The Burial and Empty Tomb of Jesus


Instead of trying to wax eloquent about my understanding of the empty tomb, here is Craig Evans contextualizing the scene.

So if the body of Jesus received proper burial late Friday afternoon, why did women visit his tomb early Sunday morning? The Gospels tell that the women brought spices with them (Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1). They did this because of the Jewish custom of visiting the tomb of the recently deceased every day for one week (Josephus, Ant. 17.200; Semahot 12.1; cf. Gen 50:10; 1 Sam 31:13). This was primary burial, or the first funeral, as it were. The spices and perfume helped mask the unpleasant odor of the decomposing corpse. One year later, as prescribed by Jewish custom (b. Qiddushin 31b), family members gathered up the skeletal remains and placed them in a niche, or in an ossuary (m. Sanh. 6:6; Semahot 12.9). In the case of one executed, the remains were collected from the burial place of shame and placed in the family tomb or other place of honor (m. Sanh. 6:5–6; Semahot 13.7). The belief was that after one year of death, and the consequent wasting away of the flesh, removed the stain of guilt.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, the tomb of Jesus was sealed, which made it clear that his body could not be removed and placed elsewhere. The famous Nazareth burial inscription (SEG VIII 13) is probably relevant here. Tampering with tombs was a serious offence. If such happens, Caesar orders that charges be laid. However, visiting the tomb of an executed criminal and weeping quietly were permitted (m. Sanh. 6:6). This is what the women plan to do, so they wonder who will assist them in moving aside the heavy stone (Mark 16:3), that they might enter the tomb, anoint the body of Jesus, and silently pray and grieve.

As it turns out, all of their preparations and plans were thrown to the wind. When they arrive at the place of burial, they find that the stone has been rolled aside and there is no body of Jesus to be anointed. There will be no one week of private, quiet mourning. What has happened? It is probable that they assumed that the body of Jesus had been removed by the Jewish authorities, perhaps on the grounds that the body should have been placed in tomb previously used and designated for the burial of the executed. Perhaps the kindness of Joseph of Arimathea in making his not-yet-used tomb available for Jesus had been overriden by the high priest. It is not likely that the first thing that popped into the minds of the women was resurrection.

What persuaded the women, and soon after several of the male disciples, that Jesus had in fact been raised from the dead was not the empty tomb but actual appearances of Jesus to them. The appearances demonstrated that Jesus still lived; the empty tomb made it possible to speak of resurrection and not merely ghostly apparitions. After all, according to the Jewish understand, resurrection was the raising up of the dead from their dusty graves (as in Isa 26:19; Dan 12:2).

The appearances of Jesus, not only to disciples, supporters, and friends, but also to the indifferent and hostile, offer strong evidence that he had in fact been raised from the dead, that the Easter proclamation was not a hoax or silly urban legend. The resurrection of Jesus, which includes the story of his death and burial, is consistent with all known evidence and makes very good sense of the narratives that the four New Testament Gospels give us. It is therefore important to become familiar with the relevant background archaeology and literature.

Resources for Reply

Prof. James Anderson has conveniently listed his writings that help Christians “give reply” for the reason they hope in Christ’s work. “Apologetics” is a funny name to give to the study of defending the faith but initially, in the first Christian century, the use of that Greek word meant: “to give answer,” or “reply.” Some methods are better than others and by studying God’s word we will be  more competent. The calling, convincing, and saving of sinners is an act of God where He ordains the means as well. As Christians we are to disciple all nations until the full number of the Gentiles are brought into the fold. 

One criticism of presuppositional apologetics is that its advocates rarely if ever offer serious arguments for their distinctive claims (e.g., the claim that our ability to reason presupposes the existence of God). The criticism is overstated, but there is a measure of truth to it. I count myself a presuppositionalist, but I’ve been frustrated in the past by presuppositionalists who seem to imagine that declaring what Van Til’s “transcendental argument” purports to demonstrate is tantamount to actually making that demonstration. Simply asserting that “without God you can’t prove anything at all” or that “your very ability to reason presupposes the existence of God” does nothing whatsoever to explain why those weighty assertions should be believed. Likewise for the failure of non-Christians to answer questions asking them to account for their ability to reason, to know truths about the world, to make meaningful moral judgments, etc., in terms of their own worldviews. Questions cannot substitute for arguments, no matter how pointed those questions may be.

So it’s important for presuppositionalists to present arguments in support of their claims, and to ensure their critics are aware of those arguments so that they can be critically evaluated. In that spirit, I thought it would be useful to gather in one place my own presuppositional arguments, as well as my attempts to explain or reconstruct the arguments of other presuppositionalists:

In addition, my book Why Should I Believe Christianity? offers a broadly presuppositional (and evidential!) case for the biblical Christian worldview.

