Did Jesus’ Resurrection Really Happen? Part One

To call into question the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ which was witnessed by Jesus’ disciples and more than five hundred others just three days after He was declared dead and buried, is to presuppose that the resurrection is the biggest hoax mankind has ever known. However, if Jesus did in fact resurrect from the dead, it is the most vital piece of information that every human being must know for the sake of one’s own life in eternity.

Authors and apologists Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell attest that some claim that the resurrection is not important to one’s life and that we should just live as though it were true. The McDowell’s answer to this is that human sinfulness has not been taken seriously and as Paul says, if the resurrection didn’t happen, our faith is worthless (1 Cor. 15:17).[1] Here I will present skeptic’s arguments against the truth of Jesus’ resurrection and refute them, which will demonstrate that the traditional hypothesis of Jesus’ resurrection is still found to be the most plausible.

Since 1975, the most popular contention among skeptics and naturalists regarding the disciples claims of seeing the resurrected Jesus is that what the disciples saw were not real appearances, but hallucinations. I will show that none of the hallucination arguments made by skeptics satisfactorily explain the available evidence.

German theologian Gerd Ludemann argues that Paul and the other apostles had an active sensual perception of Jesus’ resurrection, and that this vision generated enthusiasm and stimulus to the point of ecstasy which was later communicated to the other followers by the way of an incomparable chain reaction, which resulted in subjective visions among the masses. Paul, the other apostles, 500 persons, and James similarly experienced these subjective visions. The appearances were collective, amounting to mass ecstasy.[2]

In a nutshell, Ludemann makes the assumption that everyone who saw the risen Christ imagined it. There are two problems with that; He has no basis for proof and there is too much biblical and psychological evidence to refute his argument.

Hallucinations Cannot Be Shared

The first reason that the hallucination hypothesis fails is that hallucinations are subjective experiences, which cannot be shared. Clinical psychologist Gary Collins tells us that hallucinations are individual occurrences. By their very nature, only one person can see a given hallucination at a time. They certainly are not something that can be seen by a group of people. Neither is it possible that one person could somehow induce a hallucination in somebody else. Since a hallucination exists only in this subjective personal sense, it is obvious that others cannot witness it.[3] Collins isn’t the only psychologist who maintains this opinion to prove that hallucinations are subjective. Most psychologists dispute the possibility of group hallucinations. But Leonard Zusne and Warren Jones point to group sightings of the Virgin Mary as proof that group hallucinations are possible. They say that in cases like these, “expectation” and “emotional excitement” are “a prerequisite for collective hallucinations.”[4] But this scenario contradicts the emotional state of the witnesses of Jesus’ appearances. After the recent and unexpected death of their friend whom they thought would rescue Israel, their normal response, and indeed the response recorded by the Gospel accounts, would be fear, disillusionment and depression, not expectation and emotional excitement.[5]

Typical Hallucination Causal Factors Not Present

The second reason that the Hallucination Hypothesis fails is highlighted by Dr. Steven T. Davis who notes that typical causal factors were not present: No drugs, hysteria, deprivation of food, water or sleep.[6]

Another principle that psychiatrists claim that is typically necessary for a hallucination is that the subject is usually high-strung, highly imaginative, and very nervous. In fact, usually only paranoid or schizophrenic individuals have hallucinations.[7] The historical record does not reveal these traits existed in the witnesses.

Hallucinations may occur in people when there is a spirit of anticipation or hopeful expectation.[8] But again, the Bible doesn’t reveal any such anticipation existing in the witnesses. This is so because Jesus’ followers could not imagine a dying Messiah. They didn’t see his death coming even though He warned them. The gospels reveal that upon his death, His followers were disappointed, depressed, and fearful of persecution. There is nothing in the Gospels indicating that they anticipated a resurrection. For example, In John 20:14 Mary sees Jesus and, at first, doesn’t recognize him. She thought he was the gardener until he spoke to her. In Mark 16:10, when Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene first, she later told the disciples that she had seen Jesus, but they didn’t believe her. A doubtful Thomas didn’t believe he was seeing the Messiah until Jesus invited him to touch his wounds, after which time he exclaimed, “My Lord and My God!” in John 20:28. When Jesus appeared to the eleven disciples as they were eating, He rebuked them for not believing those who claimed they had seen him in Mark 16:14. Clearly none of these accounts show that any of those that Jesus appeared to were expecting it.

