Of the many skeptical, alternative theories of the Resurrection, the impostor theory is sometimes offered in an effort explain the apparent confusion of the disciples. There are a number of places in the Gospels where followers of Jesus seem to be slow to recognize Him. Mary mistakes Jesus for a gardener, the disciples on the road to Emmaus fail to recognize Jesus altogether. Couldn’t an impostor have stepped in and fooled the disciples into thinking he was Jesus?
I’ve learned something important from the fraud investigators who have joined our homicide team over the years. Con artists are successful if, and only if, they know more about the focus of their lie, than the people to whom they are lying. If you’re trying to con someone out of money in a phony investment scheme, you better know more about investment businesses than your victims. You’ll need to sound like you know what you’re doing if you want to convince someone to give you their money, and they better not be able to detect your deception. So if someone wanted to con those closest to Jesus into believing that Jesus had actually risen from the dead, he would need to know Jesus (his mannerisms, figures of speech and behaviors) better than the disciples themselves. Who could know Jesus this well? I think it would have to be someone in the inner circle, and this person would have to begin by stealing the body; a difficult feat for a single person. It’s not long before impostor theories turn into theories that Involve co-conspirators, and I’ve written an entire chapter of Cold-Case Christianity to explain why conspiracies are so difficult to execute successfully.
But I think there’s an even better reason to reject the Resurrection impostor theory. The behavior of Jesus following the Resurrection was simply too remarkable to have been achieved by an impostor. Remember that Jesus spent forty days with the disciples, providing many “convincing proofs” to demonstrate that he was truly raised from the dead (see Acts 1:2-3). His behavior following the Resurrection included miraculous, supernatural deeds:
Jesus Appeared Miraculously
Following his Resurrection, Jesus (or his impostor) appeared to the disciples supernaturally, penetrating the room where they had gathered unlike an ordinary human being (Luke 24:36)
Jesus Performed Miraculously
Following the Resurrection, Jesus (or his impostor) repeatedly performed the same kinds of miracles Jesus accomplished prior to the Crucifixion (John 21:6, Acts 1:3)
Jesus Ascended Miraculously
To make matters even more difficult, Jesus (or his impostor) left the disciples spectacularly by ascending into heaven (Luke 24:51, Acts 1:9)
What kind of impostor could do all this? It’s one thing to speak like Jesus, maybe even look like Jesus or move like Him, but it’s another thing to perform supernaturally like Jesus, especially when it’s time to ascend into heaven. In the forty days that followed the first Easter Sunday, Jesus continued to demonstrate His divinity. The post-Resurrection version of Jesus was just as supernatural and divine as the pre-Resurrection Jesus. For this reason, the impostor theory is just another unreasonable alternative.
For more information about the reliability of the New Testament gospels and the case for Christianity, please read Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. This book teaches readers ten principles of cold-case investigations and applies these strategies to investigate the claims of the gospel authors. The book is accompanied by an eight-session Cold-Case Christianity DVD Set (and Participant’s Guide) to help individuals or small groups examine the evidence and make the case.
J. Warner Wallace is a Dateline featured Cold-Case Detective, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Adj. Professor of Christian Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, author of Cold-Case Christianity, God’s Crime Scene, and Forensic Faith, and creator of the Case Makers Academy for kids.
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