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The Guard at the Tomb1

  • William Lane Craig
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[2] Cf. Rohrbach, Paul, Die Berichte über die Auferstehung Jesu Christi (Berlin: Georg Reimer, 1898), p. 79.

[3] So Johnson, B. A., ‘The Empty Tomb in the Gospel of Peter Related to Mt 28.1–7’ (Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 1966), p. 17. This does not commit one to Johnson's view that this was an appearance tradition.

[4] Lake, Kirsopp, The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (London: Williams & Norgate, 1907; New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1907), p. 61; Grundmann, Walter, Das Evangelium nach Matthäus, 3rd ed., THKNT 1 (Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1972), p. 568; Blinzler, Josef, ‘Die Grablegung Jesu in historischer Sicht’, in Resurrexit, ed. Dhanis, Edouard (Rome: Libreria Editricc Vaticana, 1974), p. 82.

[5] Evidence of pre-Matthean tradition is also found in the many words which are liapax legomena for the New Testament: έπαύριον, παρασκευή, πλάνος/πλάνη, κουστωδία, άσΦαλίζω, σΦραγίζω, also the expression ‘chief priests and Pharisees’ (cf. 21. 45) is unusual for Matthew and never appears in Mark or Luke, but is common in John (7. 32, 45; 9. 47, 57; 18. 3). For discussion see Broer, I., Die Urgemeinde und das Grab Jesu, SANT 31 (München: Kösel Verlag, 1972), pp. 6978; Neirynck, F., ‘Les femmes au tombeau: Étude de la rédaction mathéenne’, NTS 15 (19681969): pp. 168–90. On the independence of Matthew from Mark see Ruckstuhl, E. and Pfammatter, J., Die Auferstehung Jesu Christi (Lucerne and Munchen: Rex, 1968).

[6] Contrast the Gospel of Peter 8. 35–42: ‘now in the night in which the Lord's day dawned, when the soldiers, two by two in every watch, were keeping guard, there rang out a loud voice in heaven, and they saw the heavens opened and two men come down from there in a great brightness and draw nigh to the sepulchre. The stone which had been laid against the entrance to the sepulchre started of itself to roll and gave way to the side, and the sepulchre was opened, and both the young men entered in. When now those soldiers saw this, they awakened the centurion and the elders – for they also were there to assist at the watch. And whilst they were relating what they had seen, they saw again three men come out from the sepulchre, and two of them sustaining the other, and a cross following them, and the heads of the two reaching to heaven, but that of him who was led of them by the hand overpassing the heavens. And they heard a voice out of the heavens crying “Thou hast preached to them that sleep”, and from the cross there was heard the answer, “Yea”.’ and the Ascension of Isaiah 3. 16: ‘Gabriel, the Angel of the Holy Spirit, and Michael, the chief of the holy Angels, on the third day will open the sepulchre: and the Beloved sitting on their shoulders will come forth.’

[7] Grundmann, , Matthäus, p. 565; Alsup, John E., The Post-Resurrection Appearance Stories of the Gospel-Tradition, CTM A5 (Stuttgart: Calwer Verlag, 1975), p. 117.

[8] Thus, Grass says that besides the particularities, the guard story is unbelievable because heathen guards would see the resurrection. (Grass, Hans, Ostergeschehen und Osterberichte, 4th ed. [Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1970], p. 25.) Von Campenhausen also states the story implies pagan guards would be witnesses of the resurrection and we cannot agree that this should be. (Hans Freiherr von Campenhausen, Der Ablauf der Osterereignisse und das leere Grab, 3rd rev. ed., SHAW [Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1966], p. 29.) Similarly O'Collins makes the astounding assertion that had Annas and Caiaphas been with the disciples when Jesus appeared, they would not have seen anything. (O'Collins, Gerald, The Easter Jesus [London: Carton, Longman & Todd, 1973], p. 59.) This, despite what Grass repeatedly describes as the ‘massive realism’ of the gospels! Cf. Koch, , Auferstehung, pp. 5960, 204, who is scandalized by the objectivity of the gospel appearances, which he vainly attempts to construe in wholly subjective categories.

[9] On the agreement between Paul and the gospels on the nature of the resurrection body, see Gundry, Robert H., Sōma in Biblical Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976), pp. 159–83; Sider, Ronald J., ‘The Pauline Conception of the Resurrection Body in I Corinthians XV.35–54’, NTS 21 (1975): pp. 428–39; Sand, Alexander, Der Begriff ‘Fleisch’ in den paulinischen Hauptbriefen, BU 2 (Regensburg: Friedrich Pustet, 1967), pp. 152–3; Jean Héring, , La première épître de saint Paul aux Corinthiens, 2nd ed., CNT 7 (Neuchatel, Switzerland: Delachaux et Niestlé, 1959), pp. 146–8; Clavier, H., ‘Brèves remarques sur la notion σμα πνευμαтικόν’, in The Background of the New Testament and Its Eschatology, ed. Davies, W. D. and Daube, W. (Cambridge University Press, 1956), pp. 342–62; Michaelis, Wilhelm, Die Erscheinungen der Auferstandenen (Basel: Heinrich Majer, 1944), p. 96.

[10] See Lohmeyer, Ernst, Das Evangelium des Matthäus, 4th ed., ed. Schmauch, W., KEKNT (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1967), p. 400.

