Debunking the Conspiracy Theory

Many people believe that the Apostles knew that Jesus had not really risen from the dead and that the account of his resurrection was a fabrication. Known as the Conspiracy Theory, this claim, if true, would mean that the Apostles engaged in a secret plan to preach publicly that Jesus had risen from the dead while they knew privately that his resurrection had never happened.

Those who specialize in uncovering conspiracies have identified five factors which help to maintain a successful conspiracy:

*]A small number of conspirators
*]A short time frame that the conspiracy must be maintained
*]Excellent communication between conspirators
*]Familial connections between conspirators
*]Little outside pressure or effort to break the conspiracy

Let’s take a look at each of these factors to see how they might or might not apply to a conspiracy concerning Jesus’ resurrection.

Small number of conspirators

A conspiracy depends on secrecy, and the smaller the number of people who could “spill the beans”, the more likely it is the secret can be maintained. The best number of conspirators is two. In fact, in a perfect scenario, two people would agree together to commit a crime, and then one would kill the other thereby improving the odds of the secret being maintained.

In the case of the resurrection, there were eleven Apostles of Jesus who acted as co-conspirators, as well as many others—possibly hundreds—who claimed not merely to have heard about the resurrections but actually to have seen Jesus after the resurrection. Obviously, a number of this size is not conducive to maintaining a conspiracy effectively. It is possible, but it just doesn’t seem very probable.

Short time frame that the conspiracy must be maintained

In an ideal situation, the conspiracy only needs to be maintained for a short amount of time. The longer the silence must be sustained, the more likely it is that someone will break it.

So, if, as is alleged by some skeptics, the disciples conspired to tell a false tale about the resurrection of Jesus, how long did they maintain their silence about this secret plan? The last Apostle to die was John who died of natural causes around the year AD 95—more than 60 years after the resurrection. Like all of the others before him, John went to his grave preaching the resurrection of Jesus. 60 years is a long time, and again, while it is possible that a large group of disciples could maintain silence for six decades, it is not probable that they could have done without the absolute certainty that they had seen the risen Jesus.

Excellent communication between conspirators

After a conspiracy has been initiated, it is important for the participants to maintain good communication with one another so that they may respond uniformly to questions from outsiders seeking to gain information. Skilled investigators seeking to uncover a conspiracy will usually seek to isolate the parties so that they cannot collaborate on responses to questions. Additionally, an experienced investigator will also attempt to convince one party that another has confessed the truth—even when this confession has not actually happened. This ploy puts pressure on the one being questioned to break the silence. When one conspirator believes that others have already confessed, the odds of breaking the conspiracy are greatly increased.

After persecution of the Church began in Jerusalem, the apostles were scattered in different directions and as far away as India, and in the first century, fast, effective communication between the apostles over long distances was not possible. When each individual apostle was confronted by local authorities, held for questioning and eventually martyred for their beliefs, there was no way for him to know with certainty whether one or more of the other apostles had denied the resurrection. Despite this isolation and the lack of communication among the Apostles, none of them ever recanted or admitted to being part of a conspiracy to teach a false message about Jesus’ resurrection.

Familial connections between conspirators

When close family ties exist between conspirators, there is greater incentive to maintain the conspiracy and protect a loved one. When there are few or no family connections, it is less likelihood that the conspirators will maintain the conspiracy.

Among the apostles, there were some family connections; however, it is also true that some apostles had no relatives among the inner circle. Therefore, though it is possible that individuals who were not related to one another were motivated to maintain the conspiracy to protect others in the group, it is more probable that the lack of blood relations would have weakened the bonds of the group over time. While it is possible that the Apostles had grown close as a group during Jesus’ three-year public ministry, it is not probable that this experience alone would account for the maintenance of an alleged conspiracy when non-family members had not seen each other for decades after the persecution which began in Jerusalem and continued later in Rome had scattered them to various corners of the Roman Empire and beyond.


Little outside pressure or effort to break the conspiracy

When a conspiratorial group faces little or no opposition or challenge, it is easier for the group to remain true to the conspiracy. However, when pressure is brought to bear upon the group or individual members, the chances of maintaining the conspiracy are reduced.

