Friday, January 24, 2014

Problems With A Conspiracy View Of The Resurrection

In another thread, Thomas Keningley wrote:

On a tangential note, Jason, can you point me to any resources, from you or elsewhere, arguing against "Conspiracy theory" used as an alternative to the resurrection to explain the apostolic preaching, i.e. the disciples conspired with other [supposed, on this theory] eyewitnesses to cook up the resurrection which they then preached from Pentecost?

Here's my response:


There are a lot of problems with the conspiracy theory view of the resurrection. I'll recommend several resources, and you can find others in our archives.

Keep in mind what implications the theory has for other aspects of early church history. The alleged dishonesty of the early resurrection witnesses can't be isolated from a large network of other factors involved. (For a further discussion of how historical events are often tied together and can't be separated as easily as some people suggest, see here.) For example, the disciples didn't just claim to be eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus, but also performed apparent miracles. Where did they get that ability to perform miracles if they were lying about the resurrection? So, the historicity of apostolic miracles is associated with the trustworthiness of the disciples' resurrection claims. (My current series of posts on Acts is relevant here, such as tomorrow's post on the historicity of the book.)

Here's an article I wrote about the moral standards of the early Christians in general. While it would be possible for Jesus and his disciples to start a movement so characterized by high ethical standards in spite of the fact that the disciples started the movement largely through dishonesty, the honesty of the disciples makes more sense of the evidence.

And here's a series of posts I wrote about evidence for the suffering and death of the apostles, including the martyrdom of some of them. Their willingness to suffer for a belief system that had the resurrection as one of its foundational claims suggests that they were sincere in their claims to have seen the resurrected Christ.

Regarding the possibility that the disciples lied in order to achieve what they considered a greater good, see Appendix VIII in the e-book here.

Furthermore, the resurrection accounts involve unusual and embarrassing claims unlikely to have been made up by a conspiracy of the disciples. See here.

Here's a post about the evidence for early acknowledgment of the empty tomb by the Jewish opponents of Christianity.

And the guard at the tomb is problematic for a conspiracy theory view of the resurrection. For a discussion of some of the evidence for the guard, see here and my comments in the thread here.

James became a Christian prior to Pentecost (you mentioned Pentecost above), but he seems to have been opposed to Christianity until the time of Jesus' resurrection appearances. See here. Why would he oppose Christianity for so long, including when Jesus was at the height of his popularity prior to the crucifixion, then join a conspiracy to lie about a resurrection just after Jesus had been collectively and officially condemned by the Jewish and Roman authorities and suffered the shame of a crucifixion?

Paul became a Christian after Pentecost. Why think somebody who was so opposed to Christianity, and suffered so much as a Christian and died as a martyr, had joined a conspiracy to lie about the resurrection? Here's a post I wrote about some of the evidence for Paul's encounter with the risen Jesus and the miracles Paul was able to perform as a result of that encounter.

Given the evidence we have for Old Testament prophecy fulfillment, we have reason to expect Jesus to fulfill the apparent prophecy of his resurrection in Isaiah 53 and his own prophecies of his resurrection. In other words, the precedent of Old Testament prophecy fulfillment gives us reason to believe in Jesus' resurrection.

Similarly, Jesus' pre-resurrection miracles add credibility to the resurrection claim.

And modern Christian miracles done in the name of the resurrected Jesus offer similar evidence.

The Shroud of Turin seems to be authentic (see my collection of material on the subject here and Dan Porter's blog here; I summarize my argument for the Shroud as evidence of the resurrection in post #14 in Porter's thread here), and I've argued that the Shroud provides us with some evidence of Jesus' resurrection. The Shroud wouldn't have been fabricated by a conspiracy of Jesus' disciples.


  1. Great post!!! I predict it'll be added to the weekly recommendations at Apologetics315.

    For example, the disciples didn't just claim to be eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus, but also performed apparent miracles. Where did they get that ability to perform miracles if they were lying about the resurrection?

    As Christians it's eminently reasonable for us to conclude that the most likely explanation is that Christianity is true and that the Christian God empowered the disciples to perform those miracles.

    However, non-Christians who aren't materialists may argue that it was through some other means. Maybe natural psychic ability or some other view of spirituality. That's why I think you're (i.e. Jason) so right that we need to be prepared to address paranormal phenomena and other claims of spirituality

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, ANNOYED PINOY! For those who are interested, here's one of the threads where we address the notion that Christian miracles are just manifestations of human psi.

  2. Thanks so much for this Jason, it's extremely helpful. I appreciate these apologetics catalogues greatly.

    In regard to the guard at the tomb, presumably a Conspiracy Theorist would say that the disciples waited until the tomb was no longer guarded (since they had 50 days or so from Passover to Pentecost) and stole the body at some point then, right?

    1. A theory involving theft of the body by the disciples is already highly unlikely for other reasons, like the ones I mentioned above. But even if we single out what you've just mentioned, the early Christian claims about the resurrection and the Jewish response involve the body's removal shortly after its being placed in the tomb, at a time when the guard was still there.