The Most Elaborate and Successful Hoax Ever Perpetrated?

Josh Thomas

January 2024
© 2024 Scriptural Study Groups.  All Rights Reserved.

Are you, dear believer, being tempted to doubt? If not currently, have you ever been?

Have you ever been tempted to simply give up and give yourself to the world’s way? I am willing to admit that I have been tempted with these thoughts.

Have you ever decided to occupy yourself with whatever comforts of life you have access to because, after all, “life is short”?

If so, I encourage you to keep reading.

But maybe you hesitate out of fear or shame to admit that I am describing you. If so, I’d encourage you to consider that denial of doubt does not equal faith. It’s better to be open and honest than to pretend!

Or maybe you’ve honestly never been tempted in this way before. Well, it’s likely just a matter of time. To be prepared, I encourage you, too, to keep reading! Proverbs says those that are wise will store up knowledge.1

Thankfully, God has not left us without help when facing doubt. If we’d be willing to read His Word with honesty and humility, we’d find God has provided assurance. Just a few years removed from the resurrection of Christ, the 1st century church at Corinth had left themselves open to all the temptations I just mentioned. They needed assurance in these matters, and we have God’s solution for them written down in 1 Corinthians 15. Being Scripture, it’s God’s solution for us today, too.

God had Paul sound the alarm to this faltering and vulnerable church. Some had been deceived regarding the resurrection, which if left uncorrected would lead to the attitudes I just described. Out of an entire chapter of encouragement, I’d like to focus on just verse 6. Speaking about Christ after his death and resurrection, Paul says:

1 Corinthians 15:6 (New International Version)After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.

Paul declares that more than 500 people saw the resurrected Jesus alive!

What an amazing claim!

Consider again that the claim is that over 500 people saw the resurrected Jesus. People regularly believe potentially controversial things as soon as two or three people agree on what they saw or heard. “Well, if John and Suzie AND William ALL say they saw such and such happen, I guess it must be true!” Paul says over 500 saw the resurrected Jesus. If this was all he said, it would be great grounds for assurance.

But Paul doesn’t just say that. He also says something even more convincing.

Paul declares that more than 500 people saw the resurrected Jesus alive at a single, collective event. He says the huge group saw him at the same time. In other words, Paul here is not speaking of a series of isolated sightings that add up to over 500, but a single, very public appearance. So what’s the difference? Why do you say a huge event is more convincing than a number of isolated events? There are probably over 500 people that have claimed to have seen Bigfoot, but I sincerely doubt it has ever been claimed that Bigfoot showed up somewhere where hundreds of people saw him at once. Why not? Because being untrue, such a claim would be so easily refuted. All the testimonies would need to agree or the story falls apart. It’s very hard for even a few people to “keep the story straight.” Think of the organizational and strategic nightmare it would be to get 50 people to agree to lie and then get on the same page with the fake story. Now, multiply that by 10 times. Inconceivably difficult. This is why you would never hear such a claim being made in the case of Bigfoot.2

If you are honest, it’s getting harder and harder to conceive of how Paul could be lying here.

Okay, but how can we check if these witnesses actually exist? Maybe Paul is just making it up and nobody saw Jesus alive. But look again at what Paul adds. He adds that most of the people that were at the appearance were still living. Still living! Of course, they’ve all since died but at the time of the writing of this letter most of the 500+ were still living. That means his claim could easily be checked because witnesses were available for questioning – and not just a few of them, but most of them!

Those who traffic in myths and conspiracy theories can’t be this open because what they are pushing can’t hold up under scrutiny. Only someone with the assurance of truth on their side can make claims like this without being exposed as a fraud. With the alleged witnesses available for questioning, Paul’s claim would have been utterly reckless if untrue.

Understanding now what this verse is proclaiming, it’s clear that if Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead then Paul and hundreds of others were all in on what would be the most elaborate hoax ever perpetrated.

But, Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t a cleverly devised story. We believers are not following myths.  Our faith is based on more than just the eyewitness testimony of his closest followers – although that is certainly part of it3 – because they weren’t the only ones who saw his majesty.  Hundreds of disciples did at once.

Jesus was raised from the dead.

Paul was able to speak the way he did in 1 Corinthians 15 without blushing, with utmost sincerity and confidence, and with perfectly heartfelt concern that the Corinthian saints would come back to sanity. So, as it stands, what enduring evidence we have in Paul’s words – even thousands of years later. Because of God’s love and wisdom in having the words of the New Testament recorded for us today, we too can and do believe. Even thousands of years later, we are convinced. Isn’t God loving and wise to know we would need assurances like this? He saw the Corinthians being tempted and he sent Paul. God speaks to us today through these same words.

So, are you, dear believer, being tempted to doubt? I invite you to consider again that either Paul was a lying fraud or he was telling the truth.

Dear believer, indeed there are many in today’s world that have been duped about reality.

Take comfort: you are not among them.

Those that deny Jesus’ resurrection are those who are out of touch with reality.

Millions upon millions have believed and continue to believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ since the time the eyewitnesses began to testify to what they’d seen and heard.

There are only two options. Either the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most elaborate and successful hoax ever perpetrated in the history of mankind or …


P.S. If reading this article has brought renewed assurance to you, I encourage you to read all of 1 Corinthians 15 and think about its implications deeply. Our faith matters. Your faith matters. The chapter closes with a precious final encouragement: “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58 NIV

[1] Proverbs 10:14a (NIV) “The wise store up knowledge…”

[2] If you’ve never heard of Bigfoot you can read more about the folklore here.

[3] 2 Peter 1:16