Indeed, He Wrote of Me (John 5:46)

“Do not suppose that I will accuse you before the Father. The one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have placed your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, because he wrote about me. But if you do not believe what Moses wrote, how will you believe my words?” (NET)


For the longest time the clause: Indeed, he wrote of Me at the end of verse 46 of John 5, I, like most other readers I consulted, believed the writing referred to the prophecies of Christ’s coming in predictive form such as Balaam’s oracles: “A Star  out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel.”  However, looking at the wording of Heb. 10. 5-10, another more pervasive, albeit implicit reference is indicated.

The key verse in my contention is Heb.10:7 – Then I said, ‘Here I am: I have come—it is written of me in the scroll of the book—to do your will, O God.’ This clause connects well with the claim in John’s Gospel of Moses writing about Jesus since the content spoken about in Hebrews 10.5-10 is solely written by Moses (sacrificial system) while predictive prophecies of Christ’s advent in Moses’ writings are far rarer.

A note about the Law of Moses at this juncture is appropriate since Christians, along with society in general today, are removed both in thought and practice of animal sacrifices. First, Num. 3.10 indicates that only Aaron and his sons are to serve as priests. This is why Jesus could say in Mk. 2.26: “When Abiathar was High Priest.” Narrowly (and falsely), Abimelech was High Priest and Abiathar was a son among many other of Abimelech’s sons. Additionally, some may say that these sons of Aaron in Num. 3.10 refer to his sons after he (Aaron) has died. According to several biblical sections, the living sons of Aaron seemed to perform the High Priestly work while Aaron was living. Therefore, it seems best to regard all of The High Priest’s sons as alternate High Priests. This reality seems implicit since any number of reasons could occur to render the father either unclean or possibly ill and so, a son could stand in the father’s stead to perform the yearly entrance into the most holy place on Yom Kippur. The succession of the priesthood would be the firstborn son with the other sons then relegated to other priestly duties but not as alternates which would then be inherited by the new High Priest’s sons.

The rationale of animal sacrifices is the substitution of an innocent victim in the stead of the sinner. Most Christians who I know regard the institution of these sacrifices at the Fall of Humanity in Eden. The covering of the guilty pair required animal skins, hence a sacrifice. The Mosaic Law of sacrifices greatly expanded and codified the observances to further reflect The Redeemer. So, when thinking about the “Law of Moses,” it is primarily about the law of sacrifices instead of the laws of human regulations like the Ten Commandments. The Law of Moses included both of these observances.

Returning to our text, John 5: 45-47, this section seems a discrete ‘sense unit’ where the flow is closely related in the narrative. Jesus presents His purpose in a partially veiled way: He did not come to condemn the world but to save it as He said elsewhere. The false hope of Moses’ “regulations keeping” such as the punctilious Sabbath observance by the Pharisees while they plotted murder in their heart, is what will condemn them in the end. The reason is clear: no one has or is able to keep the Mosaic regulations flawlessly except Jesus.

This is where the prescribed sacrifices for purification from sin appear in the text as a remedy for failure to perform the regulations: The “sin offering” code involved putting one’s hands on the head of a prescribed animal and confessing the sin they committed. Then the substitute victim would be slaughtered and the blood ritually splashed on the exterior of the Bronze Altar. Also, once a year The Day of Atonement purified the observant worshipers for that previous year. Thus, the real blessings of the Mosaic code was not the performance of laws tediously kept, but the laws of the sacrifices, since they were shadows of the “the good things” to come in Christ.

Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach. Otherwise, would they not have ceased being offered, since the worshipers, cleansed once for all, would no longer have any consciousness of sin? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin year after year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’ (in the scroll of the book it is written of me).” When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Heb. 10.1-10 NRSV)



Nash Reviews Van Til

Douglas Douma reproduces Nash’s review in which he points out some items which seem ‘loose ends’ in the theology of Cornelius Van Til. Gordon Clark was the most prominent and bitterest rival to Van Til in formulating Christian thought. These two theologians’ thoughts organize into Presuppositional (Van Til) and Evidentiary (Clark) Apologetic stances.

