Saturday, April 2

Did Jesus Really Die Or Did He Faint?

There has been a popular theory which secular scholars seek to fit with the Gospel accounts: that Jesus did not really die, but merely fainted, and remained unconscious and somehow revived later. This is called the "swoon theory." In the context of this theory, adherents postulate that because of this, Jesus came out to see His disciples, but had never died and therefore never resurrected. But does this concept fit with the Bible, and does it fit with the historical evidence? (Photo credit: CARM)

Why is the resurrection so important? As Paul so adequately puts it in 1st Corinthians 15:14, "And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith." Both secular and Christian scholars and theologians recognize this. Without the resurrection, Christianity is useless. Now, we often cover Young Earth Creationism on the blog. Is that important? Certainly it is, for it provides a firm Biblical truth from the very first verse of God's Word, and in Genesis 3 we find the reason for Christ's death and resurrection. But going to the heart of the matter: without the resurrection, our faith is futile.

It has been claimed by many that there is no logical or rational way to determine the truth of the resurrection. The intention of the Death/Resurrection month-long series is to discredit that idea, and show that there is. Now, the "swoon theory" was first "put forward by a man named Venturini a couple of centuries or so ago. It has been resuscitated in recent years..."[1] Now, this is the basics of the theory:

"Their explanation runs like this: Christ was indeed nailed to the cross. He suffered terribly from shock, loss of blood, and pain, and he swooned away; but he didn't actually die. Medical knowledge was not very great at that time, and the apostles thought he was dead. We are told, are we not, that Pilate was surprised that he was dead already. The explanation assertedly is that he was taken down from the cross in a state of swoon by those who wrongly believed him to be dead, and laid in the sepulcher. And the cool restfulness of the sepulcher so far revived him that he was eventually able to issue forth from the grave. His ignorant disciples couldn't believe that this was a mere resuscitation. They insisted it was a resurrection from the dead."[2]

That's a nice theory, but it does not stand up to careful investigation. Crucifixion itself, without delving too much into it, was an excruciating experience. It was perhaps one of the - if not the most - torturous form of death at Roman hands. Exhaustion asphyxia, dehydration, and congestive heart failure are known to have occurred with those crucified. From the prophecy in Psalm 22:14 we read, "My heart us poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me."

This is significant not only because the Gospels identify Jesus with having fulfilled Psalm 22, but note the statement, "My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me." Take a look at John 19:33-34[3] which says, "But when they came to Jesus they found that he was already dead, they did not break His legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water." Several medical practitioners recognize that Jesus likely suffered under such agony and stress that His heart burst, thus the flow of blood and water. Also, note: if someone's heart bursts, and they are pierced in the side, they do not live.

The mixture of blood and water flowing from Jesus is clear evidence that He was dead. Roman Soldiers knew that if the person being crucified had even a slim chance of living by coming down from the cross, that they would be executed for it. Their duty was to carry out Roman capital punishment, and they made sure those who were crucified were dead. If there was even a small possibility that Christ was alive, they made sure He wasn't.

According to Professor F. Godet, cited by Professor Kevan "Jesus, before His crucifixion, had already suffered much, both in body and soul. He had passed through the anticipation of His death in Gethsemane. He had undergone the frightful pain of a Roman scourging, which left deep scars on the back of the sufferer, and which is almost equivalent to capital punishment. Then they had pierced His hands and feet with nails. The small amount of strength which He might still have had left had been worn away by the six hours of frightful suffering which He had already passed through. Consumed with thirst and completely exhausted, He had at last breathed out His soul in that last cry recorded by the evangelists. Again, a Roman soldier had pierced His heart with a spear. With no food or drink, with no one to dress His wounds or alleviate His suffering in any way, He had passed a whole day and two nights in the cave in which He was laid. And yet, on the morning of the third day behold Him reappearing, active and radiant!"[4]

Suppose for a moment that Jesus did not die, but merely fainted. Lying hour after hour with no medical attention in a tomb hewn out of rock on a cold night in Palestine at Passover, and that He would be able to free himself from yards of grave clothes which were weighted with spices, and then proceed to roll away the stone and continue to walk miles upon miles with badly wounded feet. Given that, suppose He appeared to His disciples somehow.

