It probably didn't take you much time to figure out that the newsworthy story I mentioned in the introduction to this section of my site was that the "tomb of Jesus and his family has been discovered in the region around Jerusalem". The Discovery Channel plans to air the documentary, entitled "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" and produced by the academy award-winning director James Cameron, on March 4th, 2007. If Cameron's claims are true, what exactly does this mean for Christians? Please take a few moments of your time to determine the answer to this question. (I've based this review on the information the Discovery Channel has published to its website. Click on this link to read about The Lost Tomb of Jesus for yourself.) As in many of my studies, I'll ask and answer a series of questions as we examine this important issue.
Question 1: What does James Cameron claim has been found? In 1980, in the region around Jerusalem, a tomb containing ten ossuaries was found. Six of the ossuaries bore an inscription that related to one of the gospels. In this documentary, "a case is made that the 2,000-year-old 'Tomb of the Ten Ossuaries' belonged to the family of Jesus of Nazareth." Two primary lines of evidence are used to support this claim: statistical analysis of the inscriptions found on six of the ossuaries, and DNA extraction of human remains found in two of the ossuaries. With regards to the statistical analysis, "A statistical study commissioned by the broadcasters (Discovery Channel/Vision Canada/C4 UK) concludes that the probability factor is 600 to 1 in favor of this tomb being the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family." Attention was drawn to these particular ossuaries because 6 of the 10 were inscribed while generally only 2 of 10 ossuaries found in Israel demonstrate inscriptions. The following statement is made regarding the DNA extraction: "The film also documents DNA extraction from human residue found in two of the ossuaries and reveals new evidence that throws light on Jesus' relationship with Mary Magdalene." The website describes how Cameron plans to illustrate this find to the world: "The documentary includes dramatic recreations, based on the latest historical evidence, illustrating accurate images of Jesus of Nazareth, his family, his followers, his ministry, his crucifixion and his entombment." The website includes a "Theological Considerations" page. The final paragraph of this section includes the following statements: "It is also a matter of Christian faith that after his resurrection, Jesus ascended to heaven. Some Christians believe that this was a spiritual ascension, i.e., his mortal remains were left behind. Other Christians believe that he ascended with his body to heaven. If Jesus’ mortal remains have been found, this would contradict the idea of a physical ascension but not the idea of a spiritual ascension. The latter is consistent with Christian theology." This section of the website also includes the following statement: "In the Gospel of Matthew (28:12) it states that a rumor was circulating in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. This story holds that Jesus' body was moved by his disciples from the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, where he was temporarily buried. Ostensibly, his remains were taken to a permanent family tomb. Though Matthew calls this rumor a lie circulated by the high priests, it appears in his Gospel as one of the stories surrounding Jesus’ disappearance from the initial tomb where he was buried."
Question 2: Does God exist? We need to start our analysis of this claim by again answering the most basic of questions, "Does God exist?" If Jesus was resurrected from the dead it was a supernatural event and therefore required supernatural power. There are many lines of evidence proving the existence of God. I've published them elsewhere on this site. Follow this link to study them in more detail. As part of this analysis I'd like to reiterate one of the most simple, yet most powerful, proofs for His existence, the so-called "Teleological Argument".
Our everyday experiences prove to us that something does not come from nothing. If you're wearing a wristwatch, look at it for a moment. Imagine someone told you that your wristwatch spontaneously appeared from nothing. After gathering yourself you simply state that you know some human being designed and assembled your watch. The one challenging you says, "But you've never seen the person who made your watch! How do you know someone did make it?" Such a question is not deserving of an answer. There is not a shred of evidence to even suggest that a wristwatch appears from nothing. On the other hand the evidence for a human origin of your watch cannot be successfully overcome. Every watch worn by man since the invention of watches was designed and assembled by a human being. Anyone who claims otherwise is dismissed as simply argumentative or suspected to be of such a mental state that they are incapable of logical reasoning. The same is true of televisions, radios, automobiles, houses, and thousands of other items we use every day. We never question the origin of these things, even though we've never personally met the builder and witnessed their assembly of them.
