There is a view going around that the women went to the wrong tomb, one which Jesus was not buried in. Offshoots of this idea postulate that Jesus was actually buried in the wrong tomb, or that His body was moved to an undisclosed location, or even that the Tomb was never checked. Thus far, we have determined that Jesus did not faint, (He did die) that the Disciples were not hallucinating, and that the Disciples did not steal the body. In this entry, we will examine whether they went to the wrong tomb. (Photo credit: WorshippingChristian.org, Carlton Pictures - Jesus of Nazareth 1977 miniseries starring Herbert Powell)
Professor Kirsopp Lake, in 1907, suggested this theory. According to Lake, "It is seriously a matter for doubt whether the women were really in a position to be quite certain that the tomb which they visited was that in which they had seen Joseph of Arimathea bury the Lord's body. The neighborhood of Jerusalem is full of rock tombs, and it would not be easy to distinguish one from another without careful notes.... It is very doubtful if they were close to the tomb at the moment of burial... It is likely that they were watching from a distance, and that Joseph of Arimathea was a representative of the Jews rather than of the disciples. If so, they would have had but a limited power to distinguish between one rock tomb and another close to it. The possibility, therefore, that they came to the wrong tomb is to be reckoned with, and it is important because it supplies the natural explanation of the fact that whereas they had seen the tomb closed, they found it open..."
Lake continues, "If it were not the same, the circumstances all seem to fall into line. The women came in the early morning to a tomb which they thought was the one in which they had seen the Lord buried. They expected to find a closed tomb, but they found an open one; and a young man... guessed their errand, tried to tell them that they had made a mistake in the place. 'He is not here,' said he, 'see the place where they laid him,' and probably pointed to the next tomb. But the women were frightened at the direction of their errand, and fled..."
Upon first glance, perhaps Lake's theory seems to make sense. However, upon closer and more careful examination, the theory has several holes from the outset. It is true that the visit to the tomb by the women is one of the best historically attested events within the New Testament. It is not that Lake rejects the historicity of the event, but he changed where it took place. Now, let us take a look at a few key verses:
"And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the grave." (Matthew 27:61) Mark 15:47, "And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus were looking on to see where he was laid." Luke 23:55 says, "Now the women who had come with Him out of Galilee followed after, and saw the tomb and how His body was laid." Jesus was dearly loved by both women, would they be so quick to forget a tomb they had been at a mere 72 hours prior? John 20:2-8 records:
"So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved [John], and said, 'They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!' So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus' head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed."
Did John and Peter also go to the wrong tomb? Note also Matthew 28:6, in which one of the angels says, "Come and see the place where He lay." Did the angel also make the same mistake? As pointed out by Wilbur Smith, "Someone has suggested, in trying to force this theory of the mistaken tomb, that the angel's words really meant, 'You are in the wrong place, come over here to see where the Lord's body was placed.' ...Well, in nineteen hundred years of the study of the New Testament, it took our modern, sophisticated age to find that in the Gospel records, and no trustworthy commentary on any of the Gospels entertains such a foolish interpretation as that."
It is inconceivable to think such a thing, as the Sanhedrin could have merely gone to the right tomb to (if He had not risen) produce the body and stifle any word of a resurrection. Yet this did not occur. Also, even if the Romans, the Disciples, and the Jews had all gone to the wrong tomb, Joseph of Arimathea, who had recently hewn the tomb out of rock, (Matthew 27:60) could have easily solved the issue by pointing to the right tomb.
We also ought to note that Lake's citation of Mark 16:6 is incomplete, only quoting part of what the angel says. Lake's version says, "...He is not here, see the place where they laid Him..." yet the actual version says, "...He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him." Now, it depends on which version you have, however, regardless, Lake excludes "He is risen." Lake misquoted, and by basing his theory on the angel's words, he ought to have used everything the angel said, not just picking and choosing.
J.N.D. Anderson points out that when the women went to the disciples, the disciples could have either: gone to the tomb to verify the report, or, they could have begun preaching the resurrection. Yet the preaching does not begin for seven weeks. "I cannot see any possible motive for Christian writers to have invented that seven week gap. So we're asked to believe that the women didn't tell the apostles this story for quite a long time. Why not? Because the disciples had supposedly run away to Galilee."
Frank Morison so adequately points out, "[Lake] is also compelled to get the disciples out of Jerusalem before sunrise on Sunday because he holds that the women kept silence. Finally, to harmonize this with the fact that they did subsequently tell the story, with all its inevitable and logical results, he finds it necessary to keep the women in Jerusalem for several weeks while the disciples returned to their homes, had certain experiences, and came back to the capital."
