In c. AD 75, Matthew reported in Mt 28:11-14 that “From the get-go (AD 30), Jews were saying that 'body-theft explains the empty tomb.”1 Rather than being a random invention of Matthew's or his source, it is easiest and most simple to believe this report is accurate: Jews truly were accusing the Christians of theft since the beginning of their proclamation that Jesus rose.2
But so what, couldn't it simply be that Matthew (and/or his source) lied, not really believing that AD 30 Jews cried theft?2
- Mt 28:11-14 -- some of the guard… reported to the chief priests [about gt (in AD 30). They responded], “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ …this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day.
By AD 75, Jews were affirming “body theft caused the tomb's emptiness” (to rebut “the empty tomb proves he rose!” apologetics).
This helps show the Jews were crying “theft” because we know the AD 70 Jews had inherited their “theft” polemic from their AD 30 predecessors.1
A critic might also (erroneously) try to suggest that Jews lacked any real will/desire to impede Christianity. Problems with this idea abound. For example...
- William Lane Craig: “The proclamation may have been in the words repeated twice in Mt. 27.64; 28.7: 'He has risen from the dead.' Contrary to Grass, Ostergeschehen, p. 23, this could evoke the response that the disciples stole the body, if the empty tomb were also a historical fact. The Jewish response need not presuppose the Christians were using the empty tomb itself as an apologetic argument.” [“The Guard at the Tomb”, New Testament Studies 30 (1984)] • if Christians were only circulating an “empty tomb” proclamation much later (e.g. AD 70), Jews would've responded with a simple report: “What empty tomb!?” For example,
- Robert Stein (NT professor): “[Even] If it had originated at a late date, there would have been no need to create such a polemic. At such a date one would have raised questions such as “What empty tomb? Where does this new claim that the empty tomb was empty, from? We have never heard anything about an empty tomb.” The fact that the Jewish polemic never contested the existence of the empty tomb indicates that this tradition is very old. Such a concession that assumes that from the beginning Christians proclaimed Jesus' tomb was empty. It probably also indicates that the Jewish leaders had in fact found it empty.” [Jesus the Messiah (IVP, 1996), 265.]
- Richard Swinburne (Philosophy professor at Oxford): “…there would have been no need for the Jewish enemies to circulate the story that the disciples had stolen the body…; it would have been sufficient to refer to the obviously confused character of the Christian story [that the tomb was empty].” [The Resurrection of God Incarnate (Clarendon, 2003), 177.]