Did Jesus Survive the Crucifixion, Get Out of the Tomb Alive and Subsequently Appear in a Non-Resurrected Body?

Jesus Removed from Cross (WM)

“The Deposition”
(by Rogier van der Weyden
more)

Christian apologists confidently maintain there are good reasons to believe God exists (more>>) and, further, that if God exists then it is rational to believe God could have supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead (more>>).

In support of the proposition that God did, in fact, supernaturally raise Jesus from the dead, Christian apologists often point to the following two lines of evidence:: 1) the historically documented evidence that after Jesus died on the cross, he was seen alive in a physically resurrected body by multiple eyewitnesses and 2) the historically documented evidence that within days of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial, the tomb Jesus was buried in was found empty.

Some skeptics attempt to explain away the evidence of Jesus’ post-crucifixion and burial appearances and/or the empty tomb by proposing the following:  Although Jesus may have appeared to have died on the cross, he was still alive when his body was placed in the tomb.  After recovering from his injuries, Jesus was able to get out of the tomb and appear to the witnesses in a non-resurrected body.

As set forth in this article, Christian apologists maintain this theory (which is commonly referred to as the swoon theory) fails to reasonably explain the totality of the historical evidence and is wholly inadequate. 

Summary of the Historical Evidence of
Jesus Being Seen Alive After His Death and Burial

According to the historical record, after Jesus’ death and burial, Jesus appeared alive on twelve (12) separate occasions to more than 500 people, including at least two skeptics (James the Just and Paul fka Saul). On all twelve occasions Jesus was seen and probably heard. Jesus offered himself to be touched on at least three occasions and he was definitely touched twice. Jesus showed the scars from his crucifixion on two occasions and ate food with the disciples on 3 – 4 occasions. On four occasions the witnesses responded to their encounter with the risen Jesus by worshiping him. [See, Norman Geisler, The Battle for the Resurrection, pg. 141 (1984); Norman Giesler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, pg. 655 (1999); John Ankerberg & John Weldon, Ready with an Answer, pg. 81 (1997); Kenneth Boa & Robert Bowman, 20 Compelling Evidences that God Exists, pg. 253 (2002); Lee Strobel, The Case For Easter, “Interview with Gary Habermas, Ph.D., D.D.”, pg. 72 (1998)]

For a complete index of the historical evidence of Jesus being seen alive in a physically resurrected body after he died on the cross and was buried, go here.

Summary of the Historical
Evidence of Jesus’ Grave Being Found Empty

The historical record further establishes Jesus’ tomb was found empty just days after his crucifixion and burial. The empty tomb was attested to by several witnesses, was publicly addressed in speeches given in Jerusalem where the events took place, was inferentially admitted by both Roman and Jewish leaders and was believed by at least two skeptics (James the Just and Paul fka Saul).

For a complete discussion of the historical evidence that Jesus’ tomb was found empty, go here.

The Swoon Theory

When confronted with the historical evidence of the empty tomb and the eyewitness accounts of Jesus being seen alive after his crucifixion and burial, some skeptics propose Jesus could have survived the crucifixion, gotten out of the tomb alive and appeared to the eyewitnesses in a non-resurrected body. 

In support of this proposition, skeptics point to the fact Jesus was given some liquid to drink on the cross which they contend, either accidentally or intentionally, acted as an anesthetic making Jesus appear to be dead.  Swoon theorists also point out that Pilate seemed surprised Jesus had died after only being on the cross six hours.

Some skeptics go so far as to propose a conspiracy theory in which it is alleged Jesus intentionally faked his death. The theory is usually proposed something like the following: Jesus conspired with someone (possibly Joseph of Arimathea) to give him a potion while he was on the cross that would make him appear to die. After Jesus was thought to be dead, the conspirator arranged for him to be placed in a tomb where he could rest and revive.

Other skeptics claim that although Jesus may not have intentionally attempted to fake his death, he survived the crucifixion and was revived by the coolness of the tomb and/or the burial spices used to prepare his body for burial (see, John 19:38-42). 

Either way, after getting out of the tomb alive, Jesus appeared to the eyewitnesses in a non-resurrected body, but, the witnesses assumed Jesus had risen from the dead and was appearing to them in a resurrected body.

