As apologist Josh McDowell points out, some theories to explain away the resurrection of Christ take as much faith to believe as the Resurrection itself.124 He has debated the Resurrection with skeptics more than just about anyone alive. He writes:
After more than 700 hours of studying this subject, and thoroughly investigating its foundation, I have come to the conclusion that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the "most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted upon the minds of men, or it is the most fantastic fact of history A student at the University of Uruguay said to me: "Professor McDowell, why can't you refute Christianity?" I answered: "For a very simple reason: I am not able to explain away an event in history— the resurrection of Jesus Christ."125 We will now examine some of the theories put forth to explain away the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The first theory to explain away Christ's resurrection is called the "Fraud Theory." This was and is the theory of the Jews. Essentially, what the Jews are saying is that the whole thing was a fraud. We read: "Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened" (Matthew 28:11).
Interestingly, you hear it said sometimes that Jesus never appeared to anybody but believers. But that is not true; He appeared to the guard. They were so terrified by His appearance that they fainted and became as dead men. Then they came and told the High Priest what had happened. Jesus appeared to James, his brother, who was skeptical. Jesus appeared to Saul, the persecutor. None of these was a Christian at the time.
The Bible continues: "When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, 'Tell them, "His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.' And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will appease him and make you secure." So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day" (Matthew 28:12-15) ...and until this day, nearly 2,000 years later.
How does this stack up with the evidence. First of all, there is the Christian Church. Does the "Fraud
Theory" give a plausible reason for the Christian Church? The Church was founded by the apostles, who preached the Resurrection. If the Fraud Theory were right, then they knew they had stolen the body and planted it in the rose garden. But they went ahead and proclaimed that He had risen from the dead.
Something happened to the disciples that changed them in a moment, from cowardice to heroic courage. They said it was that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. To say that they stole the body and made up a resurrection doesn't make sense. That view does not reflect the realities of human nature. For example, when two criminals are charged with the same murder, even when they have previously been friends, they will almost invariably accuse the other of pulling the trigger.
The disciples didn't change their story one bit, although they had everything to gain and nothing to lose by doing so. The apostles continued throughout all of their lives to proclaim that they had seen Him risen from the dead. Their speaking out led to torture and execution, but none of them ever sought to save his own skin by revealing the "plot."
Dr. Principal Hill, who wrote Lectures in Divinity, which were popular in the nineteenth century, has shown the absurdity of the Fraud theory perhaps more succinctly than anyone else. This is terrific:
You must suppose that twelve men of mean birth, of no education, living in that humble station which placed ambitious views out of their reach and far from their thoughts, without any aid from the state, formed the noblest scheme which ever entered into the mind of man, adopted the most daring means of executing that scheme, conducted it with such address as to conceal the imposture under the semblance of simplicity and virtue. You must suppose, also, that men guilty of blasphemy and falsehood, united in an attempt the best contrived, and which has in fact proved the most successful for making the world virtuous; that they formed this single enterprise without seeking any advantage to themselves, with an avowed contempt of loss and profit, and with the certain expectation of scorn and persecution; that although conscious of one another's villainy, none of them ever thought of providing for his own security by disclosing the fraud, but that amidst sufferings the most grievous to flesh and blood they persevered in their conspiracy to cheat the world into piety, honesty and benevolence. Truly, they who can swallow such suppositions have no title to object to miracles.126 How true that is. No, the Fraud Theory will not stand up to the evidence.
A second theory to explain away the Resurrection is the "Swoon Theory." This is the theory of the Christian Scientists. The Swoon Theory is the idea that Jesus never really died. It is most interesting that until the 1800s, no one ever thought that Jesus hadn't died. Everyone believed He had.
I think it is significant that the people who put Him to death were "in the business." What was their trade? Their business was taking people who were alive and making them into people who were dead. That is what they did for a living. They would go home at night and say, "Well, I did three today, honey." They were experts at what they did.
But what the Swoon theory says is that Jesus didn't really die; He merely swooned and then, being placed in the fresh coolness of the tomb, He revived. That does not live up to the facts. Obviously, here is a man who had been scourged, which often killed people in and of itself. His hands and feet and His side had been pierced.
In the Philippines, some people have had themselves crucified on Good Friday. They will sometimes stay up there for three, four, or five minutes, and then, not having been scourged, not having been up all night, not having gone without food for hours, not having had their side and pericardium pierced, they are taken down and moved to a hospital, where they very nearly die.
Jesus, we are supposed to believe, having been placed in the cool freshness of a tomb, revived. Actually, if a person has gone into shock, should you put him in a cool place? No way. That would kill him. Instead, you cover him with blankets and try to keep his body temperature up. So the cool freshness of the tomb may sound nice on a hot day, but if you are in shock, that is the last thing you want. In fact, if He were not dead when they put Him into the tomb, that most certainly would have killed Him.127
Supposedly, Jesus stays there for three days, and then He gets up on mangled feet, hobbles to the door of the tomb and finds there this stone weighing a few tons. With mangled hands, He presses against the flat side of the rock and rolls it away. Then He overcomes the Roman guard of armed men. After that, He takes a seven-mile hike to Emmaus and chats with some fellows on the way. No one noticed He was limping. Then He treks almost a hundred miles to Galilee and climbs a mountain. There He convinces 500 people that He is the Lord of Life.
The Swoon theory has received a fatal blow by a skeptic himself by the name of David Friedrich Strauss— a 19th century German who wrote on the life of Jesus. He didn't believe in the Resurrection, but he knew that this theory was utterly ridiculous. Listen to what an unbeliever says about the Swoon theory:
It is impossible that a being who had stolen half dead out of the sepulcher, who crept about weak and ill, wanting medical treatment, who required bandaging, strengthening and indulgence and who, still at last, yielded to his sufferings, could have given to the disciples the impression that he was a conqueror over death and the grave, The Prince of Life, an impression which lay at the bottom of all of their future ministry. Such a resuscitation could only have weakened the impression which he made in life and in death and at the most, could only have given it an elegiac voice, a lament for the dead. But could by no possibility have changed their sorrow into enthusiasm, have elevated their reverence into worship.128 And with Strauss' critique, other than the devoted Christian Scientists, the Swoon Theory has swooned away.
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