Explaining Away the Resurrection
In April, I promised to write about the various theories that are used to explain away the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Well, here it is, finally. I apologize for the long wait...
Part 1: The Swoon Theory
This view was popular in the eighteenth-century. It is less popular today, but certain aspects of it are still accepted among critics. This theory basically states that Jesus didn't actually die on the cross. He was still alive when He was placed in the tomb, and the cool, damp temperatures of the tomb revived Him. J. N. D. Anderson explains: "Their explanation runs like this: Christ was indeed nailed to the cross. He suffered terribly from shock, loss of blood, and pain, and He swooned away; but He didn't actually die. Medical knowledge was not very great at that time, and the apostles thought He was dead. We are told, are we not, that Pilate was surprised that He was dead already. The explanation assertedly is that He was taken down from the cross in a state of swoon by those who wrongly believed Him to be dead, and laid in the sepulchre. And the cool restfulness of the sepulchre so far revived Him that He was eventually able to issue forth from the grave. His ignorant disciples couldn't believe that this was a mere resuscitation. They insisted it was a resurrection from the dead."
So what's wrong with this theory? Let's take this one step at a time...
Did Christ actually die? For starters, let's look to the Bible. Mark 15:44-45 states: "Pilate marveled that He was already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him if He had been dead for some time. So when he found out from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph." Now, why did Pilate marvel? Some Bible commentators think that he marveled because death by crucifixion normally lasted for days; in other words, the crucified victim normally didn't die immediately. Regardless, Pilates doubts were relieved by his guards' verification of Jesus' death -- the very centurion who was in charge of the execution and who had seen Jesus "breathe His last." This centurion had taken extra precautions to ensure that Jesus was dead by having one of the soldiers thrust a spear into His side. Obviously, the soldiers knew a dead person when they saw one, because they were expert killers. The Jewish leaders add further support to the fact that Jesus was dead, because when the apostles said, "Jesus Christ, whom you crucified, has risen from the dead" (Ac 4:10), they did not deny that He had died. One final piece of evidence can be found in John 19:34: "But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out." John underscores the fact that this is important by saying that he had seen it with his own eyes and written it so that those reading his gospel might believe (vs. 35). What was so significant about blood and water coming out? After examining the various options of how blood and water could result, Samuel Houghton, M.D., a physiologist said, "There remains, therefore, no supposition possible to explain the recorded phenomenon except the combination of the crucifixion and rupture of the heart. That rupture of the heart was the cause of the death of Christ is ably maintained by Dr. William Stroud; and that rupture of the heart actually occurred I firmly believe."Michael Green sums it up well: "Had Jesus been alive when the spear pierced His side, strong spouts of blood would have emerged with every heart beat. Instead, the observer noticed semi-solid dark red clot seeping out, distinct and separate from the accompanying watery serum. This is evidence of massive clotting of the blood in the main arteries, and is exceptionally strong medical proof of death. It is all the more impressive because the evangelist could not possibly have realized its significance to a pathologist. The 'blood and water' from the spear-thrust is proof positive that Jesus was already dead."
If Jesus had swooned...
We have just established the fact that Jesus was dead, but let's suppose for a moment that He did swoon. There are still several problems with this theory.
Coolness cannot revive a sick person.
The proponents of the swoon theory claim that the coolness of the tomb revived Jesus. However, for many years, it has been known that if someone is sick, they need to keep warm to get better. J. N. D. Anderson puts it quite well. "...Do you really believe that lying for hour after hour with no medical attention is a rock-hewn tomb in Palestine at Easter, when it's quite cold at night, would so far have revived Him, instead of proving the inevitable end to His flickering life...?"
The Problem of the Tomb Stone
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that had Jesus swooned, he would not have been able to escape from the tomb. Forget about the fact that the stone was large! Tell me, how could Jesus, a man who had been severely beaten, mocked, and crucified -- had He survived -- been able to move that tomb stone, all on His own? John R. W. Stott asks if we should really believe "that [after surviving without medical attention or warmth] He could then rally sufficiently to perform the superhuman feat of shifting the boulder which secured the mouth of the tomb," which J. N. D. Anderson adds, "that three woman felt incapable of tackling"? The Bible says that "the stone was very large," and no doubt it would take several men to move it, hence the women had asked, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?" So, how could one man roll the stone away when He would have been in such sad physical shape? Think about it: His hands were pierced, and would have been, no doubt, raw and extremely painful! It's a no-brainer! Plus, one would also have to consider the fact that even if Jesus could manage to open the tombstone, He would still have to get past the guards! How would a gravely ill, half-dead body accomplish that? After all, the guards would have no trouble fighting off such a mangled body!