One does not need to undertake a detailed examination of the world around us to see clear evidence of design. Understanding the laws of physics allows astronomers to predict the dates that Halley's comet will reappear. Meteorologists know when the tides will be high and when they will be low because of the design of the universe around us. I could give several more examples, and I'm sure you can think of others that I might not think of. The point is this: the existence of the universe and the design so clearly seen in it proves the existence of God, the maker and designer of the universe. It is not logical or reasonable for us to reach any other conclusion. We certainly wouldn't if we were challenged about the spontaneous origin of our wristwatches, so why would we if we were challenged about the spontaneous origin of the universe? The universe is certainly much more complex in its design than is anything made by man.
Answer to question 2: Yes, God does exist.
Question 3: Is the Bible from God? The producers of the documentary quote Matthew 28:12 to support their position that Jesus' body may have been moved from one tomb to another shortly after His death. I've quoted numerous passages from the Bible to prove that God exists. Is this book of divine origin? This is an extremely important question. If it is from God, then it carries a weight of authority that it lacks if it is of purely human origin.
The same evidence proving the existence of God also proves the Bible is from God. Please follow the link in the first paragraph of question 2 if you wish to review this evidence. Jesus states that the entire word of God is true (John 17:17), and Paul declares that it is impossible for God to lie (Titus 1:2). Therefore the entire word of God must be true.
Answer to question 3: Yes, the Bible is from God and is true from cover to cover.
Question 4: What does the Bible say about Jesus' resurrection? We now know that God does exist, the Bible is His word, and the Bible is entirely true. So whatever it says about Jesus’ resurrection must be true. As I mentioned earlier, if Jesus was resurrected from the dead it was a supernatural event and therefore would require supernatural power. Since God does exist the supernatural power required to resurrect Jesus from the dead also exists. Therefore, it is possible that God used His supernatural power and raised Jesus from the dead. Did God raise Him or not? If He did, was it a spiritual resurrection only, or was His physical body also brought back to life?
The fact that Jesus both lived and died is not in question. Since the documentary was made to record a tomb that may have belonged to Jesus and His family, it acknowledges that Jesus truly lived and died. At issue is what happened after His death. What does the Bible say?
After Jesus died on the cross a man named Joseph of Arimathaea, whom the Bible calls a disciple of Jesus (Matthew 27:57), asked Pilate for His body. He was given permission to take the body, which he prepared for burial (Matthew 27:58-59) and laid in a new tomb, in which no man had before been laid (Luke 23:53). The day after His burial the chief priests and Pharisees went to Pilate, asking him to secure the tomb (Matthew 27:64). The Bible tells us why they made this request: they knew that Jesus had said that He'd rise from the dead on the third day after His death, and they wanted to make sure His disciples couldn't plunder the tomb, steal the body and falsely claim that He'd risen (Matthew 27:63-64). Things had been bad for the leaders of the Jews while Jesus was alive (John 11:47-48). If He really did rise from the dead they knew it would be much worse (Matthew 27:64). Pilate consented and the tomb was sealed and a guard was assigned (Matthew 27:65-66).
Early on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome came to the tomb, bringing with them spices with which to anoint Jesus' body (Mark 16:1). They knew where to go, because two days earlier they saw the sepulchre and how His body was laid within it (Luke 23:55). On the way they wondered who would roll away the stone from the tomb, which the Bible says was "very great" (Mark 16:3-4). Suddenly a great earthquake occurred as an angel descended from heaven and rolled away the stone (Matthew 28:2). The watchmen who were guarding the tomb saw the angel and, for fear, began to shake and became as "dead men" (Matthew 28:4). The women went into the tomb and found that Jesus' body was gone (Luke 24:3-4). As they stood there wondering what happened to His body two men in shining garments stood by them (Luke 24:4). The men told them that Jesus had risen from the dead, just as He said He would (Luke 24:6-7). They remembered His words, left the sepulchre and told these things to the eleven and the rest (Luke 24:8-9).
