Three decades ago, archaeologists found an ossuary in Jerusalem that had what is believed to be a family tomb. This was not big news until recently when James Cameron announced that he was filming a documentary claiming this was the tomb of Jesus Christ. Now, thirty years after the fact, it has been announced that “researchers have made a new discovery that could shake Christianity off its foundation”. I have even watched some of the more liberal ‘Christians’ come up with new theories that make Jesus’ ascension into heaven symbolic. One priest even made the comment that Jesus’ spirit ascended but His body remained on earth.
Why is it that each time the atheists make a claim, Christians put their faith in these wild theories even though there is no credible evidence? When researchers found a tooth of a pig some years back, it was declared to be a missing link for mankind and they used this tooth to create – not one hominid, but an entire family. Science eventually prevailed and it was proven to be a tooth of an extinct pig and not the imaginary ‘Nebraska Man’ created from the imaginations of evolutionists. The evidence of Jesus’ tomb is on par with the pig’s tooth – a speck of evidence and a mountain of imagination. It is such a laughable theory I originally shrugged it off; however, since I have seen so much concern over the topic among Christians, I have decided to add a brief segment into this study.
The arguments for the tomb of Jesus are so easily refuted, that no rational person would give them any credibility. A few paragraphs should sufficiently aid the Christian with all the information needed. The first thing that should be noted is that the archaeologists that discovered the tomb did not see any significance in the names at all as related to Jesus Christ (and still do not). Why? These names were so common during the era of Christ, that it is not surprising at all to see them together. Think about the scriptures. In the four gospels, three Mary’s are directly involved with Jesus. There could have been more, but the fact that in one place you see three people named Mary should be sufficient evidence that the name is quite common. The same is true for the name ‘Jesus’. Jesus was the third most common name in Israel during the era of the tomb. Evidence for this is also found in scripture. In Colossians 4:11 Paul introduces one of his workers as Jesus whom they call Justus.
The Tomb of Jesus theory claims that the odds that Jesus and Mary being in the same tomb together is rare and proves Jesus married Mary Magdalene. This is like saying the odds of a man named Steve being married to a woman named Mary is nearly impossible. Since these two names are common in America, you may find dozens of Steve’s and Mary’s joined together in marriage. Critics of the Bible also claim that Mary’s tomb has the name ‘Magdalene’ over the tomb. This is an attempt at deception. The name on the tomb is ‘Miriamne’ which is a Greek name. Cameron is claiming that this is the Greek translation of ‘Magdalene’.
There are two flaws with this statement, first, it is pure speculation that this Greek name means Magdalene and researchers have not made this connection – only Hollywood has. Second, why would a Jewish woman have a Greek name put on her tomb? The Jews despised the Roman government and the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. was a revolt to break away from Roman rule. The only reason Greek was spoken was because of Roman law. When Rome conquered a nation, they established a Roman governor and required all people to learn a simplified form of Greek. This was a point of contention among the Jews in the Bible and ultimately led to their destruction as a nation.
Amon Kloner, the Jewish archaeologist who oversaw the original excavation of the ossuary in 1980 called Cameron’s claim ‘nonsense’. He stated that Jesus’ family were Galileans with no ties to Jerusalem. Also, the Archaeology Institute of America stated the following:
Jacobovici points to the James Ossuary as the last missing piece of the puzzle, though he acknowledges the artifact has a controversial background. The inscription on the box, “James Son of Joseph, Brother of Jesus,” has been demonstrated to be at least half fake. Studies of the box show that “Brother of Jesus” was recently added to the inscription by forgers. Moreover, a recent news report states that an FBI expert witness at the trial of Oded Golan over the “James Ossuary” and other dubious antiquities, has testified that Golan had photos of that ossuary taken in the 1970s. See http://www.archaeology.org/online/features/jesus/
So in other words, Director James Cameron and filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici are taking a little bit of fact, mixing it with proven frauds, and creating a documentary that they claim to be proof. Ernst Haeckel would be proud!
Those who promote the Jesus Tomb theory claim that they have evidence through DNA testing. They fail to publicize the fact that the DNA came from a contaminated source where several remains were mixed, making it impossible to tell whose DNA was being tested. So even if they could make a reasonable test, it has little value. The fallacious claim is that since the two samples tested were proven to be unrelated, this proves that the remains were a married couple. The claim of DNA evidence serves only one purpose – to make the theory sound scientific. It is merely a vain attempt to fabricate evidence from the ruins of their theory. Why are atheists so gullible? Perhaps it is desperation. The real bottom line of the documentary is money. The press release in 2007 was to generate publicity for their book and movies. That is why researchers shrugged off the claim, but the media and atheist circles devoured it like wolves.
