kill him, and his religion was effectively wiped out. Pharisees proven again to be correct that violating YHWH’s laws only brings condemnation.

Then Peter steps up and preaches for the first time. And attracts 3000 followers. Acts 2:41. This is no longer controversy, it is becoming competition. By his second recorded sermon, the Priests and Sadducees (Luke had the right sect in power) arrest them. (Acts 4:1-3) The priests were concerned about the growing numbers. (Acts. 4:4)

What to do? What to do? Wait a minute! About two months ago, the priests had bribed their own soldiers to spread the rumor that these very men had committed a capital offense. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what to charge them with—desecrating a tomb and stealing a body. (And, don’t forget, we are assuming a resurrection. It isn’t like the disciples can have one of their own, Joseph, open up the tomb and show a body there. Not very likely Joseph or his family had time to bury another there in two months. The tomb would be empty—proof enough of a stolen body.) The priests have opportunity, motive, and witnesses. They want the disciples out of the picture? Easily done.

But what does Luke say? “They could find nothing as to how to punish them.” (Acts 4:21) Hey, Luke, why couldn’t the priests have used the crime of grave-robbing? Oh, that’s right. You didn’t write that; Matthew did. You didn’t find the guards important to the story.

The priests arrest Peter again. (Acts 5:28) Again they can’t remember using the grave-robbing accusation. Amazingly a Pharisee comes to their rescue, and recommends the Sadducees leave this growing religion alone. They did. For one chapter. The religion grew, the priests forgot the advice of Gamaliel, and execute Stephen.

Now we get the start of the persecution against the church by the Jewish authorities. At this point it became acceptable to kill them. Now, finally, can we see the Jewish authorities bring out the grave-robbing accusation? They want the Christians dead, they have a capital crime proof sitting right in their pocket, do they bring it out? Nope.

We have one witness, the author of Matthew, contending there were soldiers guarding the tomb. Every other witness does not include these soldiers. Every other participants in the story act as if these soldiers and seals are completely invisible. When it would be necessary to deal with their presence, they are ignored. When their existence would be helpful to the Jewish authorities, they are forgotten.

We have one witness, contrary to every other witness available, and his testimony does not make common sense. It does not fit with the actions, re-actions, and subsequent events. It is as if the soldiers were a part in the theatre, popping in for their requisite lines and actions, and then exiting stage left, never to be seen or heard again.

In the 60’s C.E. a Petronius Arbiter wrote a bawdy novel called Satyricaon. In Chapter 112, he wrote about a soldier, whose duty was to guard the corpses of crucified victims. The soldier was lured away, and sure enough, a corpse was stolen. As pure speculation, I wonder if the author of Matthew had heard this story, or one derived from it, and couldn’t resist incorporating it into his Gospel. An incorporation into the Gospel that gave a ready response for anyone else making the same accusation here.

Whatever the reason, the probability of soldiers at the tomb is so inconceivable, that using them as an defense to the empty tomb problem only invites more, not less, problems.

And this is just one of the very many problems with the Resurrection story…


Zachary Moore said...

An excellent analysis. Matthew's motivation is likely also due to the fact that early Rabbinic Jews, in competition with the Jesus Jews, claimed that his body had been stolen by the disciples. Neither groups were in a position to know the truth, the event in question supposedly taking place two generations earlier. So Matthew inserts the soldiers into his narrative as a device with which he can 'disprove' the contemporary criticisms of the Rabbinic Jews with a retroactive account of that criticism's falsehood.

FX Turk said...

There's a funny thing about your objection: it assumes that there was evidence that somebody had the body.

The problem isn't just that the tomb was empty: nobody had the body. Of course, if you go to the lengths you go to here to decide the accounts are implausible and unworkable, you can always add, "and they burned up the body just to make sure."

And, inside it's atheist box where the rest of history doesn't have to be accounted for, that's great. The problem is that you then have to account for why these men who stole the body and burned it up were then willing to be beaten, and prosecuted, and imprisoned, and ultimately put to death for the lie of a body at least one of them knew was burned up. The problem is not just one of presenting a lie: it is one of living all the way to one's death for the sake of the lie when there was no material benefit to maintaining the lie.

I would be willing to admit that the atheist explanation(s) for Easter look pretty good -- at least as good as the Christian explanations -- except for the fact that the people they are calling liars did not die rich and well-made by their lie(s) but in fact died horrible deaths and lived impoverished and itinerant lives for the sake of promoting what you have here called a lie.

