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.