Jesus only appeared to have died on the cross--Swoon Theory

by Matt Slick

The swoon theory is the theory that Jesus never really died on the cross but that He was crucified and came very close to death.  It further states that He was taken down from the cross and laid in the tomb.  After three days the coolness of the tomb revived Him and He managed to roll away the stone, come out of the tomb and appear to the disciples making them think He'd risen from the dead.

The swoon theory has been thoroughly refuted by many people and very few continue to bring it up as a possibility.  Nevertheless, following is an outline of why the Swoon theory can't work.  Basically, it is because Jesus' ordeal was far too serious to permit Him to survive.

  1. Six trials - three before Jewish officials (Annas, John 18:12-14; Caiaphas Matt 26:57-68; the Sanhedrin, Matt. 27:1-2), and three before Roman officials (Pilate, John 18:28-38; Herod, Luke 23:6-12; Pilate, John 18:39-19:6).
    1. In these trials, Jesus was beaten on the face (Matt 26:67).
  2. Scourging
    1. Scourging was done with a flagrum, a short whip with several leather strips which were either embedded with pieces of metal and glass or small metal balls which were tied to the ends of the leather strips.  The victim was either tied to a post or tied bent over an object with his back exposed.  The person inflicting the blows had been trained on how to administer the beating properly so as to assure the most painful and damaging punishment.  The whipping consisted of 39 lashes.  Each lash was administered and pulled across the back so as to rip the back open.  Often the back muscles were so badly shredded that the skeletal structure was exposed.  People very often died from this punishment alone.  Jesus suffered 39 such lashes.  Undoubtedly, his back was very badly beaten and bloody.
  3. Crown of thorns
    1. A crown of thorns was placed on the head of Jesus (Matt. 27:29).  There are different thorn bushes growing in the region with thorns being very short to quite long.  Even short thorns can tear the scalp.  The crown was woven and then pressed down around the head ripping the skin.  Bleeding would then occur.
  4. Purple Robe
    1. Wearing a purple robe (John 19:5) may not seem like a physically harmful thing to do.  But, when you consider that Jesus had just undergone a terrible scourging and that His back had been ripped open and was quite bloody and raw, the robe on His back would cause additional pain by rubbing against it.  Additionally, as the blood began to congeal, it would congeal into the fabric of the robe.  When the robe was ripped off, more excruciating pain would result.
  5. Crucifixion
    1. The arms are pulled apart and nails driven through the wrist into a cross beam which is raised in place.  This dislocates the hand and nail on crossshoulders.  The nails in the wrists sever the median nerve resulting in a burning pain as well as paralysis in the hand.  To breathe Jesus had to press up on the nails in His feet, scraping His raw back on the wood.  The body gradually drains of blood causing the heart to beat faster and faster.  Dehydration is occurring.  The breathing becomes more labored and intense as well as frequent, adding to the agony.  The blood loss results in extreme thirst as the body craves water to restore the lost blood. Jesus said, "I thirst" (John 19:28).  The heart beats so hard trying to compensate for the loss of oxygen (due to the lack of blood) in the body, that it eventually ruptures.  At this point, the chest cavity fills with fluid.  The soldier pierced Jesus' side and out came blood and water, signifying that the heart had stopped beating and the blood was settling in the chest cavity.  Jesus was dead.
  6. Burial
    1. Jesus' body was wrapped in linen (Matt. 27:59).  This wrapping was done tightly around the whole body from head to toe.  We see stone tombfrom the resurrection of Lazarus, that Lazarus had to be unbound (John 11:44) since help was needed to get out of the linens.
  7. Three days without medical attention in the cold tomb
    1. The tomb was cold and Jesus laid in it for three days without medical attention.
  8. Moving the stone
    1. A "large stone" had been placed over the entrance to the tomb (Matt. 27:60).  Unless Jesus had some help, which isn't mentioned, He would have had to move the large stone.  The stone had to be large enough to cover an entrance big enough for people to walk into.  Even if they ducked to get in, the stone was large enough so that it would take more than one person to move it in place.
  9. Presence of the guards
    1. The Romans guards on the tomb were given the job to guard the tomb.  Since there had been rumors that the body of Jesus might be stolen, they were ready to meet the challenge.  In Roman society, if the prisoner of the guard escaped, the guard would then take the prisoner's place in punishment.  The guards had a strong motivation to avoid letting anyone take the body of Jesus.
  10. Walked on pierced feet to get to the disciples.
    1. Jesus appeared to several people after His resurrection.  Does this mean He walked on feet with holes that had been made by nails several inches long?

The swoon theory falls apart quickly when you consider that Jesus had undergone six trials, was beaten, then scourged with 39 lashes that left His back raw, exposed, and bloody.  He had a crown of thorns forced upon His head, ripping His scalp.  He had been crucified with nails in the hands and feet; he hung there for six hours bleeding and dehydrating; his spear-pierced side emitted blood and water.  He was left in a tomb for three days and was tightly wrapped up.  Was anyone in this condition able to revive, get himself out of the tight wrappings, and then walk on pierced feet?

Could he single-handedly move a large stone with hands that were unusable due to the wrist piercings which severed the median nerve and paralyzed them?  Could he then somehow get by the armed guards given the charge of watching the grave-side?  Are we to believe further that Jesus managed to walk a long distance on feet which had been pierced and then appear to the disciples as a victorious conqueror of death?  It makes no sense.  In fact, it would take more to believe this ridiculous conjecture than it would to believe that Jesus rose from the dead.


About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.