Supporting Evidence #3: The Grave Clothes  
Some Supporting Evidence for the Resurrection

The Grave Clothes

When Peter and John entered the empty tomb on that Sunday morning, they saw Jesus’ graveclothes laid out. J.N.D. Anderson writes, “It seems that it [the tomb] wasn’t really empty. You remember the account in John’s Gospel of how Mary Magdalene ran and called Peter and John and how the two men set out to the tomb. John, the younger, ran on quicker than Peter and came first to the tomb. He stooped down, “peeped” inside (which I believe is the literal meaning of the Greek), and saw the linen clothes and the napkin that had been about the head. And then Simon Peter came along and, characteristically, blundered straight in, followed by John; and they took note of the linen clothes and the napkin, which was not lying with the linen clothes but was apart, wrapped into one place. The Greek there seems to suggest that the linen clothes were lying, not strewn about the tomb, but where the body had been, and that there was a gap where the neck of Christ had lain – and that the napkin which had been about His head was not with the linen clothes but apart and wrapped in its own place, which I suppose means still done up, as though the body had simply withdrawn itself. We are told that when John saw that, he needed no further testimony from man or angel; he saw and believed, and his testimony has come down to us. (“The Resurrection of Jesus Christ” Christianity Today, March 29, 1968)


John never actually says that the clothes are still wrapped, so again, a skeptical position might say that they aren't. I considered this, but don't think this is likely for two reasons: 

 1. both the antechamber and the burial chamber were quite small -- remember, they had been dug out of rock with hand tools. If the grave clothes had been unwound, the length of cloth would have been all over the floor. I agree with Anderson.

2. The grave clothes had a gummy paste (the myrrh and aloes) sealing the folds of linen together. It’s hard to imagine that if someone were stealing the body he would unwrap it first, or if he did that the clothes would be put in such a position that John would (remembering what Jesus had earlier said), right then believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. Again, remember that John is an eyewitness, and he is describing his own response. (I'll talk about  why I don't think the apostles perpetrated a hoax in a few pages).

Even if the clothes were, in fact, unwound and over the floor of the tomb, the question comes up: WHY did the body thieves unwind the body before stealing it?

An extremely skeptical position might then say, well, maybe John just wrote the grave clothes in when in fact they weren't left behind. I don't think this is a good position though. The grave clothes sound like a fact -- if John had wanted to make something up, he would have described SEEING A RISEN JESUS, not seeing the grave clothes. John's account sounds quite true to life. I don't think there was the attention to small evidences that we use today. For example, I'm thinking of the Testimonium Flavianum, where a reference by the Jewish historian Josephus reads: 

"Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day"

Exploring this is beyond the scope of this website, but suffice it to say that the consensus of scholars seems to think that Josephus (who was not a Christian) originally wrote a straight passage that, during the process of copying, the copier added words to elevate Jesus and add weight to the claims of his deity. Yet in fact, these alterations WEAKEN the historical reference, since it's now unclear what the original contained.


John 20:3-8

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (NIV)



© 2011 Amy Deardon |