Defending the Swoon Theory – Part 18: Premise (1) of Objection #6

Defending the Swoon Theory – Part 18: Premise (1) of Objection #6 January 2, 2020

WHERE WE ARE

Here, once more, is Peter Kreeft’s Objection #6 against the Swoon Theory, from Chapter 8 of his Handbook of Christian Apologetics (hereafter: HCA):

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)

Kreeft is making the following four points in the above sentences:

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.

The first two points are support for a premise (premise 1) that is part of an unstated but implied argument against the Swoon Theory:

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.

This is a BAD argument, like pretty much EVERY argument that Peter Kreeft presents in HCA.  There are several problems with premise (A):

  • This is a FALSE DILEMMA, because there are other possibilities that Kreeft FAILS to consider.
  • Kreeft FAILS to provide any historical evidence whatsoever in support of the key historical assumption made by (A), namely the assumption that there were Roman soldiers guarding the tomb of Jesus.  Simply ASSUMING that there were Roman soldiers guarding the tomb of Jesus BEGS THE QUESTION.
  • Based on the available historical evidence the claim that there were Roman soldiers guarding the tomb of Jesus is PROBABLY FALSE (see Part 16 and  Part 17  of this series).

It is clear that premise (A) is FALSE (because it is a FALSE DILEMMA) or IMPROBABLE (because it rests on an historical assumption that is probably false), and thus that the argument constituting Objection #6 is UNSOUND, and thus that Kreeft has FAILED, yet again, to refute the Swoon Theory.

 

EVALUATION OF PREMISE (1) OF OBJECTION #6

But what about premise (1) of this argument? Has Kreeft managed to produce at least one true premise in this argument?  I think that premise (1) is PROBABLY TRUE, but not for the reasons Kreeft gave or had in mind.

Premise (1) of Objection #6 is PROBABLY TRUE, because there probably were no Roman soldiers guarding Jesus’ tomb.  If there were no Roman soldiers guarding Jesus’ tomb, then it was NOT the case that “Jesus overpowered the Roman guards at his tomb by himself” and it was NOT the case that “the Roman guards at Jesus’ tomb were overpowered by the disciples of Jesus”, because there would have been no Roman soldiers at the tomb to overpower!  So, Kreeft’s premise (1) is PROBABLY TRUE by accident, and not for the reasons that Kreeft believed it to be true.

Here is the main reason why Kreeft thinks that it is NOT the case that “Jesus overpowered the Roman guards at his tomb by himself” from another unstated but implied argument:

3.  IF Jesus was still alive when he was placed in the tomb, THEN Jesus would have been very weak and near death (“a swooning corpse”) while in the tomb on Saturday and Sunday following his burial on Friday evening.

4. IF Jesus was very weak and near death while in the tomb on Saturday and Sunday following his burial on Friday evening, THEN the Roman guards at the tomb could not have been overpowered by Jesus (by himself).

5. IF the Roman guards at the tomb could not have been overpowered by Jesus (by himself), THEN it is NOT the case that Jesus overpowered the Roman guards at his tomb by himself.

THEREFORE:

6. IF Jesus was still alive when he was placed in the tomb, THEN it is NOT the case that Jesus overpowered the Roman guards at his tomb by himself.

7.  IF the Swoon Theory is true, THEN Jesus was still alive when he was placed in the tomb.

THEREFORE:

8. IF the Swoon Theory is true, THEN it is NOT the case that Jesus overpowered the Roman guards at his tomb by himself.

Premise (4) is reasonable, but NOT certain.  Sometimes people who are weak and near death can rally their strength for a brief period of time, and perform significant physical feats.  Sometimes Roman soldiers are weak and slow and clumsy, so it is possible that a weak and nearly dead Jesus had a burst of strength and energy and that the Roman soldiers at the tomb just happened to be weak and slow and clumsy that particular Sunday morning, and Jesus managed to over power the Roman guards.  This is, I grant, improbable, but it is a real possibility.  We cannot be CERTAIN that a weak and nearly dead Jesus would FAIL to overpower Roman soldiers guarding his tomb.  There is at least a small chance that a weak and nearly dead Jesus could overpower some Roman soldiers.

Premise (3) is NOT as reasonable or plausible as premise (4).  Premise (3) is based on several questionable historical assumptions about alleged wounds and injuries of Jesus:

  • Jesus was severely scourged prior to being crucified.
  • Jesus’ hands were both nailed to the cross.
  • Jesus’ feet were both nailed to the cross.
  • A crown of thorns had been pushed onto Jesus’s head
  • A soldier stabbed Jesus forcefully with a spear, creating a deep wound in Jesus’ side.

None of these historical assumptions is a FACT.  All five assumptions are questionable and doubtful.  (See the section called “OTHER PROBLEMS WITH THE SECOND BULLET POINT” in Part 12 of this series). It is highly probable that one or more of these assumptions is FALSE.  There might have been no flogging or scourging of Jesus, or there might have been a moderate scourging of Jesus, or only a light flogging.  Jesus hands and feet might have been tied to the cross, or only his hands were nailed, or only his feet were nailed.  The crown of thorns might not be historical, or there might have been a crown of thorns but the thorns pointed outward rather than inward towards his scalp, or the crown had thorns pointing inward but was not shoved forcefully onto his head.  The stabbing with a spear might not be historical, or there might have been a small poke with just the tip of the spear, or there might have been a stabbing of Jesus with a spear that was not forceful enough to create a deep wound in his side.

Because each of the alleged wounds of Jesus is NOT a FACT, but is only somewhat probable at best, and because the severity or extent of each alleged wound is also NOT a FACT, but is uncertain, we cannot reasonably conclude that premise (3) is true.  Jesus MIGHT have been very weak and near death if he had survived crucifixion and been buried in a tomb, but he MIGHT have been fairly strong, or only somewhat weak, depending on how many of the alleged wounds were ACTUALLY inflicted on him, and depending on the extent and severity of those wounds.

