In this post I will refer you to the book "The Case For The Resurrection of Jesus" by Gary Habermas and Michael R. Licona [2004 Kregel Publications]. This is an excellent read presenting what is called the "minimal facts" approach to explaining the resurrection of Jesus and overcoming various objections and novel speculations.
1- That there was no resurrection (this goes with that there was no Jesus, a concept which has been all but utterly debunked, even by many of the most liberal scholars)
2- Believers suffered from delusions
3- Believers suffered from hallucinations
4- Believers suffered an illusion
5- Believers suffered some sort of conversion disorder (Neurological disorder)
The first issue of "no resurrection" is also held by the religion of Islam, which claims that Jesus could not have risen because he didn't suffer death on the cross. This is also a view held by historic revisionists asserting that there was no Jesus of history (at least of biblical history) and that the gospel is a conflation of legend or ancient myth. I've noted that in my post, "The Raging Battle For The Jesus Of History".
Although I don't plan to spend much time on either of those arguments in this post, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that both of those hypothesis are untrue. For one, even the most liberal scholars and even those whom I've deemed anti-Christ advocates, agree that there was certainly and without question a Jesus of history, who's acts and actions were recorded within scripture. In addition, the extra-biblical record of Josephus, Tacitus, Lucien, Mara Bar-Serapion and the Talmud together provide strong evidence that not only did Jesus exist, but that he was crucified and died of crucifixion on the cross as the gospels recount.
We will however, focus on the latter critical attitudes toward the resurrection appearances and I believe that we will find that the only plausible explanation for the Christian church and teachings on the resurrection is an actual physical, bodily resurrection, not just of any man, but Jesus himself.
First, we must define terms:
Delusion: This is a false belief with the conviction that it is true in spite of evidence that invalidates its truth.
This is probably the favorite word of every atheist as it pertains to people of faith and Christianity in particular. Notice with the use of the word delusion, there is a suggestion that there is a truth disregarded by the one who is deluded. Can the resurrection be refuted by claiming delusion?
Once again, there is a truth claim made by the word hallucination that what is seen or perceived is actually not present to be perceived or seen.
In illusion, the claim is that what actually is there is simply mis-interpreted. Therefore, usually other types of illusions and or hallucinations must also be present to make a successful argument for this.
Conversion Disorder: This is a psychological and neurological problem that is of unintentional origin. Symptoms can include, blindness, paralysis, loss of voice, pain, uncontrolled vomiting, tics and seizures.
Once again, this implies that one of the other conditions may have been present and that this disorder is in response to certain stimulus. As we will find, this is an ad hoc type of assertion and focuses primarily on Paul's conversion.
The resurrection of Christ was a delusion.
It is a known fact that dead people don't come back from the dead or that there is no resuscitation from death. Therefore, none of the disciples could have possibly physically seen Jesus even though they said they did. They would have done so because they didn't want to be embarrassed by a failed religion. Therefore the reported sightings of Jesus is no than a grand delusion of mass proportions.
Remember, a delusion is a "belief" held to be true where there is evidence to the contrary.
There are a few arguments that can be raised against this speculation.
1- As stated previously, many sources agree that Jesus died. Many of those sources also agree that followers of Jesus believed that he either was alive, had risen or at the very least were continuing in his name "as if he were a god" as Pliny The Younger says in his letter to Trajan in AD110. The belief that Jesus had arisen was not an isolated belief but, according to Paul in 1 Cor. 15, had many witnesses, some of whom were converted as a result:
1 Cor. 15: 5 -7 ~ "5-And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: 6-After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. 7-After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. 8-And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time."
Having "seen Jesus" is the only information that accounts for the salvation of both the religious zealot Paul, formerly Saul, who had a disdain for Christians and ultra skeptic and critic James, the brother of Jesus who, it appears, did not believe in the Lordship of Jesus until the resurrection event.