No student of Christian theology and philosophy should regard his education as complete until he has carefully worked his way through at least one of Professor Van Til’s books. In this extension of his earlier Defense of the Faith, Van Til continues his attack on all systems of thought that exalt the autonomy of man at the expense of the sovereign God of the Scriptures. If God is sovereign, nothing can be above him (such as the law of logic) or can exist independently of him (such as “facts”). Human knowledge is impossible unless man’s knowledge is analogical of the divine knowledge, that is, unless man thinks God’s thoughts after him. Van Til’s purpose in this book is to show modern man the relevance of Christianity by demonstrating that only Christianity has the answer to the questions that modern thought seeks in vain.

The thesis of modern theology, philosophy, and science is that “nothing can be said conceptually about a God who is above what Kant calls the world of phenomena, the world of experience.” But, Van Til counters, if the God of Christian theism does not exist (or cannot be known), then Chance is ultimate. And if Chance is ultimate, then nothing (neither words, nor thoughts, nor events) can have any meaning. But if nothing has meaning, it is impossible to deny (or affirm) the existence of God or anything else. The effort to eliminate God turns out to be self-defeating. “If Christian theism is not true, then nothing is true…. So far as modern thought is not based upon the presupposition of the truth of Christianity it is lost in utter darkness. Christianity is the only alternative to chaos.” The “death of God” is simply the inevitable result of the elevation of autonomous man over God. It is what we should have expected all along.

The foundation of all non-Christian thought is the presupposition of human autonomy. Van Til is especially hard on non-Reformed Christians who try to support their faith by appeals to logic, to “facts,” or to probability. If God is sovereign, neither he nor his Word can be compromised by such appeals. Van Til also attacks (correctly, I think) the modern dialectical approach to Scriptures, which prides itself on its “dialogue” with modern man. The dialogue is spurious, Van Til contends, because the Christ presented by dialectical theology is a Christ that no one can know.

While Van Til devotes space to several of his critics (Floyd Hamilton and J. Oliver Buswell, Jr.), his book does not contain one reference to the man who over the years has offered the most serious objections to his position. I am referring to Van Til’s “fellow Calvinist,” Gordon Clark of Butler University. Clark continues to be concerned over the qualitative difference that exists in Van Til’s system between the divine and human knowledge. According to Van Til, God’s knowledge and man’s do not (and cannot) coincide at a single point, from which it follows that no proposition can mean the same thing to God and man. Clark’s contention is then that Van Til’s view leads to skepticism, because if God knows all truth and man’s “knowledge” does not coincide with what God knows at a single point, then man does not possess knowledge. Until Van Til answers this objection, I must agree with Clark.

I have several objections of my own, also. All Van Til’s conclusions are supposed to follow from the principles set forth in his first three chapters, but it is exactly at this point that his argument is weakest. Take, for example, his defense of the Scriptures. Like Van Til, I believe in the authority and the inspiration of the Bible. But so far as the ultimate validity of his system is concerned, everything depends on Van Til’s ability to defend the authority of the Scriptures without making any appeal to logic or to “facts.” He argues then that the authority of the Scriptures is self-attesting.

As I see it, a self-attesting truth is one that cannot be questioned. A good example of a self-attesting truth would be an analytic statement like “All bachelors are unmarried man.” No evidence can be offered that could throw the truth of this statement into questions; no evidence is even needed to support its truth. But in the case of the Scriptures, even Van Til admits that there are problems. He does not think the problems are sufficient to undermine the authority of the Bible, but the important thing here is his recognition that problems do exist. I fail to understand how a system of truth that faces problems which even Van Til admits may never be fully resolved (see page 35) can be self-attesting.

A second problem concerns Van Til’s peculiar understanding of the term fact. It is impossible, he argues, to separate a fact from its ultimate interpretation, which means God’s interpretation. I am willing to grant this, but how is a sincere disciple of Van Til supposed to know when his facts are God-interpreted? When they are consistent with the Scriptures? Hardly, for the Bible says nothing about most of the facts in question. When our interpretation coincides with God’s? Hardly, for we must never forget that there is no point of identity between the divine and human knowledge. I content then that Van Til’s use of “facts” is vacuous, since there is no way for man to know when his facts are God-interpreted.

Finally, I am most uncomfortable in the presence of Van Til’s treatment of logic, which he derides as a test of truth. Yet at the same time, he warns that we must not take the biblical teaching about both divine sovereignty and human responsibility as a contradiction. In fact, he admits on the bottom of page 38 that the presence of a logical contradiction in the Bible would be evidence against the Bible’s claim to be the Word of God. For the life of me, I cannot understand this vacillating use of logic. It looks very much as if Van Til introduces logic when it is convenient and ushers it out the back door when it is no longer needed.

I believe these problems are serious. But I do not think they detract from the importance of this book or from Van Til’s stature as one of the most important and original Christian apologists of this century.