Theory #2 – The disciples went to the wrong tomb

Perhaps, then, the disciples went to the wrong tomb early on the morning of the third day? On the discovery that the tomb was ‘empty’ they promulgated the idea that Jesus had been resurrected. Little did they realise that they had visited the wrong tomb. This idea was proposed in 1907 by a New Testament scholar called Kirsopp Lake and, on initial hearing, it does go some way to address the faults of the previous theory.

However, it is also simply not plausible, given the established facts. Now it may be granted that the disciples genuinely believed in the resurrection on account of this simple mistake – it is easier to see that this could have happened than if they had arranged for his body to be stolen.

But unfortunately this no longer accounts for the actual tomb of Jesus being empty. Sure, the disciples may have made a mistake, but the theory also relies on the authorities making the same mistake when they check out the disciple’s claims.

Since they had a vested interest in Jesus remaining dead, you can be confident that they wouldn’t have made such a mistake, especially since they were the ones who had arranged and authorised his burial. As soon as they discovered the disciples’ mistake, they would no doubt have produced the body and paraded it around Jerusalem, quashing the movement at its inception. So this theory fails to genuinely account for the empty tomb.

What’s more, it also fails to explain why the disciples thought that Jesus had been raised. The empty tomb by itself was not enough to persuade them that Jesus was alive again. Indeed the gospels record the disbelief of the disciples on numerous occasions, which is one of the features of these writings that help to show that they are genuine memories of events, (however hazy they might appear), rather than fabricated propaganda. In fact, when presented with the empty tomb by itself, they assumed the most naturalistic explanation possible – that somebody had moved the body. One of Jesus’ female disciples, Mary, was distraught when she saw the empty tomb. “Tell me where you have laid him?”[1] she cried, accosting someone nearby that she thought was the gardener.

The ‘wrong tomb theory’ does not have sufficient explanatory power. And neither does Mary’s assumption, which is theory #3, our next idea to examine.

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Footnotes

[1] John 20:11-18