A “conspiracy” is a secret plot among two or more persons, though it often carries the negative connotation of a plan to commit an illegal or unethical act. The kinds of conspiracies to which we attach the designation “theory” are too far-fetched to believe that they could actually have occurred. They exist on such a large scale and involve so many people that one can hardly believe that they were actually formed or successfully executed. For example, many affirm that men have not actually landed on the moon, or that the U. S. government had a part in the 9/11 attacks.
Applied to the Gospel of Christ
Yet, despite the fact that otherwise intelligent people dismiss “conspiracy theories” as silly nonsense, they want to reduce the gospel to the level of a “conspiracy theory.” After all, it is not enough for a person just to deny that the gospel of Christ is true, for then he is obligated to offer an alternative explanation for how it gained credibility among so many people despite being false. Indeed, in The Passover Plot (1965), Hugh Schonfield argued “that Jesus planned his own arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection; that he arranged to be drugged on the cross, simulating death so that he could later be safely removed and thus bear out the Messianic prophecies” (blurb, pbk. ed.).
When skeptics make such an attempt at an explanation for a false gospel, they essentially resort to arguing for the gospel as a massive conspiracy. In doing so, they make it the most successful conspiracy ever, for probably many more than a billion people throughout history have claimed to believe the gospel. That skeptics would claim that the gospel is a gigantic conspiracy demonstrates how desperate they are not to believe it.
Why the Gospel Cannot Be a Conspiracy
It is practically impossible to keep large-scale conspiracies a secret for very long, and successful plots keep the number of conspirators low to reduce chances of a leak. A plot to kill Paul shows how important this point is (Acts 23:12-22). More than forty Jews were involved, and Paul’s nephew found out. Paul, on the other hand, did not tell an officer but had his nephew go to a commander. The commander himself also took measures to keep the matter secret. He took Paul’s nephew aside for a private conference and told him to tell none he had informed on the plotters.
This is one of the primary problems in claiming that the gospel was a conspiracy. It was not confined to a few people. Jesus selected twelve-fourteen apostles, and many others saw Him post-resurrection (Mark 16:9ff; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8). Beyond this, these witnesses kept their testimony their whole lives; none recanted.
Moreover, the witnesses lacked the necessary motivation to lie. First, they would have to overcome moral compunctions (against lying and deception). It is impossible to believe that numerous people would be motivated to lie to promote a moral system supremely opposed to lying (cf. Revelation 21:8). Second, they stood to reap no worldly reward. Early Christians gained nothing by way of riches or honor from the gospel; they were despised and poor (cf. Matthew 10:22; Acts 3:6). Third, they suffered vicious opposition and persecution (cf. Acts 8:1-3). Skeptics expect people to believe Paul would die as a martyr for a lie (cf. Acts 21:13).
On closer scrutiny, the skeptics’ account of the origin of the gospel is seen to be flimsy. It is intended to placate prejudiced minds contented with a shallow alternative. Those disinclined to believe do not need an intellectually-satisfying explanation.
There is nothing in the world which is even remotely comparable to the gospel of Christ. Indeed, it is more believable that the gospel is true than that it is a “conspiracy theory” come true.