Would His disciples, after mourning for three days, have truly been overjoyed to see their Risen Lord in that state? As Paul S. Taylor notes, "That His bruised and grievously wounded appearance could have been hidden, so that He could deceive despairing disciples into believing He was 'The Risen Lord of Life' and conqueror of death, is absurd! A man in such a condition could hardly have inspired his disciples. Jesus would have been incriminated as a fraud. Only a supernaturally raised Jesus was capable of healing the broken hearts of the disciples."[5]  

It is difficult to believe, indeed, it would take much faith to believe in the swoon theory. More so than believing in the physical resurrection of Jesus. To believe that a man so worn, so beaten and bruised, pierced in the side with a flow of blood and water coming out, having suffered for hours on end, and then lie in a tomb for 36 hours with no warmth nor medical care, is simply preposterous. We are then to believe that Jesus miraculously, in His condition, moved the large stone without waking the Roman Soldiers. Another thing to note: it is recorded in the Gospels that he appeared and disappeared at will. Can people do this naturally? 
Credit to: CARM

No, but since Jesus is God, He can - and did - supernaturally. Jesus appeared full of life, not deprived of it, to His followers. As noted by Paul, He appeared to more than 500 people at one time (1st Corinthians 15:6). Paul cited several witnesses who were still living. Bear in mind that these witnesses as well as others were able to read these letters - they were public documents. If such claims were fallacious, they would have been exposed easily as such: yet they never were questioned.

David Friedrich Strauss, who was certainly not a believer, has been quoted as saying, "It is impossible that a being who had stolen half-dead out of the sepulcher, who crept out weak and ill, wanting medical treatment, who required bandaging, strengthening and indulgence, and who still at last yielded to his sufferings, could have given to the disciples the impression that he was a Conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of Life, an impression which lay at the bottom of their future ministry. Such a resuscitation could only have weakened the impression which he had made upon them in life and in death, at the most could only have given it an elegiac voice, but could by no possibility have changed their sorrow into enthusiasm, have elevated their reverence into worship."[6]

Those who postulate the swoon theory, as aforementioned, claim that Jesus loosed Himself from the burial clothes. That in itself would be a miracle. Meaning simply, it would have been difficult for a half-dead man to wiggle out of the burial clothes. As Merrill C. Tenney so adequately puts it, "In preparing the body for burial according to Jewish custom, it was usually washed and straightened, and then bandaged tightly from the armpits to the ankles in strips of linen about a foot wide. Aromatic spices, often of a gummy consistency, were placed between the wrappings or folds. They served partially as a preservative and partially as a cement to glue the cloth wrappings as a preservative into a solid covering... John's term 'bound' (Gr. edesan), is in perfect accord with the language of Luke 23:53, where the writer says that the body was rolled... in linen..."[7]

According to John 19:38-42, "Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate's permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus' body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there."

Let Scripture speak for itself: it would have been rather difficult for Jesus to free himself, in His weakened condition, from the burial clothes. Now, it has been said that the spices resuscitated Jesus. If that was so, regardless of whether He was alive or dead, was tightly wrapped, including His face. It would have been difficult for Him to breathe, especially since myrrh and aloes are known to have hardening effect on linen. 

There are those who say that the Disciples were merely playing on myth, and that it was common in those days. "Some today might naively assume that the 1st century was an age of extreme childish credulity - that people in those days were willing to attribute supernaturalism to almost any unusual occurrence. But this is an unfair way to describe that time. Jerusalem was a crossroads of the world. Educated men had been reading Aristotle for over three centuries. Epicureanism was the prevailing philosophy of the day (eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die). Many in the Greek and Roman world barely recognized the existence of a real God and held in utter contempt the idea of God intervening in the affairs of men. The Jews also were skeptical and reasoned people, and had absorbed Roman philosophical ideas. (They were part of the Roman world with Roman laws and Roman courts.)"[8] 

If Jesus did not die on the cross, then when did He die? There is no answer for that question. Reason being: Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross ca. 30-33 AD. He was laid in the tomb for three days, and three days the world thought Him dead. But on the third day, He appeared, alive and well, the only visible scars being the holes in his hands, side, and feet. He appeared in a physical, glorified body. In fact, Luke 24:37-43 provides us with this information:

"While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, 'Peace be with you.' They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, 'Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.' When He had said this, He showed them His hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, 'Do you have anything here to eat?' They have him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence."

