21st Century Christian Apologists on the Swoon Theory – Part 1: Willaim Lane Craig

My Christian friend David Diaz made this comment on one of my recent posts:

Kreeft, now 86 years old, had a long and distinguished career but has been long removed from the cutting edge of apologetics. I would suggest that you acknowledge this when critiquing his brief treatment of the resurrection in his Handbook. I would love to see your critiques of more recent apologetic treatments of the resurrection that are more comprehensive and detailed.

I have just taken a look at more recent (i.e. 21st century) discussions of the Swoon Theory (or Apparent Death Theory) by Josh McDowell, Norman Geisler, William Craig, and Gary Habermas:

  • Evidence for the Resurrection by Josh and Sean McDowell, published in 2009.
  • I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, published in 2004.
  • Reasonable Faith by William Craig, 3rd edition, published in 2008.
  • The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, published in 2004.

My conclusion is that Christian apologists in the 21st Century have very little more to offer about the Swoon Theory than Christian apologists had to offer about the Swoon Theory in the 20th century. They are using the same old BAD ARGUMENTS that were put forward in the 20th century. I also believe that the arguments put forward about the Swoon Theory in the 20th century were similarly borrowed from the BAD ARGUMENTS that were put forward by Christian apologists in the 18th and 19th centuries, but I’m not going to argue for that view here.

However, the nine objections against the Swoon Theory that are raised by Kreeft and Tacelli in their Handbook of Christian Apologetics (hereafter: HCA), which was published near the end of the 20th century (in 1994), are not the only objections that Christian apologists have raised against this skeptical theory. In this series of posts, I will briefly describe the objections against the Swoon Theory that are presented in the above four Christian apologetics books that were published in the 21st century.


William Craig writes little more than one page about the Swoon Theory (which he calls the Apparent Death Theory) in his book Reasonable Faith (3rd edition), which was published in 2008. Almost all of Craig’s objections correspond to the objections presented by Kreeft and Tacelli in HCA:

  • Craig mentions that some versions of the Swoon Theory “are really variations of the Conspiracy hypothesis” (p.373). This corresponds with Objection # 9 (Swoon Theory implies False Theories) in HCA.
  • Craig states that the Swoon Theory has a problem with “how to explain the empty tomb…since a man sealed inside a tomb could not move the stone so as to escape;” (p.373). This corresponds with Objection #7 (Who Moved the Stone?) in HCA.
  • Craig asserts that “the appearance of a half-dead desperately in need of medical attention would hardly have elicited in the disciples the conclusion that he was the Risen Lord and conqueror of Death.” (p.373) This corresponds to Objection #5 (Sickly Jesus Objection) in HCA.
  • Craig claims that “Roman executioners could be relied upon to ensure that their victims were dead.” (p.373-374). This corresponds to Objection #1 (Deadliness of Roman Crucifixion) in HCA.
  • Craig states that “executioners could ensure death by a spear thrust into the victim’s side, such as was dealt to Jesus.”(p.374). This corresponds to Objection #3 (Blood & Water) in HCA.
  • Craig mentions that “The extent of Jesus’ tortures was such that he could never have survived his crucifixion and entombment.” (p.374). This corresponds to Objection #4 (Winding Sheets and Entombment) and with Objection #3 (Blood & Water) in HCA.
  • Craig claims that the Swoon Theory is disconfirmed by “unanimous evidence that Jesus did not continue among his disciples after his death.” (p.374) This corresponds to Objection # 8 (Where Did Jesus Go?) in HCA.

Because almost all of Craig’s objections correspond to objections made by Kreeft and Tacelli, and because all nine of Kreeft and Tacelli’s objections against the Swoon Theory FAIL, because they are BAD ARGUMENTS, almost all of Craig’s objections are also grounded in BAD ARGUMENTS and thus should be rejected.

There is at least one objection by Craig that was not made by Kreeft and Tacelli:

…how to explain the anachronism of the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection, since seeing him again would lead them to conclude that he had not died, not that he was, contrary to Jewish thought, …gloriously risen from the dead. (p.374)

This appeal to the alleged content of 1st-century “Jewish thought” about resurrection might be a NEW objection that has first been made in the 21st century. I do not recall this objection being made in the 20th-century books of Christian apologetics that I have read.

There is another point made by Craig that is partially but not completely covered by the objections of Kreeft and Tacelli:

The Apparent Death Theory [i.e. Swoon Theory] is massively disconfirmed by medical facts concerning what would have happened to a person who has been scourged and crucified. (p.374)

This point is partially covered by Objection #3 (Blood & Water) and Objection #4 (Winding Sheets & Entombment) in HCA.

However, Christian apologists tend to focus more attention on medical analysis of the scourging and crucifixion of Jesus than Kreeft and Tacelli do in HCA. So, this is a matter of a difference of emphasis and level of detail. However, the emphasis on medical analysis of Jesus’ alleged wounds and death did NOT begin in the 21st century. That was an emphasis of a number of Christian apologists in the 20th century.