Anonymous said...

My question about this is this: if Jesus WAS resurrected, then it was a physical one. That means that at some point in the tomb, his heart started to beat and blood flowed through his veins again, he began to breath, his nervous system reactivated and so forth. Then he would have had to have walked out of the tomb and went where? Did he just spend his time wandering around the hills outside of Jerusalem?

On the other hand, if Jesus was resurrected in spirit, that is his essence and soul ascended up to heaven, then there would have been no need for an empty tomb, because Jesus had transcended the physical body he had inhabited for the last 33 years or so.

I would be interested if any of the Christian posters here would comment on this.

Zachary Moore said...


The point isn't that the disciples actually stole Jesus' body. The point is that if the Pharisees had that idea in the first place, it would have been a perfect way for them to prosecute the disciples anyway. But they didn't.

And incidentally...

"The problem is that you then have to account for why these men who stole the body and burned it up were then willing to be beaten, and prosecuted, and imprisoned, and ultimately put to death for the lie of a body at least one of them knew was burned up."

There are no historical accounts of any martyrdom of any of the disciples. This is a myth that is dupported only by Catholic tradition.

nsfl said...

An excellent point. Some believers would say that Jesus body was not "glorified" until after the ascension, and thus this explains why the scars remained. However, the Bible records Jesus being in two different places many miles away near the same time, which implies Jesus was "transported", or something similar, and that Jesus walked through the walls of one building, prior to the ascension.

So, the point here is -- if Jesus body was made "new", why the scars? If not, why the transportation and ephemeral powers? Silly story.


except for the fact that the people they are calling liars did not die rich and well-made by their lie(s) but in fact died horrible deaths and lived impoverished and itinerant lives for the sake of promoting what you have here called a lie.

First, I would like to know the earliest known martyrs who died believing in a bodily rather than spiritual resurrection. Second, how many followers of "false prophets" [by your estimation] have died similarly for what they believed? Third, the alternative scenarios set out by Lowder and Barker give a large amount of credibility to the gospel accounts, and go to show that some of these martyrs may have had good reason for believing as they do -- an actual empty tomb. You'll have to read their explanations for more, but suffice it to say, it isn't "either/or", even granting that there were the early martyrs you assert, and that the problem of an unidentifiable and rotting corpse [since preaching didn't begin until 50 days after the death], and/or other rotting corpses in there, not helping matters is not a problem.

Anonymous said...

How could "Doubting" Thomas touch the flesh of Jesus, which still had open fatal wounds? Did the post-resurrected Jesus still have blood running in his veins? We now know that blood is necessary for the body to function, and that breathing gives the blood its oxygen, which is pumped though the body by the heart. Did he have a functioning heart and a set of lungs? Did the post-resurrected Jesus breathe? To speak, as it’s claimed Jesus did, demands a functioning set of lungs. John specifically said that he breathed (John 20:22). But didn’t Jesus lose all of his blood on the cross, and didn’t the post-resurrected body of Jesus still have open fatal wounds, according to John? These fatal wounds would cause him to lose any remaining blood out of his body. All of this leads me to suspect, at its very best, it was a vision/dream.

DagoodS said...

Thank you, Zachary Moore. I agree your hypothesis that Matthew was quashing a rumor about a stolen body is more likely than him copying a current novel. I threw that in to get some people actually researching the era.

I am unaware of any claim, within the First Century, that either one brand of theism claimed another brand of theism stole the body, or anyone defending they did NOT steal the body. Your theory is good, but interestingly is as devoid of proof as my “copying-the-novel” idea. Except yours makes more common sense.

centuri0n –

I do not assume the disciples took the body. I do not subscribe to the stolen body theory (although it is certainly very plausible.) All I am demonstrating is that the soldiers guarding the tomb of the Gospel of Matthew are fictitious creations. That the author of this Gospel felt very free to add them into his story, despite the lack of history. Makes one wonder what else was added in, eh?

Ah, the old “die for a lie.” Please demonstrate how ANY of the disciples died as a result of their beliefs. Your New Testament makes allusions to it, but not outright statements. 1 Clement gives you Peter, but not Paul. (Too bad it is not canonical.) The rest are a mystery.