Almost immediately following the day of Pentecost when the Apostles publicly preached the resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem, opposition to the fledgling church began to grow. The apostles were arrested, thrown into prison, questioned by the Jewish leaders, beaten, and ultimately martyred for their belief that Jesus had appeared to them. Yet, despite the sufferings and hardships they endured, the Apostles did not waiver in their preaching of the resurrection of Jesus. Once again, while it is possible that the persecution they endured only served to strengthen their resolve to maintain a conspiracy, it is more probable that the Apostles remained true to their convictions because they knew the resurrection of Jesus to have been a true event.


We have looked at the five factors that contribute to the success of a conspiracy, and we have seen that while it is possible that a group could successfully conspire to preach falsely that Jesus had been raised from the dead., the fact that none of the five factors seems to apply the Apostles suggests that it would be highly unlikely that the group would be able to take a secret of such great magnitude to their graves. That they did just that indicates that it is more probable than not that the Apostles were telling the truth concerning the appearances of the risen Jesus.

Indeed, not much of an incentive to perpetuate a conspiracy. Do the advocates of the conspiracy theory have any suggestions as to what would motivate the apostles to engage in this supposed fabrication in the first place? Not only were the apostles subjected to the physical dangers you mentioned, but (if they were lying about the nature of Christ and his resurrection) there would be spiritual dangers as well. After all, they would knowingly be committing the sin of blasphemy and therefore placing their souls at risk.

What are the sources for the assertion that the apostles were “…ultimately martyred for their belief that Jesus had appeared to them.”?


But it is not necessarily the case that the apostles had a chance to recant.

A) The romans could have just killed them, regardless of what they did or didn’t deny, because they were following the orders or a crazy emperor known to have named his favourite horse first consul. (This would be no different from the forced self-incriminating confessions of Stalin’s purges).

B) Maybe it was even in the interest of the roman authorities to portray them holding such beliefs even if they didn’t, because most people of the era would have found such beliefs ridiculous. That is, accusing Christians of cannibalism, treason (by deifying someone other than the emperor), and believing that a carpenter who was unceremoniously executed managed to resurrect and was actually God.

It could have been a political defamation campaign to justify purging what was, rightly or wrongly, perceived to be a dangerous political faction. I wouldn’t say that is too far fetched, especially if we consider the emperors unstable mental health and the various political troubles in the province of Judea. Or maybe it was just plain, old-fashioned scapegoating.

No, tradition.

Excellent points by Father Read.

How about the Roman guards that were placed at the tomb?

The chief priests and pharisees went to Pilot and asked him for a guard to be placed at the tomb of Jesus because they thought ahead and were afraid the disciples might come and steal Jesus’ body to say he had been resurrected. See Mathew 27:62-65. So they were the first ever to worry about a conspiracy theory.

The Roman guards had their life at stake if they did not do their job properly. Read on in Mathew.) What motiviation could they have had to have fallen “asleep”? None!

Also, I love what it says in Acts 5:38-39:

Gamaleil speaking the the Council in Jerusalem:

“And so in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action should be of men, it will be overthrown;
But if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”

(some apostles that had been teaching were put in jail but were found by the prison officers escaped from prison and teaching in the temple. They were brought to the council, of which Gamaliel was a teacher of the law and he pronounced the above).

God bless you

This was a very good summary of some excellent points made in favor of the Resurrection being exactly what it has been described as.

One other tangential point was that a conspiracy to create the appearance of a risen Jesus would have made little to no sense in the context of the times. Many Jews were expecting someone to deliver them from foreign occupation, and Jesus was obviously not a political leader in any sense (I think it’s been pretty well-argued that part of Judas’ motive for betraying Jesus was a profound disappointment stemming from this very fact). Most conspiracies tend to be oriented toward addressing some factor of the times that affect the conspirators, and very little of what Jesus said had anything to do at all with the prevailing political situation. So, perhaps a sixth factor might be “Does the conspiracy make sense in the first place?” In other words, would anyone support a conspiracy that did not further a tangible goal?

Professor Edward Feser examines the popularity of conspiracy theories.

“We the Sheeple? Why Conspiracy Theories Persist”

Which is simply another way of saying, “this is the account that has been known and passed down through the ages.” In other words, ‘history’. :wink:

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