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Some claim that witnesses to Christ's resurrection must have been hallucinating or experiencing mass hysteria, is this possible?


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On one point virtually all scholars of every description agree, the first disciples were themselves utterly convinced they had seen the risen Christ.[1]

The Christian gospel message about the death and resurrection of Christ breathes through virtually every New Testament document. So the real question is, how do we account for their obvious conviction? Were they just hallucinating?

While perhaps at first sounding plausible, many factors contradict such a notion.[2] To name a few:

  1. The large number of witnesses (hundreds) (1 Corinthians 15:5-8)…

  2. Covering the spectrum of personality types (e.g., John 20—Peter, Thomas, the two Marys, etc.), contradict the theory of hallucinations which, by definition, are not shared experiences.

  3. There is no such thing as a vision appearing to a crowd. It's generally received only by one person at a time, and that person must be expecting the vision and be in a highly emotional state. As the Bible shows, none of Jesus' followers expected him to rise from the dead. Luke said that when Jesus appeared to the disciples, "They were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit" (Luke 24:37).

  4. Mistaken identity can not be the explanation, either. Certainly the disciples would recognize the person they had been with every day for more than three years.

  5. The substantial, permanent, and positive change in lifestyle of many of the converted overthrows any theory of hallucination. Jewish scholar Dr. Pinchas Lapide, has written,

    “When this frightened band of apostles suddenly could be changed overnight into a confident mission society… Then no vision or hallucination is sufficient to explain such a revolutionary transformation.”[3]

    Although Lapide is an Orthodox Jewish rabbi who does not accept Jesus as the Messiah, he concedes the inescapable evidence that Jesus must have risen from the dead.

So what does it all really mean?

SIX SKEPTICAL OBJECTIONS most frequently leveled by critics of Christ's resurrection…

  1. Christ's resurrection is a myth, not history.

  2. The Resurrection stories are full of contradictions.

  3. Miracles are not possible.

  4. The body was stolen.

  5. Jesus only fainted and then recovered from his wounds.

  6. The witnesses were just “seeing things.”

References and Footnotes

  1. Renowned Oxford Classical historian Michael Grant states, "These accounts do prove that certain people were utterly convinced that [Jesus had risen]." [Michael Grant, Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels (Scribner's, 1977), p. 176. Even historical skeptic, Rudolf Bultmann, concedes the disciple's certitude to be “fact” in Kerygma and Myth, Vol. I, (SPCK, 1953), p. 42. Even ardent skeptic John Shelby Spong admits, "The change [in the disciples] was measurable and objective even if the cause of this change is debated. [It] was part of that first-century explosion of power that cannot be denied by any student of history." [John Shelby Spong, Resurrection: Myth or Reality? (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1994), p. 26.] [up]

  2. Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics (Downer's Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1994), p. 186f. This book cites 14 fatal flaws with the hallucination theory. “Apologetics” does not mean to apologize for, but to give a rational defense (“apologia”) of Christianity (1 Peter 3:15). [up]

  3. Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective (Fortress Press, 1988), p. 125. [up]

Author: Rev. Gary W. Jensen, M.Div. Editor: Paul S. Taylor, Films for Christ. Provided by Films for Christ.

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