Secondly, you would have to demonstrate that they died for a belief. Not just because they were Christians. According to Tacitus, Nero blamed Christians for setting fire to Rome, and killed them. Understand—they were not dying for their beliefs! They were dying as fall-guys for a Caesar’s blame. Even if they recanted, it was too late. Herod killed James with a sword, but only continued because he saw it made the Jews happy.

In order to substantiate this, you would need to show 1) how they died, 2) they had an opportunity to recant, and 3) recanting would commute the death sentence. It was not until too late (late Second Century) that rumors of their dying by horrible deaths as martyrs began to circulate. You all won’t accept Gnostic gospels, since they are “too late” but you will accept this?

We have nothing to support the contention that they died for a lie. If that was truly the only thing that kept you from accepting the atheist perspective on the resurrection…he he he. I would note, also, that it is only Christians that use the phrase “liars” with the Disciples. Rarely do I see any Biblical scholar of any stripe, liberal, conservative, or atheist call the disciples liars. Frankly, doesn’t fit the scheme (no need) and we do not have enough information. Most scholars feel that if there were disciples, there is good reason to believe they actually believed in some sort of event with Jesus. Whether spiritual, physical, or simple death is unknown.

More interesting is your claim that there was no materialist benefit, and they died “impoverished.” Where do you get that they were poor? I blogged once, how unlikely the fact that all the disciples and Jesus’ family moved as a group to Jerusalem over night here.

centuri0n, we have 11 men, and Jesus’ family all move to Jerusalem. Their jobs and families were in Galilee. What did they use to buy food? Fishing is a bit scarce in Jerusalem. In their initial contacts with the community, they obtain 5000 converts. (Acts. 4:4) Landowners sold land and put the possession as the disciples’ feet. (Acts 4:37) Do you realize that First Century Palestine was almost the equivalent of a serfdom, in economic sense? That the landowners lived in Jerusalem, and hired out managers to operate the farms which supported the city folk? A landowner would likely be wealthy.

And the church was afraid, because of hearing about Ananias and Sapphira not providing all of the funds of the land they sold. Acts 5:11. How many heard that it was from lying to the Holy Spirit, and how many heard it was that they didn’t bring all the money?

We have a large congregation, we have the Jews angry about the competition, we have 11 men and a family able to give up their employment and move into Jerusalem. We have contributions from wealthy landowners. By the time Paul visits Jerusalem, Peter has his own place (Gal 1:18) He even ropes Paul into going around getting contributions. (Rom. 15:26) What could possibly lead you to the conclusion they were poor and impoverished? In fact, they had every material reason in the world to promulgate this belief. They may have initially started out only slightly believing it, but being transformed from poor fisherman to wealthy clergy can make strong believers out of just about anyone.

centuri0n, I hope that you will not take my word for it, but go and research on your own how the disciples died, when they were reported as martyrs, and why it was not reported much, much earlier. 1 Clement listing some women we do not even know, and Peter, but not listing a James, or John, or Andrew or Thomas or Matthew is very indicative that they were not martyrs.

All I Remember is You ... said...

Given that the penalty for a temple guard falling asleep on duty was to be doused in a flammable substance and set alight, somehow I don't think they slept either (me, I know I wouldn't). Read Mc Dowell, he considers the possiblity you raised.

The women would have been allowed through by temple guards, I suppose, as they were carrying out a religious duty. And the man in there had been dead for over twenty-four hours. Closely watched, the woman would have been no problem. Heck, they were women, their testimony was not allowable in court, even. Or they were simply hoping to persuade the guards to be good humanitarians.

Finally, the idea that the disciples stole the body is absurd. Why would they want to set up the resurrection? There is no sign of a pay-off, in fact, we know that the early church was persecuted. Tell me one thing, ole man, why do it at all? What possible benefit would they have gained?

Normally, when a gang of persons sets up a fraud, there is a pay-off. That's why you do fraud. If it's a hoax, you reveal all and laugh like a drain.

Why no charge of grave-robbing? Well, the Chief Priests knew they were on to a loser with this one. The disciples had scattered and, they thought they'd never see them again. Even after the resurrection, the disciples seem to have met in private. Only with the power of Pentecost did the disciples start to 'turn the world upside down.' And by that time, it was too late.

And as for the author of Matthew having read the Satyricon, this seems unlikely that a religious Jew would be into bawdy Roman books. Especially if you buy into Matthean primacy.