Reasons Christian Apologists
Maintain the Swoon Theory is Inadequate

Christian apologists raise the following rebuttal points to any theory proposed by a skeptic which is based on the premise that Jesus survived his crucifixion and got out of the tomb alive in a non-resurrected body:

Rebuttal Point No. 1: The Theory that Jesus Survived the Crucifixion was of Late Construct

There is no record of any witness alive at the time of Jesus crucifixion and burial who claimed Jesus had not died as a result of his crucifixion. Rather, the theory that Jesus survived the crucifixion and got out of the tomb alive wasn’t advanced until long after all the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ crucifixion and burial had died. In fact, the swoon theory wasn’t proposed for 1800 years after all the witnesses had died. The theory was first proposed in the early 19th Century by the Rationalist, Karl Venturini. [See, Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone?, pgs. 64, 6 (1958)]

Rebuttal Point No. 2: No Mixture of Wine, Gall and/or Myrrh Would Have Made Jesus Appear Dead

Proposed site of Golgotha with an 1880 photo of the same rock face in the foreground (by Footballkickit / CC-BY-SA more)

Matthew 27:33-34 states when Jesus arrived at Golgotha (the place of his execution aka the Place of the Skull), he was given “wine mixed with gall [but] [w]hen he tasted it, he would not drink it.” Mark 15:23 states, “they tried to give [Jesus] wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it.” John 19:29-30 says while Jesus was on the cross, he was given a “sponge full of sour wine on hyssop.” Even assuming Jesus ingested some wine mixed with gall and/or myrrh (which Matthew and Mark report Jesus refused) and he took the sponge full of sour wine referenced by John, neither one or more of these elements would have made Jesus appear dead, especially to trained Roman executioners.

Rebuttal Point No. 3: The Process of Crucifixion Ensured Jesus’ Death

As documented by Christian apologist Josh McDowell, crucifixion was a cruel way to execute someone and it ensured that person’s death. Cicero referred to crucifixion as “the most cruel and hideous of tortures.” Flavious Josephus, a Jewish historian, reported observing many crucifixions and stated crucifixions were “the most wretched deaths.” [Josh McDowell & Bill Wilson, A Ready Defense, pg. 221 (1993) citing to Flavius Josephus, De Bello Judaico, 7.202-3] As noted by Lee Strobel, the word “excruciating” literally means “out of the cross.” [Lee Strobel, The Case For Easter, pg. 19 (1998)] Some of the more excruciating and deadly aspects of Jesus’ crucifixion included the following:

