Did the Disciples Lie about Jesus’ Resurrection?

Easter season is upon us and it is almost certain that some news papers, magazine articles, documentaries, etc…will seek to discredit the resurrection of Christ or imply that Jesus’ disciples “made up” the resurrection. How do we respond? How should we respond? Did Jesus’ disciples conspire together to say that Jesus had risen from the dead, when in fact He did not?

Detective Jim Warner Wallace has been investigating and solving cold-case homicides in California for over 25 years.  As this appearance on Dateline NBC shows, Jim solves homicides in which the trail of evidence has gone cold. He knows a thing or two about crimes and conspiracies. According to detective Wallace, successful conspiracies share five common characteristics: J. Warner Wallace

  1. Small number of conspirators
  2. Thorough and immediate communication
  3. Short time span
  4. Significant relational connections
  5. Little or no pressure to break the conspiracy

(1) Small number of conspirators – simply put, the smaller number of conspirators, then the greater chances of success with the lie. There were 11 eyewitnesses of the resurrection (not including the women and others who saw the risen Jesus), plus another 500.  That’s typically too big to ensure a successful conspiracy.

(2) Thorough and immediate communication – without immediate communication, conspirators can’t hold their lies together or separate lies from the truth. The apostles were separated over hundreds of miles and didn’t have immediate communication.  Had they been lying, one of them would have recanted under pressure and exposed the conspiracy.

(3) Short time span – If a lie is going to “work” then it must be told over a short period of time. It’s very difficult to maintain a lie over a long period of time.  The New Testament writers lived up to sixty years after the resurrection—far too long to maintain a lie, especially under constant pressure to recant the lie.

(4) Significant relational connections – successful conspiracies have co-conspirators who are family members or related in some way.  Family members are less apt to give one another up.  But most of the eyewitnesses of the resurrection were unrelated and come from various socio-political backgrounds.

(5) Little or no pressure – a lie or conspiracy could be maintained if there was little or no external pressure for the conspirators to change their message. And yet, the eyewitnesses of the resurrection all experienced tremendous persecution and even death for maintaining that they had all witnessed Christ’s bodily resurrection.

Not only did they lack the elements needed for a successful conspiracy, the disciples had no motive to conduct one.  What did the disciples have to gain by making up the resurrection story? According to Detective Wallace, there are three main reasons why someone would want to engage in a conspiracy (a lie): (1) Financial gain, (2) Passion (often sexual), (3) Gain power.

 None of these were motives for the apostles.  First, none of them earned a great deal of wealth for preaching that Christ had risen. Most of them had to rely on the support of others and lived “on the run.”  Second, the relationship between Christ and the disciples was one of a leader and His followers and not one of sexual passion or otherwise. And finally, none of the disciples gained any powerful positions for maintaining that Christ had risen. In fact, most of them were in diametrical opposition to both the political and religious authorities of the day, and they suffered dearly for it.

For all of these reasons and others, no serious scholar today believes that the resurrection story is a lie—the result of a conspiracy among the apostles.  It would take too much faith to believe that.

If you would like to learn more about how to defend Christianity with principles gleaned from a top-notch homicide detective turned Christian apologist, you can listen to our radio podcast interview with Mr. Wallace on 1/12 and 2/9 here or check out his new book, Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels.

Better yet, you can learn from Detective Jim Wallace in person along with Frank Turek, Greg Koukl and others this year for one of our most exciting CrossExamined Instructor’s Academy’s yet! Our 6th annual CrossExamined Instructor’s Academy (CIA) will take place in Charlotte, August 8-10, 2013.  There will be more topics and more opportunities for you to hone your apologetics presentation skills this year.  Go here for details.  Apply soon because seats are extremely limited.BANNER6

Free CrossExamined.org Resource

Get the first chapter of "Stealing From God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case" in PDF.

Powered by ConvertKit
17 replies
  1. Stephen B says:

    “And finally, none of the disciples gained any powerful positions for maintaining that Christ had risen”

    They’re still venerated and talked about 2000 years later. Lots of people would be keen on that idea.

