Homicide detectives are perhaps the least trusting people in the country. My own experience investigating murders has taught me to consider everyone a liar – until, at least, I have good reason to believe otherwise. I know that sounds pessimistic, but I learned a long time ago that mysteries don’t get solved if you believe everything you’re told. Maybe that’s why I rejected the claims of Christianity for so many years. I was an atheist until the age of thirty-five and like many other non-believers, I thought the claims related to the Resurrection of Jesus were most likely lies on the part of the alleged eyewitnesses.
Then I examined these claims using the tools of a detective.
In my years working robberies and homicides, I had the opportunity to investigate (and break) several conspiracy efforts. As a result, I now know what it takes to accomplish a conspiracy. Successful conspiracies typically involve the following five conditions:
A small number of conspirators – The smaller the number of conspirators, the more likely the conspiracy will be a success. Lies are difficult to maintain, and the fewer the number of people who have to continue the lie, the better.
A short time span – It’s hard enough to tell a lie once; even more difficult to repeat the lie consistently over a long period of time. For this reason, the shorter the conspiracy, the better. The ideal conspiracy would involve only two conspirators, and one of the conspirators would kill the other right after the crime. That’s a conspiracy that would be awfully hard to break.
Thorough and immediate communication – This is key. One (or more) of the conspirators will eventually be questioned by authorities. Other co-conspirators had better know everything (and every minute detail) offered in this interaction with questioners. Conspirators need to be able to tell each other what they’ve said to authorities, friends and family members.
Significant Relational Connections – When all the coconspirators are connected in deep and meaningful relationships, it’s much harder to convince one of them to “give up” the other. When all the conspirators are family members, for example, this task is nearly impossible. The greater the relational bond between all the conspirators, the greater the possibility of success.
Little or No Pressure – Few suspects confess to the truth until they recognize the jeopardy of failing to do so. Unless pressured to confess, conspirators will continue lying. Pressure does not have to be physical in nature. When suspects fear incarceration or condemnation from their peers, they often respond in an effort to save face or save their own skin. This is multiplied as the number of coconspirators increases. The greater the pressure on co-conspirators, the more likely the conspiracy is to fail.
That’s why I now reject the claim that the disciples of Jesus lied about the Resurrection. The number of conspirators required to successfully accomplish the “Christian conspiracy” would have been staggering. The book of Acts tells us that there were as many as 120 eyewitnesses in the upper room following Jesus’s ascension (Acts 1:15), and Paul told the believers in Corinth that hundreds of people claimed to see the risen Christ (1 Corinthians). It’s unreasonable to believe the disciples conspired to lie about the Resurrection for the following reasons:
There would have been too many disciples involved in the conspiracy.
The apostles would have been required to protect their conspiratorial lies for too long (over six decades).
The apostles had little or no effective way to communicate with one another in a quick or thorough manner, given the limited communication technology of the first century and the geographic distance between the disciples.
While there were pairs of family members in the group of apostolic eyewitnesses, most had no familial relationship to each other at all.
The apostles were aggressively pressured and persecuted as they were scattered from Italy to India.
Don’t get me wrong, successful conspiracies occur every day. But if you think you know of one, it’s because it wasn’t successful. When conspiracies are successful, it’s because they involve a small number of incredibly close-knit participants who are in constant communication with one another for a very short period without any outside pressure. That wasn’t the case for the disciples. These men and women were either involved in the greatest (and most unlikely) conspiracy of all time or were simply eyewitnesses who were telling the truth. For Christians celebrating Easter this year, the latter is by far the most reasonable conclusion.
J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, Christian Case Maker, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, God’s Crime Scene, God’s Crime Scene for Kids, and Forensic Faith.