False Theories of the Resurrection. Part #1: An Introduction

As corroborated by the scriptural record, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a foundational principle of Christian faith and doctrine. As the son of God and savior of humanity, Christ’s identity and mission stand on the historical accuracy of His bodily resurrection. 1 For the Apostle Paul, the resurrection is the pivotal event in human history. If it is, in fact, true, the resurrection validates and fulfills the earthly teaching of Jesus Christ. If it not true, however, Christianity as a whole may be dismissed as a false religion. Paul acknowledged the importance and necessity of the resurrection in his writings to the Corinthian church:

And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up–if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

1 Corinthians 15:14-17, NKJV

To gain the most straightforward understanding of Christ’s resurrection and the alternative explanations, it is necessary to understand what is meant by resurrection. Three terms are often confused: resuscitation, reincarnation, and resurrection. When a person experiences a resuscitation, he returns as the same person in the same body and will inevitably die and be buried. Afterward, the same person does not return. Those who believe in reincarnation hold that when a person dies, he comes back as a different person in a different body. The belief is that a person comes back repeatedly, each time in a different body that will eventually die. In a resurrection, the person who died returns to the same body- only this body will never face and experience death again. 2

Paul cited the resurrection of Jesus Christ as proof of His deity. He wrote, “Concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:3-4). Paul’s linkage of Jesus’ resurrection to His deity offered essentially two choices:

It is the resurrection that sets him apart and authenticates his claim to deity. Had Jesus not risen from the dead, he would be remembered today only as a Jewish moralist who had some inflated ideas about his own relationship to God and made a number of ridiculous demands on those who wanted to be his disciples. On the other hand, if it is true that he rose from the dead, then his teachings about himself are true and his requirements for discipleship must be taken with all seriousness.

Robert Mounce

For Paul, the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a guarantee of the believer’s resurrection. He shared with the church at Corinth the connection between the two:

For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

1 Corinthians 15:16-20

Centuries have passed since Christ’s resurrection, and several arguments have emerged that offer alternate theories to the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are five common theories. The Swoon Theory holds that Jesus fainted and then resuscitated. The Hallucination Theory advances the belief the disciples only thought they saw Jesus alive. The Conspiracy Theory holds the disciples stole the body of Jesus and then claimed a bodily resurrection. The resurrection was a made-up story forms basis of the Legend Theory. The Wrong-Tomb Theory is straightforward- the disciples went to the wrong tomb on that Sunday morning.

I will break down these alternative theories over the next five days.

1 Elwell, Walter A., and Barry J. Beitzel. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible 1988.

2 Geisler, Norman L. Reasons for Belief; Easy to Understand Answers to 10 Essential Questions. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2013.

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