    Reply
  2. Stephen B says:

    Also, talk of the motives of the disciples assumes they were the ones who wrote the Apostles. If other people wrote Matthew, Luke, etc, they could have had all kinds of motives, and can’t be subjected to the same ‘why would Mark have written that about himself’ line of reasoning.

    Reply
      • tumeyn says:

        Stephen B,
        That is an excellent point. That same question plauged me as I was investigating the historicity of these accounts. I would suggest you dig a little and see the evidence for and against the traditional authorship of the gospels. As I investigated, I have come to the conclusion that the case for the authorship of Mark, Luke, and John is quite strong. There are internal clues and external witnesses for the authorship claims of each. For Matthew the case is a bit weaker. There are few internal clues to go on.

        Anyway, I think your objection is a valid one – but only if there is good evidence against the traditional authorship. I don’t think that such evidence exists.

        Reply
  3. Toby says:

    “1. . . . (not including the women and others who saw the risen Jesus), plus another 500.”

    These don’t count, so you’re down to 11. One of these fellows, Mr. Wallace, is an investigator and I doubt he believes this is evidence. Unnamed, unknown people are not evidence. You could have 1 or you could have 1,000 people, and it amounts the same amount of evidence, none. Appealing to unknown numbers is not credible evidence. Also are we to believe that of these 500 (plus whatever women) none of them could write? You should expect that at least 1 of these people would have recounted this event.

    “2. Thorough and immediate communication . . . The apostles were separated over hundreds of miles and didn’t have immediate communication.”

    If it is a conspiracy and all fake could they not have picked a date in advance? Plus the books were written well after the events with plenty of time to doctor them. What would be the effect of spreading the news in a town that had never heard of any of the people or events and gaining converts there, then a while later someone else comes along saying that it isn’t true? Suddenly the converted deconvert? Not likely.

    “3. Short time span – If a lie is going to “work” then it must be told over a short period of time. The New Testament writers lived up to sixty years after the resurrection—far too long to maintain a lie, especially under constant pressure to recant the lie.”

    Uh . . . plenty of conspiracies persist regardless of age. The distance of time away from an event, especially of those that happened in a time with limited knowledge, limited means of recording data, actually makes it harder to disprove anything because of lack of evidence. All you’re left with is hearsay.

    “4. Significant relational connections – successful conspiracies have co-conspirators who are family members or related in some way. Family members are less apt to give one another up. But most of the eyewitnesses of the resurrection were unrelated and come from various socio-political backgrounds.”

    Most “eyewitnesses” were in a cult. They had made their own “family”. Their leader even said that they should love him more than their family and that they should leave them behind and follow him.

    “5. Little or no pressure – a lie or conspiracy could be maintained if there was little or no external pressure for the conspirators to change their message. And yet, the eyewitnesses of the resurrection all experienced tremendous persecution and even death for maintaining that they had all witnessed Christ’s bodily resurrection.”

    What pressure? What persecution? Going to a town and preaching something different from what they locals believe? Think that might inflame the locals? Not because of what or who is being preached(ing), but because that’s what happens when you question peoples beliefs in an age when they thought it was fine to murder people for blasphemy. You still see that today in some parts of the world. Plenty of secularists overseas have be charged and killed for apostasy.

    “What did the disciples have to gain by making up the resurrection story? According to Detective Wallace, there are three main reasons why someone would want to engage in a conspiracy (a lie): (1) Financial gain, (2) Passion (often sexual), (3) Gain power.”

    I imagine they got a little bit of all three. Obviously they picked up followers. If they had no other job than spreading the word they had to get support (financial, food, lodging) for free. Being the ones with the knowledge, they had the power. People in power often get groupies. Groupies are adoring fans that want to have sexual experiences with people they adore.

    Reply
  4. Terry L says:

    These don’t count, so you’re down to 11

    The claim of 500 witnesses was written to the skeptics of his own day, not to us. The value to us is simply that he was willing to make the challenge, “If you think I’m lying, I can produce over 500 witnesses who will back me up”, to the skeptics. That’s a foolish claim unless you mean it. If your “conspiracy theory” is actually true, then he would have been risking everything with such a foolhardy boast!

