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Christian apologists confidently maintain there are good reasons to believe God exists (more>>) and, further, if God exists then 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, supernaturally 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.
Some skeptics attempt to explain away the eyewitness evidence by suggesting the witnesses could have been hallucinating. As set forth in this article, Christian apologists maintain the hallucination theory is an inadequate explanation and is by no means 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 and a summary of what each witness observed, go here.
When confronted with the evidence of Jesus’ post-crucifixion and burial appearances, some skeptics attempt to explain away the evidence by proposing the eyewitnesses could have been hallucinating. As set forth below, Christian apologists maintain the hallucination theory is wholly inadequate and, by no means, rationally compelling.
Christian apologists make the following rebuttal points to the proposition that the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ post-crucifixion and burial appearances were hallucinating:
When told that Jesus’ tomb was found empty or that Jesus had been seen alive, the initial response of many of the to-be eyewitnesses was disbelief or doubt. For example, when Mary Magdalene (a follower of Jesus) found out Jesus’ tomb was empty, she did not immediately jump to the conclusion Jesus had risen from the dead. Even when Jesus first spoke to Mary Magdalene, she initially assumed it was the gardener who was speaking to her (see, John 20:10-15). Similarly, when the disciples first learned the women who went to Jesus’ tomb were claiming Jesus had risen from the dead, they thought the women were speaking nonsense (see, Luke 24:11). When the resurrected Jesus personally appeared to all of the disciples except Thomas, the disciples thought they were seeing a spirit (see, Luke 24:36-43). It was only after Jesus showed the disciples his hands and his side that they came to believe he had been resurrected from the dead. When the disciples told Thomas aka Didymus they had seen the resurrected Jesus, he didn’t believe them stating: “Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (John 20:24-25). Eight days later, Jesus appeared to the disciples a second time when Thomas aka Didymus was with them and Jesus told Thomas to look at and touch his hands and side. Thomas responded, “My Lord and my God!”
Since the first response of Jesus’ followers was to doubt Jesus had been resurrected from the dead, it seems quite odd all of them would have subsequently begun to hallucinate seeing a resurrected Jesus. [See, Gary Habermas, The Apologetics Study Bible, “Can Naturalistic Theories Account for the Resurrection?”, pg. 1622 (2007); John Ankerberg & John Weldon, Ready with an Answer, pg. 82 (1997)] It was only after seeing Jesus, being able to touch him and/or see him eat that Jesus’ followers came to believe he had been resurrected. [See, John Ankerberg & John Weldon, Ready with an Answer, pg. 82 (1997)] Ten of the remaining 11 original disciples and many others were so convinced they had seen Jesus in a resurrected body that they endured beatings, imprisonment, torture and finally martyrdom for that belief. [See, Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, pgs. 186 – 187 (1994)]
As pointed out by Professors Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli, hallucinations usually last only a few seconds or minutes; rarely hours. The historical documentation of multiple people (sometimes together and other times not) seeing the resurrected Jesus for prolonged periods of time, weighs against the allegation the witnesses were merely hallucinating. ” [See, Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, pg. 187 (1994)] The historical accounts involving prolonged appearances of the risen Jesus include the following:
- Jesus met and walked with Cleopas and another disciple on the road to Emmaus explaining how he had fulfilled all that the Scriptures had taught about him. When they reached Emmaus, Jesus sat down, broke bread and ate with them. See, Luke 24:13-35 and Mark 16:12-13.
- When Jesus appeared to ten of the disciples (not including Thomas aka Didymus), he showed them his wounds and ate with them. See, John 20:19-23.
- When Jesus appeared to seven of the disciples who were out on the sea in a fishing boat, Peter jumped out of the boat and swam all the way to shore to get to Jesus. When the other six arrived, they ate broiled fish with Jesus. See, John 21:1-14.
Christian apologists maintain these encounters lasted far too long to be written off as hallucinations.
It is very unlikely that James the Just and Paul fka Saul (both of whom were skeptics at the time) would have had the same hallucination as each other and the same hallucination that Jesus’ disciples and 500 other people had.