Besides, even if I were to pawn my reason for a week or so, the fact that Paul taught the resurrection would seem to indicate that there was an empty tomb.

But I'm quickly learning thebtruth of that old saying, 'there's none so blind as them that will not see.'

DagoodS said...

Thank you, All I Remember is You…

Temple Guards Actually, the penalty for falling asleep on the watch was a beating, and the Captain had the authority to burn his outfit. There was no death involved. Middoth i. 2.

I thought I was being charitable by giving the Christian the fact that they were Temple Guards and not under penalty of death, but apparently you prefer the more difficult road. Good on ya! If you proof out that Temple Guards were under the penalty of death, then why would the Priests use this for an excuse? When there was an earthquake conveniently handy? I had taken that problem off the table, and you insist on putting it right back on.

So what will you do with this new information? Will you be blind by refusing to see? Or will you open your eyes and actually look at the source from a favored Christian apologetic author? Or will you REALLY open your eyes, and start looking up all the sources of apologetic authors, and confirming what the sources actually say?

Half the fun is in the research!

Women You “suppose” the women would have been let through? Based on what? A desire (I almost said, “blind desire”) to explain the problems I presented? And persuade the guards? What are the chances of a First Century Jewess even talking to a temple guard? And asking a favor? To violate their duty?

How far can we stretch, to keep this story viable?

And there remain two problems. One Minor: If the women thought they could impose upon the guards, why were they asking who would roll away the stone? One insurmountable: There is a seal on the tomb.

Even if the women (who were going to persuade the guards to let them through, but couldn’t figure out how to ask them to move the stone) could “get through” they aren’t going to break the seal. That, most certainly, WAS a death penalty. How did they plan to get around that?

Disciples Stealing Body As I said, I don’t hold to that theory, but I can at least postulate numerous reasons. Maybe they wanted to take it to Galilee, maybe they wanted to bury it elsewhere, maybe they truly were thinking of staring a religion. Maybe they hoped he was still alive. “Fraud” is only one of many, many possibilities.

Don’t forget, these stories were written 50+ years after the events. Plenty of time to modify the original reason to a “resurrection.” Perhaps the religion started off more as a fluke, and they had no idea how well it would go.

Grave-robbing accusation “Disciples scattered”? Not according to Acts 1:13. As I pointed our originally, they arrested Peter twice, and never brought it up. Why would it be “too late”? Matthew claims that the rumor was still circulating to the day he wrote the Gospel. Are you saying Matthew was written before Peter’s first arrest? Don’t forget, according to Acts, the priests were arresting the disciples, priests were killing Christians, and the priests could not come up with a reason to accuse the disciples.

In order for this to be “too late” Matthew would have to be written first, then the rumors forgotten, then Peter arrested. Can you proof that out?

Finally, I think it extremely unlikely the author of Matthew was a religious Jew. He used the Septuagint, and did not understand Jewish idioms. He used the Gospel of Mark (written in Greek) as his basis for the story of Jesus. While heavily debated, I fall on the side that the author of Matthew was not Jewish. (Not that this means he read the novel, either, of course.)

As to Paul, he has the order wrong, he doesn’t mention an empty tomb, he shows no interest in a pre-resurrection or post-resurrection differentiation, lists 500 which are not listed in the Gospel, for purposes of this blog, does not list the guards, lists a differing order of appearance, and uses the same appearance language as to himself. Like a vision.

All I Remember is You ... said...


Even a beating isn't exactly pleasant. Why not put them to death? Answer, because this would have been visibly unjust. As I also pointed out, even at this point, the Chief Priests thought they'd headed off this Gallilean rebellion. I won't look at the source, as my copy is several hundred miles away. Half the fun is in the research, but my research is currently into the disestablishment of the Church in Wales.

Why do I suppose? Well, laddie, because they seem to have supposed. What's your reason for not supposing. The women might have been supposing a little too much, travelling in faith when faith was gone, and all that.

The stories were not written 50+ years after the event. Even famed Liberal John A.T Robinson and Liberal Greek specialist J. E Powell said the canon was complete by AD 70. Reading the people here, most of you seem to believe that AD 60 = 60 years after the events of that first Easter. No! no! no!

1 AD= probably 3 years after the birth of Christ. Jesus lived 33 years, therefore AD 60 = 30 years after the events of the first Easter.