  • The condemned were customarily tied to a post and whipped with a Roman flagrum (sometimes referred to as a cat-of-nine-tails), a handle with long leather thongs attached to it with pieces of bone and balls of metal woven into the leather thongs. Roman floggings usually consisted of 39 lashes which left the victim’s back, buttocks and posterior legs filleted open. Many died of hypovolemic shock caused from voluminous blood loss. [See, Lee Strobel, The Case For Easter, pgs. 15-16 (1998)] As reported by Eusebius, a 3rd century historian, when a man was whipped with a flagrum, his “veins were laid bare, and the very muscles, sinews, and bowels of the victim were open to exposure.” [Josh McDowell & Bill Wilson, A Ready Defense, pg. 222 (1993) citing to Eusebius, “The Epistle of the Church in Smyrna” Trials and Crucifixion of Christ]
  • A crown of thorns was placed on Christ’s head, he was spit on, struck with a rod and led away to be crucified (Matt. 27:29; Mark 15:17-18).
  • After being whipped with a flagrum, victims of crucifixion were forced to carry the crossbar (patibulum in Latin) — which weighed about 110 lbs — to the place of execution. [Josh McDowell & Bill Wilson, A Ready Defense, pgs. 222-223 (1993)] In Jesus’ case, the gospels report a man by the name of Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry the patibulum to the place where Jesus was crucified (Matt. 27:32-33; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26). This fact creates a reasonable inference that, due to the injuries Jesus suffered when he was beaten with the flagrum, he was physically unable to carry his own crossbar.
  • The nails which were driven through Jesus’ wrists (see, John 20:24-25) were typically 5 to 7 inches long. Because the nails were driven through the carpal tunnel in the wrist which house the nerves that extend down the arm, through the wrist and into the fingers, it is likely those nerves would have been crushed when the nails were driven through the victim’s wrists. [See, Lee Strobel, The Case For Easter, “Interview with Alexander Metherell, M.D., Ph.D.”, pgs. 18-19 (1998)]
NOTE: For many years, historians challenged the Bible’s description of Jesus being nailed to the cross (John 20:24-25), insisting that victims of crucifixion were tied to their crosses with ropes. However, Josephus mentions the use of nails during crucifixion: “[T]he soldiers out of rage and hatred, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest.” [Josephus, “Jewish War V.II] Moreover, in 1968, bones of an adult male who had died during the uprising against Rome in 70 A.D. were discovered in the northeastern part of Jerusalem. A spike was found extending from his heel bones and pieces of wood from the cross he had been crucified on were still attached. Both legs had also been broken. [See, Josh McDowell & Bill Wilson, A Ready Defense, pgs. 223 (1993); Lee Strobel, The Case For Easter, “Interview with Alexander Metherell, M.D., Ph.D.”, pg. 23 (1998); Wikipedia, “Crucifixion”, accessed 10/28/10]
  • When the nails were driven through Jesus’ feet to nail them to the vertical beam of the cross, the nerves in Jesus’ feet would have been damaged. [See, Lee Strobel, The Case For Easter, “Interview with Alexander Metherell, M.D., Ph.D.”, pgs. 18-19 (1998)]
  • When the crossbar Jesus had been nailed to was thrust up onto the vertical beam, Jesus’ arms would have been stretched out about six (6) inches causing both shoulders to dislocate. [See, Lee Strobel, The Case For Easter, “Interview with Alexander Metherell, M.D., Ph.D.”, pg. 19 (1998)]
  • The process of crucifixion is a slow agonizing death which eventually leads to death by asphyxiation. As a person hangs on a cross during a crucifixion, the stresses placed on the diaphragm and other muscles in the torso force the person’s chest into an inhaled position. In order to exhale, the victim must use his feet and legs to push his body upward to relieve the pressure being put on the diaphragm so he can exhale. As the victim’s breathing slows, he experiences respiratory acidosis which causes the heart to beat erratically. Eventually, when the man is too exhausted to push up and, consequently, can no longer exhale, he stops breathing, his heart stops and death ensues. [See, Lee Strobel, The Case For Easter, “Interview with Alexander Metherell, M.D., Ph.D.”, pgs. 20 (1998)]
  • In Jesus’ case, “[t]he weight of historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side was inflicted….” [William D. Edwards, M.D., et. al, Journal of the American Medical Association, “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ.”, March 21, 1986, pg. 1463] Nevertheless, to ensure Jesus was dead, a Roman soldier thrust his spear into Jesus’ side (John 19:31-37) and John the disciple (an eyewitness to Jesus’ crucifixion) reported “blood and water” came from Jesus’ heart (John 19:34-35). As explained by Dr. Alexander Metherell, the hypovolemic shock Jesus suffered from loss of blood from being flogged would have caused his heart to start beating rapidly ultimately contributing to heart failure. Fluid would have collected in the membrane around the heart (pericardial effusion) and around the lungs (pleural effusion). When the spear was thrust into Jesus’ side, it probably went through the right lung into Jesus’ heart which would have caused clear fluid like water to flow out of his side, followed by a large amount of blood. “There was absolutely no doubt that Jesus was dead.” [Lee Strobel, The Case For Easter, “Interview with Alexander Metherell, M.D., Ph.D.”, pgs. 21-22 (1998)] “It is completely impossible for [Jesus] to have survived that crucifixion.” [Alexander Metherell, “12 Ordinary Men”, TBN (3/31/10); see also, McDowell & Wilson, A Ready Defense, pg. 224 (1993) citing to Truman Davis, “The Crucifixion of Jesus”, Arizona Medicine, pg. 186 (March 1965)] Accordingly, theories based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross are contrary to medical forensics. [See, William D. Edwards, M.D., et. al,, Journal of the American Medical Association, pg. 1463 (March 21, 1986). See also, Gary Habermas, The Apologetics Study Bible, “Can Naturalistic Theories Account for the Resurrection?” pg. 1621 (2007)]

