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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Objections to the Resurrection of Jesus

Don Stewart :: Did the Disciples Merely Have Hallucinations about Seeing the Risen Jesus?

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Did the Disciples Merely Have Hallucinations about Seeing the Risen Jesus?

Objections to the Resurrection of Jesus – Question 15

One of the favorite responses to those who reject the New Testament account of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is to account for His appearances as hallucinations on the part of the disciples.

The Hallucination Theory Explained

The hallucination theory does not make the disciples of Jesus to be liars. They actually saw something. However, these disciples only thought they saw Jesus, for He had not really risen. Hallucinations often occur when someone wishes for something so much. Since they desperately wanted to see Jesus again, their minds tricked them into seeing Him after His death. This theory holds the disciples saw exactly what they wanted to see.

Response to the Hallucination Theory

We respond to the hallucination theory in the following ways.

1. The Body of Jesus Would Have Still Been in the Tomb

There are a number of things that the hallucination theory does not explain. For one thing, it does not explain how the tomb of Jesus became empty, or why the authorities failed to produce a body. The enemies of Jesus could have permanently silenced His disciples by producing the body of Jesus. Since they did not produce a body, it leaves open the question what happened to Jesus. The authorities could have produced the body, ending any testimony that Jesus had risen. The hallucination theory does not explain the missing body. This is its first problem.

2. Hallucinations Are Not Collective

Furthermore, hallucinations are not collective. Indeed, individuals experience them. When a person has a hallucination, he or she sees objects that no one else can see. It is a private experience, not a public one. Five hundred people at one time do not have the same hallucination! Groups of people do not simultaneously experience hallucinations.

3. Hallucinations Do Not Just Come and Go

Hallucinations tend to increase in intensity and occur on a regular basis over a long period of time. They become worse not better. According to Scripture, it was after forty days that the appearances of Jesus Christ stopped and He did not appear again. This is inconsistent with the nature of hallucinations.

4. They Were Not Expecting Him to Rise

There is something else. According to the New Testament, the disciples did not expect Jesus to rise because they had not expected Him to die. We do not find them waiting expectantly for Jesus to appear after His death, neither do we find them in fervent prayer awaiting Jesus’ return. To the contrary, they were a defeated bunch of people who had gone into hiding. We can make the following observations.

A. The Disciples Had Gone into Hiding

After Jesus’ crucifixion, His disciples had gathered behind locked doors in fear of the Jewish religious leaders. John records the following:

Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19 NKJV)

They were afraid of these rulers so they went into hiding.

When Jesus walked with two people on the road to Emmaus on the day of His resurrection we read of a question they asked Him:

Then He asked them, “What is this dispute that you’re having with each other as you are walking?” And they stopped walking and looked discouraged. (Luke 24:17 HCSB)

We are also told their faces were sad and gloomy. The death of Jesus had destroyed their hope in Him.

Thus, when Jesus appeared to them it was unexpected, they were not ready for it. The disciples did not convince themselves that Jesus was alive; it was Jesus Himself who convinced them. This was the exact opposite of what they were expecting.

B. He Was Not Who They Initially Thought He Was

We can illustrate this as follows. Mary Magdalene did not see a gardener near the empty tomb and think it was Jesus; she saw Jesus and thought it was a gardener. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus did not talk with a stranger and then assume they were conversing with Jesus. The talked with Jesus and thought they were conversing with a stranger. Finally, in the upper room, the disciples of Jesus did not see a ghost and believe it was Jesus; they saw Jesus and thought they had seen a ghost.

5. Who Gave Them Power to Work Miracles?

If the disciples of Jesus were only hallucinating about seeing the risen Christ, then how were they able to perform miracles? Who gave the disciples the power to heal the sick and raise the dead? The Book of Acts tells us that they repeatable performed supernatural signs. We read the following:

Now many signs and wonders were done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. (Acts 5:12 RSV)

Someone, or some thing, gave them the ability to do miracles after Jesus’ resurrection. Who was it?

