Defending the Swoon Theory – Part 15: Overpowering the Roman Guards

Defending the Swoon Theory – Part 15: Overpowering the Roman Guards November 4, 2019

WHERE WE ARE

Peter Kreeft believes that he can prove that Jesus rose from the dead by refuting four skeptical theories that provide alternative explanations to the standard Christian view that Jesus rose from the dead.  One of those skeptical theories is The Swoon Theory.

However, refuting The Swoon Theory (and three other skeptical theories) will NOT work to establish the resurrection, because The Swoon Theory is only one particular version of a more general theory that Kreeft must refute: The Survival Theory (hereafter: TST), the view that Jesus SURVIVED his crucifixion and so was able to appear to some of his followers after the crucifixion, which led to the mistaken belief that Jesus had risen from the dead.

In Chapter 8 of his Handbook of Christian Apologetics (hereafter: HCA), Kreeft raised nine objections against The Swoon Theory, and I am critically examining those objections to determine whether they are sufficient to refute The Survival Theory (TST), the more general theory that Kreeft must refute in order for his case for the resurrection to succeed.

In this current post, we are examining Objection #6: The Guards at the Tomb.

 

OBJECTION #6: THE GUARDS AT THE TOMB 

Objection #6 focuses on the presence of guards at the tomb of Jesus:

How were the Roman guards at the tomb overpowered by a swooning corpse?  Or by unarmed disciples?  And if the disciples did it, they knowingly lied when they wrote the Gospels, and we are into the conspiracy theory, which we will refute shortly.  (HCA, p.183)

The three sentences in this objection can be broken down into four main points:

Roman auxiliary infantry crossing a river.

P1. The Roman guards at the tomb could not have been overpowered by Jesus (by himself).

P2.  The Roman guards at the tomb could not have been overpowered by the disciples of Jesus. 

P3. If the disciples of Jesus removed Jesus from the tomb, they knowingly lied when they wrote the Gospels.

P4. If the disciples of Jesus removed Jesus from the tomb, that implies the conspiracy theory, which Kreeft refutes.

Actually, the first two points are intended to form the premise of an argument.

 

POINT 1 & POINT 2 FORM ONE PREMISE OF AN ARGUMENT

The first two points that are part of Objection #6 work together to imply a single claim:

It is NOT the case that either (a) Jesus overpowered the Roman guards at his tomb by himself or (b) the Roman guards at Jesus’ tomb were overpowered by the disciples of Jesus.

The above claim is part of an argument that also has an unstated premise, premise (A):

1. It is NOT the case that either (a) Jesus overpowered the Roman guards at his tomb by himself or (b) the Roman guards at Jesus’ tomb were overpowered by the disciples of Jesus.

A. IF the Swoon Theory is true, THEN either (a) Jesus overpowered the Roman guards at his tomb by himself or (b) the Roman guards at Jesus’ tomb were overpowered by the disciples of Jesus.

THEREFORE:

2. It is NOT the case that the Swoon Theory is true.

 

PREMISE (A) ASSERTS A FALSE DILEMMA

However, premise (A) asserts a conditional claim that is clearly FALSE, because it asserts a FALSE DILEMMA.  These are NOT the only two possibilities, given the truth of the Swoon Theory (or given the truth of the Survival Theory).

First of all, overpowering the Roman guards is NOT the only way to get Jesus past the guards.  The guards could have been distracted or drugged or deceived or bribed or threatened as a means of getting Jesus out of the tomb and past the guards:

The assumption that overpowering the Roman guards was the only possible way to get Jesus out of the tomb and past the guards is a FALSE assumption.

If the guards had shifts to watch the tomb, so that only one guard was stationed right next to the tomb while the other guards slept a short distance from the tomb, then it would have been necessary to only overpower the one guard who was right next to the tomb, so long as this did not wake up the other sleeping guards.  It would certainly be possible for six or eight or ten disciples to overpower just one guard:

The assumption that ALL of the Roman guards MUST be overpowered in order to get Jesus out of the tomb and past the guards is a FALSE assumption.

Similarly, if one guard was stationed right next to the tomb and the others slept a short distance away, it would have been necessary to only distract or drug or deceive or bribe or threaten just that one guard stationed right next to the tomb into leaving his post or letting Jesus leave (or be taken from) the tomb:

The assumption that ANY of the guards would have to be overpowered is a FALSE assumption.

Furthermore, Jesus and “the disciples” are NOT the only people who could have helped Jesus to leave the tomb and to get past the Roman guards.  The phrase “the disciples of Jesus” is AMBIGUOUS.  It might refer ONLY to the twelve disciples who were part of the inner circle of followers of Jesus or it might refer to ANY follower of Jesus.  Since Kreeft goes on (in the very next sentence) to infer that “if the disciples did it” (i.e. overpowered the Roman guards or helped Jesus to get past the Roman guards) that this would imply the conspiracy theory, it is clear that the phrase “the disciples” refers ONLY to the Twelve disciples who were part of the inner circle of followers of Jesus, because the conspiracy theory is ONLY about the inner circle of disciples, not about followers of Jesus in general.

Because Kreeft is using the phrase “the disciples” here to mean “the Twelve disciples”, it is obvious that there were OTHER disciples or followers of Jesus besides the Twelve who could have come to help Jesus to leave the tomb and get past the Roman guards.  Joseph of Arimathea, for example, might have been a rich and powerful Jewish leader who had lots of friends or associates who would be willing to help him rescue Jesus.  Or Joseph might have been able to hire some strong and well-armed fellow Jews to perform this rescue operation.

In any case, Jesus had many followers outside of the Twelve disciples, so there was a large number of OTHER people besides the Twelve disciples who would have been willing to help rescue Jesus from the tomb:

The assumption that ONLY Jesus or the Twelve disciples could have been involved in getting Jesus out of the tomb and past the Roman guards is a FALSE assumption.

It is also possible that some Jews who were NOT followers of Jesus would have been willing and able to help rescue Jesus from the tomb and the Roman guards.  For example, there were many Jews who resented being ruled over by the Romans.  Such anti-Roman Jews might well have been sympathetic towards Jesus, and viewed the crucifixion of Jesus as one more example of Roman abuse and oppression of innocent Jews.  Such anti-Roman Jews might well have been happy to try to overpower Roman guards to help Jesus leave the tomb and escape further Roman abuse:

The assumption that ONLY followers of Jesus could have been involved in getting Jesus out of the tomb and past the Roman guards is a FALSE assumption.

The first two points made by Kreeft as part of Objection #6 are intended to suggest the above argument, where premises (1) and (A) are given to prove the conclusion (2).  But this argument FAILS to make a solid objection against the Swoon Theory or the Survival Theory, because premise (A) constitutes a FALSE DILEMMA.

There are many different ways that Jesus could have left the tomb (or been taken from the tomb) without being detained or killed by the Roman guards, not just the two particular possibilities that Kreeft focuses upon (i.e. Jesus overpowered ALL the guards by himself OR some of the Twelve disciples overpowered ALL the guards), so premise (A) is FALSE, making this argument against The Swoon Theory (and The Survival Theory) an UNSOUND argument.

 

To Be Continued…

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