As summed up by Dr. Alexander Metherell, the swoon theory is untenable:  “It’s a fanciful theory without any possible basis in fact.” [Lee Strobel, The Case For Easter, “Interview with Alexander Metherell, M.D., Ph.D.”, pg. 25 (1998)]

Rebuttal Point No. 4: The Roman Soldiers Would Have Confirmed Jesus’ Death

Under Roman law, if a Roman soldier let a prisoner who had been sentenced to death escape, the soldier was to be executed. [See, Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, pg. 183 (1994)] For example, Acts 12:18-19 reports when the apostle Peter escaped from prison, Herod ordered the guards to be executed. Matthew 28:11-15 states when the guards reported the tomb was empty to the Jewish leaders, the leaders bribed the soldiers to say the body had been stolen and promised to keep them from being killed when the news reached Pilate. Because the death penalty was normally attached to any soldier who let a prisoner escape, the soldiers who crucified Jesus would have had every motive to ensure he was dead before removing his body from the cross. [See, Lee Strobel, The Case For Easter, “Interview with Alexander Metherell, M.D., Ph.D.”, pg. 24 (1998)]  The soldiers did not break Jesus’ legs as they did with the two criminals who were crucified with Jesus (see, John 19:31-33); consequently, it is reasonable to infer the soldiers must have already determined Jesus was dead. [See, Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, pg. 183 (1994)] Moreover, although some skeptics may argue the soldiers were not medically qualified to determine whether Jesus was really dead, it must be remembered that Roman  soldiers were expert executioners and as noted by Dr. Alexander Metherell, determining whether someone is dead is not a difficult task. [See, Lee Strobel, The Case For Easter, “Interview with Alexander Metherell, M.D., Ph.D.”, pg. 24 (1998)]

Rebuttal Point No. 5: Pilate Confirmed with the Centurion Soldier that Jesus was Dead

Only after Pilate verified with the centurion soldier that Jesus was dead did he order Jesus’ body to be removed from the cross and his corpse given to Joseph of Arimathea (Mark 15:42-45). [See, Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone?, pg. 64 (1958)]

Rebuttal Point No. 6: The Jewish Leaders Witnessed the Crucifixion and Believed Jesus was Dead

When the Jewish leaders learned Jesus’ tomb was empty, they claimed Jesus’ disciples had stolen the body (Matt. 28:11-15). The Jewish leaders had witnessed the crucifixion (see, Matt. 27:41-42; Mark 15:31; John 19:20-21) and wouldn’t have resorted to making the untenable claim that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body (more >>) if it was possible Jesus had survived the crucifixion. Instead, they would have stated they had witnessed the crucifixion and Jesus hadn’t been killed, but, they made no such claim.

Rebuttal Point No. 7: Jesus’ Disciples Were So Convinced He Died on the Cross that they were Willing to Die as Martyrs

I Corinthians 15:3-8 states that Jesus “died…, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day…. This passage has been dated back to within two to five years after Jesus’ crucifixion.” Considering the fact that the belief Jesus’ followers had in Jesus’ death and resurrection would have had to predate the time the creed was written down, the date the actual belief in Jesus’ death arose would have been earlier than 2 – 5 years after the crucifixion. [William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, pg.273 (1984); see also, Kenneth Boa & Robert Bowman, 20 Compelling Evidences that God Exists, pg. 232 (2002); Lee Strobel, The Case For Easter, “Interview with William Lane Craig, Ph.D., D.Th.”, pgs. 36-38 (1998)]  The statement contained in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 also became part of the early church creeds (a summary statement of Christian beliefs) and there is no logical reason why such a statement would have been put into the early church creeds if there was disagreement over whether Jesus had really died on the cross.  [See, William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, pg.273 (1984); Kenneth Boa & Robert Bowman, 20 Compelling Evidences that God Exists, pg. 232 (2002); Lee Strobel, The Case For Easter, “Interview with Craig, Ph.D., D.Th.”, pgs. 36-38 (1998)] The early church creed clearly demonstrates Jesus’ disciples  believed Jesus had died on the cross because such a statement would not have been put into the creed if there had been a debate over that issue. [Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone?, pg. 67 (1958)]  Moreover, all of Jesus’ disciples were greatly persecuted for their faith; 10 of the 11 original disciples died as martyrs for their faith. Clearly, the disciples wouldn’t have undergone such persecution and/or martyred themselves for their faith (which was was foundationally centered on the resurrection) if they were not convinced Jesus had been resurrected from the dead. There is no question Jesus’ disciples believed Jesus had died on the cross. [See, Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone?, pg. 67 (1958)] 

