4th Century Mural Painting from the Catacomb of Commodilla (more)

Christian apologists confidently maintain there are good reasons to believe God exists (more>>) and, further, if God exists it is rational to believe God could have supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead (more>>

In support of the proposition that God did, in fact, raise Jesus from the dead, one of the lines of evidence Christian apologists point to is the historically documented evidence that after Jesus died on the cross and was buried, he was seen alive by multiple witnesses in a physically resurrected body.

One way some people have attempted to explain away the historically documented evidence of witnesses observing the resurrected Jesus is to propose the witnesses may have seen visions of Jesus, rather than seeing Jesus in a physically resurrected body. As set forth in this article, Christian apologists maintain the theory that the eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus merely saw visions of Jesus is inadequate and certainly not rationally compelling.

According to the historical record, after Jesus’ death and burial, he appeared alive on twelve (12) separate occasions to more than 500 people, including at least two skeptics (James the Just and Paul fka Saul). On all twelve occasions Jesus was seen and probably heard. Jesus offered himself to be touched on at least three occasions and he was definitely touched twice. Jesus showed the scars from his crucifixion on two occasions and ate food with the disciples on 3 – 4 occasions. On four occasions the witnesses responded to their encounter with the risen Jesus by worshiping him.[See, Norman Geisler, The Battle for the Resurrection, pg. 141 (1984); Norman Giesler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, pg. 655 (1999); John Ankerberg & John Weldon, Ready with an Answer, pg. 81 (1997); Kenneth Boa & Robert Bowman, 20 Compelling Evidences that God Exists, pg. 253 (2002); Lee Strobel, The Case For Easter, “Interview with Gary Habermas, Ph.D., D.D.”, pg. 72 (1998)]

For a list of the witnesses along with a summary of what each witness observed, go here

Reasons Christian Apologists Maintain the Theory that the Witnesses Saw Visions of Jesus, Instead of Seeing Jesus in a Physically Resurrected Body, is Inadequate

Some people explain the post-crucifixion appearances of Jesus as visions. In doing so, many point to verses which reference a vision: 1) Luke reported the women who went to the tomb saw “a vision of angels”(Luke 24:23); 2) In Acts 26:19, Paul said, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.”

Christian apologists raise the following points in rebuttal:

Rebuttal Point No. 1: There is No Reference in the Bible to Jesus Appearing as a Vision in Any of the Post-Crucifixion Appearances

None of the gospels refer to any of the resurrection appearances of Jesus as a vision. The Greek word for vision (optasia) is never used in reference to any of Jesus’  resurrection appearances. Rather, each of Jesus’ post-crucifixion appearances were reported as being physical in nature. On multiple occasions Jesus was seen and/or touched and/or observed eating. None of these facts correspond with Jesus appearing as an immaterial vision.  Although people sometimes hear or see things in visions, physical manifestations are not associated with visions. [See, Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, pg. 660 (1999)]

Rebuttal Point No. 2: Luke 24:23 Does Not Say Jesus was Seen in a Vision; It Only References a Vision of Angels

Luke 24:23 does not say the women saw Jesus in a vision; rather, it says the women had a vision of seeing angels. [Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, pg. 660 (1999)]

Rebuttal Point No. 3: The Vision Referenced in Acts 26:19 Does Not Specifically Refer to Jesus’ Appearance to Paul on the Road to Damascus

Paul’s reference to a vision in Acts 26:19 does not say he was referring to his experience of seeing the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus as recorded in Acts 9:1-7. Acts 9:6 reports Jesus told Paul to go into the city of Damascus where he would be told what he must do. It was only after he got into the city Paul learned Ananias had a vision Paul was to minister to the gentiles (Acts 9:10-15). Thus, the vision referenced in Acts 26:19 may refer to Ananias’ vision about Paul or may refer to a subsequent vision Paul had while praying in the house of Judah in Damascus (see, Acts 9:12). [Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, pg. 660 (1999)]

Rebuttal Point No. 4: The Fact that the Men with Paul on the Road to Damascus Didn’t See Jesus Doesn’t Mean Paul Saw a Vision of Jesus

Some people assert Paul must have seen a vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus instead of seeing Jesus in a physically resurrected body since the men with Paul did not see Jesus. However,  the text does state the men with Paul did see a light and did hear Jesus’ voice, even though they did not understand what was being said (Acts 9:7, 22:9). As pointed out by Christian apologist, Norman Geisler, seeing a light and hearing Jesus’ voice are inconsistent with Paul having a vision. Further, because Jesus directed his statements to Paul , he may have been the only one who “looked straight into the blaze of divine glory and actually saw Christ”, which may be the reason he experienced temporary blindness. [See, Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, pg. 660 (1999)]

Conclusion

In the case of Jesus’ resurrection, the rebuttal points set forth above weigh decidedly against the explanation that the witnesses saw visions of Jesus instead of seeing Jesus in a physically resurrected body. The other alternative explanations offered to explain away the eyewitness reports that Jesus was seen alive after his death are similarly inadequate (more>>). Consequently, Christian apologists maintain it is reasonable to look beyond such explanations for an explanation that adequately explains all of the historical evidence, including the explanation that God supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead.