The problem of Jesus' activeness
If Jesus had swooned, one would not expect Him to be so active after He somehow managed to roll the tombstone away with His bare hands! Case in point, how could Jesus make the seven-mile walk to Emmaus -- on feet that had been pierced through, and with a body that had been severly beaten? E.F. Kevan says, "On His feet, which had been pierced through and through only two days back, He walks without difficulty the two leagues between Emmaus and Jerusalem. He is so active, that during the repast He disappears suddenly out of sight of His fellow-travelers, and when they return to the capital to announce the good news to the apostles, they find Him there again! He has overtaken them! With the same quickness which characterizes all His movements, He presents Himself suddenly in the room in which the disciples are assembled.... Are these the actions of a man who had just been taken down half-dead from the cross, and who has been laid in the grave in a condition of complete exhaustion? No." And there are many other examples of Jesus' activeness after His supposed swoon, such as the fact that He appeared to over 500 at one time, ate with His disciples, talked with them, and appeared to them over a period of 40 days! (Critics would like to place hallucinations or some other natural phenomenon on these appearances. We will get into that more as we cover the other theories against Jesus' death and resurrection.) Not only that, but if one is to maintain belief in the swoon theory, he must also explain why the disciples believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. That little medical knowledge was known at that time, may be true, but one who is half-dead can hardly persuade anyone that he has risen from the dead; no one would believe him. Even skeptic David Friedrich Strauss, who does not believe in the resurrection, admits this: "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 which 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 could only have given it an elegaic voice, but could by no possibility have changed their sorrow into enthusiasm, have elevated their reverence into worship." William Milligan adds, "When the first fears of the disciples were dispelled, it was one of joy, of boldness, and of enthusiasm; we see none of those feelings of pity, of sympathy with suffering, of desire to render help, that must have been called forth by the appearance of a person who had swooned away through weariness and agony, who had continued in unconsciousness from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning, and who was now only in the first moments of recovery," and "In the narratives of the various appearances of the risen Christ there is no hint of any such physical weakness as would have been inevitable if Christ had revived from apparent death. The disciples in fact saw in their risen Master not One recovering against all expectation from acute sufferings, but One Who was the Lord of life and the Conqueror of death...." Something convinced the disciples that Jesus had risen, a fact that would not be possible if He had merely swooned.
The Problem of Jesus' integrity
Jesus would have been a liar to tell His disciples that He had risen from the dead if He had merely survived and was in such a sorry physical state. It would be against His character to do so. E. Le Camus wrote, "Let us say, moreover, that if Jesus had only swooned, He could not, without injury to His character, allow any one to believe that He had been dead. Instead of presenting Himself as one risen again, He should have said simply preserved by chance. In fact, here as everywhere else in the Gospel, we encounter this insurmountable dilemma: either Jesus was the Just One, the Man of God, or among men He is the greatest of criminals. If He presented Himself as one from the dead, whereas He was not such, He is guilty of falsehood, and must be denied even the most common honesty."
When did Jesus die?
If Jesus didn't die on the cross, then when did He die? He would have had to remain in hiding for 40 years to give the allusion that He had resurrected. In this case, He would have died in seclusion, because no one could know where He was or it would all be found to be a fraud. Milligan concurs: "He must have retired to some solitary retreat unknown even to the most attached of His disciples. While His Church was rising around Him, shaking the old world to its foundations, and introducing everywhere amid many difficulties a new order of things -- while it was torn by controversies, surrounded by temptations, exposed to trials, placed in short in the very circumstances that made it most dependent on His aid -- He was absent from it, and spending the remainder of His days, whether few or many, in what we can describe by no other term than ignoble solitude. And then at last He must have died -- no one can say either where, or when, or how! There is not a ray of light to penetrate the darkness; and these early Christians, so fertile, we are told, in legends, have not a single legend to give us help." Furthermore, if the above is true, we may as well get rid of the resurrection from the Gospels and Acts; and in such a case, it would also be necessary to explain all of Christ's appearances, which is exactly why the critics would say that Jesus went into seclusion. In such a case, it would further be seen that Jesus was a deceiver, because He told His disciples that He had risen from the dead, and then instead of ascending to Heaven, He goes into hiding, leaving them to believe many falsehoods about Himself!
But there is good news! Jesus is alive and seated at the right hand of the Father! "So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God." (Mark 16:19) He is not a man that He should lie, so if He said that He rose, then He did! The Bible never mentions a swoon; it only mentions the fact that everyone knew that Jesus was dead, and then He was no longer in the grave -- even if some of the witnesses didn't believe that He rose, they still knew that the tomb was empty, and no swoon theory can explain that!
Stay tuned for Part Two: The Theft Theory