How Can a Successful Conspiracy Be Pulled Off?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Former cold case detective J. Warner Wallace investigated many criminal conspiracies during his career.  Because of this experience, he was able to summarize rules for successful conspiracies in his book Cold-Case Christianity. Here they are:


The smaller the number of conspirators, the more likely the conspiracy will be a success. This is easy to understand; lies are difficult to maintain, and the fewer the number of people who have to continue the lie, the better.


This is key. When conspirators are unable to determine if their partners in crime have already given up the truth, they are far more likely to say something in an effort to save themselves from punishment. Without adequate and immediate communication, co-conspirators simply cannot separate lies from the truth; they are easily deceived by investigators who can pit one conspirator against another.


Lies are hard enough to tell once; they are even more difficult to repeat 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!


When all the co-conspirators are connected relationally in deep and meaningful ways, 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.


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 co-conspirators increases. The greater the pressure on co-conspirators, the more likely the conspiracy is to fail.

What does this have to do with Christianity? Well, many skeptics claim that the disciples of Jesus simply lied about Jesus rising from the dead. They formed a conspiracy that has fooled the world for two thousand years.

Is this conspiracy theory really a plausible explanation? In our next post, we will look at whether the disciples of Jesus met the criteria for a successful conspiracy.

7 thoughts on “How Can a Successful Conspiracy Be Pulled Off?”

  1. “many skeptics claim that the disciples of Jesus simply lied about Jesus rising from the dead.”

    I’ve heard this straw man many times from Christians but never from skeptics. Perhaps there are such skeptics and I haven’t been paying attention, but the back room conspiracy is simply not the explanation most atheists put forward as best explaining the gospel story.

  2. What IS the best explanation for you, Bob? I’ve never heard anyone suggest they all got together and came up with a story. To me it seems more likely an invention by others, long after any disciples who may have existed were dead. And even they may not have been ‘inventing’ it, but were merely transcribing what was by then an oral tradition, which had changed and been augmented over time.

    One can see this happening even in a digital medium, when a ‘chain email’ gets sent from person to person, and different people somewhere along the chain add extra lines to ‘improve the story’, which then gets passed on to others who accept the additions ‘as Gospel’. I saw one recently where it was supposedly a true story of a London shop worker standing up to a rude Muslim customer. When I googled the story, I saw other versions circulating where it was happening in Australia, or Chicago. Little details differed between the versions. I’ve no idea how one would go about finding the original, or finding out if it was actually true.

  3. Yes, my interpretation is similar to yours. You have 40 years of oral history before the first gospel was written, and that’s a lot of time (in a pre-scientific culture, immersed in stories of dying-and-rising gods) for the Jesus story to pick up supernatural elements.

    Your London story is relevant, and that shows changes to a written story. Think how much easier it would be with an oral tradition.

  4. Yes, that was my point – not just written but DIGITAL. There are other examples I could have given – you can find loads at the Snopes website – where the picture accompanying a chain story is real, but the story itself is mostly fabrication, giving the picture a completely different context.

    The story of the death of Rasputin appears to have been exaggerated considerably over the years – giving it an almost supernatural air; and I still have people telling me that Darwin recanted on his deathbed, a story originating with Lady Hope’s debunked story.

    My point about the above is that people say: “If the Jesus resurrection story was lies, then people at the time could easily have shown it to be false”, when the stories in that form may not have actually started circulating until a few decades after the events, making checking impossible – as with events surrounding the deaths of Rasputin and Darwin (that we have other ways of checking the veracity of the latter two is mere luck).

  5. Or think of Sathya Sai Baba, an Indian mystic who died a couple of years ago with MILLIONS of followers. He could be in two places at once, he could raise the dead–he could pretty much do everything that Jesus could. (Or so the story goes.)

    I’ve written quite a bit more on the naysayer hypothesis (“an eyewitness would’ve corrected them at the time, so the story HAS to be true!”) below.

  6. Once you remember the ease with which so many of us believed in urban myths of the 80’s and 90’s, and for no more reason than because well-meaning friends passed them on to us, it isn’t difficult to figure out how false stories about the apostles could circulate very early. See Acts 21:18-24 for a glaring example of tens of thousands in the original Jewish faction of the church, believing what James thought was false rumor about Paul. They believed it so strongly that James didn’t think anything less than a sacrifice of money by Paul and his participation in Jewish religious rites would dissuade the believers.

    That story also shows how not even oversight by apostles (here, James Peter and John, leaders of the Jerusalem faction) could prevent thousands under their rule from believing false rumors about the apostles. There are numerous examples in the bible of being being led to believe in a false way about events and people contemporary to them.

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