Rebuttal Point No. 8: Swoon Theorists Ignore Historical Facts Which Weigh Against the Swoon Theory

Those who propose the Swoon Theory “pick and choose only those elements of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial that seem to support their theory but ignore or modify the elements which don’t support the theory.” For example, swoon theorists put great weight on the fact the gospels report Pilate was surprised Jesus was dead after only being on the cross for about 6 hours (see Mark 15:25, 33-34, 44) and imply this means Jesus wasn’t really dead. Yet, they ignore the direct testimony by the centurion soldier who verified Jesus was dead to Pilate (Mark 15:45). [See, Kenneth Boa & Robert Bowman, 20 Compelling Evidences that God Exists, pg. 223 (2002)]

Rebuttal Point No. 9: The Swoon Theory Doesn’t Explain How Jesus Could Have Gotten Out of the Grave Clothes

In Jesus’ day, Jewish burial tradition included wrapping the body in an 8 foot long sheet of linen. [Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone?, pg. 66 (1958)] John 19:38-42 states Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus wrapped Jesus’ body in linen cloths and coated it with a mixture of spices that weighed “about seventy-five pounds in weight” according to “the burial custom of the Jews” (ESV). No explanation has been offered as to how anyone, much less a severely injured Jesus who had been whipped and nailed to a cross for six hours, could have gotten out of such encumbering grave clothes.

Rebuttal Point No. 10: The Swoon Theory Doesn’t Explain How Jesus Got Out of the Tomb

In Jesus’ day, tombs were caves hewn out of the side of a hill or mountain (see, Luke 23:53) with the opening being blocked by a 1 to 2 ton disc shaped stone. The disc shaped stones were usually left on the side of the opening of the tomb in a slanted groove carved into the face of the cave which led down to the entrance of the tomb. After a body was placed in the tomb, the stone was rolled down the slanted groove to cover the tomb opening. Although gravity made it easy for the stone to be rolled down in front of the tomb opening, it would have taken several men to roll the stone back up the groove to reopen the tomb. [See, John Ankerberg & John Weldon, Ready with an Answer, pg. 111-112 (1997); Lee Strobel, The Case For Easter, “Interview with William Lane Craig, Ph.D., D.Th.”, pg. 40 (1998)] Mark reports three women decided to go to Jesus’ tomb early Sunday morning with burial spices. As they were walking to the tomb, they contemplated who would roll the stone away for them (Mark 16:1-3). Apparently, the three women didn’t think they would be able to roll the stone away from the opening of the tomb.

Skeptics fail to explain how a badly beaten Jesus left for dead after being crucified for six hours could have had the strength to roll such a heavy stone away from the entrance of the tomb and do so from inside the tomb. [See, John Ankerberg & John Weldon, Ready with an Answer, pgs. 111-112 (1997)] Moreover, even if Jesus had been able to roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb, it seems quite unlikely he would have been able to overpower the guards who had been assigned to guard the tomb (see, Matt. 27:62-65).

