The tomb was empty.Unlike the other facts we have discussed, this one is not accepted by virtually all scholars. Nonetheless, there is powerful evidence for it, and about 75% of the scholars who study the subject accept it. Habermas and Licona lay out three sets of evidence. The first is what they call the Jerusalem factor. By this is meant that the preaching of the resurrection of Jesus took place immediately after the events in the same area where the events occurred. Those who desired to deny the claim of Jesus' resurrection--and there were many, both among the Jews and the Romans--needed only to provide a corpse, the verifiable proof that Jesus was still dead. There is no evidence that this was ever done. Habermas and Licona...
We certainly would expect to have heard from Celsus, the second-century critic of Christianity, if Jesus' corpse had been produced. When he wrote against Jesus' resurrection, it would have been to his advantage to include this damaging information, had it been available. In short, if a body of any sort was discovered in the tomb, the Christian message of an empty sepulcher would have been falsified. Anything but an empty tomb would have been devastating to the Resurrection account.A second set of evidence for the empty tomb is enemy attestation. Several independent sources attest to the fact that early critics of the Resurrection accused the disciples of stealing Jesus' body. If the body were still in the tomb, there would have been no need to account for its absence.
When the boy tells his teacher that the dog ate his homework, this is an indirect admission that his homework is unavailable for assessment. Likewise, the earliest Jewish claim reported regarding Jesus' resurrection was to accuse the disciples of stealing the body, an indirect admission that the body was unavailable for public display. This is the only early opposing theory we know of that was offered by Jesus' enemies.A third set of evidence for the empty tomb is the testimony of women. In those days, women were seen as untrustworthy witnesses, and their testimony was not even admissible in legal cases. If the empty tomb story were fabricated by the early Christians, it would not serve their case--in such a culture--to have women as the first and most frequent witnesses to the fact. Yet all four gospel accounts have it that way, and two gospels never have men at the empty tomb. The best explanation for this quirk in the accounts is that this is what actually occurred, that the gospels record no more nor less than what truly happened.
For all these reasons,
The empty tomb is, therefore, well evidenced for historical certainty. Former Oxford University church historian William Wand writes, "All the strictly historical evidence we have is in favor of [the empty tomb], and those scholars who reject it ought to recognize that they do so on some other ground than that of scientific history." (Wand, 1972, Christianity: A Historical Religion?)So we have five historical facts, each supported by multiple independent attestations and each accepted by most scholars who study the issue (and the first four facts by virtually all such scholars). Together, these facts provide powerful support for the bodily resurrection of Jesus. And--here's the main point of the 'minimal facts' argument--any alternate theory must adequately account for each and all of these. And, as the remaining chapters of Habermas and Licona's book demonstrates, they do not. No explanation yet produced accounts for these five historical facts as does the Christian one--that Jesus really did rise from the dead. And the implications are rather obvious:
If the tomb was empty because Jesus rose from the dead, then God exists and eternal life is both possible and available.Good news indeed, even 2,000 years later.
(All quotes from Habermas and Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus)