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The next resurrection myth is that the Apostles (or Jesus’ followers) stole Christ’s body. This particular hypothesis has been around longer than any other. The Book of Matthew speaks about this theory as having been created in order for the Jewish leaders to deny the resurrection. They bribed the guards to keep them quiet (which, as an aside, is good evidence that the guards were Roman and not from the temple — otherwise, why would the Jews have to bribe them?):

Mat 28:11-15
Now while they were on their way, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 and said, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ 14 “And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.” 15 And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day.

It is interesting to note that by the time Matthew was written, this theory had been in circulation for nearly 30 years.

However, there are several problems with this theory:

1. The resurrection is evidenced by more than the empty tomb.

One positive about the stolen body theory is that it does well in assuming the empty tomb. This is a basic fact that most scholars, liberal and conservative, accept. Gary Habermas uses this in his “minimal facts” approach where he evidences the resurrection from a few basic facts that the majority of scholars accept.

But this theory fails today for the same reason it failed in the first century: The resurrection is evidenced by much more than the empty tomb. Of course, the empty tomb is a necessary condition for the event, but the appearances and ascension of Christ are also components that form the bedrock of the resurrection testimony. If the Apostles stole the body, how did they animate it to fool those who say they saw him alive? How did they make this body appear to ascend into heaven? How did they get this body to appear to Paul some years later?

2. The deaths of the Apostles

Tradition tells us that all the Apostles (except John) died a martyr’s death. The traditions for the deaths of James, Peter, and Paul are almost beyond debate. Their deaths make no sense if the stolen body theory is true.  They were killed for being Christians. Their Christianity was based on a belief that Christ arose. However, the stolen body theory would ask us to believe that these men died in a state of their own deception which brought with it no earthly rewards. Rather, they endured terrible suffering, rejection, and martyrdom. Even if one could see an initial motive for this kind of deception (which is far-fetched as well), this motive would have quickly yielded to self-preservation.

Similarly, one would have to explain why these Jews who followed the Mosaic Law found the reason and ability to create such a significant lie about their Messiah, holding to this this position for the rest of their mortal lives.

3. The unacceptability of resurrection

To say that the disciples stole the body is to say that they made up this story. It is not that they were mistaken, or out of their mind (We will deal with those folks later), but that they were being intentionally deceptive.

Now, let me back up for a moment and speak about the unacceptability of both the death and resurrection of Christ.  It was culturally reprehensible at all levels to have a crucified and resurrected Messiah. The Jews certainly were not expecting their Messiah to be killed, especially in this manner. “Cursed is any man who hangs on a tree” (Gal. 3:13). Who would want a cursed man to be their Messiah? The Greeks, on the other hand, would have nothing but disdain for the idea of a bodily resurrection since, from their perspective, the material body was something from which we desire to escape. They were dualists who believed that all of the material world was evil and all of the spiritual world was good. Our goal, then, should be to die and leave our physical material bodies behind (good riddance!). The resurrection of Christ went against all of their ideals.

At that time and place, the Gospel of a crucified and resurrected God was about the dumbest story anyone could ever invent. Normally, when people fabricate stories, they have some degree of marketing potential. However, this story was counterproductive on every level. It was a foolish story. However, this fact actually evidences its historicity. Such a story could not possibly be expected to sell . . . unless it was true.

4. No evidence

Ultimately, when all is said and done, this myth suffers the same fatal blow of every other alternative: there is no evidence. The only reason why such a theory would be accepted is because one does not want to accept the “embarrassment of riches” with regard to the evidence that Christ rose from the dead. But, other than that, there is no reason to even consider this theory.


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    87 replies to "Top 5 Resurrection Myths – #4: The Apostles Stole Christ’s Body"

    • A complete Sovereign GOD HAS given us His simple Gospel ‘In Christ’, note good old John 3: 16! But, there is also great depth and truth in that verse! And indeed use that “reason”, God has great power in Common Grace, it could become His Sovereign, Saving Grace?

    • vinnyjh57

      Fr. Robert,

      I understand that this is what you believe to be so, and when I was a young man, I tried to believe it, too. However, reason needs reasons and I found that repeating pieties didn’t do the trick for me then and it doesn’t do it for me now.

    • @Vinny: Well mate if your 57, I still got a few years on you, I will be 64 late this Oct. And my life experience has hardly been “piety”, I am also a Ret. RMC (Royal Marine Commando, Recon and Intell. officer -mustang- reserves, but I had over ten years active). I saw combat in my early 20’s, attached to your American Marine 3rd Force Recon in the Nam, 1968. And my last was in Gulf War 1 (in my early 40’s).

