Was Jesus *REALLY* buried by Joseph?

My question relates to the honorable burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea. Several mainstream scholars (Bart Ehrman in particular), have stated in books and blogs that Jesus probably never receive a decent burial. Ehrman basically says that Jesus, in the manner of other dissidents, was probably buried in a shallow / trench grave like a common criminal, Their evidence being:

1). We have no evidence of the existence of Joseph of Arimathea outside of the gospels.

2). That Paul in his 1st letter to the Corinthians doesn’t mention a tomb, only that he was buried.

3). Large rock-cut tombs were reserved for the wealthy in ancient times, as they were the only ones who could afford them.

Do you have a response to these claims?

People typically get to strange places when they try to come up with naturalistic explanations of the facts.  Usually this forces them into the position of suppressing some information and/or exaggerating other information.  Bart Ehrman, in particular, has pointed out that some criminals after crucifixion were thrown into common burial “ditches” of a sort.  He then, without any direct evidence that this was what happened with Jesus, asserts despite the New Testament documents that this is what occurred.

Much can be determined apart from the New Testament documents, but I generally refuse to dismiss these documents.  If the critic wants to give me some reason to think that the documents are unhistorical, then let him provide that evidence.  What we have are ancient documents that have survived from the 1st century.  We cannot simply dismiss their content because they have theological implications that we may not like.

As it happens, Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the Sanhedrin, the very body that crucified Jesus.  The critic has to contend that the early church movement, following this Jesus whom the Sanhedrin crucified and themselves experiencing persecution at the behest of the Sanhedrin, nonetheless decided to invent a sympathetic member of the Sanhedrin.  Why should they do such a thing?

Imagine, for example, if someone told you that there was no such person as Oscar Shindler.  This would mean that the Jews invented a sympathetic member of the nazi party?  They would invent a sympathetic figure among the very group that was persecuting them?  One would naturally want to know, is there any evidence that he is a mere invention?  In the case of both Oscar Shindler and Joseph of Arimathea, there is no such evidence.

The New Testament documents record that Joseph of Arimathea provided for Jesus’s burial, there is no competing story regarding the fate of his corpse, and Joseph of Arimathea is a very unlikely invention for the early church movement.  It certainly seems that we are within our rights to believe what the New Testament documents record.

Matt Bilyeu
Chapter Director, Reasonable Faith
Master of Arts in Apologetics, Luther Rice University and Seminary

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