On the development of legend. I can tell you, as a citizen of a country that actually has ancient legends that they take at least 100 years to get started. Read the standard works on the formation of the Arthurian canon.

Disciples scattered. According to Luke 24:13, and other similar verses.

On your theories of the formation of Mark, I agree with J.E Powell that Matthew came first, and was Jewish. Thus I disagree on this one. As you say, this is heavily debated. You pays your money, and you makes your choice.

As for Paul. Oh dear. 'If Christ be not risen, then your faith is in vain.' And don't come that 'spiritual resurrection' business with me, laddie, it will not wash. Jews believe in an immediate afterlife, if Jesus' spirit appeared, this would be nothing more than is recorded of the Prophet Samuel. Jesus in that case would have been seen simply as a prophet, albeit a great one. Sort of like the Muslims think of Him.

On the rumour and 'too late'. You misunderstand me, ole apostate, it was too late because the priests had not acted at once, hoping it would go away. The manifestations at Pentecost had been of such a scale that to charge all the disciples with grave robbing at that point would have caused significant difficulties. I never meant to imply the rumours had been forgotten, merely that they did not carry sufficient credibility at that point.

Now, if all the accounts were exactly the same, I'd be suspicious, but that's the historian in me...

But, this is all on this, twice is more than enough.

Albert said...

Christians like to fall back on the position that "there wasn't enough time for a legend to develope", but common life experience says otherwise. My job is highly involved with the public and I've heard lots of rumours about me that weren't true (e.g. I'm moving out of town, divorcing my wife etc etc) and I'm not even dead yet!

DagoodS said...

Too bad, All I Remember is You…, I was enjoying our conversation. When I said search out the sources, a simple googlewhack of “middoth i. 2” would have given the results.

I agree a beating for a guard would be unpleasant, but at least it makes the story feasible. Roman Guards claiming to commit an act resulting in capital punishment does not. (If McDowell really did say that Temple Guards would be killed, this also displays a questionable credibility as to the use of sources.)

“The Disciples stole the body.”
“Weren’t you on Guard duty? How did they get around you?”
“Uh...We fell asleep.”
“If you fell asleep, you would be killed. How are you standing here?”

The only way for Matthew’s story to make sense is if these were Temple Guards. Bribable Temple Guards. Guards in the service of the Jewish Priests. Guards that would say anything for money. In other words—completely unreliable witnesses, not neutral hardened soldiers.

They may have been bribed to state that they were beaten, but at least they could tell the story, and it would be possible for them to be alive and tell it.

I did notice you did not address the issue of how the women felt they could get around the “seal.” Nothing more can be said on the topic, then.

I would dearly love to debate you on the dating of the books of the New Testament. I could toss out conservative current scholars, such as Udo Schnelle that place the dates much later, on more reliable evidence than Robinson, but we would be lobbing scholars back and forth all day. That is not what this particular blog was about, though.

The point was that in order for it to be “too late” Matthew would have to be written prior to Peter’s first arrest. Robinson places the date at 40 C.E. at the earliest. Are you contending that Peter was not arrested until after 40 C.E.? According to your dates, 10 years post-Resurrection? This would throw off the rest of the dating of the New Testament, though.

If Matthew was the first, why did Mark, Luke and John act as if the soldiers did not even exist? Again, I would love to debate the synoptic problem, but for now, by placing Matthew first, you have introduced yet another problem to this story. This would mean that Mark and Luke knew of the soldiers and purposely did not include them. Can you proof out the reason for the exclusion?

We have myths on this side of the Atlantic. They develop almost overnight. We call them “urban legends.” What is the method by which we can determine how “fast” a legend takes to grow? Legends developed within a generation in ancient times and myths currently develop within a generation now.

There is no hard-and-fast rule as to how quickly legends and myths develop. To even compare one to another is all but impossible to do.

This is especially humorous in light of the fact that Matthew is claiming the “stolen body” legend persisted to the day he wrote the Gospel, and you are saying that legends could not develop that quickly.

Disciples scattered. Such a minor point, but still. If this is to be our last exchange, may as well cover it. Luke 24:13 are the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. After they see Jesus, who do they report to? Why, in vs. 33, we see they report to eleven who were “gathered together.” Acts 1:13 they are all living together in the upper room. And I am not talking about charging them immediately. I agree that would be useless. Only when the religion is growing would it come into play.

