It is amusing that the same sceptics who insist that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” often appeal to the most bizarre scenarios to explain away the evidence for the resurrection. Perhaps the disciples stole the body in the hope of starting a world religion. Or perhaps Jesus family removed his body without telling the disciples; when the disciples began to believe in the resurrection, his family said nothing because they rather enjoyed the fame. Indeed; and perhaps John F Kennedy was assassinated by KGB agents hired by the Mafia.
However the sceptic attempts to explain away the evidence for the resurrection, he must do so without recourse to conspiracy theories. Historians threw such theories out of New Testament studies centuries ago. They abounded in the 17th and 18th Centuries. One scholar explained the Feeding of the 5000 as an elaborate magic trick; Jesus conspired with Essenes, who hid in caves, handing out loaves as Jesus required them. Jesus’ simulated walking on water by placing planks just below the surface. Jesus didn’t mean to say “be calm” to the storm; he was addressing the disciples. As luck would have it, at that very moment, the storm calmed down.
In the 19th Century David Strauss tore these theories to shreds. Strauss did not believe that Jesus had performed any miracles. But to Strauss’s mind explanation by a conspiracy theory was no more plausible than an explanation by a miracle. The “just so” stories produced by rationalist theologians were so ridiculous that a miracle seemed no less probable. He insisted that the miracle stories were myths that developed over successive retellings of the life of Jesus. And serious scholarship has never again conjured up the nonsense that Strauss refuted so decisively.
We should be clear that the tomb was empty and that the disciples believed that Jesus had been resurrected. After Strauss, the sceptic cannot use conspiracy theories to explain the evidence. No ridiculous stories about women visiting the wrong tomb, and confusing a gardener for their Messiah. No tall tales about Jesus’ family removing his body to the family plot, and forgetting to mention this to his disciples. No fantasies in which Jesus’ disciples steal his body to start a world religion! These stories are more improbable than a simple miracle. And in the absence of old fashioned conspiracy theories, we are left with one explanation: Christianity is correct. Jesus rose from the dead.