The best expert witness Cameron could come up with was Shimon Gibson of the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Israel. He was also a member of the original team that excavated the ossuary, and his response was reported by the Archaeology Institute of America:
After a lengthy description of the original condition of the tomb, Gibson confessed to being skeptical about the claims that the site was Jesus’ tomb, though he added he was trying to keep an open mind about the possibility.
In other words, he doesn’t see credibility in the theory promoted by Cameron, but he’s willing to be persuaded. Ah, the heart of atheism. I have another theory. Perhaps he is truly skeptical to this imaginary theory, but he isn’t willing to risk losing any financial compensation he was to receive from promoting the documentary. It is ironic that the best expert witness on this claim is someone who is not convinced, yet the masses are accepting the theory like it was the gospel.
The name Matthew was also found in the tomb and it is supposedly evidence that it is Jesus’ tomb. Once again, this is a very common name; however, why weren’t the other disciples buried in the tomb? If you notice, the only names that have been the target of attention are the ones that are common to names found in the Bible. When they figure their odds that they broadcasted as evidence, they only chose the names that would increase their argument and ignored the rest. It was claimed that the odds were 600 to 1 in favor of their theory. That is only using four names and assuming the other six ossuaries to be inconsequential. An honest attempt would have factored in the six limestone boxes that could not be linked to the Bible. These were not included in their statistical analysis.
The strongest evidence against the Tomb of Jesus theory is the location of the tomb. At least the swoon theory had the foresight to put Jesus in a far away place, but the new theory puts Jesus right in the middle of Jerusalem. Think about the implications of this for a few moments. The church is now growing at an alarming rate, the Jewish religious leaders are doing everything in their power to stop this new faith, the apostles are being beaten, threatened, jailed and killed for their claims that Jesus rose from the dead, and ascended to heaven. Doesn’t it seem a little odd to say that Jesus was living openly in Jerusalem – the hotbed of controversy – and no one thought to point down the street and say, “Why is Jesus living down the road with his children?” The irony almost makes me laugh.
Critics claim this discovery to be the deathblow to Christianity. So in truth, they are admitting the very flaw that undermines their own claims. If this find shakes the foundation of Christianity today, how much more true would this have been during the life of the apostles? The entire Christian belief system would have crumbled and the early church with it if Jesus was on the streets of Jerusalem. If these were just a bunch of cult followers, they would have rewritten the Bible to fit the evidence and would have made Jesus into a cult leader instead of a risen Savior. This would include rewriting the Old Testament that foretold that His life would be taken from the land of the living (Isaiah 53:8).
Anyone who puts any faith at all in this theory should also take a moment to pay homage to the Nebraska man’s pig’s tooth.
The stolen body theory.
This is the only counter-argument that is even remotely logical. It also has flaws that can’t be explained. First, who stole the body? It is undeniable that the body of Jesus was no longer in the grave. The disciples, Jews, and Roman soldiers all concurred that the body was missing. As one historian put it, “history’s silence is deafening concerning the body of Jesus. No one has ever claimed to see the body of Jesus after the resurrection.” If the Jews or Romans stole it, they would have produced it. All of the efforts to squelch Christianity and the determination to explain away the resurrection would have ended quickly if someone produced the body. We know that the soldiers did not have it or they would have surely produced it. They were paid for their silence, how much would they have been paid if they produced the body? There would have been no need to think up and rehearse the story of the disciples stealing it if the soldiers had it. We know the Jews didn’t have it, because they would have been the first to put it on display. This only leaves the disciples or the resurrection.
Let’s look at the possibility that the disciples took Jesus’ body. When Jesus was arrested, the disciples scattered like cowards. Peter was the boldest of the twelve and he denied Jesus three times. To show how cowardly he was at this point, he was afraid of a servant girl who did not even have the legal right to testify in that culture. Yet when she confronted Peter, he called curses down upon himself to prove he was not one of Jesus’ followers.
The disciples were too afraid to come forward to take Jesus down and help with the burial. How is it that they would suddenly be bold enough to risk certain death and sneak among the guards, break the seal, move the stone without rousing anyone and take the body. Also consider that the head cloth was neatly folded and laid beside the burial cloth. Anyone sneaking into the tomb would be hastily retreating after getting the body. They would not take the time to remove the burial cloth and then neatly fold it.
How would a stolen body suddenly empower eleven men who were hiding from the Jews to go out and begin preaching His resurrection boldly before the same leaders they feared? What would make eleven men rejoice at being beaten, imprisoned and then put through painful deaths? A stolen corpse? The stolen body theory holds no water.