[11] Lake, , Evidence, p. 178; Marxsen, Willi, The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, trans. Kohl, Margaret (London: SCM, 1970), p. 46; Grundmann, , Matthäus, p. 571. Orr thinks that the guard's accepting the bribe is not so far-fetched, since their fleeing was already a breach of duty. (Orr, James, The Resurrection of Jesus [London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1909], p. 160.) Von Campenhausen brings forth other absurdities, such as the fact that the guard reported to Jews and that Christians, despite the guards' lie, knew everything. (Campenhausen, Von, Ablauf, p. 29). But the former is evidence the guard was Jewish; the latter should not surprise us, since secret conspiracies almost always come to light. In any case the Jews' conversation with Pilate is probably an imaginative Christian re-construction of what they inferred took place, which would explain the third day motif and kerygmatic language employed. Perry regards the placement of a Jewish guard at the tomb by the Jews, without knowledge of Jesus's prediction, as historically defensible. (Perry, Michael, The Easter Enigma, with an Introduction by Austin Farrer [London: Faber & Faber, 1959], pp. 98–9.)

[12] Though the doctrine of resurrection is attested in the Old Testament and flowered in the intertestamental period, the Jewish conception of resurrection was always of a general and escha-tological resurrection. Nowhere do we find any notion of the resurrection of an isolated individual or of a resurrection before the end of the world. (See remarks of Wilckens, Ulrich, Auferstehung, TT 4 [Stuttgart and Berlin: Kreuz Verlag, 1970], p. 31; Jeremias, Joachim, ‘Die älteste Schicht der Osterüberlieferung’, in Resurrexit, p. 194.) Hence, the disciples' misunderstanding has a historical ring.

[13] Lindars, Barnabas, New Testament Apologetic: The Doctrinal Significance of Old Testament Quotations (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961; London: SCM Press, 1961), pp. 5972; O'Collins, , Easter, p. 12. Even if one agrees with Lehmann that the third day motif is a theological expression, drawn from the LXX and later elaborated in Rabbinic exegesis, meaning the day of God's deliverance, victory, and taking control (Lehmann, Karl, Auferweckt am dritten Tag nach der Schrift, QD 38 [Freiburg: Herder, 1968], pp. 262–90), there is no reason that if the early church could have used this expression, that Jesus himself could not also have used it in the same sense in predicting his resurrection. Hooke also reminds us that all of Jesus' eschatological sayings presuppose his resurrection, as do his statements at the Last Supper. (Hooke, S. H., The Resurrection of Christ as History and Experience [London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1967], p. 30; cf. Ramsey, Michael, The Resurrection of Christ [London: Centenary Press, 1945], pp. 38–9.)

[14] The proclamation may have been in the words repeated twice in Mt. 27. 64; 28. 7: ‘He has risen from the dead.’ Contrary to Grass, Ostergeschehen, p. 23, this could evoke the response that the disciples stole the body, if the empty tomb were also a historical fact. The Jewish response need not presuppose the Christians were using the empty tomb itself as an apologetic argument.

[15] The argument presupposes either that the underlying tradition is pre-Matthean or that the gospel itself was written prior to AD 70, for after that time the people in a position to know the truth would have been killed or dispersed. That the tradition is pre-Matthean is clear: (1) The Jewish polemic behind the story most probably came out of Jerusalem itself in response to the apostolic proclamation of Jesus' resurrection. (2) A reconstruction of the history of the polemic shows that Matthew inherited the controversy about the guard. That he did not invent the guard de novo to counteract a simple Jewish theft charge is evident from the additional elements of the guards' sleeping and the bribe. (3) The narrative itself contains non-Matthean characteristics, as pointed out in note 5. That the Gospel of Peter knows a non-Matthean tradition of the guard story also indicates that the story did not originate with Matthew. Since the controversy thus antedates the destruction of Jerusalem, it is very difficult to construe it as a heated exchange over an imaginary entity. This conclusion is only strengthened if Matthew itself was written before AD 70, as argued, for example, by Reicke, Bo, ‘Synoptic Prophecies on the Destruction of Jerusalem’, in Studies in New Testament and Early Christian Literature, ed. Aune, D. E. (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1972), pp. 121–34; Robinson, J. A. T., Redating the New Testament (London: SCM Press, 1976), pp. 1926, 86–117.

[16] Mahoney objects that the Jews argued as they did only because it would have been ‘colorless’ to say the tomb was unknown or lost. (Mahoney, Robert, Two Disciples at the Tomb, TW 6 [Bern: Herbert Lang, 1974], p. 100.) But here Grass is right: if the grave were unknown or lost, then the preachers of the resurrection would have been met by the reaction of Acts 2. 13: ‘They are filled with new wine.’ I seriously doubt whether being ‘colorless’ was regarded by the Jewish hierarchy as such an awful thing that they preferred inventing the empty tomb for the Christians. And if the burial place of Jesus was known, as is probable (Blinzler, ‘Grablegung’, pp. 94–6, 101–2), the reaction of the Jews becomes even more problematical: for instead of pointing to the tomb of Jesus or exhibiting his corpse, they entangled themselves in a hopeless series of absurdities trying to explain away the absence of his body. The fact that the enemies of Christianity felt obligated to explain away the empty tomb shows not only that the tomb was known (confirmation of the burial story), but also that it was empty.

1 This discussion note stems from research conducted at the Universität München under a fellowship from the Alexander von Humbolt Foundation.

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