    You should expect that at least 1 of these people would have recounted this event.

    You’re assuming they did not. Perhaps they did, and the records are lost. But the fact remains that 1st century Jewish leadership was unable to produce the body of Jesus, or anyone (including these 500) who would deny the empty tomb. Why? Less than 20 years ago, I spoke with a Jew who still believes the outlandish theory that the disciples stole the body!

    If it is a conspiracy and all fake could they not have picked a date in advance?

    Can you give details of how you think this supposed “conspiracy” might work? It seems for this to be true, that:

    * Jesus would have to somehow pick the date for his own crucifixion. (Which he did, but that’s easy, if you’re the Son of God!)
    * Some means of reclaiming the body of their leader would have to be devised. Were the Jews or the Romans in on it?
    Perhaps Joseph had a back door to the tomb that the Romans were too stupid to have noticed!
    * All of the 13 men would have to be willing to die the most hideously painful death ever devised… how did they know that only Jesus would be arrested?
    * If all 13 perished, what was their motive?
    * More than that, these people were Jews. They knew the law. All 13 men (and probably a few of the women) would have been sacrificing any hope in the next life. This conspiracy was based on what Judaism considered a blasphemy. This was the most serious sin under Judaism. They were risking not only their lives, but their souls.
    * Most of them suffered and died telling the same story that they knew was a lie when recanting would have saved their life.
    * Moreover, do you not believe that the Jewish leaders would have made any one of them who recanted a VERY wealthy man? That could have squashed the entire movement. If they wanted wealth, they weren’t very bright. On the other hand, if they weren’t bright enough to see that opportunity, how were they intelligent enough to keep a conspiracy together?
    * They would have to have a motive powerful enough to risk all of the above, and the means to carry it out.

    Possible? Perhaps… anything is possible. Reasonable? Absolutely not! Not even close! It would have been simpler to just overthrow Rome… then the Jewish leaders would have gladly accepted Jesus as their messiah, and no one gets crucified!

    Uh . . . plenty of conspiracies persist regardless of age

    Conspiracy theories, maybe… not true conspiracies. Have you credentials that would make you an expert witness on conspiracies? If not, then I’ll take the word of Mr. Wallace, who has dealt with conspiracies in a professional capacity for many years.

    that happened in a time with limited knowledge

    What do you mean by this? This sounds like a genetic fallacy… do you think they weren’t as intellectually capable as we are today? That they couldn’t tell truth from a lie? Perhaps they weren’t as scientifically or technologically advanced as we, but I’ll promise you, it didn’t take a lot of science or technology to know that when the Romans executed someone, they were D-E-A-D DEAD!

    What pressure? What persecution?

    Seriously? The rest of this paragraph in essence agrees that they were living in a manner similar to the way a Christian today might live in a country following Sharia law, subject to death for trying to evangelize Muslims, and you say, “What pressure?”

    If they had no other job than spreading the word they had to get support (financial, food, lodging) for free.

    Evidence for their not-working? Paul worked as a tentmaker.

    And besides that, we have a lot of people today whose only job is to write books and to go around and give speeches. Do you think that they shouldn’t be paid for this? If not, would you then agree that it was appropriate to support the disciples financially as they spoke and wrote?

    People in power often get groupies. Groupies are adoring fans that want to have sexual experiences with people they adore.

    Any evidence for your slandering of the disciple’s character here, or is this just an unfounded, unsupported possibility? We have Roman letters written that describe early Christians in the most glowing moral terms… their only crime was that they refused to acknowledge Caesar as a god. You seem to be throwing out accusations with no foundations simply to try to cast doubt on the facts. However, the evidence stands directly against you.

    Reply
    • Stephen B says:

      “The claim of 500 witnesses was written to the skeptics of his own day, not to us.”

      How do you know? What’s the earliest document we have of the claim being made that HE claimed 500 witnesses? If the document came after if was possible to track down these 500 people, then it might as well have claimed 5 or 50,000 witnesses.

