Investigating Easter: Were the Disciples Fooled By An Imposter?

As an atheist, the Resurrection of Jesus seemed preposterous to me. I was willing to accept the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth, but I rejected the supernatural claims of the New Testament Gospels, especially the claim that Jesus rose from the dead. When I eventually decided to investigate the Resurrection, I made a list of all the possible explanations for the claims of the disciples. Were they mistaken about the death of Jesus? Did they lie about the Resurrection? Were they hallucinating? I examined a number of explanations, including the possibility that an imposter tricked the disciples and convinced them that Jesus was still alive. If this were the case, the disciples might have unknowingly advanced a lie.

While imposter theories may account for the observations of the disciples, they require an additional set of conspirators (other than the apostles who were later fooled) to accomplish the task of stealing the body. Many of my partners spent several years investigating fraud and forgery crimes prior to joining us on the homicide team. They’ve learned something about successful con artists. The less the victim understands about the specific topic and area in which they are being “conned,” the more likely the con artist will be successful. Victims are often fooled and swindled out of their money because they have little or no expertise in the area in which the con artist is operating. The perpetrator is able to use sophisticated language and make claims that are outside of the victim’s expertise. The crook sounds legitimate, primarily because the victim doesn’t really know what truly is legitimate. When the targeted victim knows more about the subject than the person attempting the con, the odds are good that the perpetrator will fail at his attempt to fool the victim. For this reason, the proposal that a sophisticated first-century con artist fooled the disciples seems unreasonable. There are many concerns with such a theory:

1. The impersonator would have to be familiar enough with Jesus’s mannerisms and statements to convince the disciples. The disciples knew the topic of the con better than anyone who might con them.

2. Many of the disciples were skeptical and displayed none of the necessary naïveté that would be required for the con artist to succeed. Thomas, for example, was openly skeptical from the beginning.

3. Who would seek to start a world religious movement if not one of the hopeful disciples? This theory requires someone to be motivated to impersonate Jesus other than the disciples themselves.

4. This explanation also fails to account for the empty tomb or missing body of Jesus.

5. The impersonator would need to possess miraculous powers; the disciples reported that the resurrected Jesus appeared miraculously (Luke 24:36), performed many miracles and “convincing proofs” (John 21:6, Acts 1:3), and ascended into heaven miraculously (Luke 24:51, Acts 1:9).

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Investigating Easter: Did the Disciples Imagine the Resurrection?

In the many centuries since the disciples of Jesus reportedly observed the risen Christ, critics of Christianity have challenged the supernatural claim of the Resurrection. Some skeptics believe the disciples, as a result of their intense grief and sorrow, only imagined seeing Jesus alive after His death on the cross. These critics claim the appearances were simply hallucinations that resulted from wishful thinking. But this proposal fails to explain the empty tomb and only accounts for the resurrection experiences at first glance.

As a detective, I frequently encounter witnesses who are related in some way to the victim in my case. These witnesses are often profoundly impacted by their grief following the murder.

Investigating Easter: Did The Disciples Lie About the Resurrection?

Did Jesus really rise from the grave on Easter Sunday? Is the Resurrection of Jesus a fabrication created by the disciples in an effort to start a world religion or accomplish some other nefarious goal? Some skeptics claim the disciples stole the body of Jesus from the grave and later fabricated the stories of Jesus’s resurrection appearances. While this explanation may account for the empty tomb and the resurrection observations (as lies), it fails to account for the transformed lives of the apostles.

In my years working robberies, I had the opportunity to investigate (and break) a number of conspiracy efforts, and I learned about the nature of successful conspiracies. I’ve written about this extensively at ColdCaseChristianity.com. Based on my experience, I am hesitant to embrace any theory that requires the conspiratorial effort of a large number of people, over a significant period of time, when there is personally little or nothing to gain by their effort. This skeptical apostolic conspiracy theory requires us to believe that the apostles were transformed and emboldened not by the miraculous appearance of the resurrected Jesus but by elaborate lies created without any benefit to those who were perpetuating the hoax. In addition to this concern from the perspective of a detective, there are other concerns that have to be considered when evaluating the claim that the disciples lied about the resurrection:

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Investigating Easter: Did Jesus Really Die on the Cross?

