According to John Robinson of Cambridge University: “the [Burial is] earliest and best-attested facts about Jesus” (1). That Jesus was buried is conceded by atheist writer Jeffrey Lowder who notes that “the burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea has a high final probability” (2). Raymond Brown, a once prominent specialist in New Testament studies, writes that “Jesus’ burial by Joseph is “very probable,” since it is “almost inexplicable” why Christians would make up a story about a Jewish Sanhedrist who does what is right by Jesus” (3). Historian and philosopher Gary Habermas, having reviewed some 3400 articles relevant to this subject, describes his efforts:
“My bibliography is presently at about 3400 sources and counting, published originally in French, German, or English. Initially I read and catalogued the majority of these publications, charting the representative authors, positions, topics, and so on, concentrating on both well-known and obscure writers alike, across the entire skeptical to liberal to conservative spectrum” (4).
According to this analysis the empty tomb is accepted by approximately 67 to 75% of the scholars in the field. Habermas argues that there are “23 reasons that favor the historicity of the empty tomb” (5).
At least five independent sources attest to the burial with these being the pre-Markan Passion, M (Matthew’s unique material), the Gospel of John, Acts, and Paul. The burial is also part of an early sermon in Acts 2:29 as an indirect reference. We thus have early attestation to the burial in Paul’s creed (1 Cor. 15:1-11), pre-Mark and the early preaching in Acts. This explains why Michael Grant pens that “the historian… cannot justifiably deny the empty tomb” and that “the evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the tomb was indeed found empty” (6).
1. Kremer, J. 1977. Die Osterevangelien–Geschichten um Geschichte. p. 49-50.
2. Lowder, J. 2005. Historical Evidence and the Empty Tomb Story: A Reply to William Lane Craig. Available.
3. Brown, R. 1994. The Death of the Messiah. Vol 2, p. 1240-1241.
4. Habermas, G. 2012. The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus: The Role of Methodology as a Crucial Component in Establishing Historicity. Available.
5. Habermas, G. 2012. Ibid.
6. Grant, M. 1976. Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels. p. 176.