Did human hands remove the graveclothes of Jesus?

“No, after all…
  • The wrappings (feet-to-chest) were clustered

    The corpse's linen wrappings (feet-to-chest) were still all together, rather than scattered.1 This is relevant because a removal by natural means, especially by the hands of thieves, would sooner result in the wrappings being unceremoniously tossed aside.

    1. We read in Jn 20:7 -- “and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself.”

      Henry Latham (Master of Trinity Hall, Cambridge): “[If the wrappings were lying where the legs and torso were, with a necks-worth of space separating them from the face-cloth which was located where the head was], the expression is perfectly clear; but if the linen cloths had been lying, one here and one there, as though they had been thrown hastily aside, there would have been no meaning in saying that the napkin was “not lying with the linen cloths,” for the “linen cloths” would not have defined any particular spot.” [The Risen Master (Cambridge, 1901), 44.] Notably, it is unlikely that John was lying here, and evidence suggests he was a first-hand eyewitness of the grave-clothes. [Forthcoming]

  • The grave spices were still tucked in wrappings

    The grave spices were still tucked within the folds of the linen wrappings, rather than scattered.1 This is relevant for the following reason:

    • Henry Latham (Master of Trinity Hall, Cambridge): “If the body had been disrobed… the spice would have been found on the floor; now it was not so found, and I am driven to suppose therefore that it remained concealed in the folds of the grave-clothes, which it could not have done if they had not retained their position on the slab; for if the body had risen, or has been raised in an erect posture, it would have fallen down.” [The Risen Master (Cambridge, 1901), 46.]
    • Murray Harris (NT professor at TIU, Cambridge): “Why would anyone stealing the body bother to unwind and then fold or rewind the several yards of linen cloth that encircled the corpse (cf. Jn 20:6-7)?” [From Grave to Glory (Zondervan, 1990), 117.]
    1. We know the spices were still tucked in because the Gospel of John, in describing with some detail what Jesus's tomb looked like inside (v. 20:5-7), makes no mention of dry spices scattered on the ground. This is the same author who explained in 19:39 that about 75 pounds of spices were used/brought-for-use when Joseph of Arimathea was burying Jesus.
  • The clothes looked supernaturally removed

    The empty grave-clothes looked like they had not been emptied/removed by human hands.1

    • The narrative in John's Gospel carefully describes the configuration of the clothes (v7-8), suggesting already that there was something special about it (a quality which removal by human hands does not have).
    • Rather than concluding theft, witnesses of the configured grave-clothes either “believed” or “marveled,” and simply “went away again to their homes.”2
    1. This has bee noted by several scholars:

      William Barclay (Lecturer at Glasgow): “Then something else struck him—the grave-clothes were not disheveled and disarranged. They were lying there still in their folds—that is what the Greek means—the clothes for the body where the body had been; the napkin where the head had lain. The whole point of the description is that the grave-clothes did not look as if they had been put off or taken off; they were lying there in their regular folds as if the body of Jesus had simply evaporated out of them. The sight suddenly penetrated to John’s mind; he realized what had happened—and he believed…” [The Gospel of John, Vol. 1 (Saint Andrew, 1955, 2001), 311.]
      Ernest Hermitage Day (c. 1946): “…it was the sight of the grave-clothes which caused St. Peter to gaze upon them, and St. John to believe, those grave-clothes from which the sacred body had been withdrawn in the act of Resurrection, leaving them fallen together, the spices still enclosed within them, the head-cloth fallen in upon itself, a little apart from the rest, the space between showing where the neck, usually left uncovered in this swathing of the dead, had rested.” [The Evidence for the Resurrection (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1906), 30.]
      John R. W. Stott (Christian author/apologist): “A careful study of the text of John's narrative suggests that it is just these three characteristics of the discarded grave-clothes that he saw. First, he saw the strips of linen ‘lying there.’ The word is repeated twice, and the first time it is placed in an emphatic position in the Greek sentence. … Next, the head cloth was “still lying in its place, separate from the linen.” This is unlikely to mean that it had been bundled up and tossed into a corner. It still lay on the stone slab but was separated from the body cloths by a noticeable space. Third, this same head cloth was ‘lying it in its place.’ This last word has been translated “twirled,” a word that aptly describes the rounded shape that the empty head cloth still preserved. It's not hard to imagine the sight that greeted the eyes of the apostles when they reached the tomb: the stone slab, the collapsed grave-clothes, the shell of the head cloth and the gap between the two. No wonder they ‘saw and believed.’ … The strips of linen hadn't been touched, folded or manipulated by any human being. They were like a discarded chrysalis from which the butterfly had emerged.” [Basic Christianity (IVP, 1958, 2008), 65.]

    2. This is multiply attested in Lk and Jn (Lk 24:12 -- “[Peter] saw the linen wrappings [and] went away to his home, marveling at what had happened”. Jn 20:8-10 says that with Peter was The Beloved Disciple who “believed… [And then they simply] went away again to their homes”). What the disciple believed exactly is not clear, but given their reactions, they ostensibly believed that God had at least taken the body, perhaps vindicating Jesus in some way.

      Arthur Pink: “[This] explains v. 8: ‘And he (John) saw and believed.’ There was nothing in the mere fact of an empty tomb to compel belief…; but, when John saw… the long linen wrappings that had been so tightly wound about the body and the head, lying there undisturbed, in their original convolutions, he knew that nothing but a miracle could have made it possible.” [Exposition of the Gospel of John Vol. 4. (Zondervan, 1945), 266-268.]
      Henry Latham (Master of Trinity Hall, Cambridge): “…if they had found the tomb in the condition in which M. Renan describes, all would have agreed with what Mary had led them to suppose, namely, that the body had been carried away by human hands.” [The Risen Master (Cambridge, 1901), 45.]