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Doctrinal Matters

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Joseph of Arimathea and the Great Stone

by  Eric Lyons, M.Min.

Recently, a gentleman contacted our offices questioning some of the events surrounding the burial of Christ. He specifically wanted to know about the likelihood of Joseph of Arimathea being able to roll “a great stone” (Matthew 27:60) against the entrance of the tomb. A person can understand how one man could transport the body of Jesus, wrap it in linen, and lay it in a tomb (27:59-60), but how could one man roll a “very large” (Mark 16:4) stone over the opening of the tomb of Jesus?

First, one should keep in mind that Joseph was very familiar with this tomb. He was the owner of it and also the one who had hewn the tomb out of the rock (Matthew 27:60; cf. Isaiah 53:9). It could be that he had made provision so that a large stone could easily be set against the entrance of the tomb (even by one man), yet when set in place, it might be extremely difficult to remove (even for several men). If the entrance of the tomb, for example, was at a lower elevation, and the large stone was on an incline, temporarily held in place by smaller stones and/or by a slight indentation in the ground, Joseph might easily have been able to roll the stone against the entrance by himself.

Second, and more importantly, Joseph was not by himself. Although Matthew, Mark, and Luke do not mention anyone else helping Joseph roll the stone against the tomb’s entrance, they also do not expressly state or imply that he was alone. In fact, John records that Nicodemus helped Joseph prepare Jesus’ body for burial, and afterwards “they laid Jesus” in the tomb (John 19:42, emp. added). In truth, since none of the gospel writers indicates that only one or two men buried Jesus, an untold number of people (e.g., Joseph’s servants) may have helped Joseph and Nicodemus roll the “great stone” against the entrance of Jesus’ tomb.

It is imperative for Bible students and skeptics to keep in mind as they read through Scripture, and especially the gospel accounts, that silence does not negate supplementation. Just because the synoptic writers were silent about Nicodemus helping Joseph bury Jesus, does not mean Nicodemus could not have helped Joseph or that John was mistaken. Furthermore, simply because the gospel writers were silent about others (such as servants that a “rich man” like Joseph probably had—Matthew 27:57) who might have helped Joseph and Nicodemus roll the large stone over the entrance of the tomb, does not mean there were not any. In short, nothing in the gospel accounts concerning Joseph of Arimathea or the great stone that covered the entrance of Jesus’ tomb is impossible or discrepant.





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