WRONG TOMB THEORY: “The women visited the wrong tomb and thought Jesus rose.”

By James M. Rochford

Proponents of this view[1] argue that the disciples visited the wrong tomb. Consequently, they found an empty tomb, but Jesus’ tomb was somewhere else entirely. This theory suffer many insuperable problems:

It doesn’t explain the appearances to the disciples. Jesus appeared to believers, skeptics, persecutors, and large groups (see “Eyewitnesses”). The wrong tomb theory doesn’t account for this.

This theory expects us to believe that everyone forgot where Jesus was buried. Despite the fact that the women noted exactly where Jesus was buried (Lk. 23:55), is it reasonable to believe that everyone had “collective amnesia”[2] about where Jesus was buried? Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus, so the location of the tomb was known. Moreover, as we argued earlier (see “Empty Tomb”), Jesus’ burial by a Sanhedrist passes the criterion of embarrassment. Even if the disciples visited the wrong tomb, this would not have stopped everyone else from visiting the right tomb.

By and large, the empty tomb itself did not engender belief. In fact, John was convinced by the empty tomb alone (Jn. 20:8). But others needed to see Jesus raised in order to believe. Surely Paul the persecutor and James the skeptic wouldn’t have been converted by a mere empty tomb.

[1] Kirsopp Lake, The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (London: Williams & Norgate, 1907), pp. 247-79.

[2] William Lane Craig, in Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment? A Debate Between William Lane Craig and Gerd Lüdemann (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 56.