Today I am answering question number 2 as written in the original post. The first part is considering reasons we can be certain that Jesus did in fact die and then that the tomb was found empty. The second half is regarding the tomb being empty and how that sets us up for the resurrection, but does not prove it.
So first, what works testify to Jesus’ death, and specifically, death by crucifixion?
Works that Testify to Jesus’ death
which is debated to have occurred between A.D. 25 to 35:
1. The Gospel of Matthew – dated A.D. 50 to 75
2. The Gospel of Mark – dated A.D. 65-70 (this is typically considered the first gospel that was in circulation)
3. The Gospel of Luke – dated A.D. 59 to 75
4. The Gospel of John – dated A.D. 85 to 120
Remember: we are not considering whether these works are inspired or not. We are simply using each book as a separate writing (which is the way they started).
1. Josephus – Anitquities of the Jews, 18.64., completed around A.D. 93 – “And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross,” – Josephus dates this to A.D. 33,
2. Tacitus – Annals 15.44 – completed around A.D. 109) – “…called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus…”
3. Lucian of Samosata (Greek satirist)– The Death of Peregrine – Lucian lived from A.D. 120 to 180 – “The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day,–the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account.”
So at this point we have four works written within 30 plus years of the event itself, one within 60 years, and two more from the early to mid second century. Take them independently and you have a total of 7 historical writings that identify Jesus as being crucified (with Tacitus referring to it as “the extreme penalty”).
It is worth noting that the writing of Josephus is said to have been edited in later centuries and that parts of it are not him at all. However, there is enough evidence presence to claim partial accuracy here. If you want more details to back-up my use of this writing then go to here.
The Empty Tomb: How can we be confident it was empty & what does this mean for the case of the resurrection?
3 Reasons: it happened in Jerusalem, it was attested to by Jesus’ enemies, and women were the initial eye-witnesses.
There is a counter argument to Jesus’ resurrection that basically says if Jesus rose from the dead or the dead were walking about the streets of Jerusalem then this would have sparked some mention in other works written during that time frame. It should be noted the reverse of this argument can also be used to prove that the tomb was empty. First, in all four of the gospels and in the other New Testament epistles there is never a mention of “some claimed the tomb was not empty but we know it was because…”. This means that nobody, enemy or friend of the Jesus movement, ever proved the story false. If the tomb was empty then the leading authorities and religious leaders could have easily gone to the tomb and brought out the body of Jesus to kill the claim. Or they could have gone to the tomb and found out for themselves and then told everyone. The original movement began in Jerusalem where the event is claimed to have taken place. If it was a hoax then everyone would have known about it and been able to see it for themselves.
Secondly, Jesus’ enemies attested to the empty tomb indirectly. Instead of pointing to a tomb that was occupied the critics attacked them using arguments explaining why the tomb was empty. Why would they argue this if there was indeed a body in the tomb? These are the works: Matthew 28:12-13, Justin Martyr in Tyrpho 108; Tertullian in De Spectaculis 30; Gaius Suetonius, The Twelve Ceasers, Augustus 44; Luke 24:11.
Lastly, that the first people who saw the empty tomb were women is a huge point. All four gospels state that the women were the first to the tomb. To quote from The Case for the Resurrection, “this would be an odd invention, since in both Jewish and Roman cultures, woman were lowly esteemed and their testimony was regarded as questionable, certainly not as credible as a man’s.” Trust me that there is evidence for this or check it out from the books themselves: Talmud, Sotah 19a; Talmud, Kiddushin 82b; Josephus, Antiquities 4.8.15; and Talmud, Rosh Hashannah 1.8. So with the disciples being Jews it does not make sense that if they wanted to build credibility for the empty tomb that they would create a story that used women as the eye witnesses.
So what does this mean for the resurrection?
The empty tomb by itself proves nothing. However, when coupled with the testimony of the disciples that Jesus is alive it means a great deal. It is further evidence to support their claims.
The main source for these posts comes from:
Habermas, Gary R., and Michael R. Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2004.