In sum, Christian apologists candidly concede if God does not exist, then Jesus was not resurrected from the dead. Nevertheless, Christian apologists confidently maintain there are good reasons to believe God exists (more>>) and the following seven independent lines of evidence reasonably establish God did, in fact, supernaturally raise Jesus from the dead:

  1. The resurrection best explains the historical evidence of Jesus being seen alive in a resurrected body on at least twelve (12) separate occasions by more than 500 witnesses, including at least two skeptics (James the Just and Paul fka Saul) (here>>)
  2. The resurrection best explains why the tomb Jesus was buried in was found empty within days of his crucifixion and burial (here>>)
  3. The resurrection best explains why Jesus’ disciples were transformed from fearful deserters to faithful followers who endured great persecution and became martyrs for their faith (here>>)
  4. The resurrection best explains why even Jewish leaders and skeptics converted to Christianity after Jesus was crucified, even though Christianity was foundationally centered on Jesus’ resurrection
  5. The resurrection best explains why there is no evidence any site was ever venerated as Jesus’ burial site even though it was common practice to venerate the burial sites of religious and political leaders
  6. The resurrection best explains why the early Church centered its teachings and practices around a supernatural event like Jesus’ resurrection instead of something less controversial like Jesus’ moral teachings
  7. The resurrection best explains the sudden rise and expansion of Christianity so soon after Jesus death even though he had been crucified by the Romans as a political traitor and declared a religious heretic by the Jewish religious leaders

Following a two day debate over the evidence of the resurrection between Dr. Gary Habermas and well-known skeptic, Dr. Anthony Flew, a panel of five philosophers from American universities (including the University of Virginia, James Madison University and the University of Pittsburgh) voted 4 to 1 in favor of the case for the resurrection, with 1 judge voting the debate was a draw. After listening to both sides of the debate, one of the judges concluded the historical evidence of Jesus’ resurrection was “strong enough to lead reasonable minds to conclude that Christ did indeed rise from the dead.” [Ankerberg & Weldon, Ready With an Answer, pgs. 132-133 (1997) citing to Terry L. Miethe (ed.), Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? The Resurrection Debate, pg. xiv (New York Harper & Row, 1987)]. Another of the judges stated:

Since the case against the resurrection was no stronger than that presented by Dr. Flew, I would think it was time I began to take the resurrection seriously.

[Ankerberg & Weldon, Ready With an Answer, pgs. 132-133 (1997) citing to Terry L. Miethe (ed.), Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? The Resurrection Debate, pg. xiv (New York Harper & Row, 1987)] Because there are good reasons to believe God exists and that he supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead, Christian apologists insist it is not only unfair for skeptics to claim Christians are intellectual simpletons for believing in Jesus’ resurrection but it is intellectually dishonest to write off the resurrection as mere foolishness.

For information on how to know God personally, go here.

© 2012 by Andrina G. Hanson

Published: May 31, 2012 / Last Updated: Feb. 21, 2013

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QUICK LINKS TO SOURCES REFERENCED OR RELIED ON IN THIS ARTICLE

John F. Ankerberg and John Weldon, Ready With an Answer(Harvest House Publishers, 1997)

Kenneth D. Boa and Robert M. Bowman, 20 Compelling Evidences That God Exists: Discover Why Believing In God Makes so Much Sense(River Oak Publishing, 2002)

William Lane Craig, Knowing the Truth About the Resurrection: Our Response to the Empty Tomb(Servant, 1988)

William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics(Crossway; 3rd Edition, 2008)

Norman L. Geisler, BAKER ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS(Baker Books, 1999)

Norman L. Geisler, The Battle for the Resurrection: Updated Edition(Wipf & Stock Publishers; Updated Edition, 2004)

Gary R. Habermas, The Apologetics Study Bible: Understand Why You Believe, “Can Naturalistic Theories Account for the Resurrection?” pgs. 1621-1622 (Holman Bible Publishers, 2007)

Peter J. Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics(IVP Academic; 1St Edition, 1994)

Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone?(Zondervan,1958)

Lee Strobel, The Case for Easter: Journalist Investigates the Evidence for the Resurrection (Zondervan, 2004)

IMAGE CREDITS & LICENSING

Slideshow Photo:  This photograph is of a 4th century mural painting in the Catacomb of Commodilla which is an ancient, man-made subterranean passageway which lead from Rome to the sea port of Ostia Antica.  This mural depicts one of the earliest images of Jesus with a beard and the symbols on either side of Jesus’ face are Alpha and Omega signifying “I am the beginning and the end”. The image was downloaded from www.wikimedia.org which states the image is in the public domain because the image is a faithful photographic reproduction of an original two-dimensional work of art. The work of art itself is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.

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Tags: Acts 26:19, appeared as a vision, appeared as visions, Bible, Christian, Christianity, Gary Habermas, Jesus, Jesus’ resurrection, Luke 24:23, Norman Geisler, raised from the dead, resurrected, Resurrection, saw a vision, saw visions

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