Alternative Theories to the Resurrection of Christ


by Wayne S. Walker

     The resurrection of Christ is presented in scripture as an actual event of hisotry. It cannot be explained philosophically as "the resurrection of a cause" because this does not deal with the facts admitted by all–that Jesus died, He was buried, His tomb was sealed and guarded, but it was empty on the third day, and His disciples soon began preaching His resurrection. Very early, alternative theories to the resurrection of Christ began to arise and were promoted by those who refused to believe the facts. Many such theories are still advocated today.

     One is the "swoon theory," that Jesus did not really die on the cross but merely swooned and was mistaken for dead. Then after resting in the tomb for a couple of days, He awakened and escaped. First, all the evidence testifies to His actual death. The Jews rememberd His predictions of a resurrection, and would want to make sure that He was truly dead (Matthew 27:62-66). The Romans were expert executioners and, given the fact that the soldiers’ lives would be forfeited if they failed, could be trusted to know a dead body when they saw it (Mark 15:43-45). But just so that everyone would be sure that Jesus was dead, a spear was thrust into His side with the separation of blood and water showing beyond doubt that He was dead (John 19:34-35). Furthermore, even if He were not dead, it is unreasonable to believe that having undergone all His previous suffering He could, in such a weakened condition, roll away a stone which a group of women thought was too big for them (Mark 16:2-4).

     Another theory is the "two-tomb" or "wrong-tomb" theory, that the women mistakenly went to another tomb and, not seeing the body of Jesus, jumped to the conclusion that He had been raised from the dead. However, it is unlikely that they would be in error. "When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed. And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb" (Matthew 27:59-61). The women took great pains to see exactly where the tomb was because they were planning to return to complete the anointing of the body. Matthew also mentions a couple of other details which are important. It was a new tomb (John 19.41-42). There was no possibility that Jesus’s body could have been confused with others. And it was hewn out of solid rock (Luke 23.53). There was no other way for anyone to enter or leave the tomb.

     Several "psychological" theories have been suggested. Some allege that the resurrection was an optical illusion, saying that the disciples so wanted to see Jesus risen from the dead that they mistook things that they saw for the resurrected Lord. However, the Bible is plain that the disciples were not really expecting a resurrection (Luke 24.9-11). Others contend that when people claimed to see Jesus raised from the dead, it was just a hallucination. However, this so-called "hallucination" appeared to many different people at many different times in many different places, including to 500 people at one time (Acts 1.1-3, 1 Corinthians 15.3-8). That is not the nature of a hallucination. Still others claim that the resurrection appearances were merely visions by people hoping for a resurrection. But, again, the disciples clearly did not understand what the resurrection was all about, nor did they believe it at first (Mark 9.9-10, 10.32-33, 16.9-14). And why did the illusions, hallucinations, or visions suddenly stop?

     A couple of "spiritualist" theories have also been propounded. There is the idea that Jesus did not really rise form the dead but that after His death He appeared to the disciples in some kind of plasma body, like a ghost. However, this denies the facts stated in the Bible account. The disciples at first thought that He was a spirit or a ghost, but He said that He was still flesh and bone (Luke 24.36-40). In fact, the prints of the nails in His hans and of the spear in His side were evidently still quite visible (John 20.24-29). And there is the proposal that the whole thing was done by mental telepathy, that Jesus was sending His mental image from "the great beyond" to the disciples. However, mental images do not consume fish and honeycomb (Luke 24.41-43). Nor are they able to fix breakfast for physical human beings (John 21.1-14).

     There is one other theory, in fact the earliest and perhaps the most popular through the years, that the body of Jesus was stolen. We shall examine that more closely in the next article of this series. But let us again look at the facts as we know them. Jesus died on the cross and was buried in a new tomb hewn out of a rock with a great stone in front of it being watched by a guard. Three days later, a group of women went to that tomb, found it open, and saw that nobody was there. Immediately after that, reports began to surface of people seeing Jesus alive again. And the message of His resurrection changed lives, converted enemies, and fueled a movement that still exists today. What is the most reasonable explanation of these facts? "Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel" (2 Timothy 2.8). (—taken from With All Boldness; Oct., 2001; Vol. 11, No. 10; p. 8)


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