If Jesus was in the same - or similar - condition that He had "died" in, would the disciples have been so in awe of Him? Not at all. But Jesus was resurrected physically on the third day. As noted by skeptic Dr. John Crossan, author of The Birth of Christianity, "The death of Jesus by crucifixion is as sure as anything can be by historical evidence. That is a fact of history. It doesn't require faith to make it."[9]

In his book, The Case For Christ, Lee Strobel interviews several prominent scholars, theologians, archaeologists, and what have you. Lee inquired of Alexander Metherell, M.D., Ph.D., "Is there any possible way - any possible way - that Jesus could have survived this?" Metherell answers, "Absolutely not. Remember that he was already in hypovolemic shock from the massive blood loss even before the crucifixion started. He couldn't possibly have faked his death, because you can't fake the inability to breathe for long. Besides, the spear thrust into his heart would have settled the issue once and for all. And the Romans weren't about to risk their own death by allowing him to walk away alive... a person in that kind of pathetic condition would never have inspired his disciples to go out and proclaim that he's Lord of life who had triumphed over the grave... So it's preposterous to think that if he had appeared to them in that awful state, his followers would have been prompted to start a worldwide movement based on the hope that someday they too would have a resurrection body like his."[10]

What about death on the cross? "Crucifixion was first employed as a form of capital punishment by the Persians and was later adopted by the Egyptians, Carthaginians, and Romans. It was deliberately designed to lead to death that was not only humiliating to the victim, but also extremely painful and lengthy - as Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ illustrated in gruesome detail... Roman historians tell us that after Spartacus and his band of rebel slaves were captured by the authorities in 71 BC, some 6,000 of them were crucified along both sides of the Appian Way. The bodies were left to rot on their crosses, as a sign of the fate that would meet any slave rebellions in the future."[11]

The death and resurrection of Jesus is the basis for the Christian faith, and under scrutiny, that basis stands firm and unmoving. 

Troy Hillman

[1] Anderson, J.N.D. Christianity: The Witness of History, copyright Tyndale Press 1970. Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove, III. 60515.
[2] Ibid.
[3] McDowell, Josh. Evidence That Demands A Verdict. 1st ed. Arrowhead Springs, San Bernardino, CA: Campus Crusade for Christ International, 1972. 173. Print.
[4] Kevan, Ernest F. The Resurrection of Christ. London: The Campbell Morgan Memorial Bible Lectureship, Westminer Chapel, Buckingham Gate, S.W. I, June 14, 1961.
[5] Jensen, Rev. Gary W., and Paul S. Taylor. "Is it possible that Jesus did not die, but only fainted on the cross, later recovering from His wounds?." Christian Answers Network. Christian Answers Network, 1998. Web. 29 Mar 2011. .
[6] Strauss, David Friedrich. The Life of Jesus for the People. Vol. I. 2nd ed. Inter-Varsity Press, 1971.
[7] Tenney, Merrill C. The Reality of the Resurrection. Chicago: Moody Press, 1963.
[8] Ibid, [5]
[9] Jeffrey, Dr. Grant R., Prod. Jesus: The Great Debate. Perf. John Ankerberg, Dr.. Questar: DVD.
[10] Strobel, Lee. The Case For Christ. 1st ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1998. 201-202. Print. .
[11] Stan Campbell, et. al, . "Jesus: Phenomena Surrounding the Crucifixion." Inside The Mysteries Of The Bible: New Perspectives On Ancient Truths. 2010: 63. Print.


  1. Thanks, very interesting blog post. thank you very much for the share.

  2. You're quite welcome, and thank you.
    -Troy Hillman-