      I also taught philosophy and theology when I lived in Israel in the latter 90’s. (And yes, I am “pro Modern-Israel”!) I hold both the D. Phil. and Th.D. (English/British). So the study of theology has never been High Tower or Pietistic for me! And now I am basically retired, but do daily hospital chaplain work. Which I love btw, I have always known my own pastoral call, thanks be to God! Indeed the “presbyter” is always the pastor-teacher!

      So if your gonna dialogue with me? Its going to be both biblical & theological, or nothing! But surely this also includes the existential. I really have not heard much of any of this from you, but just how you “feel” about things! (And the latter is not really existential or “dialectic”. And as I have said many times before “evidential” apologetics has a place, but not THE place in the Judeo-Christian Revelation! That’s my position at least, and I am a “churchman”, historic and creedal. 🙂

    • vinnyjh57

      Fr. Robert,

      I’m sorry, but I don’t know how to dialogue with faith based propositions like “we better believe in the cost of sin” and A “complete Sovereign GOD HAS given us His simple Gospel ‘In Christ’” and “the Holy Scripture is always its own ‘presupposition’, and authority & truth.”

    • Well Vin, I could have hammered down some Van Til, that’s Presuppositional in both philosophy & theology. How about some Karl Barth? 😉 Both of these men have most certain approaches in their epistemology! Though I am not a Van Tillian, or a Barthian, though I like both, in their places! Aye/yes, I am a “theolog”! 😉

      *Indeed my least favorite is in the “evidential”! My scientific father sort of hammered that out of me! Evidence never works with scientists, at least on faith and religion! 😉

    • Scott

      Grave robbing a tomb with a sealed stone and guarded by a Roman soldier was too unheard of in the ancient world. It is not within anyone’s knowledge and experience that a such a grave would be robbed. If you have some historic evidence that it was common please share it. Otherwise the argument fails your own knowledge and experience test from the very beginning. Clearly an empty tomb cannot be said to be evidence of grave robbing.

    • Btw Vin, Biblical theology is really always best expressed in dogmatic theology, indeed Judeo-Christianity is orthodox! Truth and right doctrine/teaching. The best persuasion is always the attraction of truth, but biblical truth is also always mystery too. As Paul wrote: “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” (1 Cor. 4: 1)

    • We must always be humbled as we approach the truth of God! That ONE Who is Totally-Other! And yet became a Man while remaining fully God! This is the first great mystery in the redemptive truth and message itself, God the Incarnate One, in Jesus who is the Christ! The Jewish God became a Man! This was and still is a stumbling-block for both Jews & Gentiles! (see 1 Cor. 1: 21-23, noting verse 24 also!)

    • vinnyjh57

      Fr. Robert,

      If I ever become convinced that I have located the truth of God, I will certainly approach it humbly. I just don’t find your assertions particularly convincing and since they do not seem to be based on anything more than your subjective experience, I don’t see much that warrants a response.

      On the other hand, Michael Patton was claiming that his conclusions were supported by objective evidence and probability which is why i commented here in the first place.

    • @Vin: Then you should surely run along with Michael! 🙂 Though I find it rather funny being called a mere “subjective” Christian! I will share that with my objective Catholic friends, who call me a mere “fideist” Christian! (Btw, I was raised and somewhat educated -early – as a Irish Roman Catholic.) Rather odd however, for one who claims to be a “neo” Calvinist, like myself! Indeed “evidence” means nothing without “faith”! In fact true evidence should surely press us to faith & belief! But, I have found that most of the time, that there is just never quite enough “evidence” for saving faith! For true faith is always a “gift” of God! (Eph. 2: 8)

      Btw too, it appears evident to me, that YOU just don’t believe Holy Scripture! 😉 But keep seeking, if you really are?

    • vinnyjh57

      I too was raised as a Roman Catholic, by parents of Irish extraction. I too find funny the arguments that various denominations have with one another about the relative objectivity and subjectivity of the their beliefs, although perhaps my reasons for finding them funny are different than yours.

      I hope it is evident that I don’t believe in Holy Scripture either as a general notion or in any of its alleged instantiations. If I have been less than clear on that point, I apologize.

      I am still seeking knowledge and understanding, but I’m not looking for revealed truth.

