The basic tenets of the Christian faith have been skeptically criticized by unbelievers for centuries. The belief that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead by the power of God three days after being executed via crucifixion by the Roman government is no exception.
It is undeniable that for two thousand years a sizable portion of the human populace has believed that the carpenter from Nazareth came back to life. This belief is how the Christian religion started. According to the New Testament record (as well as the Roman historian Tacitus, who described Christianity as “a most mischievous superstition” which was “thus checked for the moment” by the execution of Christ but “again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome…” [Annals 44.3]), Christ was first proclaimed by his apostles as risen from the dead on the Jewish holy day of Pentecost not only after his execution, resulting in several thousand believing the claims of the apostles with that number continually rising, in spite of persecution, in the years to come.
Did the resurrection of Christ actually happen? It’s clear the apostles believed it did. But are there better explanations for what they believed to have happened?
For example, did the women who first came to the empty tomb simply go the wrong tomb?
The gospel accounts record that several women, associates of Jesus, came to his tomb early on that Sunday morning to look at his grave and anoint his corpse with prepared spices and perfumes which they had previously prepared. Upon arriving at the tomb, they did not find the body of Jesus. According to the gospel accounts, they instead found two angels who told them to tell Jesus’ disciples that he had risen from the dead. Starting first with Mary Magdalene, the women then encountered Jesus who gave them the same instructions (Matt. 28; Mk. 16:1ff; Lk. 24:1ff; John 20:1ff).
Did the women actually go to the wrong tomb, find it empty, assume Jesus had risen from the dead, and then either hallucinate or make up their encounters with the angels and Jesus himself and tell those stories to the disciples? Or did the women go to the wrong tomb, find it empty, and tell the disciples that Jesus’ tomb was empty, resulting in the disciples deciding to fabricate the story of Jesus’ resurrection?
No, for a couple of reasons.
First, the fact remains that the women going to the WRONG tomb means that the RIGHT tomb was still sealed and guarded by Roman soldiers…with Jesus’ body still inside of it. That means that once the apostles started preaching about the resurrection, all that needed to be done by the Jewish opponents of Christianity to permanently silence the fledgling religion before it could even leave the launch pad was to go to the right tomb and produce the body of Jesus. That didn’t happen.
Secondly, the gospel accounts record that the women had been to the tomb before (Matt. 27:61; Mk. 15:47; Lk. 23:55). Therefore, they would have known which tomb contained the body of Jesus and would have traveled to the right tomb on that Sunday morning.
Thus, one cannot disprove the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth by claiming that the women had gone to the wrong tomb.