The Missing Body
Even when critics accept that Jesus actually lived and was sentenced to crucifixion by Pilate and died on the cross, they will fall back on fraud theories, that Jesus was not resurrected, but that someone stole the body, and the resurrection is a fiction of the church. When looking at who stole the body, the most logical conclusion is that the disciples stole Jesus’ body. They were the ones with the most to gain. This theory misses two important points. First, the disciples were in no condition to steal the body. They were disillusioned. In the Gospel of Luke, after the women return from the tomb to tell the disciples that Jesus had risen, Luke writes, “But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.” Luke 24:11 (1). Second, if the disciples had stolen the body to start a new religion, they would most likely not have kept to their story once the Jewish and Roman persecutions started. The church fathers write that all but one of the disciples were executed for their beliefs. While many people will die for a lie, they will not die for something they know to be a lie. Any one of the disciples could have prevented their death by recanting their story.
Other variations on the stolen body have the Romans or the Jews stealing Jesus’ body. Neither the Jews nor the Romans would have had a motive to steal the body, and once Christianity began to spread, they could have easily stopped it by producing Jesus’ body.
Perhaps one of the most unusual takes on the stolen body theory is presented in resurrection, by Hank Hanegraaff (7). He writes about philosopher Robert Craig Cavin’s twin theory. In this theory, Jesus had an identical twin that was separated from Jesus at birth. During Passover, the twin is in Jerusalem and saw Jesus being crucified. Seeing an opportunity, the twin steals the body and impersonates Jesus, fooling the disciples into believing that Jesus had risen. Later Cavin’s research caused him to acknowledge that this theory was wrong.
Other variations on the missing body theory are, that the body was buried in a shallow grave or tossed into a pit and was consumed by wild dogs, or that the women and disciples just went to the wrong tomb. The body being consumed by dogs would go against all Jewish customs regarding the handling of a corpse. The very fact that Jesus’ body was taken down before sundown of the Sabbath, shows the Romans were cognizant of the Jewish customs. The belief that the disciples went to the wrong grave and never discovered their error, strains belief.
The missing body theories fail to explain the change in the disciples from fearful to courageous, and fail to explain how they were willing to die for a lie. Additionally, they fail to explain the appearances of Jesus after His death.
All Bible verses quoted in this paper are from the International Bible Society, ed., The Holy Bible, New International Version (Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute, 1973, 1978, 1984), 1.
Hank Hanegraaff, resurrection (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2000), 7.