The final possibility is that Jesus was resurrected. We see that all the evidence against the resurrection falls short, but what evidence lends credibility to the resurrection? Let’s begin by examining the disciples. These men fled in all directions when Jesus was arrested and they did not offer any defense on his behalf during the trial where he was sentenced to death. After the resurrection there was a dramatic change in their lives. These men who were afraid to be present at Jesus’ burial now were going into the very city where the crucifixion occurred, and were boldly proclaiming His resurrection at their own peril.
The crowds were still present and so were the council members that tried Jesus and the soldiers who crucified Him. Why would they suddenly have such a change of heart that they would preach the same Jesus that they had just denied? Not only did they preach the resurrection, but they also condemned those responsible for His death and called them to repent so they could be forgiven.
To create a legend, you don’t go where the eyewitnesses are and exaggerate when the facts are still fresh. Legends are born by carrying the story to a distant land or waiting until the facts have faded from memory. The disciples went to where the fire was still hot. They proclaimed the resurrection to those whom they knew would examine the facts. There are no accounts of anyone refuting the disciples. There was no attempt to silenced them with evidence; they were threatened in an attempt to persuade them to stop. When ordered to never again preach in the name of Jesus, Peter said, “We cannot help but to proclaim the things which we heard and saw.”
There were many eyewitnesses to the resurrected Christ. Look at Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15:
6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.
7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles.
8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.
Paul presented his claim before those that could question him and in fact is inviting them to question. He is saying that most of these witnesses are still alive and available to examine. His reference to James is significant because James was one of the brothers who scoffed at Jesus during his life. After mocking him, the Bible says that even his brothers did not believe him.
People may be willing to die for what they believe to be true, but who would die for what they knew to be a lie? The eleven disciples saw Jesus die. They gained absolutely no financial gain from this faith; indeed we see just the opposite. They lost everything except their joy and the hope of heaven. When Jesus was alive, their hope was their expectation of an earthly kingdom. After the resurrection, they lived for Christ with reckless abandon as they were committed to the hope given to them for the eternal life and the kingdom of God to come. Only John died of old age; however, he was beaten, imprisoned and banished to the isle of Patmos. Patmos was a penal colony where criminals were sent to die either from starvation or from the hands of other criminals. Each of the other disciples were beaten repeatedly and eventually killed. Look at how Jesus’ disciples died and determine if this sounds like men clinging to a lie:
Matthew was slain in Ethiopia.
Mark was dragged through the streets until dead.
Peter and Simeon were crucified.
Andrew was crucified.
James was beheaded.
Philip was crucified.
Bartholomew was flayed alive.
Thomas was pierced with lances.
James, the less, was thrown from the temple and stoned to death.
Jude was shot to death with arrows.
Paul was boiled in hot oil and beheaded.
All of these men could have lived if they had said one statement: “He is dead,” but they refused. The list above accounts of their deaths but they also endured hardship, imprisonment, beatings, and torture. Paul was stoned three times and survived. He was beaten with forty strips from a cat of nine tails on five occasions, and imprisoned repeatedly. Similar stories follow the other apostles. Bartholomew was crucified twice. He was first nailed to the cross and then brought down by the Roman Emperor and set free. Not even a fool would have continued to spread a lie after this encounter, yet Bartholomew recovered and went on spreading the gospel until he was captured again and crucified a second time.
The disciples lived lives that would be considered sheer misery by the world, yet they rejoiced in their sufferings. Not one of them caved in and chose the easy life. Can anyone believe that not one of these men would deny his resurrection unless they absolutely witnessed the resurrected Christ? What did they have to gain by forming this kind of religion? They lost property and often were abandoned by friends and family. Even if you could believe that these men were willing to suffer for a lie, would they be willing to draw their own friends and families into suffering? They may have suffered for Christ on the outside, but they rejoiced openly and lived with joy and peace that their captors did not have and could not understand. Throughout history, many of the very people who have persecuted Christians have become Christians. As they saw the strength, joy, and peace that defied logic, they saw their own lives as meaningless. There are many testimonies of captors who witnessed persecution who said, “I want what that person has.”
If Jesus’ disciples had stolen the body of Jesus in hopes of being religious elitist, they would have given up when the illusions of grandeur proved to be a failure. If it were a lie, they would have quickly grown tired of the beatings and other punishments. Look at James, the brother of Jesus. He rejected Jesus during His life. I am sure that he thought of his older brother as just another sibling and a delusional one at that. Yet after seeing the resurrected Christ James was a changed man as well. After James encountered the risen savior, he no longer referred to himself as a brother of Christ, but a “bondservant of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Not a single critic ever questioned that the tomb was empty. There was no doubt of this fact. The real question is, which testimony do you believe? Those who reject Christ or those who were eye witness testimonies to His resurrection and GLADLY suffered for their proclamation of this truth?