How the Skeptics Account for the Hallucination of James:

Ludemann himself goes so far as to say that “it is certain” that James experienced a resurrection appearance of Jesus.[9] But Ludemman is strangely mute when it comes to explaining how his theory accounts for that experience. The Hallucination Hypothesis has weak explanatory power with respect to this appearance, since James as an unbeliever and no part of the Christian community, was unlikely to experience a secondary vision.[10] James did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah at the time, and there is no evidence in Scripture to imply that James possessed any of the psychological traits necessary for a hallucination.

How the Skeptics Account for the Hallucination of Paul:

Skeptics Jack Kent and Michael Goulder concur with Ludemann on his hypothesis. Kent claims that Paul might have gone though some kind of conflict, or turmoil within himself because of his role in the death of Stephen and in the persecution of Jesus’ followers. This would have resulted in a conversion disorder and eventually his delusion on the road to Damascus.[11] Goulder claims that Peter, Paul, and some of the other disciples had conversion visions resulting from great stress, guilt, and self-doubt.[12] Ludemann calls it an “active sensual perception.”[13] These claims make little sense. At the time of his conversion, Paul was a non-believing, zealous Jew who made it his business to persecute other followers of Christ and was there and supported the stoning of Stephen. He certainly was not an apostle at the time of his conversion experience on the road to Damascus who would have been experiencing emotional excitement, anticipation, or even guilt since he was such a staunch Jew. The evidence that Paul was not a believer couldn’t be clearer because he took such an active role in opposing Christianity. This alone is a powerful piece of evidence because he was converted only because of his vision.

Hallucinations Don’t Transform Lives

Liberty University Professor and Theology Department Chair Gary Habermas asserts:

Studies have argued that even those who hallucinate often (or perhaps usually) disavow the experiences when others present have not seen the same thing. Critics acknowledge that Jesus’ disciples were transformed even to the point of being quite willing to die for their faith. No early text reports that any of them ever recanted. To believe that this quality of conviction came about through false sensor perceptions without anyone rejecting it later is highly problematic.[14]

The Bible provides clear evidence for the disciples’ transformation after witnessing the risen Christ. They changed the world when the Holy Spirit came upon them.

 The Empty Tomb

The Hallucination Theory presupposes that Jesus’ tomb was empty. If Jesus had not resurrected, then all that the Romans and Jewish leaders would have had to do to disprove the disciples’ testimony, is present His body. There are several excuses that the skeptics seem to come up with to explain the empty tomb. But they are all just excuses, don’t make any sense when one investigates one’s claims, and ignore the evidence for the empty tomb.

All hypotheses need to be tested. The Hallucination Theory is not compatible with the evidence. A hypothesis doesn’t provide proof. There are no arguments for this theory that can adequately explain in a satisfactory way, how Jesus’ resurrection appearances could have been hallucinated without ignoring the historical and biblical evidence. Therefore, the Hallucination Hypothesis is false. Since the Hallucination Theory basically is an admission that the tomb was empty, the skeptics have to come up with other theories, which I will discuss in my next post.

            [1] Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell, Evidence for the Resurrection: What it Means to Your Relationship with God, (Wheaton, Ill., Tynedale House Publishers, 1996) 119

            [2] Gerd Ludemann, The Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994), 50.

            [3] Gary Habermas, Did Jesus Rise From the Dead? (San Francisco, Harper and Row, 1987), 50.

            [4] Leonard Zusne and Warren Jones, Anomalistic Psychology: A Study of Extraordinary Phenomena of Behavior and Experience (Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1982), 135-136.

            [5] J. Hampton Keathley III, “False Theories Against the Resurrection of Christ”, bible.org, June 2nd, 2004, accessed January 28th, 2014, http://www.bible.org.

            [6] Steven T. Davis, Risen Indeed (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993), 184.

            [7] Keathley, bible.org.

            [8] Ibid.

            [9] Gerd Ludemann, What Really Happened to Jesus?, (Louisville, Ken.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995) 80.

            [10] William Lane Craig, “Visions of Jesus: A Critical Assessment of Gerd Ludemann’s Hallucination Hypothesis” Reasonable Faith, accessed January 28, 2014,

http://www.reasonablefaith.org.

            [11] Jack Kent, The Psychological Origins of the Resurrection Myth, (London: Open Gate, 1999) 6.

            [12] Michael Goulder, The Baseless Fabric of a Vision, (London: SPCK, 1994) 58.

            [13] Gerd Ludemann, The Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994), 50.

            [14] Gary Habermas, “Explaining Away Jesus’ Resurrection: The Recent Revival of Hallucination Theories” Gary Habermas, 2001, accessed 1-25-2014, http://www.garyhabermas.com.

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