The Bible makes it clear that the disciples didn't understand (or believe) that Jesus would rise from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion. When the women told the apostles what they'd seen and heard, their words "seemed unto them as idle tales, and they believed them not." (Luke 24:10-11) When Peter and John came to the tomb and looked in, the Bible says that they "knew not the scripture, that He must rise again from the dead." (John 20:9) Jesus appeared (in another form) to two of His disciples, who then told the rest that they had seen the Lord, but they didn't believe them (Mark 16:12-13). After Jesus had appeared to ten of the eleven apostles they told the one who was absent (Thomas) that they had seen the Lord. Thomas' reply: "Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe." (John 20:24-25)
Seemingly unlike Jesus' disciples, the chief priests and Pharisees knew what Jesus had said while He was alive. They came to Pilate and said, "Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again." (Matthew 27:62-63) As was mentioned earlier, they asked Pilate to seal the tomb and set a watch to guard the tomb against thieves who might want to steal Jesus' body and claim that He'd risen from the dead. The guards who were assigned to watch His tomb felt the earthquake and witnessed the angel descending from heaven, rolling away the stone. They trembled from fear and fainted. After they revived, some of the watch went into the city and told the chief priests all the things that had happened (Matthew 28:11). The elders discussed among themselves what to do next. They decided to offer "large money" to the guards in exchange for a lie: they were to tell anyone who may ask "His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept." It wouldn't have been a good thing for the guards to be sleeping on duty, so the elders agreed to protect them if the governor heard about this. The guards took their bribe and their protection and told the story that the disciples of Jesus had stolen his body while they slept. The Bible says that "this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day." (Matthew 28:12-15)
The Bible also makes it very clear that Jesus' physical body was raised from the dead. This wasn't just a "spiritual resurrection", as some believe and teach. When the women and the apostles came to the tomb it was empty. Jesus appeared to ten of the eleven apostles, who were frightened, thinking they had seen a ghost. Jesus said to them, "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have." (Luke 24:36-39) When Thomas was told by the other apostles that they had seen Jesus, he said "Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe." (John 20:25). Eight days later, Jesus appeared unto the apostles a second time. Thomas was with them. Jesus said to him, "Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing." Thomas replied, "My Lord and my God." (John 20:26-27) After Jesus had completed His final instructions to His apostles the Bible says that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven, after which the apostles worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy (Luke 24:51-52). The teaching that Jesus’ lifeless body was left on earth after it was resurrected directly contradicts scripture. The Bible says that Jesus died once (Romans 6:10). If His spirit returned to heaven without His body, He died twice.
As we've seen, the Bible has much to say about Jesus' resurrection. He was laid in a new tomb which had never before been used. The location of the tomb and the fact His body was laid within it was known by His disciples as well as unbelievers. Steps were taken to secure His tomb from thieves. The guards who were assigned "tomb duty" saw the angel descend from heaven and roll away the stone. The people closest to Him during His life on earth, and those who would be most likely to steal His body in an attempt to deceive the masses, came to the tomb given to Him by Joseph of Arimathaea to anoint His body and to see what had happened when they were told it was empty. They were surprised and perplexed when they found it empty. This isn't the reaction we'd see from a group who had stolen His body and moved it someplace else. Some of those closest to Him didn't believe He'd been resurrected until they saw the actual nail prints in His hands and wound in His side. Finally, the apostles worshipped Him and rejoiced when He was carried away into heaven. They'd mourned when His lifeless body was taken off the cross. If His lifeless body was left on earth some 40 days later they'd have mourned again. They rejoiced because His lifeless body wasn't left on earth: His spirit and His body was carried into heaven to sit at the right side of His Father (Acts 2:34-35). The chief priests and Pharisees knew He'd been resurrected from the dead, but they didn't want to lose their position in society. Therefore, they convinced the guards to lie about what they'd seen. This lie continues to be reported even today, as we see in the documentary produced by Mr. Cameron.
Question 5: The documentary claims that there is a 1 in 600 chance that this isn't Jesus' tomb. Those seem like pretty good odds, don't they? Let's think about common everyday events as we consider this question. The website Ask a Scientist reports that the probability of someone being struck by lightning is 1 in 600,000. This means that the tomb in question is one thousand times more likely to not be that of Jesus than is the chance you'll be struck by lightning! In the U.S. alone, between 75 and 150 people are killed with 5 to 30 times that many injured each year by lightning. We all realize that the risk of being struck by lightning is real, and take the appropriate precautions when a thunderstorm approaches. We must be much more wary when we hear that there's a 600:1 probability that Jesus' tomb has been found, a claim that is 1,000 times more likely to be wrong than the chance of you being struck by lightning.