Paul fka Saul was a Pharisee. He had no reason to believe anything other than what the Jewish leaders publicized about Jesus — that Jesus’ disciples had stolen his body (Matt. 28:11-15). Saul despised Christians so much that he obtained permission from the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem to go to other cities to arrest Christians and have them imprisoned (see, Acts 8:3; 9:1-2; 22:3-5, Phil. 3:4-6). Saul was not only at the stoning of Stephen the Martyr (Acts 22:20) but he directly participated in persecuting Christians and was greatly feared by them (Acts 9:18-27). To Saul, Jesus and his followers were deceivers, blasphemers and heretics who deserved to be executed. Yet, after his encounter with the risen Jesus on the Road to Damascus, Saul was convinced Jesus had risen from the dead (see, Gal. 1:1, 1 Thess. 1:9-10, 1 Cor. 15:3-4, 12). He believed it so strongly that he endured imprisonment (Acts 16:22-24; Acts 21-28), multiple beatings (2 Cor. 11:25), a stoning (2 Cor. 11:25, Acts 14:19) and other mental and physical abuse for preaching the gospel. Paul fka Saul was ultimately beheaded as a martyr. [See, Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone?, pgs. 133-145 (1958)]
James was Jesus’ half-brother who was not a Believer during the time of Jesus’ ministry (Mark 3:21, 31-35; John 7:1-10). However, after the resurrected Jesus appeared to James (1 Corinthians 15:7), James not only became a Believer but the leader of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:13-21; Gal. 2:9). James’ death as a martyr was documented by the first century historian, Flavious Josephus. [See, J.P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, pgs. 178-179 (1987)]
As noted by William F. Buckley while moderating a debate between William Lane Craig (Christian philosopher and apologist) and Dr. Peter Atkins (an atheist), there is no disagreement that people have reported seeing or hearing from those who have died. For example, several people reported seeing Elvis Presley after he died. However, unlike Jesus’ disciples, none of the individuals have been so committed to their beliefs that they were willing to be persecuted and martyred for those beliefs.
In the case of Jesus’ resurrection, ten of the remaining 11 original disciples were so convinced they had seen Jesus in a resurrected body that they endured beatings, imprisonment, torture and finally martyrdom for that belief. [See, Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, pgs. 186 – 187 (1994).]
Rebuttal Point No. 5: Different Groups of People Don’t Have the Same Hallucination at Different Times and Places
It would be quite unusual for a large group of people to experience the same hallucination, at several different times and in several different situations. Dr. Gary Collins, psychologist and president of a national association of psychologists, states:
“Hallucinations are individual occurrences. By their very nature only one person can see a given hallucination at a time. They certainly aren’t something which can be seen by a group of people.”
Additionally, in Jesus’ case, even though all the witnesses identified by name were Jewish, their reports of seeing the resurrected Jesus did not conform to Jewish beliefs about life after death. Jewish beliefs about resurrection did not include anyone rising from the dead before the general resurrection of the dead at the end of the world. Since all of Jesus’ disciples were Jews, these reports cannot be easily written off as mere products of their imaginations. [See, William Lane Craig, The Apologetics Study Bible, “Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?”, pg. 1728 (2007); see also, Gary Habermas, The Apologetics Study Bible, “Can Naturalistic Theories Account for the Resurrection?”, pg. 1622 (2007)]
Unless a person suffers from a severe mental disorder, hallucinations usually only occur on a single occasion. However, in the case of Jesus’ resurrection, the alleged hallucinations occurred multiple times, to multiple people and in multiple places. Moreover, except for the appearance witnessed by Paul fka Saul, all of the appearances occurred over a forty day period and then suddenly stopped. [See, Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, pg. 187 (1994); J.P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, pg. 173 (1987)]
As pointed out by Dr. Gary Habermas in an interview with Lee Strobel, hallucinations are relatively rare and can usually be traced back to something like drug use or bodily deprivation. Consequently, there is no reasonable basis for concluding that all of the witnesses of the resurrected Jesus were hallucinating, especially considering the fact that the appearances occurred “over a course of many weeks” and were observed by “people from all sorts of backgrounds” and “all kinds of temperaments” and “in various places.” [Lee Strobel, The Case For Easter, “Interview with Gary Habermas, Ph.D., D.”, pg. 80 (1998)]
Jesus’ followers came from different backgrounds and had dissimilar personalities. For example, Peter aka Cephas and Andrew were rugged fishermen, Thomas aka Didymus was a doubter, Matthew was a tax collector and Philip was loyal but slow in apprehension. [See, Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone?, pgs. 114-115 (1958)] Paul fka Saul was a Roman citizen, a Pharisee and a highly educated man.
The dissimilar backgrounds and personalities of these witnesses as well as the fact that all of them were willing to be martyred for their belief that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead, weighs against the proposition that they were all hallucinating. [See, Gary Habermas, The Apologetics Study Bible, “Can Naturalistic Theories Account for the Resurrection?” pg. 1622 (2007)]
Rebuttal Point No. 8: If Jesus’ Appearances Were Hallucinations, the Jews or Romans Could Have Produced Jesus’ Body to Refute the Claims of the Witnesses and Squelch the Threatening Rise of Christianity Which Was Foundationally Based on Jesus’ Resurrection
There is no question that Roman and Jewish religious leaders considered the rise of Christianity a very significant threat to their authority and they went to great lengths to squelch the rise of Christianity, which was foundationally based on Jesus’ resurrection. If the people who claimed to have witnessed one or more appearances of the resurrected Jesus were simply hallucinating, the Jewish and/or Roman leaders could have easily dispelled this false belief by producing evidence that Jesus had not risen from the dead, e.g., they could have presented Jesus’ dead body. But, instead of presenting evidence that Jesus was dead, they claimed Jesus’ disciples had stolen the body (see, Matt. 28:12-15). [Go here to examine the problems skeptics face in alleging Jesus’ disciples stole his body.]
