Plot Hypothesis. The Passover Plot
is a book by radical New Testament scholar, H. J. Schonfield, who
proposed that Jesus was an innocent messianic pretender who connived
to "fulfill" prophecy in order to substantiate his claims (Schonfield,
35-38). According to the plot, Jesus secretly "schemed in faith"
(ibid., 173), connived with a young man, Lazarus, and Joseph of
Arimathea, to feign death on the cross, revive in the tomb, and
demonstrate to his disciples (who were ignorant of the plot) that he
was the Messiah. However, the plan went awry when the Roman soldiers
pierced Jesus’ side and he died. Nonetheless, the disciples mistook
others as Christ some days later and believed he had risen from the
dead (Schonfield, 170-72).
to the Passover Plot. If true, the
"Passover Plot" would contradict orthodox Christianity, which is built
on the beliefs that Jesus was truly the Messiah who supernaturally
fulfilled Old Testament prophecy, and who died on the cross and rose
from the dead three days later (1 Cor. 15:1-5). Apart from these basic
truths there is no historic Christianity (1 Cor. 15:12-18). Thus, it
is incumbent on the evangelical apologist to refute the Passover Plot
three basic dimensions of traditional apologetics are called in
question by this alleged plot: the character of Christ, the
supernatural nature of messianic predictions, and the resurrection of
Christ. Each will be addressed in order.
Character of Christ. If the alleged plot is
correct, then Jesus was anything but "innocent." He was a conniving,
cunning, and deceptive messianic pretender. He intended to deceive his
closest disciples into believing he was the Messiah when he was not.
But this thesis is contrary to the character of Christ known from the
Gospel records, which have been demonstrated to be reliable. The Jesus
of the Gospels is the perfect exemplar of honesty and integrity.
of Supernatural Prophecy. Contrary to the
"Passover Plot," messianic prophecy is supernatural. And in the case
of Christ there are many reasons that he could not have manipulated
events to make it look like he fulfilled all the predictions about the
Old Testament Messiah.
all, this was contrary to his honest character as noted above. It
assumes he was one of the greatest deceivers of all time. It
presupposes that he was not even a good person, to say nothing of the
perfect man the Gospels affirm him to be. There are several lines of
evidence that combine to demonstrate that this is a completely
there is no way Jesus could have controlled many events necessary for
the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. For
example, he had no control over where he would be born (Mic. 5:2), how
he would be born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14), when he would die (Dan.
9:25), what tribe (Gen. 49:10) and lineage he would be from (2 Sam.
7:12), and numerous other things.
is no way short of being supernatural that Jesus could have
manipulated the events and people in his life to respond in exactly
the way necessary for it to appear that he was fulfilling all these
prophecies, including John’s heralding him (Matt. 3), his accuser’s
reactions (Matt. 27:12), how the soldiers cast lots for his garments
(John 19:23, 24), and how they would pierce his side with a spear
(John 19:34). Indeed even Schonfield admits that the plot failed when
the Romans actually pierced Christ. The fact is that anyone with all
this manipulative power would have to be divine—the very thing the
Passover Plot hypothesis is attempting to avoid. In short, it takes a
bigger miracle to believe the Passover Plot than to accept these
prophecies as supernatural.
Resurrection of Christ. The Passover Plot
offers an implausible scenario as an alternative to the resurrection
of Christ. This is true for many reasons. First, it is contrary to the
Gospel records, which are demonstrably reliable, having been written
by eyewitnesses and contemporaries of the events. Second, it totally
overlooks the powerful testimony of the resurrection of Christ,
including: (1) a permanently empty tomb; (2) over five hundred
eyewitnesses (1 Cor. 15:5-7); (3) some twelve physical appearances of
Christ in the same nail-scarred body (John 20:27); (4) which were
spread over a period of forty days (Acts 1:3); (5) during which time
Jesus ate with them on at least four occasions and taught them
concerning the kingdom of God; (6) and transformed them from scared,
skeptical, scattered disciples into the greatest missionary society
the world has ever known overnight!
The Passover Plot is in fact an implausible scenario that is based on
unjustified presuppositions and is contrary to many known facts. For
example, it supposes: (1) unjustified late dates for the Gospels; (2)
an antisupernatural bias, (3) a flawed character of Christ; (4) the
incredible naiveté of his disciples; (5) mass cases of mistaken
identity after his death; (6) a miraculous transformation based on a
To put it
positively, the alleged plot is contrary to (1) the early dates of the
Gospels; (2) the multiplicity of the eyewitnesses’ accounts; (3) the
verification of history and archaeology; (4) the known character of
Jesus’ disciples; (5) the permanently empty tomb; (6) the nature of
the resurrection appearances; and (7) the incredible number of
eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ—over five hundred. In short,
The Passover Plot is just another beautiful theory ruined by a
brutal gang of facts.