While we're thinking about statistics, what is the likelihood that Jesus is not the Son of God? Let's imagine for a moment that you, simply by chance, fulfill sixteen specific Old Testament prophecies. By chance I mean that there was no plan or intent for you to fulfill these prophecies. Just by living your life you fulfill them. A mathematician named Peter Stoner has calculated the likelihood of such an event as being one in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. This is the likelihood that just sixteen prophecies would be fulfilled by chance. Jesus, during his lifetime on earth, fulfilled more than 300 Old Testament prophecies! If the likelihood that one person, by chance, would fulfill sixteen is the number 1 followed by 45 zeros, what must the number be for 300 prophecies fulfilled by chance? It's inconceivable! The author closes his book with this statement: "Any man who rejects Christ as the Son of God is rejecting a fact proved perhaps more absolutely than any other fact in the world." That is certainly true.
What statistics are you going to believe? The chance that a tomb found outside Jerusalem belonged to Jesus "and his family", which is 1,000 times more likely to be wrong than the chance you'll be struck by lightning, or the fact that Jesus is the Son of God, a fact perhaps proved more absolutely than any fact in history?
Question 6: But they found DNA. Won't that prove this is Jesus' tomb? DNA is a complex molecule found in the nucleus of cells. It's a "double helix", which simply means that two copies of the DNA molecule are twisted together in such a way that, despite it's great length, it fits neatly into the cell's microscopic nucleus. The chromosomes in the nucleus are made up of DNA. Each chromosome is made up of thousands of genes, and the genes serve as patterns our cells use to make proteins.
Each of us inherited one DNA copy from our father and one from our mother. Due to amazing events that happen after conception the DNA of children from the same parents is not the same. Everyone's DNA is unique. Recently scientists have developed tools that can be used to identify these unique features, allowing them with great precision to match a DNA sample with the person from which it came.
However, there are limitations to the power of DNA to accurately identify an individual. Remember, everyone inherited one DNA copy from their father and a second one from their mother. If the father of a child is unknown the scientist must have a DNA sample from the child, the man suspected as being the father, and the mother. If the man's DNA and the woman's DNA is found in the child's sample that man and woman are proven to be the parents. However, if the woman's DNA is found but not the man's, the father is still unknown. The parentage of a child cannot be fully known without three DNA samples from three different individuals.
DNA is also used to identify perpetrators of crime and victims of crime or disaster. It can be very useful in these situations. However, it is not possible to identify an individual by simply finding and analyzing a sample of DNA. The sample must be compared with the DNA taken from a known person. If the DNA found at a crime scene matches the DNA of a person suspected of committing the crime, that person may well be guilty. If all the crime lab has is a DNA specimen found at the crime scene but no specimen taken from the suspect, it won't be possible for the lab to identify the criminal.
Now let's think about what was found in the tomb. When they examined the ten ossuaries, DNA material was found in only two of them. Based on the inscriptions found on the ossuaries the investigators suspected the tomb might be that of Jesus and His family. Is it possible for them to prove that suspicion by analyzing the DNA material they found? Let's make Jesus the central figure in this investigation. Mr. Cameron claims there is a 600 to 1 probability that the tomb is that of Jesus and his family. From the scriptures we know Jesus had a human mother, brothers and sisters. Not having seen the television program yet, the implication is that the familial relationship being ascribed to Jesus is that of husband and father. If the DNA material from one ossuary is that of a child, and that from the second ossuary is one of his parents, it will not be possible to determine who is the second parent. If the parent in the second ossuary is the father, it will not be possible to determine that this DNA belonged to Jesus. In order to determine who is the father of a child one must have a sample of DNA from the child and from the father, and one must know what man donated the DNA specimen. Just having DNA from the body of a child and DNA from his father's body doesn't reveal who the man was. One must have some additional information in order to identify the man. In modern times an investigator might use a relative, friend or some known mark that identifies a specific man. No such source of information exists for identifying Jesus specifically.