      Reply
    • Stephen B says:

      “Any evidence for your slandering of the disciple’s character here”

      The blog’s claim was that the disciples could not have had anything to gain from lying about the resurrection. This claim is being used to remove a motive. However, we have no way of knowing whether or not the disciples’ claim about the resurrection as represented in the bible brought them power or not of a sexual nature – certainly it is not true that no-one ever gained power from making claims such as those the bible details the disciples making. And the fact that the disciples are still venerated today by millions of Christians gives the lie to the claim that they gained nothing. They gained fame and generations of adoration from huge numbers of people.

      It is the blog post’s claim here which is lacking in evidence, not Toby’s.

      Reply
  5. Stephen B says:

    “the eyewitnesses of the resurrection all experienced tremendous persecution and even death for maintaining that they had all witnessed Christ’s bodily resurrection.”

    For this claim to work for an apostle, we’d need several factors.

    1) The apostle actually SAW the risen Christ (eg Saul wouldn’t count)
    2) The apostle would have needed to have been killed specifically for claiming they saw the resurrected Jesus.
    3) The apostle was given the chance to recant, but didn’t.
    4) We have contemporaneous accounts of the death, or at least written within the lifetimes of eyewitnesses.

    Can anyone list who fulfils this criteria?

    Wallace’s book seems to quote mainly late 2nd, 3rd and even 4th century works to support claims of ‘martyrs’ deaths – all way, way after the events are supposed to have happened. Even the bible describes apostles dying mainly for other reasons, and we’re not told whether they even had the chance to recant, let alone went to their deaths still insisting they saw a risen Christ.

    Reply
  6. Amit says:

    Here’s another Easter Recipe the WCSG letinsing family might enjoy:Resurrection CookiesPreheat oven to 300 degreesIngredients: 1 cup whole pecans; 3 egg whites; 1 cup sugar; 1 tsp. vinegar; 1 pinch of salt.You need: mixing bowl, wooden spoon, Bible, zipper baggie, waxed paper, cookie sheet, and tape.Place pecan in zipper baggie and let children beat them with the wooden spoon to break into small pieces.Explain that after Jesus was arrested, He was beaten by the Roman soldiers. Read John 19:1-3Let a child smell the vinegar. Put 1 tsp. into mixing bowl. Explain that when Jesus was thirsty on thecross, He was given vinegar to drink. Read John 19:28-30Add egg whites to the vinegar. Eggs represent life. Explain that Jesus gave His life to give us life.Read John 10:10-11Sprinkle a little salt into each child’s hand. Let them taste it and brush the rest into the bowl. Explainthat this represents the salty tears shed by Jesus’ followers, and the bitterness of our own sin.Read Luke 23:27So far the ingredients are not appetizing. Add 1 cup sugar. Explain that the sweetest part of the story isthat Jesus died because He loves us. He wants us to know and belong to Him. Read Psalm 34:8 andJohn 3:16Beat with mixer on high speed for 11-15 minutes until stiff peaks are formed. Explain that the color whiterepresents the purity in God’s eyes of those whose sins have been cleansed by Jesus. Read Isaiah 1:18and John 3:1-3Fold in broken nuts. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto waxed paper-covered cookie sheet. Explain that eachmound represents the rocky tomb where Jesus’ body was laid. Read Matthew 27:65-66Put cookie sheet in the oven. Close the door and turn the oven OFF. Give each child a piece of tape andseal the oven door. Explain that Jesus tomb was sealed. Read Matthew 27:65-66GO TO BED!!Explain that they may feel sad to leave the cookies in the oven overnight. Jesus’ followers were in despairwhen the tomb was sealed. Read John 16:20 and 22On Resurrection Morning open the oven and give everyone a cookie. Notice the cracked surface andtake a bite. The cookies are hollow! On the first Resurrection Day, Jesus’ followers were amazed to findthe tomb open and empty. Read Matthew 28:1-9HE HAS RISEN!! HALLELLUJAH!!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *