1st Theory (1of 4)
The disciples or the “women” stole the body and claimed that Jesus rose from the dead.
This was the early lie that was developed and being spread according to:
Matthew 28:11-15 - “Now while they were on their way, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. And when they had assembled with the elders and counseled together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, and said, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ “And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.” And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day.”
Believing the disciples or the women "stealing" Jesus' body is a ridiculous claim. Please see "Conspiracy Theory" tab.
It also raises another question.. How did they get past the Roman or Jewish, or both sets of guards? See below for more information.
2nd Theory (2 of 4)
A random theft occurred
3rd Theory (3 of 4)
The Romans stole the body
4th Theory (4 of 4)
The Jews stole the body
I do believe that Matthew 27:63-66 covers all of the angles on the possibility for a theft to occur for all 4 theories:
Matthew 27:63-66 – “...Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ So the last deception will be worse than the first.”
Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how.”So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard.”
This point is very significant, because if in fact Pilate sent Roman guards (the verse is a little obscure, we cannot conclusively state that Roman guards were posted there, or Jewish guards were, or both of them,) but "if" Roman guards were there, the presence of the Roman soldiers and a Roman seal over the door made the possibility of the religious leaders’ claims of theft more difficult - if not impossible.
The theft theory and sleeping guards may have been important in the eighteenth century, when critics were suggesting that the disciples stole Jesus’ body, but there really is no need to even respond to that theory anymore. When you read the New Testament, there is no doubt that the disciples sincerely believed the truth of the Resurrection, which they proclaimed to their deaths.
The idea that the empty tomb is the result of theft is simply dismissed today.
One more point needs to be addressed, with what about the linen wrappings in the empty tomb?
The theft theory ignores the evidence of the linen wrappings left in the empty tomb. If someone had stolen the body, they would have either taken the body and left the wrappings scattered or piled in a heap, but only Resurrection could account for the position of the linen wrappings with the body absent.