It's also important to note: Lake fails to account for why the "young man" would have been in the private cemetery. Contrary to Lake's theory, this was not a public cemetery, but a private burial ground. Morison notes, "...if it was so dark that the women accidentally went to the wrong tomb, it is exceedingly improbable that the gardener would have been at work. If it was late enough and light enough for the gardener to be at work, it is improbable that the women would have been mistaken. The theory just rests upon the synchronization of two very doubtful contingencies. This is, however, only part of the improbability and intellectual difficulty which gathers around it."
The man was not a gardener. If he was a mere gardener, the Priests could have easily secured his testimony, citing it as evidence that the body of Jesus was still in the grave. It was obviously light enough out for the women to see the "gardener" (Christ). Lake's theory does not explain the presence of the angels, either. What if the tomb was never even checked? That theory does not hold up either. Even if the Jews and Disciples did not check the tomb, the Romans would have been fully aware of what transpired.
Elite Roman Guards, knowing full-well that they would be under penalty of death, would have been sure to explore the whole area before reporting to the Priests. Even if the Disciples did not visit the tomb, Rome could have produced the body - yet didn't. Reason being: the tomb, the real tomb, was empty. In The Case For Christ, Lee Strobel interviews several people, one of which is William Lane Craig, Ph.D., D.TH. When asked about Lake's theory, Craig states:
"Lake didn't generate any following with this. The reason is that the site of Jesus' tomb was known to the Jewish authorities. Even if the women had made the mistake, the authorities would have been only too happy to point out the tomb and correct the disciple's error when they began to proclaim that Jesus had risen from the dead. I don't know anybody who holds to Lake's theory today."
There are other related theories. One theory postulates that Jesus' body was taken by a third party. A 5th century polemic, invented by Toledot Yeshu, claims that a gardener names Juda took Jesus' body, attempted to blackmail the disciples, and proceeded to drag the body through the streets of Jerusalem. Yet another theory postulates that Joseph of Arimathea took the body. The issues?
Darly E. Wittmer states, in response, "How could any of this have occurred given Rome’s tight control of the case? And how likely is it that any such clandestine operation would have remained undisclosed for long? Yet, if a hoax had been revealed, how does one then explain the phenomenal growth of the Christian Church?" Also, had Juda dragged the body of Jesus through the streets of Jerusalem, people - including the Disciples - would know that Jesus was surely dead, and not risen. Yet this did not occur.
|Herbert Powell as Jesus (1977)|
Another theory postulates that the Romans moved the body elsewhere, or even through the body in a burial pit where it was eaten by dogs. To begin with, this utterly contradicts both Biblical and Non-Biblical sources. Both the Romans and the Jews were trying to put the controversy surrounding Jesus to rest, not further it. If the Romans or Jews had the body elsewhere, they need only produce the body to quiet the account of the resurrection at its very beginning - yet, again, this did not occur.
As for the possibility that crucifixion victims were thrown into a pit near Jerusalem was nearly dashed in June 1968, when the remains of a man who had been crucified, Yohanan Ben Ha'galgal, were found in a family tomb. However, even if the remains of Jesus were thrown in a pit and the dogs "took care of them," the Romans need only own up to it, and Christianity would have likely ended then and there. Yet, once again, none of this transpired. This would have greatly helped Rome, but since in reality the body of Jesus was actually missing from the tomb and no one seemed to have a good explanation as to why it was empty, they did not.
The only idea that fits the evidence is that Jesus was resurrected. He did not faint, he certainly died. The Disciples did not steal His body, they were not hallucinating, and no one went to the wrong tomb. Instead, Jesus died, the disciples went to the correct tomb, found the body of Jesus missing, and over the following forty days, saw the risen Jesus in a physical, glorified body. It is the only explanation that fits the evidence.
Thank you for reading this entry of "The Truth." We understand that not everyone will agree with our conclusion, yet regardless, feel free to comment below (but please remain civil), email firstname.lastname@example.org or The Truth Ministries team at email@example.com, visit our facebook page, or visit our ministry website. Take care, and may God bless. Troy Hillman
 Lake, Kirsopp. The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1907. pp 250-53. Print.
 Smith, Wilbur M. Therefore Stand: Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1965. pp381-382. Print.
 Anderson, J.N.D. "The Resurrection of Jesus Christ". Christianity Today. March 29, 1968. pp7. Print.
 Morison, Frank. Who Moved The Stone? London: Faber and Faber, 1967. pp10. Print.
 Strobel, Lee. The Case For Christ. 1st ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1998. 221. Print.
 "Was Jesus Christ buried in the wrong tomb? Or an unknown tomb?." Christian Answers Network. Christian Answers Network, 2004. Web. 28 Mar 2011.