Are the gospels reliable? What about the differences? One of the biggest arguments against the gospels is that they have slight differences. The irony is that if all the gospels were identical, they would have zero credibility. These same critics would say they were written by the same people. In truth, the differences between the gospels are not contradictions but the eyewitness testimonies written from different perspectives each testifying to the same truth. Critics of the gospels argue both sides and don’t see their own contradiction.
Skeptics claim that the later church doctored the manuscripts to support their beliefs and then these same critics point out the differences as proof of error. First, if the later church had doctored the manuscripts, why didn’t they fix the differences? Second, we know the manuscripts were not doctored because we now have documents dating back before the ‘questionable’ era and there are virtually no differences. By all standards, even harsh critics agree that the scriptures have maintained an incredible accuracy over the centuries.
Also consider the testimonial aspect. If three witnesses testified to being eyewitnesses to an event and their stories matched completely with the exception of a few supporting details, would that evidence be valid? By all standards it would. In fact, if there were no differences, it would raise serious doubts to their credibility. The scriptures provide Matthew, Mark and John as eyewitness accounts to the life of Christ and they all agree. Luke comes in as a character witness that makes an airtight case. Luke was not an eyewitness. Luke wanted to do two things. He wanted to give Theophilus a complete explanation of who Jesus was and he wanted to compile all the testimonies that had been handed down 2nd and 3rd hand from eyewitnesses. This is an extremely important testimony. This is how we know if the word and doctrine handed down agrees with the events that actually occurred.
The gospels were not widely circulated at the time. The differences in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and John prove that the each of the apostles wrote from their own eyewitness perspective. The gospel of Luke proves that the gospel was accurately handed down without becoming sensationalized. There is virtually no difference between Luke’s account that was passed by testimony and the apostle’s accounts that were witnessed directly. These three witnesses and the character witness of Luke would hold up under any cross-examination.
The earliest apostle writings can be dated back to eyewitnesses. You can’t make that claim from other religions. Christianity was written down closer to the actual events than other religions. The Gathas of Zoroaster were estimated around 1000 BC but didn’t make it into writings until after the third century AD and the most popular Parsi biography was written in 1278. Buddha lived in the sixth century BC, but the scriptures of Buddha were not written until the first century AD. Muhammad died in 632 AD but his sayings were not written for more than 100 years, 767 AD. Unlike other religions, outside the Bible there are many supporting witnesses that verify the accuracy of the accounts of scripture. Without the Bible, we can prove through historical evidence that:
-Jesus was a Jewish teacher
-Many people credited Jesus with healing and exorcisms
-People believed He was the Messiah
-He was rejected by the Jewish leaders
-He was crucified under Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius
-After his shameful death, His followers believed he was still alive and this faith spread to the multitudes throughout Rome by AD 64
-The Christian faith was held dear by all manner of people; women, men, slave, free, rich, poor.
-Those who converted, worshipped Jesus as God.
-There are also tens of thousands of archaeological discoveries that validate the scriptures and silence criticism.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a fact of history and applies to every person’s life. Because Jesus died, our debt was paid. Jesus’ last words on the cross were, “It is finished”, the debt has been paid. His death on the cross paid the debt for your sin and His resurrection gives you life. Romans 10 says:
9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in
your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the
mouth confession is made unto salvation.
11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put
Salvation depends on the resurrected Christ. When you believe and confess Him as your Savior, you will no longer have to fear the shame of your sins, and no longer have to fear God’s holy judgment for sin. The Bible says that Jesus came into the world and that the world was made through Him. As many as receive Him, to them He gives the right to become the children of God (John 1). It is not automatic, we must acknowledge Him as Lord. The Bible also says that we must count our lives as a loss and receive new life through Him.
Jesus died to take your debt to sin and exchange His righteousness in its place. When we receive Christ, we literally become the righteousness of God so that we are completely justified before Him. It is no longer your ‘falling short’ but the gift of righteousness credited into your life because of your faith and trust in Christ. If you have never received Jesus as your Lord, he offers a new life where the past is buried and you become a new creation.
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” The cry of Jesus on the cross is the love of God. The Bible says that though Jesus existed in the form of God, he humbled himself, took on the form of a bond servant, and became obedient unto death on the cross. The cry of his humanity is a declaration of the love of God to bear our guilt in our place. When Jesus cried, “It is finished,” your debt was paid in full. Hope and salvation is found in Jesus Christ alone and only Jesus proved to be our Savior by His death, burial and resurrection.