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Why an Atheist Detective Changed His Mind About the Resurrection: An Interview with J Warner Wallace


Can a reasonable person believe that Jesus rose from the dead? J. Warner Wallace, a Dateline featured homicide detective, asked this question. As a former atheist, he sought out to disprove the resurrection of Jesus using his detective skills. Instead, he proved the opposite. In this interview, adapted from an episode of Ten Minute Bible Talks, Wallace examines common arguments against the resurrection and the evidence that led him to become a Christian.  

Prefer to listen? Hear former atheist J. Warner Wallace discuss his conversion to Christianity on this episode of Ten Minute Bible Talks.

Did Jesus Really Die?

Atheist argument: Jesus did not die on the cross. He was unconscious and later resuscitated.

Atheists have some grounds for this view from inside the biblical text. Scripture tells us that Jesus was crucified alongside two thieves, but these two thieves weren’t dead when the Romans came to collect the bodies. They had to break their legs to kill them. They didn't break Jesus's legs to make sure he was dead. Instead, they stabbed him in the side (John 19:31-35).

But, of course, this minimizes a couple of things.

There’s also good reason to believe in Jesus’s death from biblical evidence. For example, when they punctured his side, water and blood came out of his chest cavity. Now, this is intriguing because it’s scientific evidence to suggest he was dead.

When you are in cardiac arrest and your heart stops beating, water fills up either around your heart or in your lungs. It's called pleural effusion. So if someone punctures your lungs, you’d see a separation of water and blood.

So, is it possible that Jesus was still alive? Yes, of course it's possible, but when we look at the evidence, it's not reasonable.

Eyewitness or Conspiracy Theory?

Atheist argument: Eyewitness testimony was a coordinated conspiracy.

You need five things for a conspiracy to work:

  1. A small number of co-conspirators. It is easier for a small group of people to keep a secret than it is for a larger group to tell a lie.
  2. A short timeframe. It’s much easier to keep a lie for a day than it is for a year.
  3. Excellent communication. One the first thing we do when we talk to someone who is involved in a crime is separate them. We get the stories from each person in as much depth as we can and then compare how these stories line up to see if they're lying or not.
  4. Close-knit relationships. Closer relationships are less likely to confess the lie.
  5. Low pressure. As pressure increases, it is harder to hold conspiracies.

Do the eyewitnesses meet the five criteria of a conspiracy theory?

More than just the twelve disciples saw Jesus alive after the crucifixion. According to Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, over 500 people saw Jesus alive. If there were only 12 witnesses, we should be skeptical. But with 500 or more, it doesn’t make sense to disregard their testimony.

How long do they have to keep the lie? Six decades. This seems even less likely to be a conspiracy.

Did they have excellent communication? No, it was the first century. Thomas was in India, Matthew was in North Africa, Paul was in Rome, and John was in Ephesus. It is unreasonable to say they communicated a lie with each other effectively across massive geographical regions.

Did they have close relationships? Not necessarily. For example, Matthew was not popular when he was chosen as a disciple. He was not someone who was trained up to look for the Messiah. It’s safe to say they were not close, and therefore had less of a reason to lie for/with one another.

Was there pressure? When we look at the New Testament, it seems obvious that the disciples had tremendous pressure applied to them. Most of them died a miserable death defending their claims. People are unlikely to suffer and die for such a lie.

So, What Does the Evidence Tell Us?

Knowing the historical evidence surrounding Jesus’s death, resurrection, and eyewitness testimony, is it possible it’s a big conspiracy? Absolutely. It’s possible. But it’s not reasonable.

Still cynical feeling about Christianity? Find out why a resurrection that happened over 2000 year ago matters for your life today.