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Attempts to Explain the Empty Tomb (1)

Christianity makes it claim upon the resurrection of Jesus. Paul argues the centrality of the resurrection of Jesus to our faith. If Jesus did not raise from the dead, then our faith is useless and vain. But if Jesus did raise from the dead, then the other claims of Jesus are true. Jesus is the Son of God and we must worship Him if the resurrection is true.

Historically we know that the tomb of Jesus was empty. The tomb was not in some no name place where confusion could happen easily. The tomb is in Jerusalem. All explanations in trying to discard the resurrection have to deal with the tomb of Jesus being empty. We have record that even the enemies of Jesus admitted that the tomb was empty (Matthew 28:11-15).

There have been many theories that have been proposed that attempt to explain what happened. Since there is no body and the tomb was empty, then those who do not want to believe in the resurrection have to come up with an explanation as to how there is an empty tomb but Jesus did not rise from the dead.

Swoon Theory

The swoon theory (also called the resuscitation theory) is one of the most common teachings in an effort to explain the empty tomb. The swoon theory teaches that Jesus did not really die, but simply fainting on the cross. In the rush to get him off the cross and buried, no one bothered to double check if he was truly dead. This is a theory of convenience for the skeptic that has no historical evidence to back it up. In fact, history defeats the argument.

We know that Roman soldiers were very good at their job and performed their duties with exacting precision. Any student of Roman history knows that Romans would not have allowed a man destined to die to come off the cross unless he was dead. In fact, the Roman soldiers insured Jesus was dead by having a spear stabbed into Jesus side. “When they [the soldiers] came to Jesus, they did not break His legs since they saw that He was already dead. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe” (John 19:33-35; HCSB). “Pilate was surprised that He was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him whether He had already died. When he found out from the centurion, he gave the corpse to Joseph” (Mark 15:44:45). The flowing out of water and blood is historical medical proof that Jesus was dead. But let us just suppose that he really was not dead, but only fainted. Let us see all the ridiculous things that would have had to take place for Jesus to fool everyone into thinking he had risen from the dead.

First, Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus would have to not notice he was alive. These two devoted followers of Jesus go through the process of wrapping his body with linens and spices. Are we suppose that these men would not have noticed if Jesus was breathing? The proponents of the swoon theory want us to believe that not only did the Romans not realize Jesus was really alive (apparently unable to take a pulse or notice breathing), but that the disciples who put the body in the tomb also did not notice.

Second, we also know historically that Jesus was beaten and scourge to edge of death. His short time on the cross (along with Pilate’s surprise of Jesus’ quick death) only confirms that the scourging and beating he received nearly killed him. Jesus inability to carry his own cross shows that Jesus was already on the brink of death before he was crucified. We also know historically that crucifixion was one of the most agonizing and physically toiling way to die. So gruesome was crucifixion that Roman law prevented Romans from being executed by crucifixion. Yet we are supposed to believe that Jesus revived in the coolness of the tomb, moved such a large stone that it required a group of soldiers to put into place, and was able to overcome a watch of Roman soldiers, all while still recovering from severe physical trauma, blood loss, whipping, beating, scourging, and crucifixion that had happened just a couple days earlier!

If Jesus did not die but only fainted, he could not have gotten out alive by himself. It was not possible for a severely injured and wounded man to move the stone when it took a few healthy men to move the stone. It was not possible for a severely injured and wounded man to subdue a set of armed Roman soldiers whose sole purpose was to keep the tomb secure. The swoon theory falls under its own weight of requiring too many historically impossible events to take place.

In upcoming articles, we will deal with three other popular explanations for the resurrection of Jesus.