Some skeptics have offered the possibility that the disciples were mistaken about Jesus’s death on the cross. They propose that Jesus survived the beating (and the crucifixion) and simply appeared to the disciples after He recovered. After all, the Biblical record in John’s gospel indicates the two thieves crucified alongside Jesus were still alive when the soldiers arrived to remove the bodies from the crosses:

John 19:31-35
Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him; but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe.

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Are Christians Biased?

Christians are often accused of being “biased” simply because we believe in the supernatural. This accusation has power in our current pluralistic culture. Biased people are seen as prejudicial and unfair, arrogant and overly confident of their position. Nobody wants to be identified as someone who is biased or opinionated. But make no mistake about it, all of us have a point of view; all of us hold opinions and ideas that color the way we see the world. Anyone who tells you that he (or she) is completely objective and devoid of presuppositions has another more important problem: that person is either astonishingly naive or a liar.
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Why I Know the Disciples Didn’t Conspire to Fabricate the Resurrection of Jesus

How do we know the resurrection of Jesus really occurred? Were the gospel authors and disciples telling the truth about this central claim of Christianity, or did they conspire to fabricate the most compelling story of all time? Is the Resurrection simply a lie? In my experience as a detective, I have investigated many conspiracies and multiple suspect crimes. While successful conspiracies are the popular subject of many movies and novels, I’ve come to learn that they are (in reality) very difficult to pull off. Successful conspiracies share a number of common characteristics:
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Would God Actually Use Evil to Draw Us to Himself?

In God’s Crime Scene, I make a robust cumulative case for the existence of God from eight pieces of evidence in the universe. Evidence that points toward a particular conclusion (or suspect) is described as inculpating evidence, and evidence that points away from the same conclusion (or suspect) is called exculpating evidence. Given the abundance of inculpating evidence pointing to a Divine Creator (as described in God’s Crime Scene), it’s reasonable to conclude this is the best explanation for the first cause of the universe. But many believe the existence of evil presents a problem for our case. While evil is only a single piece of exculpating evidence relative to the many other inculpating evidences we’ve discovered, it is not an insignificant piece of data. Professor of Metaphysics, Robin Le Poidevin, describes the problem in the following way:
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Did Free Will Simply “Emerge”?

In my book, God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for A Divinely Created Universe, I describe eight pieces of evidence “in the room” of the natural universe and ask a simple question: Can this evidence be explained by staying “inside the room” or is a better explanation “outside the room” of naturalism? One important piece of evidence I consider in this effort is the existence of “free will”. Some philosophers and scientists have speculated free will might simply “emerge” from a deterministic system. Emergence is a concept described in sciences such as physics, chemistry and sociology. When a property appears spontaneously in a system, unpredicted by the laws governing the individual parts of the system, it is said to “emerge.”
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Would God Really Allow Us to Suffer Evil In Order to Develop Our Character?

The “problem of evil” is often cited by skeptics to defend their disbelief: Why would an all-powerful, all-loving God allow His children to experience pain and suffering? In my latest book, God’s Crime Scene, I examine the problem of evil as one of eight pieces of evidence in the universe. Evil is typically considered a form of “exculpating” evidence, eliminating the reasonable inference of God’s existence. An ancient form of the problem is sometimes attributed to Epicurus:
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Did the “Virgin Conception” First Appear Late in History?

Some critics have argued the "virgin conception" of Jesus is a late mythological addition attributed to Christian believers many centuries after the fact. These skeptics presume, of course, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were written far later than the 1st Century, when eyewitnesses would have been available to refute the additional mythology. The history of the early Church reveals, however, that the "virgin conception" was recognized and accepted very early in history. The first opponents of Christianity recognized that Mary gave birth to Jesus without an identified earthly father and claimed that Jesus was, therefore, illegitimate. Celsus (a Greek philosopher and opponent of Christianity) echoed this charge in the 2nd Century in his work entitled, "The True Discourse". It's clear that the issue of Jesus' parentage was an early concern, and the first believers were committed to the idea of the "virgin conception":

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About
J. Warner Wallace is a cold-case homicide detective, Christian case maker and author of Cold-Case Christianity and God's Crime Scene


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