How to Respond to Those Who Say the Disciples Stole Jesus’ Body

4 Oct

In these past two posts, I’ve posted up short excerpts from Joe Coffey’s book, Smooth Stones: Bringing Down the Giant Questions of Apologetics regarding the “Four Questions of Existence” and religious pluralism, respectively.

In today’s post, I wanted to share a quick excerpt from Coffey’s chapter in which he tackles the historicity of the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. More specifically, the following is the excerpt in which he addresses the particular theory put up by skeptics trying to explain the empty tomb called the Conspiracy Theory.

In the Conspiracy Theory, “opponents of Jesus claimed that the disciples stole Jesus’ body, reburied it somewhere else, then made up the story of the resurrection and spread the rumor themselves.” He writes the following to repudiate this claim:

On the surface, this sounds like a good theory. But all you have to do is dig a little deeper and it completely unravels. I’ll explain through a story from my own family tree.

My great uncle Clifton was the last man hanged in Virginia. Seriously. He was not a good man. He killed a few people, so they decided to hang him. He asked for his guitar, sang a song, then turned to his executioners and said, “Listen, you’re going to hang me and I’m going to die, but when you take me out of town in that pine box, before you put me in the ground, open it up, because I’m coming back.” He promised he was going to resurrect!

So they hanged him and put him in the pine box. When they were taking him away, a spectator who heard him say he was coming back said, “What the heck, let’s open it up and see,” so they pried the box open and looked inside. What do you think they found? Uncle Clifton, dead as a doornail. The guy looked down at him and said, “Clifton!” No response. So they nailed the box shut again and buried him.

But suppose those guys snuck dead Uncle Clifton out of the pine box, buried him elsewhere, and then told people, “Clifton’s up! He’s alive—he came back! We saw him!” How long would they continue to spread that false claim if they lost their jobs because of it? Or if they had their kids taken away because of it? Or if they were arrested and brutally beaten and threatened with excruciating death? How many of them would continue to propagate the Clifton Hoax? None.

As I have mentioned, it is an historical fact that nearly every original apostle went to his death for refusing to recant his testimony about Jesus’ bodily resurrection. In essence, they said with one accord, “We saw him with our eyes, we touched him with our hands, and Jesus is alive. Kill us if you like, but we will not say otherwise.”

Is Jesus for real? A single eyewitness willing to die for his testimony is a compelling witness. Even more if a dozen people concur. Scripture records that at least 500 people witnessed the resurrected Christ,[102] and some significant number of them died for refusing to deny it. Was Jesus for real? Apparently they thought he was. And they were there.

So, in essence, what Coffey is saying is that it’s highly unlikely that even one person would take a lie to the point of excruciating torture and death. But twelve? Five hundred verifiable witnesses? It takes far more faith to believe that these disciples were lying about the resurrection than it does to believe that they weren’t.

Next time, I’ll add in N.T. Wright’s views on how this could not be the case, namely, that the disciples of Jesus were conspiring.

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8 Responses to “How to Respond to Those Who Say the Disciples Stole Jesus’ Body”

  1. NotAScientist October 4, 2011 at 8:19 AM #

    Um…the issue is more to do with the lack of evidence.

    Nothing is written about Jesus until, at the earliest, 10 years after he was supposed to have died. And at the point we only have writings from people who want us to believe he was god. So I don’t find his existence terribly convincing based on that, let alone any claims about his tomb.

  2. John Park October 4, 2011 at 8:40 AM #

    Hi NotAScientist,

    First of all, thanks for the comment! Secondly, however, Coffey addresses that very issue that you bring up in chapter six of the book. I would definitely recommend that book, as well as Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God, as both of them are more well-learned and articulate than I!

    I’m sure that their reasoning won’t persuade you, seeing that, from my perspective, you are coming from a strictly empiricist epistemology. However, I would recommend those books nonetheless!

    • NotAScientist October 4, 2011 at 8:46 AM #

      If you don’t mind my asking, how does he address it? If he has a reason I should believe supernatural claims based on written or anecdotal evidence, I’d certainly like to know it.

  3. John Park October 4, 2011 at 9:00 AM #

    Hey NotAScientist (Can you tell me your real name? It’s getting weird addressing you by NotAScientist, lol). But, again, I would refer you to those two books – not to dodge your question in a disingenuous way, but simply because I don’t want this little ol’ blog to be the forum for a long, drawn out debate. Sorry.

    If you don’t mind me asking, where do you live? If you’re somewhere in the Southern California area, I would be more than happy to sit down and meet you face to face and get to know you on a more personal level.

    • NotAScientist October 4, 2011 at 9:20 AM #

      You can call me James.

      And at the risk of being rude, you should know that asking to meet someone in person after having a few comments passed between you on a blog borders on the creepy.

  4. John Park October 4, 2011 at 9:53 AM #

    Hi James,

    Not rude at all. And, I guess, it can be interpreted as creepy! Haha. I apologize for that if you were offended (and creeped out). My only intention in that offer to meet was to talk about these serious issues on more personal basis.

    Past experience has shown that it becomes a much more fruitful discussion when the person we’re addressing isn’t just a mere caricature of a particular viewpoint, but that he or she is an actual person with real interests and real concerns and real hobbies, etc.

    With that said, the offer still stands. If not, then, hopefully, we can build enough rapport where that would be possible – and maybe even desirable!

    • NotAScientist October 4, 2011 at 9:57 AM #

      Not offended. Definitely creeped out. Though I imagine I would be more creeped out if I actually lived anywhere near Southern California. As I don’t, the creepiness is moderately abated.

      I think the best way to avoid caricature is to listen to the other person as closely as possible (or read them as closely as possible), and ask questions as opposed to making assumptions on their positions.

      Anyway, my original comment/question on the subject of the post still stands and I’d be willing to discuss it.

  5. John Park October 4, 2011 at 10:04 AM #

    Great to hear, James. Give me some time to get back to you on your original comment/question, as I’m currently swamped with schoolwork.

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