Many sceptics have proposed alternative theories to explain the Resurrection of Jesus, but their theories are so contrived and illogical when compared to the claims of Christianity that their very weakness actually helps build confidence in the truth of the Resurrection. Let’s examine why alternative theories about the Resurrection of Christ are false.
There are seven alternative theories for the resurrection, as follows:
- The Wrong-Tomb Theory,
- The Hallucination Theory,
- The Swoon Theory,
- The Stolen-Body Theory,
- The Moved-Body Theory,
- The Relocated-Body Theory, and
- The Copycat Theory
The Wrong-Tomb Theory:
This theory was suggested by British biblical scholar Kirsopp Lake, who proposed that the women who informed the disciples about the missing body of Jesus went to the wrong tomb that morning!
If this is true, then the disciples who went after to check for the body of Jesus must have gone to the wrong tomb as well!
We can be certain, however, that the Roman guard stationed at the tomb to prevent the body from being stolen would not have been mistaken about the location. So how could the women and the disciples have been mistaken about the location of the tomb while at the same time seeing the Roman guards there?
Also, if this theory is true, then why didn’t the Jewish authorities produce the body from the proper tomb, thus nipping this rumour of the resurrection in the bud?
The Hallucination Theory:
The hallucination theory explains that the appearances of Jesus after the Resurrection to His disciples are mere hallucinations that they kept experiencing for a while. For the sceptics, there is no real evidence that Jesus resurrected from death because the disciples were simply deluded.
But could it really be that the disciples have just had hallucinations and all of their testimonies on the resurrection of Jesus are false?
Jesus appeared to His disciples over a forty-day period, and in most instances, He appeared while they were gathered together. In one instance, Jesus appeared to five hundred people at the same time. And that’s not all! Jesus not only appeared to His disciples, but He ate and travelled with them.
One of the disciples of Jesus, Thomas, had similar doubts and refused to believe that Jesus was alive, despite what his friends told him. He insisted that unless he saw the nail marks in the hands of Jesus and put his finger where the nails were, and put his hand into Jesus’s side, he would not believe.
A few days later, Jesus appeared to His disciples and dealt with the doubts of Thomas. He asked Thomas to touch His wounds from the crucifixion. Thomas couldn’t help but believe and worship Jesus.
How then could all the disciples experience the same hallucination while also experiencing it together? How could it be that these hallucinations also involved physical interactions with Jesus and not only visions? And can the hallucination theory explain the fact that most of the disciples endured torture and martyrdom because they stuck to their claim that Jesus became alive after death?
Another issue with this theory is that if all the disciples were hallucinating, why didn’t the Jewish and Roman leaders reveal the actual body of Jesus and refute the claims of the disciples early on?
The Swoon Theory:
Nineteenth-century German rationalist Karl Venturini popularised the swoon theory, which was promoted several centuries ago and is often suggested even today. It claims that Jesus didn’t really die; he merely fainted from exhaustion and loss of blood. Everyone thought he was dead, but later he was resuscitated, and the disciples thought it to be a resurrection.
This theory does not regard the due diligence of the Roman soldier who had to check that Jesus was dead while He was hung on the cross. In Roman law, a soldier would be punished by execution if he let a criminal escape. Therefore, in order to remove any doubt, the soldier pierced the side of Jesus with a spear.
It would also be impossible to explain multiple events that occurred after the resurrection if Jesus had just revived from a swoon. For one, how did Jesus roll the stone of the tomb to get out while He was in such a weak condition? And how did the terrified disciples transform into courageous apostles for the faith if they had only seen a faltering Jesus who barely survived injury?
German theologian David Friedrich Strauss, himself no believer in the Resurrection, deals a deathblow to any thought that Jesus could have revived from a swoon:
“It is impossible that a being who had stolen half-dead out of the sepulchre, 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 that lay at the bottom of their future ministry. Such a resuscitation could only have weakened the impression which He had made upon them in life and in death; at the most, it could only have given it an elegiac voice, but it could by no possibility have changed their sorrow into enthusiasm and elevated their reverence into worship.”
The Stolen-Body Theory:
Another theory maintains that the disciples stole the body of Jesus while the guards slept. The depression and cowardice of the disciples make a hard-hitting argument against it. Can we imagine that they suddenly became so brave and daring as to face a detachment of select soldiers at the tomb and steal the body? They were in no mood to attempt anything like that.
Commenting on the proposition that the disciples stole Christ’s body, J. N. D. Anderson says:
This would run totally contrary to all we know of them: their ethical teaching, the quality of their lives, and their steadfastness in suffering and persecution. Nor would it begin to explain their dramatic transformation from dejected and dispirited escapists into witnesses whom no opposition could muzzle.
