Based on the evidence admitted by hostile documents, the absence of contrary data, and the important information concerning the location of the message in Jerusalem, we conclude that there is some probability for the empty tomb based on ancient extrabiblical sources alone. Maier confirms this: Accordingly, if all the evidence is weighed carefully and fairly, it is indeed justifiable, according to the canons of historical research, to conclude that the sepulcher of Joseph of Arimathea, in which Jesus was buried, was actually empty on the morning of the first Easter.^93
Dealing with different factual data, Michael Grant agrees from a historical viewpoint: But if we apply the same sort of criteria that we would apply to any other ancient literary sources, then the evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the tomb was indeed found empty.^94
But what about the teaching that the disciples or someone else stole the dead body of Jesus? Does this account for the empty tomb and end the question of Jesus’ resurrection? Here we need to move beyond the non-Christian sources for an answer.
Contemporary critical scholars, whether skeptical or not, are virtually unanimous in rejecting such hypotheses.^95 If the disciples stole the body, they would not have been willing to die, in all probability, for a known lie or fraud.^96 Liars do not make good martyrs. Additionally, the changed lives of the earliest disciples and their belief that Jesus was raised, both of which are admitted by critics, are unexplained if they stole the body.
92 Paul L. Maier, “The Empty Tomb as History” in Christianity Today, 29/13, March 28, 1975, p. 5.
93 Ibid., p. 6.
94 Grant, Jesus: An Historian’s Review, p. 176.