    • @Vin: I was born and raised in Dublin Ireland, but educated theologically in England, and my first degree was Catholic, a B.A. in Philosophy in Ireland. I have been a conservative most all of my life, both politically and theologically. Indeed we all come from somewhere! But I too am always a seeker I feel, but only within the perimeters of course of what I consider to be biblical-theological and hermeneutically orthodox! We churchmen must always stay historical & creedal. 😉

      *Note, I am creedally and historically close to the EO or Orthodox, in Christology and the Trinity of God (not so in the area of soteriology, strictly). I am a classic Anglican and Reformed (the Anglican Thirty-nine Articles).

    • vinnyjh57


      You are of course free to accept all the details of the gospels accounts as fact. I don’t.

    • @Vinny: So indeed by your account, the Holy Scripture has NO historical reality or viability, but the biblical revelation.. is not so much presented as fact, as a historical and biblical-theological reality! But the best so-called “evidence” of the Resurrection of Christ, was the change and life of the Apostles themselves! They at least “believed” He rose from the dead, and claim to have seen Him Risen! On this they placed their lives unto death! And thanks be to God many others have followed this same path and example!

      I know that of all my own life experiences (and this includes seeing death, and meeting it out too to the enemy), being a Christian is my most real! Thank God I can believe and follow the Apostles Doctrine and Gospel! 🙂

    • And indeed I am no pacifist.. That’s quite obvious! 😉

    • vinnyjh57

      Fr. Robert,

      As far as I am aware, is the evidence that the apostles “placed their lives unto death” consists primarily of late traditions and apocryphal works which the church never accepted.

    • @Vin: No this is quite erroneous, especially with the life of St. Paul! Read, St. Paul’s 2nd Letter of Timothy. You might enjoy (or be enlightened) reading too, Eusebius’s The History of the Church, which is very early (born 260 and died 339). Btw Penguin Classics prints it in paper. Also Eusebius work on the quotations of the NT are historically early also! A must read mate!

    • Btw Vin, you might be interested in reading John A,T. Robinson’s now classic book: Redating the New Testament. And of course Robinson was no conservative, but always a certain scholar!

      Beware this book may turn you on top of your head? 😉 But I doubt it, one must have a certain presupposition for God’s NT Revelation! And this is evident in Robinson’s work here!

    • Scott

      Vinny, you said you reject the gospel accounts of the resurrection because your knowledge and experience leads you to a different conclusion. If you’re going to invoke your personal knowledge and experience as reasons to reject the gospel accounts you have to stick with the gospel accounts or else you’re not arguing against the gospel accounts. The gospel accounts include a sealed stone and Roman guard. My point is your knowledge and experience premise, if consistently applied, would not lead you to your conclusion regarding the gospel accounts of the empty tomb since you have no knowledge and experience of a grave with a sealed stone and Roman guard ever being robbed. Therefore, your conclusion that the empty tomb is evidence of grave robbing based on your knowledge and experience does not hold.

    • vinnyjh57


      I’m sorry, but I can’t make heads or tails of that argument.

      What I said was “Knowledge and experience tell me that the most likely explanation for any story of supernatural occurrences–especially an ancient one–is some combination of common human foibles, e.g., ignorance, superstition, prevarication, wishful thinking, gullibility, exaggeration.” I cannot see any reason why I should not conclude that specific details of such stories like guards at the tomb (which is only found in one of the gospels) are not also most likely a product of those foibles.

    • Funny how we except the antiquity of a Plato or Aristotle, in writing (which we have less manuscript authority, than the NT). And I love the Western Philosophers generally myself!

    • vinnyjh57

      Would we find the story of Romulus and Remus more believable if we had more manuscripts?

    • Of course Romulus and Remus are myth and part of Roman mythology, as the so-called founders of Rome. And certainly not the high-water mark of Roman and Western Philosophy. And I am not even sure Seneca, the Roman Stoic philosopher and statesman, who was an adviser to the Emperor Nero, even wrote of it? If they did, it was only used in some mythical manner! Note Latin, was the legal language of Rome. Note here btw, the ancient Greeks used figures of speech, they made this into a science, and gave names to more than two hundred of them. And the Romans carried forward this science. These manifold forms which words and sentences assume were called by the Greeks “Schema” and by the Romans “Figura. Both words have the same meaning, vis., a “shape or figure”.

      See btw the Rev (Anglican). E.W. Bullinger’s book: Figures Of Speech Used In The Bible, Explained and Illustrated. The first edition is 1898 (London). My copy is from the 1968 reprinting by Baker Books. It is still used and in reprint today (1104 pages)! Bullinger, expands this whole work of the Greeks and Romans!

      Btw, Bullinger was an Anglican Low Churchman (Evangelical and conservative), died in 1913. He received (1881) a Doctor of Divinity degree from the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Archibald Campbell Tait. He also wrote a large Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament (1887). I have this too! He was an eminent scholar (Greek) and otherwise. And he was actually friends with the great Zionist Dr. Theodore Herzl. And indeed Bullinger was surely something of a Christian Zionist, himself!