Rebuttal Point No. 9: The Hallucination Theory Doesn’t Explain Why the Tomb Was Empty
Even if it is assumed that the witnesses of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances were hallucinating, the hallucination theory doesn’t explain why Jesus’ tomb was found empty, a fact not disputed by the Jewish religious leaders. Instead, in order to attempt to explain the empty tomb, the Jewish leaders claimed Jesus’ disciples had stolen the body out of the tomb (Matt. 28:11-15). [See, Gary Habermas, The Apologetics Study Bible, “Can Naturalistic Theories Account for the Resurrection?” pg. 1622 (2007)] If the witnesses who reported seeing the resurrected Jesus were hallucinating, then one of the purported explanations as to why the tomb was empty must also be true. However, the theories advanced by skeptics to explain the empty tomb (including the explanation that Jesus’ disciples stole the body) are replete with problems. [Go here to examine the problems skeptics face in attempting to explain away the empty tomb.]
Whereas the hallucination theory is limited in its explanatory scope because it doesn’t explain the the empty tomb, the explanation that Jesus was resurrected from the dead explains both the post-crucifixion appearances and the empty tomb. [See, William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, “How do We Know Jesus was Raised from the dead?”, Part 2 (NRB, 2013)]
- Matt. 28:9: When the women who went to the tomb and found it empty were greeted by the resurrected Jesus, “they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him.”
- Luke 24:38-43: When Jesus appeared to 10 of the disciples in the upper room, he said, “[s]ee my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; touch me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” The disciples gave him a piece of broiled fish and “he took it and ate it in their sight.”
- John 20:11-18: After Mary Magdalene went back to the tomb with Simon Peter and the apostle John, Jesus spoke to her and when she realized it was him, she began “clinging” to him.
- John 20:24-31: After Thomas told the other disciples he would not believe Jesus was risen unless he put his finger into the holes left by the nails in Jesus’ hands and put his hand in the hole in his side let by the spear, Jesus appeared and said to Thomas, “Reach here your finger…reach here your hand and put it into my side…” Thomas responded, “My Lord and my God!”
Hallucinations are heard by individuals, not by multiple people at the same time. However, in the case of the resurrected Jesus, not only was Jesus heard by multiple people on ten separate occasions, he held extended conversations with many of them, almost always in groups. For example, consider the following reported encounters with the resurrected Jesus:
- Two disciples on the road to Emmaus: Cleopas and another disciple reported Jesus had approached them on the road to Emmaus and traveled with them. Then, beginning with Moses and the prophets, he explained the things about himself to them. He then went into their house and ate with them. See, Luke 24:13-35 and Mark 16:12-13.
- Disciples in the upper room: Jesus appeared to all remaining 11 original disciples in the upper room. He talked to them about a variety of things, e.g., he reminded them he had told them that everything written of him in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. See, Luke 24:36-49 and Mark 16:14-18.
- Seven disciples on the Sea of Galilee: Jesus ate breakfast with seven of the disciples and entered into a long conversation with Peter aka Cephas in which Jesus emphasized that if Peter really loved him, Peter would tend Jesus’ sheep (referring to his followers). See, John 21:1-14.
See also, the reports of the disciples on a mountain in Galilee (Matt. 28:16-20 and Mark 16:14-18), the disciples on the Mount of Olives (Luke 24:50-52, Acts 1:3-9 and Mark 16:19) and Paul’s reference to Jesus being seen by five hundred believers (1 Cor. 15:6).
[See, Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, pg. 187 (1994); see also Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, pg. 655 (1999)]
The principle of Occam’s razor, which states simple explanations are preferable to more complex explanations, only states one should not multiply causes beyond necessity. Consequently, Occam’s razor can only be reasonably relied on to exclude the need for a supernatural explanation if a sufficient natural explanation can be offered (more>>).
In this case, the rebuttal points set forth above evidentially weigh against the explanation that the witnesses who saw Jesus alive after he died were hallucinating. The other alternative explanations skeptics have offered to explain the eyewitness reports that Jesus was seen alive after his death are similarly inadequate (more>>). Consequently, Christian apologists maintain it is at least reasonable to look beyond the alternative explanations offered by skeptics 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:
- 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>>)
- The resurrection best explains why the tomb Jesus was buried in was found empty within days of his crucifixion and burial (here>>)
- 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>>)
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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: June 1, 2012 / Last updated: March 8, 2013
SOURCS REFERENCED OR RELIED ON IN THIS ARTICLE
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)
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)
J.P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity (Baker Academic, 1987)
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Slideshow Photo: Adapted from a photograph taken by Jason Vega entitled “Need for Speed” (downloaded from ChristianPhotos.Net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications)
Tags: Bible, Christian, Christianity, Gary Habermas, God, hallucination, hallucinations, J.P. Moreland, Jesus, Jesus’ resurrection, Norman Geisler, Peter Kreeft, raised from the dead, resurrected, Resurrection, Ronald Tacelli