Premise (3) might well be FALSE; it is at best only somewhat probable.  Kreeft’s main argument for premise (1) rests upon an argument with a premise that  is based upon a number of questionable historical assumptions, so this is a WEAK ARGUMENT in support of premise (1).

Furthermore, it should be noted that the above argument only supports one part of premise (1), namely the denial that Jesus overpowered the Roman guards.  So, the above argument is insufficient by itself to establish premise (1); we also need a second argument to support the denial that Jesus’ disciples overpowered the Roman guards.

Kreeft has a second argument in support of premise (1), and in support of the denial that Jesus’ disciples overpowered the Roman guards.  The second argument is based on Points 3 and 4 of his statement of Objection #6:

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.

These points can reasonably be understood as part of an argument in support of premise (1):

9. IF the disciples of Jesus removed Jesus from the tomb by overpowering the Roman guards at Jesus’ tomb, THEN the disciples of Jesus knowingly lied when they wrote the Gospels. 

10. IF the disciples of Jesus knowingly lied when they wrote the Gospels, THEN the conspiracy theory is true.

11. It is NOT the case that the conspiracy theory is true.

THEREFORE:

12.  It is NOT the case that the disciples of Jesus removed Jesus from the tomb by overpowering the Roman guards at Jesus’ tomb.

The conclusion (12) follows logically from the premises of this argument.  However, each of the three premises is problematic.

Premise (11) asserts that the conspiracy theory is NOT true, but I have previously shown that Kreeft’s arguments against the conspiracy theory all FAIL, so premise (11) is questionable.

Premise (10) is also questionable, because the authors of the Gospels could have lied about how Jesus escaped from the tomb and yet firmly and honestly believed that Jesus had risen from the dead.  They might well have believed that Jesus died on the cross,  but then heard from either the women who allegedly witnessed Jesus’ burial in the tomb, or from the men who buried Jesus, that there were signs of life in him at that time, and they could have interpreted that as a return to life from death, and then been inspired to go help Jesus escape from the tomb.

Helping Jesus to get past the Roman guards does NOT imply that they believed Jesus did not die on the cross, nor does it imply that they disbelieved in a miraculous resurrection of Jesus.  Furthermore, if the disciples had beaten up or killed some Roman soldiers at Jesus’ tomb, they would certainly have very good reason to NOT share that information with the general public in written accounts of Jesus death, burial, and (alleged) resurrection.  Admitting in writing that they had beaten up or killed some Roman soldiers would result in their immediate arrest and execution by Roman authorities.

The disciples might have lied about the details of how Jesus escaped from the tomb while NOT lying about their belief that Jesus had died on the cross and then miraculously come back to life a short while later.  So, premise (10) is questionable.  Strictly speaking, premise (10) is FALSE, if we understand the claim to be that lying about how Jesus escaped the tomb LOGICALLY IMPLIES disbelief in the resurrection of Jesus.  The one does NOT imply the other.

Premise (9) is questionable, because it makes an historical assumption that is PROBABLY FALSE.  Premise (9) assumes that the Gospels were written by the disciples of Jesus.  Nobody believes that the Gospel of Mark was written by one of the twelve disciples of Jesus.  Nobody believes that the Gospel of Luke was written by one of the twelve disciples of Jesus.  That leaves only the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of John.

Most NT scholars do NOT believe that the Gospel of Matthew was written by one of the twelve disciples of Jesus.   Most NT scholars do NOT believe that the Gospel of John was written by one of the twelve disciples of Jesus.  So, it is UNLIKELY that Matthew was written by one of the twelve disciples and it is UNLIKELY that John was written by one of the twelve disciples.  Premise (9) is based on an historical assumption that is PROBABLY FALSE.  The Gospels were probably NOT written by the disciples of Jesus.

Since each of the three premises of this second argument is (at least) questionable, it is highly likely that at least one of the premises is in fact FALSE, and thus it is highly likely that this second argument in support of premise (1) is UNSOUND.

 

CONCLUSION ABOUT PREMISE (1) OF OBJECTION #6

Kreeft has presented (or implied) a WEAK ARGUMENT in support of one part of premise (1), and he has presented (or implied) an argument that is highly likely to be UNSOUND in support of a second part of premise (1).

To successfully support premise (1), both of those arguments need to be STRONG and SOUND arguments, but the first argument is WEAK, and the second is probably UNSOUND, so Kreeft has FAILED to provide adequate support for premise (1).

As I stated previously, I believe premise (1) is TRUE, but not for the reasons given by Kreeft.  It is true because there were no Roman soldiers guarding Jesus’ tomb, and thus NOBODY overpowered Roman soldiers at the tomb, because there were no Roman soldiers to overpower.

 

EVALUATION OF OBJECTION #6

Objection #6 consists of the following argument against the Swoon Theory:

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) is FALSE (because it is a FALSE DILEMMA) and is also IMPROBABLE because it is based on the dubious historical assumption that  there were Roman soldiers guarding the tomb of Jesus (see Part 16 and  Part 17  of this series).

Premise (1) is probably TRUE, because it is probably NOT the case that Roman soldiers were guarding the tomb of Jesus.

But if we set aside this reason for accepting premise (1), and examine Kreeft’s arguments in support of this premise, we find that his first argument for one part of that premise is WEAK, and his second argument for another part of that premise is probably UNSOUND.  So, Kreeft FAILS to provide adequate support for premise (1).

Objection #6 FAILS to refute the Swoon Theory, because it is based on an argument that has a FALSE premise, namely premise (A).


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