    • Btw, Vin: This book on the Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, by E.W. Bullinger, again measured by the Greeks and Romans, would blow away your position on words and language, at least in Greek and Roman antiquity! I challenge you to see a copy!

    • vinnyjh57

      Fr. Robert,

      I have no idea what position it is you think I hold on words and language.

    • @Vinny: Well I am not seeking to belittle what you believe or don’t believe at all, but this book is a real eye opener for sure! Check it out if you have the desire? Again many, many Figures of Speech used here! I consider this one of the most important books I have ever come across in the area of “words” and “figures’ of speech in language! Which comes from the Greeks and Romans.

    • Don K

      One of the following statements is brute fact:
      1. God exists
      2. God does not exist
      1. Jesus rose from the dead
      2. Jesus did not rise from the dead
      But neither case is dependent on opinion. But we human beings are fond of imagining that stronger argument indeed impinges on the truth of matters of brute fact. Often we buttress our arguments with statistics, but probabalistic arguments are too blunt an instrument when dealing with one-off events like the resurrection or a host of other events.
      Traveling over road bridges, for example, is a very safe activity, though we have had two tragic road bridge events in the last twenty-six years. In view of the amount of traffic that went over those bridges specifically, the probablility that those bridges would be hazardous to life would have been very low prior to the event, the estimate of p would have been indistinguishable from zero. This estimate of probability in no way protected those who perished nor prevented the event from happening, though the statistically valid assumption was that nothing would happen.
      The outcome of the upstate New York collapse was that all road bridges in the US were tested. A bridge over the mainline of the Norfolk Southern railway in our city was determined to be the second most dangerous bridge in North Carolina. Curiously, neither state, county nor the city were in any rush to replace it. Nor did the locals avoid it. The bridge is very short, probably cannot accomodate more than ten cars at a time and has few heavy trucks going over it. Now, 26 years later the piers for the replacement bridge are in place. Because the danger was based on loads never encountered, no hazard existed. The statistical likelihood of collapse was high, but the bridge was also a one-off due to load and length. Here, probabalistic arguments are a hammer where a scalpel is required. Brute fact does not yield to probabilities nor opinions.

    • vinnyjh57

      Fr. Robert,

      I’m sorry, but I have no idea what you are talking about.

    • @Vin: I know, because you are in reality ignorant of God’s Holy Scripture. That always requires more than mere “evidence”! These “words” and “figures” of speech however, are surely from the Greeks and Romans themselves! So you should perhaps take a look? But one must be a seeker of wisdom and knowledge to some degree. I am myself, one of those perpetual student types, even with my education. I am also one of those old “bookman” types! I have several thousand between here (in the USA), and our other home in greater London, the UK. (My oldest son (23, almost 4) teaches military history there). Both my sons were born in my 40’s! 🙂

    • vinnyjh57

      Fr. Robert,

      No. I have no idea what you are talking about because you do not write coherently.

    • @Vin: I am laughing, because when ya cannot attack the issue, the old ad hom comes out, and you attack the man! Which is surely what your doing! But, you are really ignorant of Holy Scripture, that’s not really an attack, as a educated observation! I know all about you so-called “evidential” guys! 😉 This was my fathers whole life and approach in science!

      Just a note, but in the morning till about noon time, I am writing sort of on the fly, since I work as a hospital chaplain daily. So I am often up and down. But we can be done! 🙂

    • vinnyjh57

      Fr. Robert,

      And you are really a terrible writer. If I could figure out what you thought the issue was, I would be very happy to address it, but copious exclamation points and quotation marks are no substitute for coherent sentences.

    • @Vin: YOU, are just in over your head mate, that’s your problem! And sadly without the Spirit/spirit of Christ all this is simply literally “Greek” for you! I see this in nominal Roman Catholics, or those raised in such all the time sadly!

      “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again (or from above) he cannot see (understand) the kingdom of God.” (John 3: 3)

    • vinnyjh57

      Fr. Robert,

      Every sentence deserving of an exclamation point? You’ll dislocate your shoulder patting yourself on the back that way.

    • @Vin: I too can see you don’t do much blogging either. It is a hard “genre” for sure! 😉

    • Pete

      When ever I hear this one I’m reminded of the movie “Weekend At Bernie’s” Can you picture the disciples carrying around a dead and decaying body for 40 days trying to convince everyone that He is alive? Sound like a comedy for sure.

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