One could claim a delusion of someone wanting or having an expectation of seeing something or in this case someone who is not there, but it is a more difficult case to make that someone who has no expectation, and in fact is critical of the faith established by Jesus, to be deluded into believing that Jesus has appeared in a resurrected form when he is in fact not there. This is even more complex, and more of a difficulty when the next point is considered.
2- The resurrection best explains the empty tomb. There were less than a handful of alternatives offered to explain why the body was missing. The bible records that the council of elders conspired to cover the event by paying the soldiers and affirming to their bosses that they had been overpowered by the disciples and other followers of Christ.
Matthew 28:11-15 ~ " 11-Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done. 12-And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers, 13-Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. 14-And if this come to the governor's ears, we will persuade him, and secure you. 15-So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.
The bible records that the Jews developed the first apologetic concerning the empty tomb, saying that the disciples or followers of Jesus had come and took the body of Jesus through the night. Although the scripture isn't clear on the subject, no doubt they pointed to some considerable number of followers as opposed to the twelve, now eleven who were certainly in hiding at the time.
One piece of archaeological evidence that may have bearing on helping us to understand the concerns of the Jews at that time. Prohibitions against moving bodies from tombs was a very important edict issued by emperor Claudius (41 -54 AD). This edict was found on what has been called the Nazareth Inscription. The inscription is from the same time period in which Christianity was being promoted heavily based on the resurrection of Jesus. To make sense of this and understand how pertinent it may be, history accounts that the Gentiles did not bury their dead in general. They used cremation more often, as opposed to the Jews who would lay bodies in tombs. This is strong evidence that the decree was more than likely prompted by Jews and was written for or to Jews. This is what the inscription states line by line:
1. EDICT OF CAESAR
2. It is my decision [concerning] graves and tombs—whoever has made
3. them for the religious observances of parents, or children, or household
4. members—that these remain undisturbed forever. But if anyone legally
5. charges that another person has destroyed, or has in any manner extracted
6. those who have been buried, or has moved with wicked intent those who
7. have been buried to other places, committing a crime against them, or has
8. moved sepulcher-sealing stones, against such a person I order that a
9. judicial tribunal be created, just as [is done] concerning the gods in
10. human religious observances, even more so will it be obligatory to treat
11. with honor those who have been entombed. You are absolutely not to
12. allow anyone to move [those who have been entombed]. But if
13. [someone does], I wish that [violator] to suffer capital punishment under
14. the title of tomb-breaker.
Clearly this edict was to discourage anyone from removing dead bodies from tombs and ultimately castigate anyone who claimed that a person known to have been dead was now alive and here on earth and not solely in the ethereal realm. Certainly, who would now say that "I believe in Jesus and he rose from the dead and from the tomb."? In the face of that however, that's exactly what Christians continued to claim.
3- Although the resurrection of Jesus was a miracle which displayed Jesus authority over life and death itself, with the advent of science and scientific means, it is no longer plausible to conclude that dead people can't return from the dead. As I document in the article "The Miracle Of Life After Death" there is and has been an overwhelming and increasing amount of people who have experience death and a return to life. There are a significant number of NDE's (Near Death Experiences) in which persons have been known to be clinically dead and brain dead only to be revived or resuscitated with in tact new memories, which is an impossibility in a purely materialistic worldview.
In short there is no evidence that Jesus did not rise. There is no evidence that invalidates the truth or claim of resurrection. An evidence that could have been presented was a dead body. Clearly, given all the attention, it would have been in the best interest of the Jews to produce such if such was available. Neither the Jews nor the Romans produced a body to invalidate this claim.
The miracle of Jesus resurrection is the capstone of Christianity and the authentication of the claims of Jesus and is special in that Jesus promised that he would lay down and take up his life again which is an act of God and not merely a man.
The resurrection of Christ was a hallucination.
General Argument:People under the stress of grieving often have experiences that aren't real. People yet see Elvis, Tupac, Biggie, and Michael Jackson. Then, word of mouth regarding these sightings can cause many people to think that they see someone when they really don't. The followers of Jesus were no less susceptible to this. After having lost their venerated teacher they were certainly in a condition mentally where they were open to think that they had seen Jesus physically. Therefore the sightings of Jesus are no more than hallucinations.
