Home > Apologetics > The Apparent Death theory to explain away Jesus’ resurrection

The Apparent Death theory to explain away Jesus’ resurrection

Last night, I listened to a debate between Christian apologist William Lane Craig and Muslim apologist Shabir Ally concerning whether Jesus rose from the dead. Mr. Ally is a noted Muslim debater who has gone up against a multitude of other Christians and atheists.

Here is a link to the debate: http://apologetics315.blogspot.com/2008/07/william-lane-craig-vs-shabir-ally-did.html.

Like Dr. Craig, I was surprised to hear that in Muslim apologist circles, a “modern theory that is gaining ground” is that Jesus seemed to be crucified on the cross, but that he in fact did not die. Jesus was supposedly taken down before death, thereby being consistent with Islamic beliefs that Jesus was never (fully) crucified.

The reason for surprise (and frankly, disappointment in the robustness in Muslim apologetics) is that this theory has been dead for over 150 years. It’s a theory that used to be largely supported by atheists, but there were so many holes that it was abandoned from all serious discussion.

Basically, Mr. Ally’s version goes like this: Jesus was sentenced to die on the cross, but Pilate was sympathetic. Rather than let Jesus die on the cross, Pilate and perhaps another guard decided to take him down early and pretend like he had died. And while Jesus was on the cross, the drink offered to him had myrrh in it, which is an anesthetic. Another point I may offer for Mr. Ally is that Jesus “died” in only six hours, whereas most people would survive for about three days.

First of all, Roman guards were professionals at this. There’s no way Jesus could have fooled the other guards into thinking he was dead. One of them even stuck a spear in Jesus’ side, and out came blood and water (I’ll get back to this in a bit). This was to confirm that Jesus was dead. It’s also important to note a gross misunderstanding by Mr. Ally here in the debate. Dr. Craig had proposed that there was no way for Jesus to fake his death because this would entail him hanging lifelessly for long enough to convince the guards. The problem is, we know that in order to breathe on the cross, one had to push up with his legs and try to stand as erect as possible to gasp a little bit of air, then slump back down…only to repeat this process over and over again. Asphyxiation was the most common cause of death on the cross, and sometimes the guards would break the criminals’ legs so that they could no longer push up to breathe.

In order for Jesus to convince everyone he was dead, not only would he have to breathe in such a way that no nearby guard could see (e.g., his exposed rib cage moving, stomach expanding), but he would have to push up with his legs without anyone noticing. If Jesus were to hold his breath or something, he would die in a mere two minutes or so. Mr. Ally misinterpreted this point when he seemed amused at the supposed assertion that people died on the cross in two minutes instead of three days. But that was NOT the point being made.


Pilate, if you remember the story, did feel guilty about condemning Jesus to death, but he had washed his hands of it after the crowd kept pushing for the crucifixion. He let the crowd get their wish because he was afraid for his own political position. There’s no reason to believe he would stick out his neck for a stranger and put his entire career (or even his life) on the line.

The point about anesthetic is irrelevant. That doesn’t prolong your life, nor could it assist someone in faking their death.

Plus, after the theoretical faked death, this is where Muslim apologetics (or perhaps just Mr. Ally) comes up obviously short. Mr. Ally contends that when Jesus was taken to the tomb, he was still alive and then God took him up to heaven. So therefore, Jesus never died and was never technically “crucified” since, by his definition, this necessitates a death to go along with it.

Sure it’s possible that God could do that, but why would God (or Allah) deceive everyone to believe that Jesus had died and been resurrected? Why make all the evidence point toward that conclusion? That would be a very odd way for God to work…with trickery, Jesus holding his breath, etc. Plus, are we to believe that Pilate arranged to have Jesus taken down early to avoid death (the spear thrust is ignored here), only to have Jesus placed in the tomb with the huge stone sealing the exit? Without immediate and drastic medical attention, Jesus would have died anyway in that tomb. Why would Pilate “save” Jesus, then basically consign him to death from his wounds in the tomb anyway?

Finally, we come back to the spear wound that I alluded to earlier. Mr. Ally tries to write off this detail by saying that John’s gospel came later and it must have been made up, but there is no reason to believe this other than to desperately cling to Muslim beliefs. John probably did come later, but that’s to be expected since he was the youngest apostle and probably didn’t get around to writing things down until he was nearing the end of his life. The other gospels had faithfully recorded pretty much everything anyway.

Even John and other witnesses couldn’t have realized the full significant of the spear wound and the blood and water that came out from Jesus’ body. Not only did it confirm Jesus’ death, but it also revealed WHY he died. Remember that the soldiers were surprised that Jesus had passed away in six hours instead of the usual three days (if you know the details leading up to the crucifixion or even just watch The Passion of the Christ, it shouldn’t be that surprising…Jesus was brutalized beforehand). It took about 1,800 years, but we now know that the blood and water pouring out indicated that Jesus had died in “only” six hours due to a ruptured heart muscle. This was a recent medical observation that couldn’t have been anticipated in ancient times. Perhaps the torture, mocking, and crucifixion was too much to bear. I tend to believe that Jesus had literally died of a broken heart when shouldering the burdens of sin for the entire world.

  1. May 21, 2011 at 9:04 am

    Not sure if you already know of this resource, but here: http://www.debategod.org/members/debategod there is an option to describe to similar debates on itunes … I listen to them while at work …

    • May 21, 2011 at 9:05 am

      *subscribe (not describe)

  2. May 23, 2011 at 8:59 am

    Cool resource, I will definitely subscribe. =) I’ve been either searching on YouTube or going through these:


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