Affirming the Resurrection via “historical bedrock”-Pt. 2

We’ll now move on to numbers three and four on the list of naturalistic theories presented to ‘explain away’ the resurrection accounts—the hallucination and wrong tomb hypothesis.

The Hallucination Theory

In a nutshell, the hallucination theory claims that all of Jesus’ post resurrection appearances, were in fact, hallucinations or possibly visions. There are several factors that soundly refute this theory which is succinctly and thoroughly explained by the following New Testament scholars/critics.

Diversity of the Appearances-Different People, Different Times

In his article, Visions of Jesus: A Critical Assessment of Gerd Lüdemann’s Hallucination Hypothesis, William Lane Craig offers the following:

“…with respect to the appearances, the diversity of the appearances is not well explained by means of such visions. The appearances were experienced many different times, by different individuals, by groups, at various locales and under various circumstances, and by not only believers, but also by unbelievers like James the brother of Jesus and the Pharisee Saul of Tarsus.
This diversity is very difficult to explain by recourse to hallucinations. For hallucinations require a special psychological state on the part of the percipient. But since a guilt complex ex hypothesis obtained only for Peter and Paul, the diversity of the post-mortem appearances must be explained as a sort of contagion, a chain reaction…It is important to keep in mind that it is the diversity that is at issue here, not merely individual incidents. Even if one could compile from the casebooks an amalgam consisting of stories of hallucinations over a period of time (like the visions in Medjugorje), mass hallucinations (as at Lourdes), hallucinations to various individuals, and so forth, the fact remains that there is no single instance in the casebooks exhibiting the diversity involved in the post-mortem appearances of Jesus. It is only by compiling unrelated cases that anything analogous might be constructed.

One might mention three specific cases which are not well explained by the Hallucination Hypothesis:

•James: Jesus’s brother did not believe that his elder sibling was the Messiah or even anybody special during his lifetime (Mk. 3.21, 31-35; 6.3; Jn. 7.1-10). But unexpectedly we find Jesus’s brothers among those gathered in the upper room in Christian worship following the resurrection appearances (Acts 1.14), and in time James emerges as a leader in the Jerusalem church (Acts 12.17; Gal. 1.19). We learn from Josephus that James was eventually martyred for his faith in Jesus Christ during a lapse in the civil government in the mid-60s. This remarkable transformation is in all probability due to the fact, recorded by Paul, that “then he appeared to James” (I Cor. 15.7)….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” of the Risen Jesus.

•The 500 brethren: Most of these people were still alive in AD 55 when Paul wrote I Corinthians and could be questioned about the experience. Lüdemann explains this appearance as a legendary reference to the event of Pentecost, which he represents as an experience of “mass ecstasy.”52 But such an explanation is weak, not only because the eyewitnesses were still around, but because the event of Pentecost was fundamentally different from a resurrection appearance.

•The women: That women were the first recipients of a post-mortem appearance of Jesus is both multiply attested and established by the criterion of embarrassment. For this reason, as Kremer reports, there is an increasing tendency in recent research to regard this appearance as “anchored in history.”54…Nowhere in the New Testament, however, not even in I Cor. 15.5, is it said that Peter was the first to see a resurrection appearance of Christ, despite the widespread assumption of his chronological priority. Rather the women have priority. They are doubtless omitted from the list in 1 Cor. 15.5-7 because naming them as witnesses would have been worse than worthless in a patriarchal culture….the women’s experience cannot be regarded as a “secondary vision” prompted by Peter’s experience. Since they did not share Peter’s guilt, having remained singularly faithful to Jesus to the end, they lacked the special psychological conditions leading to hallucinations of Jesus.

In sum, the Hallucination Hypothesis does not have strong explanatory power with respect to the diversity of the resurrection appearances.[1]

J. T. Thorburn puts the nail in the hallucination hypothesis ‘coffin’ via the following statement:

[Hallucinations have never] stimulated people to undertake a work o enormous magnitude, and, while carrying it out, to lead lives of the most rigid and consistent self-denial and even suffering. In a word…we are constrained to agree with Dr. Sanday, who says, “No apparition, no mere hallucination of the senses, ever yet moved the world.”[2]


Does the Hallucination theory disprove the resurrection?-Lee Strobel

Were the disciples having hallucinations?-Gary Habermas and William Lane Craig

The Wrong Tomb Theory

A theory propounded by Professor Kirsopp Lake assumes that the women who reported that the body was missing had mistakenly gone to the wrong tomb. If so, then the disciples who went to check up on the women’s statement must have also gone to the wrong tomb. We may be certain, however, that Jewish authorities, who asked for a Roman guard to be stationed at the tomb to prevent Jesus’ body from being stolen, would not have been mistaken about the location. Nor would the Roman guards, for they were there. One point of refutation is: If the resurrection-claim was merely because of a geographical mistake, the Jewish authorities would have lost no time in producing the body from the proper tomb, thus effectively quenching for all time any rumor resurrection.

Wilbur Smith cites the verdict of the British scholar, Professor Morse:

Their theory that the women were approaching the wrong tomb arises, not from any evidence, but from disbelief in the possibility of the supernatural emptying of the Lord’s tomb.

If the women went to the wrong tomb (an empty sepulchre), then the Sanhedrin could have gone to the right tomb and produced the body (if Jesus did not rise). this would have silenced the disciples forever! The high priests and the other enemies of Christ would certainly have gone to the right tomb! Even if the women, the disciples, the Romans and the Jews all went to the wrong tomb, one thing is sure, as Paul Little points out: “Certainly Joseph of Arimathea, owner of the tomb, would have solved the problem.”[3] 

Is there historical data on the empty tomb?-Gary Habermas

Peter Kreeft sums up and refutes the naturalistic explanations of the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth

Resurrection: Swoon, Conspiracy Hallucination, Myth-or Still Alive?-Peter Kreeft

[1] William Lane Craig, Visions of Jesus: A Critical Assessment of Gerd Lüdemann’s Hallucination Hypothesis, here
[2] Thomas J. Thorburn, The Resurrection Narratives and Modern Criticism, 1910, pg. 136
[3] Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, 1999, pg. 279

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