If it is assumed the disciples somehow knew Jesus was still alive and decided to help him get out of the tomb, then the disciples were willing to endure imprisonment, torture and even death to take the conspiracy to their graves. [See, Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, pg. 183 (1994)]  Chuck Colson (Former Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon) compared the actions of Jesus’ disciples with the men he conspired with as part of the Watergate Cover-up. In spite of ongoing threats, beatings, torture and even martyrdom, not one of Jesus’ disciples ever divulged anyone had been involved in stealing Jesus’ body. Contrarily, those involved in the Watergate Cover-up, who were at the pinnacle of power, gave up the President of the United States to keep from going to prison or to get a reduced sentence. As noted by Colson, giving others up to save oneself is the true nature of humanity. If the disciples helped a badly beaten Jesus get out of the tomb, they knew the resurrection was a lie and at least one of the disciples would have told the truth to save their own lives or the lives of their friends and/or family. [See, Charles Colson, Loving God, pgs. 68-69 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan; 1983)] 

Rebuttal Point No. 11: The Swoon Theory Requires the Disciples to Have Mistaken a Badly Beaten and Nearly Dead Jesus as Their Resurrected Lord and Savior

Even assuming Jesus somehow survived the crucifixion, Jesus certainly would have been in very bad physical shape when he appeared to his followers just three days later. The whipping Jesus received (John 19:1) would have left massive wounds on his back. He would have had multiple bruises and abrasions from being slapped and beaten (Mark 15:19; Luke 22:63; John 18:22-23; 19:3) as well as multiple puncture wounds around his head and face from having thorns pushed into his scalp (Matt. 27:29). He would have had unhealed holes in his hands and feet from the nails used to affix his body to the cross (John 20:24-25; Acts 2:23) as well as a gaping hole where the soldier’s spear had been thrust into his side (John 19:34). His arms would have been dislocated when he was hung on the cross, etc.  (see above

Since all of these wounds would still have been fresh and probably severely infected three days after the crucifixion, it seems rather unlikely a man in such a pathetic condition could have convinced the disciples he was their risen Lord, instead of a man who had narrowly escaped death. If anything, the disciples would have had pity for Jesus and tried to nurse him back to health. Yet, it is very clear the disciples were convinced they had seen the resurrected Jesus and he was gloriously alive (John 20:19-29). They worshiped him as their divine Lord. When Thomas saw the resurrected Jesus, he fell at Jesus’ feet and cried out, “‘My Lord and my God!'” (John 20:24-28). [See, Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, pg. 183 (1994); Gary Habermas, The Apologetics Study Bible, “Can Naturalistic Theories Account for the Resurrection?”, pg. 1621 (2007); Kenneth Boa & Robert Bowman, 20 Compelling Evidences that God Exists, pg. 224 (2002); Lee Strobel, The Case For Easter, “Interview with Alexander Metherell, M.D., Ph.D.”, pgs. 25-26 (1998); John Ankerberg & John Weldon, Ready with an Answer, pg. 112 (1997)]

As summed up by Frank Morison, in an effort to provide a rational explanation for the post-crucifixion phenomena reported in the gospels, swoon theorists rely on an irrational argument that a beaten and half-dead Jesus could have appeared to the disciples and given them the impression he had conquered death and the grave. [See, Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone?, pg. 96 (1958)]

Rebuttal Point No. 12:  The Swoon Theory Requires Jesus to Have Contradicted His Own Teachings and Engaged in Fraudulent Conduct, Making Him a Hypocrite

If the swoon theory is true, Jesus was a fraud and a liar because Jesus did not claim to have revived in the tomb; he claimed to have died and risen from the dead. [See, John Ankerberg & John Weldon, Ready with an Answer, pg. 112 (1997)]. But, if Jesus was a fraud or enlisted others to engage in fraudulent behavior, he would have violated his own teachings (e.g., Matt. 5:33-37; Matt. 5:16-18) which would also have made him a hypocrite. However, as reflected in the following passages, Jesus clearly despised hypocrites:

  • Jesus condemned people who judged others for “a speck of sawdust” in their eye when the person paid no attention to the “plank” in their own eye. He said, “you hypocrite take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” See Matt. 7:1-5, Luke 6:41.
  • In Matthew 23:1-33, Jesus criticized the teachers of the law and Pharisees for being hypocrites and condemned them for many things including: 1) Tithing 1/10th out of obedience to the law while neglecting “the more important matter of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness”; 2) For being hypocrites by keeping themselves looking clean on the outside while being “full of greed and self-indulgence” on the inside.

Engaging in deception is also inconsistent with Jesus’ reputation for being honest and truthful, character traits which even his enemies recognized in him. For example, in Matthew 22:16-21, disciples of the Pharisees stated: “We know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.” 