You state:
The manifestations at Pentecost had been of such a scale that to charge all the disciples with grave robbing at that point would have caused significant difficulties.

Rather than “all the disciples” how about “any of the disciples”? And what, were the significant difficulties?

Peter Kirby once said, “Any fool can make excuses. An explanation is not much better. Even my Eight-year-old can come up with an explanation that absolves him of the situation. Proofs are more difficult. Proofs are hard work, require study and careful examination and argumentation as to the position.”

The verses I cite, clearly state they arrest Peter. This was not a difficulty. They were looking for a crime to charge him with. This is not a difficulty. They were killing other Christians. They had the ability to issue a death sentence simply for being a Christian, according to Acts. All they needed was an accusation. Not a truthful one, just an accusation.

And, according to Matthew, they had JUST bribed guards to tell people the disciples had been grave robbers—a capital offense.

I realize you do not intend to reply, but how can I seriously accept “there would be significant difficulties” with no proof, no argument, no explanation, nothing? You may accuse me of “not seeing” but in fairness to me, you are “not showing” either. All I can do is read the Bible and take it for what it says. Are you telling me to do differently?

Finally, as to Paul, I see you did not address the problem of order, the lack of an empty tomb, and, again, for purposes of this particular blog, the lack of guards. The Jews also didn’t believe in partial resurrection for some. Everyone was to be resurrected at the same time. I would hope we both agree that Paul was not teaching Judaism! He was off the map in that regard in a number of areas. You may not like the idea of a spiritual resurrection, but simply claiming Paul wouldn’t say that because he was a Jew is not kosher, either. Paul wouldn’t have abrogated the law, either. Or done away with Holy days. Or treated circumcision as a non-issue. Or claimed “signs” were not necessary. All of those things a Jew would have done. Paul didn’t.

To now claim, “Paul, a Jew wouldn’t say a spiritual resurrection” means you are picking and choosing which parts Paul, a Jew, would say, and which he would not. What is your methodology in making the determination as to what Paul would say as a Jew, and what he would say as an emerging Christian?

Most Christians I deal with believe in a spiritual resurrection with new bodies. They do not believe that heaven will consist of 80 year olds, and baby fetuses. That the body we now have will stay here. What is so hard to believe that Paul felt the same way?

Jonathan Erdman said...

It is posts like these that take the intellectual credibility of this blog down a notch. If you want to rant against Christianity then just rant! Don't pretend to have an intellectual case when none exists. I am by no means a scholar regarding evidences for or against the resurrection, but even I can see the holes in what you have here.

First, for all of your zeal your fundamental premise (if there really is an argument at all) is based on an argument from silence, i.e. if other gospel accounts don't talk about the guards then the guard story is a fabrication. But every piece of literature serves a purpose, and to say that a silence regarding an event is evidence for the fact that that event did not occur is not effective in this case.

Second, how exactly is there a problem with saying that the guards were bribed? Even a basic video on the A&E cable channel will tell you that in that culture a bribe was the way to get things done. Bribes were everywhere in Roman culture, particularly in politics. So, the soldiers are shaken and knocked unconscious by an earthquake and take a big bribe to say that they fell asleep on the watch. The Matthean account clearly indicates that the greater authorities would also be handled (i.e. bribed) by the chief priests so that the soldiers would be protected from any consequence.

As to how Matthew knew about these events just keep in mind that eventually secrets get leaked. We have seen plenty of that in our culture, and it was probably little different back in those days. What if a guard at the tomb later became a Christian convert? Or what if one of the soldiers later leaked the info. to a buddy who told a buddy, etc. Are these scenarios really so unbelievable to you?

Again, I'm no resurrection evidential expert and there are certainly some biblical accounts in the synoptics that I don't fully understand and seem to contradict each other. But this account is not one of them. This post is really more of a polemic than intellectually stimulating, in my opinion. I give it one star out of five. (The one star is a point for style.)

Zachary Moore said...