It's not possible for DNA found in two ossuaries some 2,000 years old to be proven to belong to Jesus of Nazareth. If one DNA sample is from a child and the other from his father, it's not possible to know that Jesus was the father since it's impossible to know that the parent's DNA came from Jesus. If the two DNA samples belonged to husband and wife, it is impossible to know the husband was Jesus.
Question 7: But what about the rumor that Jesus' body was moved by His disciples? Isn't it possible that His body was moved to this tomb? Please take a moment and reconsider the passages we studied earlier. The chief priests and Pharisees knew that things would go from bad to worse if Jesus did not remain in His tomb. They didn't believe He'd truly rise from the dead. But, they were afraid His disciples would try to steal His body and make it look like He had. To prevent that from happening they sealed the tomb and posted guards at its entrance. These same guards witnessed His resurrection, and were paid off by the Jewish leaders to spread the lie that His disciples had stolen His body. That lie was commonly spoken among the Jews then, and continues to be spread today.
Let's consider a couple of other lies that are recorded in the Bible. If someone is going to say it is possible that Jesus' body was stolen by His disciples because of the lie spoken by the guards, then it must be possible for these lies to be true as well.
Cain and Abel were brothers, the sons of Adam and Eve. Cain was a tiller of the ground, and Abel tended sheep. One day they each offered a sacrifice to God. Cain offered fruit of the ground he tilled, and Abel offered of the best of his flocks. God accepted Abel's sacrifice but rejected Cain's. Cain's anger was kindled against Abel. One day they were both in the field, and Cain killed Abel. The Lord came to Cain and said, "Where is Abel thy brother?" Cain replied: "I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4:1-9) Did Cain really not know where Abel was? Absolutely not! It was a lie! But, if we are going to say that it's possible Jesus' body was stolen because the guards said so we must also believe it was possible that Cain didn't know where Abel was. I don't know that you'll find any serious student of the Bible that would state that Cain didn't know where Abel was.
While Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the law from God the people of Israel sinned a great sin. They told Aaron to make gods for them, since they didn't know what had happened to Moses. Aaron took their gold, melted it down, and fashioned a golden calf from it. When Moses descended from Sinai he heard the revelry in the Israelite camp. He saw the golden calf and angrily asked Aaron where it came from. Aaron replied, "Let not the anger of my lord wax hot: thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief. For they said unto me, Make us gods, which shall go before us: for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. And I said unto them, Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf." (Exodus 32:1-24) Does any reasonable person really believe that Aaron just threw the gold into the cauldron and a golden calf jumped out? No. But, if we are going to believe the lie spoken by the guards then it must be possible that Aaron's claim was true.
Answer to question 7: No, it's not possible. Jesus' body left His tomb alive, not in the arms of His disciples as it was moved to another tomb.
In the days of Paul the Apostle, people were teaching that Jesus was not raised from the dead. Paul clearly outlines the pitiful and hopeless state of mankind if that were true: "Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19) We must have faith that Jesus was raised from the dead. However, our faith is based on provable fact, not on wishful thinking. John tells us that the things he wrote were written so that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:31). The scientific evidence, historical accuracy, unity of the writers and fulfilled prophecies all prove that the Bible is the word of God. Jesus tells us that the word of God is true, which must mean that there is nothing within it that is untrue. When the Bible tells us that Jesus was raised from the dead, He was truly raised from the dead. As the writer of Hebrew correctly says we are truly compassed about with a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1). Jesus' resurrection didn't happen in some secret corner somewhere. His risen body was seen, heard and touched by those who lived during His day (1 John 1:1). Those eyewitnesses who saw and heard these things declared them unto us through their inspired writings (1 John 1:3; Ephesians 3:5; 2 Peter 1:20-21).
I pray this study has been useful to you. Please feel
free to write to me should you have any questions about anything in this study.
I'm happy to answer them to the best of my ability. Thank you for taking
your time to study the scriptures with me.