There simply is nothing about what Jesus taught or the way he lived his life that would lead a reasonable person to believe he would have faked his death or fraudulently made it appear to others that he had been miraculously raised from the dead.

Rebuttal Point No. 13:  The Swoon Theory Fails to Explain the Absence of Historical Data About Jesus’ Earthly Life After He Supposedly Revived in the Tomb

Other than the resurrection accounts, “[t]here is absolutely no data, not even any false, fantastic, imagined data about Jesus’ life after his crucifixion, in any sources, friend or foe, at any time, early or late. This seems quite unlikely if Jesus really survived the crucifixion.” [Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, pg. 184 (1994)]

Rebuttal Point No. 14: There is No Sufficient Motive for Conspiring to Fake One’s Death by Way of Crucifixion

Given the long, enduring and excruciating pain a man faced if crucified (see above), if Jesus was merely a man who decided to fake his death, what possible motive could he have had to conspire to fake his death in such a horrifying way. If Jesus had desired to fake his death and resurrection, he certainly could have found a much less painful and more hopeful way in succeeding with such a plan (e.g., a drowning, a fall, etc.). No sufficient motive can be provided to explain why Jesus would have attempted to fake his death via crucifixion. In Lee Strobel’s interview with Dr. Alexander Metherell, Strobel asked Metherell what he thought could have motivated anyone to give himself over to be crucified. This was Metherell’s response:

Frankly, I don’t think a typical person could have done it. But Jesus knew what was coming, and he was willing to go through it, because this was the only way he could redeem us — by serving as our substitute and paying the death penalty that we deserve because of our rebellion against God. That was his whole mission in coming to earth….So when you ask what motivated him, … I suppose the answer can be summed up in one word — and that would be love. [Lee Strobel, The Case For Easter, “Interview with Alexander Metherell, M.D., Ph.D.”, pg. 27 (1998)]

Rebuttal Point No. 15: It Would be Extremely Difficult, If Not Impossible, to Fake One’s Death by Crucifixion

As explained by Alexander Metherell, M.D., Ph.D., “[Jesus] couldn’t have possibly faked his death, because you can’t fake the inability to breathe for long. Besides, the spear thrust into his heart would have settled the issue once and for all.” [Lee Strobel, The Case For Easter, AInterview with Alexander Metherell, M.D., Ph.D.” pg. 24 (1998)]

Conclusion

The principle of Occam’s razor, which states simple explanations are preferable to more complex explanations, only states one should not multiply causes beyond necessity. Therefore, Occam’s razor can only be relied on to exclude the need for a supernatural explanation if a sufficient natural explanation can be offered (more>>).

In the case of Jesus’ resurrection, the rebuttal points set forth above weigh against the explanation that Jesus’ survived the crucifixion, got out of the tomb alive and subsequently appeared to over 500 witnesses (more>>) in a non-resurrected body. The other alternative explanations skeptics have offered to explain away the eyewitness reports of Jesus being seen alive after his death and burial (more>>) and the empty tomb (more>>) are similarly inadequate. Consequently, Christian apologists maintain it is reasonable to look beyond the alternative explanations offered by skeptics for an explanation that adequately explains all of the historical evidence, including the explanation that God supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead.

In sum, Christian apologists candidly concede that if God does not exist, Jesus was not resurrected from the dead. Nevertheless, Christian apologists confidently maintain there are good reasons to believe God exists (more>>) and the following seven independent lines of evidence reasonably establish that God did, in fact, supernaturally raise Jesus from the dead:

  1. The resurrection best explains the historical evidence of Jesus being seen alive in a resurrected body on at least twelve (12) separate occasions by more than 500 witnesses, including at least two skeptics (James the Just and Paul fka Saul) (here>>)
  2. The resurrection best explains why the tomb Jesus was buried in was found empty within days of his crucifixion and burial (here>>)
  3. The resurrection best explains why Jesus’ disciples were transformed from fearful deserters to faithful followers who endured great persecution and became martyrs for their faith (here>>)
  4. The resurrection best explains why even Jewish leaders and skeptics converted to Christianity after Jesus was crucified, even though Christianity was foundationally centered on Jesus’ resurrection
  5. The resurrection best explains why there is no evidence any site was ever venerated as Jesus’ burial site even though it was common practice to venerate the burial sites of religious and political leaders
  6. The resurrection best explains why the early Church centered its teachings and practices around a supernatural event like Jesus’ resurrection instead of something less controversial like Jesus’ moral teachings
  7. The resurrection best explains the sudden rise and expansion of Christianity so soon after Jesus death even though he had been crucified by the Romans as a political traitor and declared a religious heretic by the Jewish religious leaders

