Easter season is upon us and it is almost certain that some newspapers, 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:
- Small number of conspirators
- Thorough and immediate communication
- Short time span
- Significant relational connections
- 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.
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