Was the Body of Jesus Moved?

Category: Bible/Christian Worldview 97

The Resurrection of Jesus is one of the most debated topics in history. The evidence for the resurrection is always coming under attack, and many different theories trying to explain what happened to the body exist. Last week, I wrote about the possibility that the body of Jesus had been stolen. This theory falls apart under close examination.

However, there exist many other theories that seek to explain what happened to the body. In this article, I will discuss the theory “was the body of Jesus moved?” Could it have been moved to another tomb by Joseph of Arimathea, who buried Jesus, or by a gardener? It will be shown that this theory is simply wrong and does not explain what happened to the body.

The Theory

The first culprit mentioned to have moved the body is Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus (Matthew 27:57), and was the owner of the tomb. It is thought that he moved Jesus’ remains before Sunday morning when the women discovered the tomb empty. Since it was his tomb, Joseph had the right to move the body, and he did not have to tell the disciples (or anyone else) that he had moved it.[1]

In fact, John 19:42 says that Jesus was laid in this particular tomb because it was Preparation Day (the day before the Sabbath), and that the tomb was close by. Since the Sabbath was rapidly approaching they had to bury the body quickly since Jews would never touch a dead body on the Sabbath (this would make them unclean before God’s eyes). Because of this, scholar Robert Price, an atheist, says that Joseph’s tomb was an “emergency tomb” and Jesus’s body was put here and there were plans to eventually move it.[2]

So the theory says that Joseph moved the body sometime between Friday night and Sunday morning. The women came to the tomb and saw that Jesus’ body was gone, and the disciples eventually came to believe that Jesus had resurrected. They had not been told because Joseph decided not to tell them (neither did he tell Jesus’ enemies).

A second theory is that a gardener moved the body.[3] John 19:41 says that Jesus was laid in a tomb were there was a garden. This belief was spoken about by the ancient Christian writer Tertullian (160-220 AD) who says, “This is He whom His disciples secretly stole away, that it might be said He had risen again, or the gardener abstracted, that his lettuces might come to no harm from the crowds of visitants!”[4]

This view is even spoken about in John 20:15. In this verse, Mary Magdalene asks Jesus, whom she thought was the gardener, where he had put the body. According to Price, the scenario of a gardener moving the body is laid out right there in the gospels.[5]

To conclude, Jesus’ body was moved to another tomb between Friday night and Sunday morning by Joseph of Arimathea or the gardener. The disciples didn’t know what happened so they came up with the idea that he rose from the dead. Neither Joseph nor the gardener decided to say anything because they had more to lose if they had revealed what had really happened.

Problems with the theory

This theory may sound good to some people. However, upon close examination, the theory simply crumbles away. There are many reasons why.

  1. No one would have moved the body between Friday night and Sunday morning. From Friday night to Saturday night was the Sabbath. Neither Joseph nor the gardener would have touched a dead body.[6] The thinking that they would have done so shows the ignorance of the skeptic concerning Jewish culture. To add to this, no one would have moved the tomb between Saturday night and Sunday morning. There was no hurry to move the body, so the skeptic must come up with a reason why someone would want the body moved so quickly. There simply isn’t one.
  2. There were guards watching the tomb. Some note that the guards were not posted until Saturday (Matthew 27:62), so this would leave at least twelve hours without someone watching the tomb. This has two problems. First, the guards were posted because the religious leaders were worried that the disciples were going to steal the body. If they were going to all the trouble of posting a guard, wouldn’t they check the tomb to make sure the body was still there?[7] Second, as mentioned earlier, neither Joseph nor the gardener would have touched a dead body on the Sabbath, which is the entire period of time between the burial and the posting of the guards.
  3. Joseph had connections to the disciples (remember that he is called a disciple of Jesus). He could have easily told them. Also, Joseph would not have wanted to keep secret the fact that he moved the body. By helping an outside group like Christianity, he would likely bring persecution upon himself.[8]
  4. Concerning Mary Magdalene and the gardener James Patrick Holding makes an excellent point: “In fact it says no more than that a gardener as an employee of the garden would have some knowledge of the affair – and also reflects rather the desperate, emotional query of a grief-stricken person who is not offering something that can be viably turned into a sound argument.”[9] Quite simply, Mary’s belief that someone had to move the body shows that Mary (and everyone else) was not expecting Jesus to resurrect.
  5. Tertullian notes that skeptics thought that the gardener moved the body because of the crowds of people coming to see the tomb. However, he would not have moved the body because of crowds. Who would be visiting? The disciples were hiding for fear. No large crowds would have come to see the tomb.

To sum it up: Neither Joseph of Arimathea nor the gardener moved the body.

What do you think? Leave a comment below and give me your opinion.


[1] See the skeptic’s statements in Lita Cosner, “Did Joseph of Arimathea move the body?” http://creation.com/joseph-of-arimathea

[2] Robert Price, “Explaining the Resurrection without recourse to miracle.” In The End of Christianity, ed. John Loftus. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2011. Pg. 227.

[3] Richard Carrier, “The Plausibility of Theft.” In The Empty Tomb, eds. Robert Price and Jeffrey Jay Lowder. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2005. Pg. 351.

[4] Diatessaron 53.28.

[5] Price, 227.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] James Patrick Holding, Defending the Resurrection. Xulon Press, 2010. Pg. 393.

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