Remember an hallucination is a "false perception" of something that is not there.
There are multiple problems with the hallucination thesis or theory. If it was the fact that one person simply saw Jesus or that this was a series of otherwise isolated events, one could say that this may well be an hallucination and chalk it off. However, people don't generally tend to have mass hallucinations where they all see the same thing without having a build up to seeing the same thing, especially as it pertains to a person.
One can hallucinate in mass over things such as style of dress or color of objects. It is easy for a person to appear, leave the room and for those to have various experiences as to what color, shape and size a person either was or over the clothes they wore. However, to have a mass or group of persons that see the same thing in the same detail, would disqualify the experience as an hallucination.
There are three scriptures that can be used overcome this problem:
1- In 1 Cor. 15 Paul points out that Jesus was
Seen of the twelve (1 Cor.15:5)
"Five hundred brethren at once" (1 Cor. 15:6)
Then of the apostles (1 Cor. 15:7)
2- In addition, John accords that Jesus appeared "in the midst" of the disciples.
John 20: 26-30 ~ " 26-And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. 27-Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. 28-And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. 29-Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. 30-And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book
Here Jesus shows up 8 days after a conversation in which Thomas claims he will not believe it until he sees it for himself. He wasn't isolated, but was with the other disciples as they were hiding out. There was no expectation that Jesus would be seen by them and when he appears he doesn't appear to just one person, he appears to them all.
3- The road to Emmaus
Luke 24: 35 ~ "And they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them in breaking of bread. "
Emmaus hasn't been found as of yet partially because of unfinished or incomplete excavations of the area, it was a very small place, and directions and locations were very vague historically. However, the bible records that as 2 men, knowing what had happened to Jesus in Jerusalem, were walking considering the events, Jesus appeared to both of them, spoke with them, teaching scriptures, and even went into their homes.
One may have an hallucination, but for two and an entire family to have the same and identical hallucination is beyond credulity.
4- Hallucinations don't eat, drink, touch or feel or reason:
Luke 24: 37-53 ~ 37-But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. 38-And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? 39-Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. 40-And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet. 41-And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat? 42-And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. 43-And he took it, and did eat before them. 44-And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. 45-Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, 46-And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: 47-And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48-And ye are witnesses of these things. 49-And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high. 50-And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. 51-And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. 52-And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy: 53-And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen."
Here Jesus eats, talks, teaches, instructs and leads the people out of town. Here his commands aren't confused. Everyone is seeing and experiencing the same thing for obviously a long period of time. There are no competing stories of what was said and the instructions continue as the narrative is connected to the book of Acts which is one volume as opposed to two in the original.
5- In addition, the "hallucination" does not address the radical conversion of skeptical James, and hateful Saul, who certainly didn't have an expectation that Jesus was either deity, yet alone risen. Neither the hallucination thesis address the empty tomb, the Jewish apologetic, the Nazareth Inscription or any of the other data previously mentioned.
The resurrection of Christ was an Illusion.
People can often mistakenly see something or get something wrong. A criminal was 5'5", but the eyewitness said he was 6'5". In addition a robber's coat was brown, but the eyewitness claimed it was black. We all know that a stripped tie can become a plaid tie when left to memory. Perceptions and memories can often be wrong. The followers of Jesus, after having experienced the trauma of loosing their venerated teacher, certainly could have thought that Jesus had risen, by having certain experiences where they sighted him, when they really didn't.
Remember that an illusion is a distorted perception of something that is actually present or that actually exists.
1- First, similar to what we pointed out under hallucination (above) the resurrection appearances of Jesus weren't isolated or private events. There were many group sightings of Jesus as we have referred to previously. An illusion may appear to one person, but very seldom will a whole group experience the same illusion in the same or similar detail.