The Moved-Body Theory:
Another theory says that the Roman or Jewish authorities moved Christ’s body from the tomb. This explanation is no more reasonable than the stolen-body theory. If the authorities had the body in their possession or knew where it was, why didn’t they explain that they had taken it, thus putting an effective end to the disciples’ preaching of the Resurrection in Jerusalem? If the authorities had taken the body, why didn’t they explain exactly where they had put it? Why didn’t they recover the corpse, display it on a cart, and wheel it through the centre of Jerusalem? Such an action would have utterly destroyed Christianity.
John Warwick Montgomery comments:
“It passes the bounds of credibility that the early Christians could have manufactured such a tale and then preached it among those who might easily have refuted it simply by producing the body of Jesus.”
The Relocated Body Theory:
In The Empty Tomb, Jeffrey Jay Lowder describes an interesting hypothesis, namely, that the body of Jesus was temporarily stored in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea on Friday night before being relocated to a criminal’s tomb. The tomb of Jesus was empty not because He resurrected but because the body was simply relocated. Thus, the disciples mistakenly believed He was resurrected. This hypothesis has gained a considerable following on the Internet.
The “relocation hypothesis” gains support from the fact that reburial was common in ancient Palestine. But it’s important to note that the reburial procedures of the Jews differed significantly from the theory proposed here. The Jewish tradition was to bury a body for one year, and then after the flesh deteriorated and only bones remained, they would remove the bones and place them in an ossuary.
The problem for the relocation of the body of Jesus is the complete lack of historical support, either in biblical or non-biblical sources. None of the New Testament Gospel accounts suggest that the body of Jesus was reburied. Mark 16:6, where the young man at the tomb says, “He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead!” undermines this view.
The relocation hypothesis actually faces a more significant problem. Dr. Michael Licona observes:
“At best, even if the reburial hypothesis were true, all it accounts for is the empty tomb. And interestingly, the empty tomb didn’t convince any of the disciples—possibly with the exception of John—that Jesus had returned from the dead. It was the appearances of Jesus that convinced them, and the reburial theory can’t account for these.”
If the body of Jesus was simply relocated, why didn’t a relative uncover the body when the disciples began proclaiming the resurrection? Why wouldn’t an authority produce the body and stop Christianity in its tracks? Some have suggested that by this time the body of Jesus would be unrecognisable, but given the climate of Palestine, the body would have been recognisable for a considerable amount of time.
The Copycat Theory:
“Nothing in Christianity is original” is one of the most commonly used lines by many critics today. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many scholars believed that the central claims of Christianity were plagiarised from Greco-Roman mystery religions. Jesus was considered another “dying and rising” god in the tradition of Osiris, Mithras, Adonis, and Dionysus. While this theory has experienced a surprising resurgence on the Internet and in popular books, it faces near universal rejection by contemporary scholars. Here’s why.
While parallels between Jesus and the mystery religions may appear striking on the surface, they collapse under scrutiny. Osiris, for instance, is considered by many to be a dying and rising god from ancient Egypt. According to the myth, Osiris was killed by Seth and resuscitated by Isis. But rather than returning to the world in a resurrected body, Osiris became king of the underworld—hardly a parallel to the historical resurrection of Jesus. This is why Paul Rhodes Eddy and Greg Boyd, authors of The Jesus Legend, conclude that “the differences between Christianity and the mystery religions are far more profound than any similarities. While there certainly are parallel terms used in early Christianity and the mystery religions, there is little evidence for parallel concepts.”
Unlike the historical Jesus, there is no evidence for the reliability of any of the alleged parallel stories in the mystery religions. Jesus of Nazareth ate, slept, performed miracles, died, and returned to life. These accounts are supported by a reliable historical record. In contrast, the dying and rising gods of the mystery religions were timeless myths repeated annually with the changing seasons.
The most recent scholarly treatise on dying and rising gods was written by T. N. D. Mettinger, professor at Lund University. In The Riddle of Resurrection, Mettinger grants the existence of the myths of dying and rising gods in the ancient world, which, he admits, is a minority view. Yet his conclusion puts the nail in the coffin of the copycat theory:
“There is, as far as I am aware, no prima facie evidence that the death and resurrection of Jesus is a mythological construct, drawing on the myths and rites of the dying and rising gods of the surrounding world. While studied with profit against the background of Jewish resurrection belief, the faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus retains its unique character in the history of religions. The riddle remains.”
After examining the evidence from a judicial perspective, Lord Darling, former chief justice of England, concludes that “there exists such overwhelming evidence, positive and negative, factual and circumstantial, that no intelligent jury in the world could fail to bring in a verdict that the resurrection story is true.”
What is your evaluation and decision? What do you think about the empty tomb?
To read more articles on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, click on the links below:
- What Do Scholars Think Of The Resurrection Of Jesus?
- Two Logical Fallacies Behind Resurrection Skepticism
- Did Jesus Stay For Two Or Three Days And Nights In The Tomb?
You can view our video series playlists based on these theories here: