Did Jesus’s Disciples Conspire to Lie about Him? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

In part 1, we started to look at J. Warner Wallace’s analysis of whether the disciples of Jesus could have successfully conspired to lie about his death and resurrection. We already saw that there were too many conspirators (disciples) for them to be successful, and the disciples were separated by great distances, unable to communicate with each other to keep their story straight.

In part 2, we will finish Wallace’s analysis by looking at whether there was a short time span, significant relational connections, and a lack of pressure. Here is Wallace, from his book Cold-Case Christianity:

The apostles would have been required to protect their conspiratorial lies for an incredibly long time. The apostle John appears to have lived the longest, surviving nearly sixty years after the resurrection. [Two criminals] couldn’t keep their conspiracy alive for thirty-six hours; the apostles allegedly kept theirs intact for many decades.

To make matters worse, many of them were complete strangers to one another prior to their time together as disciples of Jesus. Some were indeed brothers, but many were added over the course of Jesus’s early ministry and came from diverse backgrounds, communities, and families. While there were certainly pairs of family members in the group of apostolic eyewitnesses, many had no relationship to each other at all.

Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Simon the Canaanite, and Matthias had no family relationship to any of the other apostles. Whatever the relational connection between these men, the short years they spent together would quickly pale in comparison to the decades they would spend apart from one another prior to the time of their final interrogations. At some point, the bonds of friendship and community would be tested if their individual lives were placed in jeopardy.

Successful conspiracies are unpressured conspiracies. The apostles, on the other hand, were aggressively persecuted as they were scattered from Italy to India. According to the records and accounts of the local communities, each of them suffered unimaginable physical duress and died a martyr’s death. Ancient writers recorded that Peter was crucified upside down in Rome, James was killed with the sword in Jerusalem, and Thomas was murdered by a mob in Mylapore. Each story of martyrdom is more gruesome than the prior as we examine the list of apostolic deaths. This pressure was far greater than the fear of state prison faced by [modern conspirators], yet none of the Twelve recanted their claims related to the resurrection. Not one.

What is Wallace’s conclusion?

I can’t imagine a less favorable set of circumstances for a successful conspiracy than those that the twelve apostles faced. Multiply the problem by ten to account for the 120 disciples in the upper room (Acts 1: 15), or by forty to account for the five hundred eyewitnesses described by Paul (1 Cor. 15: 6), and the odds seem even more prohibitive.

None of these eyewitnesses ever recanted, none was ever trotted out by the enemies of Christianity in an effort to expose the Christian “lie.” Don’t get me wrong, successful conspiracies occur every day. But they typically involve a small number of incredibly close-knit participants who are in constant contact with one another for a very short period of time without any outside pressure. That wasn’t the case for the disciples. These men and women either were involved in the greatest conspiracy of all time or were simply eyewitnesses who were telling the truth. The more I learned about conspiracies, the more the latter seemed to be the most reasonable conclusion.

The idea that the disciples conspired to lie about Jesus is simply implausible. Only a miracle could have allowed the disciples to lie about Jesus and never be detected by their contemporaries. Unfortunately for most skeptics of Christianity, miracles aren’t an option.