The evidence is sufficiently convincing that following a two day debate over the evidence of the resurrection between Dr. Gary Habermas and well-known skeptic, Dr. Anthony Flew, a panel of five philosophers from American universities (including the University of Virginia, James Madison University and the University of Pittsburgh) voted 4 to 1 in favor of the case for the resurrection, with 1 judge voting the debate was a draw. After listening to both sides of the debate, one of the judges concluded the historical evidence of Jesus’ resurrection was “strong enough to lead reasonable minds to conclude that Christ did indeed rise from the dead.” [Ankerberg & Weldon, Ready With an Answer, pgs. 132-133 (1997) citing to Terry L. Miethe (ed.), Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? The Resurrection Debate, pg. xiv (New York Harper & Row, 1987)]. Another of the judges stated:

Since the case against the resurrection was no stronger than that presented by Dr. Flew, I would think it was time I began to take the resurrection seriously.

[Ankerberg & Weldon, Ready With an Answer, pgs. 132-133 (1997) citing to Terry L. Miethe (ed.), Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? The Resurrection Debate, pg. xiv (New York Harper & Row, 1987)] Because there are good reasons to believe God exists and that he supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead, Christian apologists insist it is not only unfair for skeptics to claim Christians are intellectual simpletons for believing in Jesus’ resurrection but it is intellectually dishonest to write off the resurrection as mere foolishness.

For information on how to know God personally, go here.

© 2012 by Andrina G. Hanson

Published:  June 1, 2012 / Last Updated: February 27, 2014

______________________________________________________

QUICK LINKS TO SOURCES REFERENCED OR RELIED ON IN THIS ARTICLE

John F. Ankerberg and John Weldon, Ready With an Answer(Harvest House Publishers, 1997)

Kenneth D. Boa and Robert M. Bowman, 20 Compelling Evidences That God Exists: Discover Why Believing In God Makes so Much Sense(River Oak Publishing, 2002)

Chuck Colson, Loving God (Zondervan, 1997)

William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics(Crossway; 3rd Edition, 2008)

Norman L. Geisler, BAKER ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS(Baker Books, 1999)

Norman L. Geisler, The Battle for the Resurrection: Updated Edition(Wipf & Stock Publishers; Updated Edition, 2004)

Gary Habermas, The Apologetics Study Bible: Understand Why You Believe“Tan Naturalistic Theories Account for the Resurrection?” pg. 1621 (Holman Bible Publishers, 2007)

Peter J. Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics(IVP Academic; 1St Edition, 1994)

Josh McDowell (compiled by Bill Wilson), A Ready Defense The Best Of Josh Mcdowell(Thomas Nelson, 1992)

Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone?(Zondervan,1958)

Lee Strobel, The Case for Easter: Journalist Investigates the Evidence for the Resurrection (Zondervan, 2004)

IMAGE CREDITS & LICENSING

Slideshow Photo: Photograph of a painting entitled “The Deposition” by Rogier van der Weyden (1399/1400 – 1464). The image was downloaded from www.wikimedia.org which states the image is in the public domain because it is a faithful photographic reproduction of an original two-dimensional work of art and the work of art itself is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.

Golgotha: This photograph, taken in 2007 by Footballkickit at en.wikipedia, is one of the proposed sites of the “Golgotha” referenced in the New Testament.  Downloaded from www.wikipedia,org under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license (CC-BY-SA-3.0)

Flagrum: Illustration by Pearson Scott Foreman.  Downloaded from www.wikimedia.org which states the illustration was released into the public domain by the author.

Nail:  Photographer unknown.

Tomb:  Photographer unknown.