6. Who Appeared to Paul?

Saul of Tarsus, who became the Apostle Paul, was converted as an unbeliever. He himself testified that on the road to Damascus, the risen Christ appeared to him. The Book of Acts records the testimony of his conversion as follows:

“One day I was on such a mission to Damascus, armed with the authority and commission of the leading priests. About noon, Your Majesty, a light from heaven brighter than the sun shone down on me and my companions. We all fell down, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to fight against my will.’ ‘Who are you, sir?’ I asked. And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting.’” (Acts 26:12-15 NLT)

Are we to assume that he too had the same hallucination?

7. Only Certain Types of People Suffer Hallucinations

Something also needs to be understood about the type of people who experience hallucinations. Usually, it is highly imaginative people who suffer hallucinations. The appearances of Jesus were to a diverse group of people of different psychological makeup. This included fishermen, a tax collector, and a Rabbi. They are not the sort of people who are likely to have such experiences.

Hallucinations may account for the fact they thought they saw Jesus, but it does not account for their testimony that He spoke to them. In the gospels, the appearances of Jesus are always accompanied by Him speaking. He was both seen and heard. Hallucinations do no account for these diverse groups of people hearing Him as well as seeing Him.

8. Jesus Appeared at Different Times and Places

The appearances of Jesus Christ occurred at different times and places. We find Him appearing early in the morning, in late afternoon, in the evening, at the garden tomb, in a crowded room, at the Sea of Galilee, on top of a mountain, and on the Emmaus road. This is not consistent with hallucinations; they do not occur simultaneously to different people at different places.

Again, we have a theory that just does not fit all the facts. Jesus’ disciples saw more than mere hallucinations.

Summary – Question 15
Did the Disciples Merely Have Hallucinations about Seeing the Risen Jesus?

The hallucination theory is a popular way of explaining how Jesus’ disciples came to a belief in His resurrection. The idea is that Jesus’ disciples did see something but it was not really Jesus. Instead it was a hallucination. In other words, they only thought they saw Jesus.

However, all of the facts speak against something like this occurring. We can make a number of observations.

The main problem with the theory is that the body of Jesus would have still been in the tomb. Even if the disciples thought they saw Jesus after His death, the religious leaders would have quickly corrected them by producing Jesus’ body.

The fact that the body was missing from the tomb is a fact everyone agrees upon. If the disciples had merely experienced hallucinations, then someone had to remove it. It would hardly have been them. The problem is there are no other real candidates. Therefore, for the hallucination theory to work there must have been one group of people who had the hallucinations while some other individual or group stole His body out of the tomb.

If one argues that the disciples also stole Jesus’ body, one would be left with the implausible theory that the disciples somehow removed Jesus’ body from the tomb and then convinced themselves that they had seen Him alive at different times and different places. This makes no sense whatsoever.

There are many other problems with this hallucination theory. For one thing, hallucinations are not collective. Individuals have them; not groups of people.

Furthermore, they tend to get worse. In the case of Jesus’ disciples they testified to seeing Him over a forty-day period and then the appearances stopped.

There is also the fact that they were not expecting Him to rise from the dead. Indeed, on a number of occasions, Jesus was initially thought to be someone else. In other words, they were not looking for Him to appear.

We also have the issue of the miracles these disciples worked after Jesus’ ascension into heaven. How were they able to do this if they had only been hallucinating when they claimed to have seen Jesus?

Then there is the issue of Saul of Tarsus. Are we to assume that he too hallucinated in his experience with Jesus on the road to Damascus?

Another matter is the various appearances of Jesus which are recorded in the gospels. They are at different times and in different places. Again, this is not consistent with them being hallucinations.

In sum, the hallucination theory does not really begin to explain what happened to the disciples of Jesus in their claim to have seen the risen Christ. Indeed, instead of seeing hallucinations what they saw was Jesus Christ risen from the dead.

Is It Possible There Was Some Sort of Conspiracy to Pretend Jesus Had Risen? ← Prior Section
Did Jesus Actually Appear, but Only in a Vision? Next Section →
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