2- Keeping in mind that the definition of an illusion is the misperception of something actually present, if this was an illusion the disciples would have certainly been so discouraged as to have stopped Christianity right then and there. They certainly would not have been martyred for what was obviously a lie and for what they had proof that wasn't true. I'll explain...if Jesus had "swooned" (not actually have been dead) or had simply been in some kind of extended coma, upon regaining consciousness, he would have been a bloody and mutilated mess. Hardly anyone in whom the disciples would have claimed "victory". In addition, he certainly could not have come out of the tomb by himself and would have been so blood let that it would have been impossible for him to initiate his own exit. In addition, the disciples were on the run and hiding, while only the women had the courage to publicly appear.
In other words, under the circumstance, it would have been very hard to have a "distorted perception" of these facts and further give one's life unless the experience had been a real one. Further a band of Jews, especially followers of Jesus, would have hardly not been noticed through the night moving covertly to cover their mutilated savior.
3- Illusions cannot explain the radical conversion of skeptic James or hateful Saul who certainly would not have been open to a distorted perception of Jesus.
4- Neither the illusions address the empty tomb, the Jewish apologetic, the Nazareth Inscription or any of the other data previously mentioned.
Believers experienced conversion disorder resulting in the claim of a resurrection.
Paul displays classic conversion disorder by seeing bright lights, becoming blind and hearing voices, and afterwards refusing to eat, while his associates simply heard voices. Therefore, the testimony of Paul is nothing more than a psychological issue. This makes all the rest of the alleged sightings suspect based on the same.
This is an objection primarily based on the account of Paul's conversion in Acts 9: 3-9.
3-And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: 4-And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? 5-And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. 6-And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. 7-And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. 8-And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. 9-And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.
This objection makes bountiful leaps into the mind of Paul and creates a Paul that was afraid, under stress and unsure of his actions and or support for what he was doing. In other words, in order to assert conversion disorder, one has to create another Paul. A Paul not described within the scripture in his own words, both negative and positive.
I'll identify a few different ways to address this sort of issue.
1- If Paul's conversion was a psychological problem this still gives no accounting for an empty tomb, a Jewish apologetic, the Nazareth Inscription or any of the other data that is present regarding the resurrection of Jesus.
2- Conversion disorder for Paul doesn't suggest conversion disorder for all of those who saw Jesus in his resurrected state. It does not address the subsequent teachings, creeds and testimonies contained within the gospels received from others regarding the resurrection or any of the appearances of resurrection.
3- What happens to Paul is not necessarily a sign of conversion disorder or a psychological problem. This particular disorder has been associated with stress, weak nerves and particular mental disturbances. According to his own testimony, Paul was more than happy to persecute the Christians and stamp out their religion. He had great potential to advance among the Jewish religion, without the stress of preaching that Jesus was the fulfillment of all things. In addition he had the authority, approval and job security of the Jews and obviously the Romans. His only "stress" would have been finding someone else to persecute.
4- Paul doesn't fit the profile of conversion disorder thesis and one would have to conclude that he also suffered a visual and auditory hallucination which based on all facts is very unlikely.
5- None of this addresses the conversion of James, nor Jesus's appearances to the twelve, the over 500 at once or anyone else as referred to within scripture.
Conversion disorder and it's cousin the mass hysteria thesis only move the goalposts and creates additional problems. There were no shared symptoms by any within the group and each person had their own experiences which was unified in both content volume and duration. The only explanation for this is that they experienced a real person, in real time.
In this article, we have looked at some of the reasons or excuses that people reject the resurrection. When this is addressed usually the reliability of the bible is called into question. So it would be good to not only be aware of these arguments, but also be aware of what the bible is reliable for what it records and sets forth.
What we have now, is what was written and accepted then, not because of some council or gathering of leaders. but because God preserved his word. Yes translations are being updated and language is yet changing, but God and his word yet remains the same.
The resurrection is the central event of Christianity. It is my intent and prayer that you have a blessed holy week, and a blessed resurrection celebration as we stand In Defense Of The Faith and in the power of the resurrection of Jesus, a miracle unlike any other.