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Article 42 - Resurrection Theories

Resurrection Theories
(How Skeptics Try to Refute Christ's Resurrection)

Jon Gary Williams

Biblical skeptics, which include many liberal theologians, are adamant in their rejection of the resurrection of Christ. While generally accepting of the gospel accounts of his life, they deny that Christ was raised from the dead. They attempt to explain away the resurrection with a variety of theories. There are at least seven such theories. Some of them seem to hold some logical ideas, but most lack any rationale. They are merely fanciful, contrived ideas. What are these theories?

The Unconscious Theory

This theory claims that though Jesus was crucified he never actually died, but rather he was only unconscious. This is sometimes called the "swoon theory" -- a fainting or passing out; not dead, but only unconscious.

Those holding to this view accept only certain parts of the gospel accounts and they discard the rest. They accept the record of the gospel accounts in that Jesus was crucified, but they reject his death, recorded in that same account. 

All four gospels clearly state that Jesus was dead. (Matt. 27:50; Mk. 15:37; Lk. 23:46; Jn. 19:30) Two of these men, Matthew and John, were eyewitnesses to his death. 

Here is a question. After suffering such a bloody crucifixion, how could Jesus have survived, unattended, in a tomb for several days?

The Spiritualistic Theory

It is claimed that only the spirit of Jesus was raised, but not his body. Here is the picture: His body was still there, still dead, but only his spirit was gone.

What do the scriptures say? The tomb was empty. The angel said: "He is not here, he is risen, come see the place where the Lord lay." (Matt. 28:6) There was nothing there; Jesus' body was gone. Matthew could not have made it clearer. And, later, the apostles preached a bodily resurrection. (Acts 2:27,31; I Cor. 15:1-4, 35-40,44)

Another important factor: The only thing that can be raised is that which dies. However, the spirit does not die. (Matt. 10:28) (cf. Gen. 35:18) 

The Vision Theory

Some teach that Jesus only appeared to the disciples in a vision. In other words, it wasn't real at all, but only a vision. However, this theory encounters a giant problem. 
The disciples ate with Jesus and touched him. (Lk. 24:30; Jn. 20:27) If it was only a vision, how can this be explained? 

It is ironic that a miracle is created to remove a miracle, but this is exactly what this theory does. In attempting to circumvent a miracle, another equally obvious miracle is invented. 

The Mistaken Women Theory

It is claimed that the women went to the wrong tomb. So, this view places the blame on the women! "They just made a mistake." Again, it is amazing the lengths to which men will go to avoid plain scripture. 

A few important questions: Did the men also go to the wrong tomb? Were the angels present at the tomb also mistaken? Why didn't the enemies of Christ expose this mistake and direct the authorities to the right tomb? Common sense says this is exactly what would have happened, which would have put an end to the resurrection claim. 

The last three theories are similar, in that they claim Jesus' body was simply removed. The idea is that his body was taken away and hidden.

The Joseph Theory

The claim is made that Joseph moved Jesus' body to a different location. This claim may sound plausible, but it faces several serious problems: How did Joseph convince the guards to release the body to him? Remember, the Roman guards were under threat of severe punishment if the tomb was disturbed (Matt. 27:62-66). Also, if skeptics accept the Biblical record that Joseph was a real person, why not accept what it says about his character? He was an "honorable" man (Mk.15:43). Would such a man intentionally deceive others?

This theory lacks any logic and simply fails to make sense. Like others, it accepts from the gospel records what it wants and ignores the rest.

The Disciples Theory

This theory says the Lord's disciples removed the body of Jesus. However, this view is easily exposed. First, if the disciples removed the body, why did the soldiers have to be bribed to say the body was stolen while they were asleep? (Matt. 28:11-15) Second, if the soldiers were asleep, how could they have known the disciples removed the body? Third, if the disciples removed Jesus' body, this means they lied about his resurrection. Yet, these men endangered their lives teaching the resurrection. Will men give their lives defending what they knew to be a lie?

The Enemy Theory

This theory claims that the enemies of Christ removed his body. For the following reasons this theory is flawed. A sensible question would be, why would they do this? What purpose would it have served? By stealing the body they would have only enhanced the disciples' claim that Jesus was raised from the dead. Also, if Jesus' enemies did steal his body, all they had to do to refute his resurrection was simply to produce his body as evidence. 

Additionally, not only must the skeptic deal with the gospel accounts, he must also face the New Testament epistles, especially those of the apostle Paul. Paul explicitly states that many people witnessed the resurrected Christ (I Cor. 15:5-8).