Justin Martyr, in his letter to Trypho, makes a reference to the claim that the disciples had stolen Jesus' body:

"And though all the men of your nation knew the incidents in the life of Jonah, and though Christ said amongst you that He would give the sign of Jonah, exhorting you to repent of your wicked deeds at least after He rose again from the dead, and to mourn before God as did the Ninevites, in order that your nation and city might not be taken and destroyed, as they have been destroyed; yet you not only have not repented, after you learned that He rose from the dead, but, as I said before you have sent chosen and ordained men throughout all the world to proclaim that a godless and lawless heresy had sprung from one Jesus, a Galilaean deceiver, whom we crucified, but his disciples stole him by night from the tomb, where he was laid when unfastened from the cross, and now deceive men by asserting that he has risen from the dead and ascended to heaven. Moreover, you accuse Him of having taught those godless, lawless, and unholy doctrines which you mention to the condemnation of those who confess Him to be Christ, and a Teacher from and Son of God. Besides this, even when your city is captured, and your land ravaged, you do not repent, but dare to utter imprecations on Him and all who believe in Him. Yet we do not hate you or those who, by your means, have conceived such prejudices against us; but we pray that even now all of you may repent and obtain mercy from God, the compassionate and long-suffering Father of all."

DagoodS said...

Jonathan Erdman, thanks, at least, for the one star!

Imagine we have a claim in front of a jury. It is my position that the author of Matthew made up the story of the guard. I point out all the arguments I made in my post, and all the contradictions with the other witnesses. Then it is your turn. All you do is stand up and say, “Just because the other witnesses didn’t mention it, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.”

Which side do you think the jury will fall on?

If it was solely the fact that Mark, Luke and John did not mention the soldiers, I would heartily concur with you that this is an argument from silence. (Doesn’t mean it is bad, mind you. The argument that aliens have NOT blown up the Statute of Liberty yesterday and replaced it with an exact replica today is also an argument from silence. Just ‘cause no one reported it, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.)

But I carefully laid out, chapter and verse, areas in which the soldiers would have to be addressed by Mark and Luke, and they were not. I proofed out the reasons why, I posed the questions, and I was looking forward to the responses, if any. It is not merely an argument from silence; there are direct, contradictory problems in both Mark and Acts that a skeptic would question.

If you do not see those contradictions, or choose to not address them, you are more than welcome. How do you deal with Mark and John’s women not concerned about the Guards and seal, but concerned about other things? How do you deal with the soldiers not using the earthquake as an excuse? How do you deal with Luke not using the accusation in Acts? I am not going to repeat all the verses and arguments, they are there to review.

All you tell our jury is, “Doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.”

The problem with bribes is that it destroys their credibility. If they were bribed to say the disciples stole the body, could they also be bribed to say they were at the scene at all? Remember, it is the Christian apologists that use the guard to say that the body could not have been stolen. What if the guard was never there in the first place? Are you going to proof out how we must believe the guards were telling the truth about one thing they were bribed about, but not on another? Or, is this just another argument from silence. We, as skeptics, must believe the guards were honest one second, and lying the next?

Further, the bribes demonstrate it was a Temple Guard, not a Roman Guard. Study on your own. Learn what the culture was like. Read stories about guarded corpses. Learn when the Gospels were written. Stretch out your mind, rather than assume the other Gospels simply left out the guards, and start asking that scary question—“why?”

Thank you for pointing out that the bribe rumor may have been more common knowledge. Rumors abound. How much MORE did Matthew write that was just rumor? That perhaps did, or did not happen? He is following Mark. Are these additions historical facts, or just rumors? Legends? Myths? One person responds that it can take 100 years to develop legend, and you very admirably demonstrate how quickly it can be done in such a short time.

We have bribed soldiers, partly-lying, partly telling the truth, who Matthew heard about from a buddy of a buddy, etc. That other authors seem completely unaware, and have their characters doing things contrary to the fact the guard was there. This is the defense? Of the Guards at the tomb?

Jonathan Erdman, this is just one of literally 1000’s of problems that crop up in Christianity. (Don’t ask me to list them all) It is not even one of the more interesting ones. I partly listed it because skeptics DO see it as a problem and to see how Christians deal with it. I had hoped for, perhaps, a bit better.

Can you give us one of your contradictory synoptic accounts, and perhaps I will better please you with focusing on it? If I have time.

Anonymous said...

What I would like to know is how many years have to pass by without Jesus coming back before Christians finally begin to admit that he is not coming back? 100 more years? 500? A thousand? Assuming the human race is not destroyed by nuclear war, radical climate change, or some killer virus run amok, in a couple of hundred years we will have colonies on the moon, possibly Mars, not to mention circling the Earth itself.

