2. Swoon (or “Apparent Death”) Theory

Some critical and Muslim thinkers postulate that perhaps Jesus swooned on the Cross. This means that Jesus didn’t really die, but he merely went into a deep comatose state near death. However, after he was laid in the cool, dark tomb, Jesus regained strength and came back to life. Does this theory explain the historical data surrounding the resurrection?

In addition to the material listed earlier (see “2. Execution”), a number of arguments can be made. In fact, even critical scholar David Strauss disproved this theory to the satisfaction of his fellow scholars. He offered a number of reasons why the swoon theory is high implausible:

First, Jesus couldn’t have moved the stone in such a state. After a full day of torture, flogging, and crucifixion in the hot sun, can we really believe that Jesus had the strength to move a two ton stone to escape the tomb? Could a perfectly healthy man accomplish such a feat?

Second, Jesus couldn’t have evaded the guards surrounding the tomb. Matthew records a guard at the tomb of Jesus (Mt. 27:62-66; 28:4, 11-15). Scholars debate whether or not this was a Jewish guard or a Roman guard. Either way, in such a bloody state, Jesus wouldn’t have been able to evade a guard of children, let alone trained soldiers.

Third, Jesus couldn’t have appeared to his disciples as the risen, victorious Messiah in such a state. This is perhaps the most damning argument against the swoon theory. It wouldn’t account for the disciples’ belief in the resurrection. If they found Jesus in such a mutilated state, they wouldn’t have called him the Messiah; instead, they would’ve called the doctor! Moreover, they surely wouldn’t have been excited to get a “resurrected” body of their own! (c.f. 1 Pet. 1:3; 1 Cor. 15:42-44)

For these reasons, critic David Strauss explains, “It is impossible that a being who had stolen half dead out of the sepulchre, who crept about weak and ill and wanting medical treatment… could have given the disciples the impression that he was a conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of life: an impression that lay at the bottom of their future ministry.”[1] Habermas comments, “Every once in a while, the swoon theory appears again. But it has not really been very popular since Strauss’s devastating critique in 1835. By the turn of the century, it was declared to be only a curiosity of the past.”[2]

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[1] Strauss, David. The Life of Jesus for the People. Volume One, Second Edition. London: Williams and Norgate. 1879. 412.

[2] Habermas, Gary. “The Late Twentieth-Century Resurgence of Naturalistic Responses to Jesus’ Resurrection.” Trinity Journal 22NS (2001) 190.