The Resurrection Evidence & the Hallucination Hypothesis.

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Tom’s Corner is a space where close friend and aspiring apologist Thomas Hinson can articulate his views on theological, biblical, and philosophical matters. The views expressed in Tom’s Corner are not necessarily the views of website owner, James Bishop. Tom’s Corner is a great beginner’s resource for those wishing to learn about the relevant topics.

Christianity is a religion ground on the belief that Jesus Christ was the Son of God who died on the cross and rose from the grave on the third day. This article is the second in a 3-part series that discusses some vital pieces of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.

The Primary Sources.

A critical part of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is that He appeared alive to people after His death. There are many places in the New Testament that state that Jesus appeared to people after His death. According to Matthew 28 Mary Magdalene and another Mary travel to the tomb of Jesus (Matt 28:1) but are confronted by an angel of the Lord. The angel tells them that Jesus has risen and they go to tell the disciples this news (Matt 28:8). Jesus appears to the women, greets them and then gives them instructions for the disciples to go to Galilee (Matt 28:9-10).

In Luke 23:55-56 we see some of Jesus’ female followers following Joseph of Arimathea to the tomb and went off to prepare spices and perfumes for the anointing of the body. When the Sabbath had passed, the women went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus but found the tomb empty (Luke 24:1-3). When the women come back from the tomb, they informed the disciples of its emptiness but the disciples do not believe them (Luke 24:9-11). However, Peter runs to the tomb to investigate for himself, finds it empty and wanders away, mulling over the events of the day (Luke 24:12). On that same day, two disciples are walking to a town called Emmaus when Jesus appears to them, at first preventing them from recognising Him (Luke 24:15-16). The disciples, one of whom is named Cleopas, tell who they believe to be a stranger about the events of the past few days, from the trial of Jesus before Pilate to the women seeing the risen Christ (Luke 24:19-24). Jesus continues to talk to them on the road about the words of the Prophets and Scripture and even stays to eat with them (Luke 24:25-30). Once Jesus hands them broken bread, their eyes are opened and they recognise Jesus although He promptly disappears. They rush off to tell the disciples about their incredible encounter (Luke 24:31-35). When Simon/Cleopas and the other disciple tell the others about their experience, Jesus suddenly appears to them and wishes peace upon them (Luke 24:36). The disciples at first believe Jesus to be a ghost but He quickly proves to them that He is flesh and blood (Luke 24:37-40). Jesus eats with the disciples and opens their minds about the Scriptures regarding Himself, helping them to understand what was written about Him and preparing them for ministry on earth (Luke 24:41-49).

John says that Jesus first appears to Mary Magdalene in the garden by the tomb, but keeps her from recognising Him (John 20:14). He tells her to go back to the disciples, and and shortly after He appears among them and grants them the power of the Holy Spirit (John 20:17-23). Thomas (or Didymus) was not among them at this first meeting and when he heard about Jesus appearing to the disciples, he would not believe them without proof (John 20:24-25). The writer of John says that Jesus later appeared to them all through a locked door and allowed Thomas to touch his wounds as proof (John 20:26-29). Thomas is thus convinced of Jesus’ resurrection.

The writer of Acts, who also wrote the Gospel of Like, starts by writing about Jesus appearing to the disciples and offering proof that He was alive for forty days in Jerusalem until His ascension (Acts 1:3-9). One of the most important post-mortem appearances happens in Acts 9; Jesus appears to Saul (later called Paul). We won’t review the entire narrative but on the road to Damascus Paul is struck blind and cowers on the ground, after which Jesus asks him why is persecuting Christians (Acts 9:3-6).

Finally, the Apostle Paul writes heavily on the resurrection and the appearances. Significant is 1 Corinthians 15 that has an early pre-Pauline creed that is date to within three years of Jesus’ crucifixion. In it Paul writes that Jesus in his resurrected body appeared to Cephas/Peter, the twelve disciples, to a crowd of five hundred people, to his brother James, and finally to Paul himself.

What Makes this Convincing?