The purported prophecies of Revelation seem to envision an earthbound humanity. But if some tens of thousands or more of the human race lives in space and the events of Revelation do not come to pass, then the window of opportunity will have closed.

How will Bible literalists explain 100 years from now that God grew angry with humans for building the Tower of Babel when humans will be living on the moon? Doesn't make much sense, does it?

Aaron M Rossetti said...

picking up from... 'how many years have to pass by'

i had some thoughts just the other day...

*Would you say that you were watching the end of a 2 hour movie if there were 42 minutes left to watch?

*If you woke up at 7am and were not going to bed until 11pm, would you say at 5pm that it was the end of your day, knowing that you had another 6 hours left to be awake?

*Are you watching the end of the super bowl if you turn it on 6 minutes into the 3rd quarter and with a quarter and a half to go?

*A volleyball game has 25 points in it. If the score is 16 to 16, are you watching the end of the head to head game with 9 points to go?

*If a man is going to live until he is 70 years old, would you say when he is 45 years old that he is at the end of his life with 25 years left to live?

God’s Word is clear. We are in the last days and have been since the apostles declared the end and the last days. (Hebrews 9:26) (Hebrews 1:2) (1 Peter 4:7) (1 Peter 1:20-21) (2 Peter 3:3-4) (1 John 2:18) (Jude 1:18)

According to the Jewish calendar, it is the year 5766. Assuming a literal 24 hour/day-7 day creation, this means that the earth is said to have began 5766 years ago if we go by what the Judeo Christian Bible reads as to the age of the earth and man. Using rough numbers, Christ would’ve been born around 3,760. There have been 2006 years or so since the birth of Christ. If the world ends this year, this would make 35% of all time to have occurred ahead of Christ and 65% of all time to have occurred before the Christian era.

Assuming the world will end this year, the apostles were 15% ahead of the half way mark in time with yet another 35% left of time to wait. Would anyone reasonably consider that to be the ‘end of days,’ knowing there would be another 2000 years to follow which would still be 35% of all the time that would exist? It is much closer to the middle of time than it is to the end. The implications of this factual data are up to your own imagination.

I guess that someone with a great stretch of imagination could claim that having 35% more time left without the second coming could still technically be ‘the last days,’ but ‘about the middle’ would be the accuracy we would expect from the words of the creator of the universe himself. They could’ve meant ‘the end’ as in ‘beginning of the second half’… I guess.

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, none of the Christian posters has responded to my original comment on this thread.

If the resurrection of Jesus was a physical one, then are we to believe he went about with his scarred and mutilated body like some zombie? If his physical body came back to life, he must have been hungry and needed to eat. He had to have gone to the bathroom somewhere. Where did he perform these acts?

If his resurrection was spiritual, in that he transcended his earthly body, then why did the tomb need to be empty at all? After all, the promise of Christianity is that we will have eternal life. Since not one of us has ever seen the body of a dead Christian come back to life, then it is understood that our eternal life is to take place outside of our physical bodies.

Aaron M Rossetti said...

I'm not the Christian you're looking for to comment, but I had a few things to add to your reasonable train of thought...

Why is the resurrection so paramount to the Christian faith if it is the blood sacrifice that is the atonement for the sin? The Christian answer was either to show that Jesus was the Christ (as if he needed anymore proof added or as if God was concerned about the wicked generation that looked for a sign) OR to proclaim the victory over physical death OR just cause he wanted to and he was God so he didn't need a reason.

If God had no purpose than we have a haphazard God who acts without any plan. If it is to proclaim the victory over death by showing the resurrection of the 'first born from the dead' and the example of how 'those that died with Christ shall rise first,' then we must expect that God values the 2000 year old decomposed bodies enough to miraculously reassemble them with added upgrades including the ability to escape from earns and move through six feet of soil to meet the other billion souls in the one location where the scared hands of Jesus will be there mid-air to greet the lot of them.

According to my former faith in Christ and Christian doctrine that I heald with the utmost commitment for over 10 years in gratefullness to the Lord saving me from years of drug abuse and most other 'rank & sinful' behaviors, it is much more respectable for an individual to look away from reason and 'just believe.' However, when I was a child, I thought as a child, but now that I am grown, I've put aside my childish ways. You can't rebuke a child for believing in santa clause. Sometimes belief in myth is useful. It was for me and I'm greatful for my years as a Christian in love with Christ.

Everyone has their own time and path to walk out.