WHERE WE ARE
In Part 1 of this series, I showed that the very simple and very broad definition of the “Swoon Theory” implied by Kreeft and Tacelli in their Handbook of Christian Apologetics (1994) was WRONG, and that the very complex and very detailed definition of the “Swoon Theory” by the McDowells from their books Evidence for the Resurrection (2009) and Evidence that Demands a Verdict (2017) was WRONG and committed the STRAWMAN FALLACY.
In Part 2 of this series, I showed that the two different definitions of the “Swoon Theory” by Geisler are BOTH WRONG. The definition in Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (1999) is still too simple and too broad, applying to scenarios where the Swoon Theory would clearly be FALSE. The definition in I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist (2004) is too complex and too narrow because it includes claims that are NOT essential to the Swoon Theory and thus commits the STRAWMAN FALLACY against supporters of the Swoon Theory.
We have now considered four different and conflicting definitions of the “Swoon Theory” put forward by six different Christian apologists, and all four definitions have been shown to be WRONG. This is sufficient evidence to support my claim that Christian apologists are UNCLEAR about the meaning of the term “Swoon Theory” (as well as the meaning of “Apparent Death Theory”).
In this current post, I will examine one more definition of the “Swoon Theory” by the Christian apologist William Craig.
WILLIAM CRAIG’S DEFINITION OF THE “SWOON THEORY”
The Christian apologist William Lane Craig provides a brief description of the “Swoon Theory” in his book The Son Rises (originally published in 1981, re-published in 2000; I will quote from the version published in 2000):
Another explanation that cropped up after the controversy with the deists was the apparent death theory. H. E. G. Paulus in Das Leben Jesu (1828) argued that all the miracles reported in the gospels could be explained by purely natural causes. … As for the resurrection, Paulus held that Jesus did not really die on the cross but was laid unconscious in the tomb. There He revived, managed to escape, and convinced His disciples that He had been raised from the dead. … (p.36)
Although Craig refers to this view as “the apparent death theory”, it is clear that this description applies to the Swoon Theory, because the term “the apparent death theory” is just an alternative label for the Swoon Theory (this is obvious to those familiar with this topic, but for those who are unfamiliar with this topic, please read this post: Habermas & Licona on the Swoon Theory ).
Note also that Gary Habermas, a leading Christian apologist on the issue of the resurrection, calls the view of H. E. G. Paulus about the alleged resurrection of Jesus “the swoon theory” in Risen Indeed (2021) on pages 116 to 117.
Craig’s description of the Swoon Theory consists of a set of historical claims, which can be stated as a formal definition:
The Swoon Theory is true IF AND ONLY IF the following claims are all true:
- Jesus was crucified. [implied]
- Jesus did NOT die while he was on the cross.
- Jesus was removed from the cross and placed into a tomb. [implied]
- Jesus was unconscious when he was placed into the tomb.
- Jesus revived while he was inside the tomb (sometime after being placed into the tomb).
- Jesus managed to escape from the tomb (sometime after he revived while inside the tomb).
- Jesus met with some of his disciples (sometime after he managed to escape from the tomb). [implied]
- Jesus convinced some of his disciples that he had been raised from the dead (when he met with some of his disciples after escaping from the tomb).
This appears to be the best definition of the “Swoon Theory” that I have come across in books written by Christian apologists. However, Craig’s definition has some significant problems.
The biggest problem is that claim (8) is NOT essential to the Swoon Theory. It is plausible that if Jesus briefly met with some of his disciples after his crucifixion and burial, that some of his disciples would have inferred that God had raised Jesus from the dead even if Jesus did not state this claim or try to persuade them of that claim. Therefore, this definition commits the STRAWMAN FALLACY against supporters of the Swoon Theory, just like the definition by Geisler and Turek in I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist.
Another problem is that claim (4) is also NOT essential to the Swoon Theory. Although many versions of the Swoon Theory include claim (4), some versions do not. For example, if the Roman soldiers who were guarding Jesus on the cross were bribed to take Jesus off the cross before Jesus died, then it would not have been necessary for Jesus to faint or go into a coma before being removed from the cross and placed into a tomb. On this scenario, Jesus would have survived his crucifixion WITHOUT ever being unconscious on the cross or in the tomb.
Claim (4) unfairly rules out the possibility of some plausible versions of the Swoon Theory (e.g. where the Roman soldiers are bribed to take Jesus off the cross while he was still alive). Claim (4) thus unfairly makes this definition of the “Swoon Theory” too narrow.
Also, claim (2) is problematic because it uses the UNCLEAR term “die”. Medical science has discovered that death is a process that takes time and that there is an important distinction that needs to be made between “clinical death”, where breathing and heartbeat cease, and “brain death”, where electrical activity in the brain ceases. So, claim (2) needs to be clarified.
Here are two different possible clarifications of the UNCLEAR claim (2):
2a. Jesus did NOT experience clinical death while he was on the cross.
2b. Jesus did NOT experience brain death while he was on the cross.
Some versions of the Swoon Theory do assert claim (2a), but some do NOT make this claim.
A modern 20th Century version of the Swoon Theory, put forward by J. D. M. Derrett in his book The Anastasis: The Resurrection of Jesus as an Historical Event (1982), asserts that Jesus experienced clinical death on the cross, but not brain death, and thus that it was possible for Jesus to “come back to life” (to start breathing and have a heartbeat) later without any supernatural or divine intervention.
Interpretation (2a) would eliminate the possibility of Derrett’s version of the Swoon Theory, which would be unfair to supporters of the Swoon Theory, so interpretation (2a) would make this definition too narrow and WRONG. In order to leave room for versions of the Swoon Theory that involve Jesus experiencing clinical death on the cross, we must interpret claim (2) as meaning what is asserted by claim (2b).
Even if we substitute the clear claim (2b) for the UNCLEAR claim (2), Craig’s definition is still WRONG because it includes two claims that are NOT essential to the Swoon Theory: claim (8) and claim (4). Thus, Craig’s definition is too narrow and it commits the STRAWMAN FALLACY.