That Jesus appeared in his resurrected body was not to only one individual but rather to many different groups of people, sometimes individuals, sometimes a group and even a crowd of 500, at least a dozen times. His appearances varied in length and purpose, sometimes for mere minutes, some for hours. He appeared to people with varying levels of education and status (tax collectors, fishermen and teachers of the Law). There are three main reasons why scholars accept that all these people really believed that they saw the risen Christ:

1) Paul lists a diverse group of people that Jesus appeared to: He appeared to 500 people, his skeptic brother James and a direct enemy of the church, Paul himself. The creed that Paul shares in 1 Cor 15:3-8 is very early, dated to within 3-5 years of Jesus’ crucifixion and was passed onto him by the disciples (1 Cor 15:3).

2) The Gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke & John) all independently attest to the resurrection appearances of Jesus. Paul attests to the resurrection throughout his writing which includes an early creed in 1 Corinthians 15 which is also independent attestation. There are further independent attestations from Clement of Rome and Polycarp.

3) The Gospels say that Jesus’ brothers didn’t believe that He was the Son of God. If you had siblings and one of them started saying that they were the Messiah, would you believe them? The early church would have no reason to make the family of Jesus seem like unbelievers if they weren’t, that would be completely absurd. However, James became a believer after Jesus’ death and, according to Josephus, was martyred for that belief.

Answering the Hallucination Hypothesis.

But what about the claim that the disciples could have simply hallucinated the rise Jesus? This is the most common challenge to the resurrection. Surely the disciples were grief-stricken and living in fear of the Jewish teachers. Could that make hallucinating is possible? No. There are several problems and several details that it cannot account for.

Firstly, the empty tomb. This is the main problem for the hallucination hypothesis. It stands to reason that if the tomb wasn’t empty and Christ’s body was still interred inside, then His body could be used as proof to shatter the delusional fantasy that Jesus was resurrected. However, even the earliest Jewish authorities conceded that the tomb being empty by putting the blame on the disciples that they had stolen it (Matt 28:11-15). The hallucination hypothesis fails to explain this fact.

Secondly, the gospels affirm the physical interactions with Christ. The post-mortem appearances of Christ all appear to be physical. For example, the disciples touch His wounds, eat and drink with Him and speak at length with Him. Jesus even invited his disciples to touch his wounds to convince themselves that He wasn’t a spirit or a ghost but was living and flesh (Luke 24:39). Jesus also ate a broiled fish (Luke 24:42-43) and some disciples even worshipped at His feet when they saw Him (Matt 28:9). Hallucinations, which are subjective projections, are not physical in nature. It is simply not possible for others to be able to touch a subjective hallucination.

Then there are the group appearances. As mentioned Jesus appeared to a crowd of five hundred (1 Cor 15:6). It is virtually impossible for such a large crowd to have the exact same hallucination since hallucinations are subjective projections. So even given that the disciples had started to hallucinate that Jesus was among them, they each would have seen Him doing and saying entirely different things. They wouldn’t all have the exact same hallucinations. When Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, the crowd around Paul were speechless because they heard someone talking to him but couldn’t see anyone (Acts 9:7). Clearly, these people experienced something of what Paul did. This would not be the case if Paul merely had a subjective hallucinatory experience.

There are other reasons why the hallucination hypothesis fails to explain the resurrection but these will do for now. I believe that given the extensive appearances of Jesus Christ to so many different and varying groups of people, it seems almost certain that He rose again. Hallucinations cannot account for this. Next post on Tom’s Corner, I will be writing about the origin and spread of Christian faith.

3 responses to “The Resurrection Evidence & the Hallucination Hypothesis.

  1. I wouldn’t argue the hallucination hypothesis for most of the reported appearances. I think it’s a very likely hypothesis for Paul’s conversion (due to Temporal Lobe Epilepsy). As for the rest, I think a far more likely answer is the urban legend hypothesis, and some intentional fabrications on the part of early Christians, which I’ve discussed in response to some of your prior posts.

  2. Whenever the hallucination theory is brought up I always go back to C.S. Lewis’s quote,

    “And any theory of hallucination breaks down on the fact (and if it is invention it is the oddest invention that ever entered the mind of man ) that on three separate occasions this hallucination was not immediately recognized as Jesus.”

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