2307) Resurrection Hallucinations? (a)

The Incredulity of Thomas by Caravaggio

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio, 1602.

(Thomas examines the evidence– or were they all hallucinating?)


“What Skeptical Scholars Admit about the Resurrection Appearances of Jesus:  The historical evidence is clear: Those who claimed to see him risen must have seen something.”

By Justin Bass, professor of New Testament at Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary in Amman, Jordan; author of The Bedrock of Christianity: The Unalterable Facts of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection (Lexham Press).  This article posted April 13, 2020 at:  http://www.christianitytoday.com


     On June 26, 2000, ABC aired a documentary called The Search for Jesus.  The network’s leading news anchor, Peter Jennings, interviewed liberal and conservative scholars of early Christianity about what we can know historically concerning Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  The program ended with a striking statement by New Testament scholar Paula Fredriksen, who is not a Christian herself.  Commenting on the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus, Fredriksen said:

I know in their own terms what they saw was the raised Jesus.  That’s what they say, and then all the historic evidence we have afterwards attest to their conviction that that’s what they saw.  I’m not saying that they really did see the raised Jesus.  I wasn’t there.  I don’t know what they saw.  But I do know that as a historian that they must have seen something.

     She’s admitting, in other words, that the best available historical evidence confirms that followers of Jesus like Mary Magdalene, his brother James, Peter and his other disciples, and even an enemy (Paul, when Jesus appeared to him, was persecuting Christians) were absolutely convinced that the crucified man Jesus appeared to them alive, raised from the dead.

     Fredriksen is not alone in supposing that these followers must have seen ‘something.’  Virtually every Bible scholar across the Western world, regardless of religious background or belief, agrees that Jesus’ earliest followers believed he appeared to them alive.  This is what launched the world’s largest religion.  As a result of these appearances, Jewish fishermen began proclaiming to crowds in Jerusalem that “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it” (Acts 2:32).  Two thousand years later, the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection is proclaimed by billions of Christians in nearly every nation and in almost every language on planet earth.

     What did all these witnesses see?

     According to the earliest source we have on record for Jesus’ death and resurrection, a hidden pearl found within 1 Corinthians 15, Jesus appeared to multiple individuals and groups, and at least one enemy.  This creedal tradition, according to virtually all scholars, dates to within five years of Jesus’ death.  Through this source, we can reach back to the earliest years of the Christian movement in Jerusalem, to the bedrock confession of the earliest followers of Jesus.

     Here is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3–8:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance:  that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

     This catalog of Resurrection appearances is unparalleled in the New Testament, even in all of ancient literature.  We learn from this list that Jesus appeared to three individuals: Cephas (Peter), his chief disciple; James, his brother; and Paul, his former enemy.  And we also learn that he appeared to three groups:  the Twelve (disciples, minus Judas); more than 500 early followers; and all the apostles.

     That Jesus appeared to more than 500 men and women at the same time is a truly remarkable claim.  Paul boldly puts his credibility on the line when he mentions that most of them are still alive.  After all, he is essentially inviting members of the Corinthian church to travel to Jerusalem and speak to these witnesses, investigating for themselves what it was like to see the risen Jesus.  We can see, then, that solid eyewitness testimony to the risen Jesus was readily available in the decades following his resurrection.

     Mary Magdalene also belongs on the list of key eyewitnesses, as she too was readily available to be questioned about her experience with the risen Jesus.  As the agnostic New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman writes in How Jesus Became God:

This is significant that Mary Magdalene enjoys such prominence in all the Gospel Resurrection narratives, even though she is virtually absent everywhere else in the Gospels.  She is mentioned in only one passage in the entire New Testament in connection with Jesus during his public ministry (Luke 8:1–3), and yet she is always the first to announce that Jesus has been raised.  Why is this?  One plausible explanation is that she too had a vision of Jesus after he died.

     Mary Magdalene was given the high honor of being not only the first to see the risen Jesus but the first person in history to proclaim, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18).

     Whatever these eyewitnesses saw, it transformed their lives to the point of being willing to suffer and die for it.  In 2 Corinthians 11:23–33, Paul recounts his almost daily suffering for his conviction that Jesus appeared to him.  He was beaten, imprisoned, stoned, starved, lost at sea, and daily in danger of all kinds of evil on his journeys throughout the Roman Empire.

     We also possess strong historical evidence that certain key eyewitnesses were martyred for their faith.  Peter, for instance, was crucified. James was stoned.  Paul was beheaded.  Whatever they saw, it was worth giving their lives for.  They sealed their testimonies with their blood.

     In order to explain away these Resurrection appearances, some scholars have speculated that the eyewitnesses were merely hallucinating.

     However…  (continued…)