What do you think about the hypothesis that the resurrection was all based on hallucination, or mere subjective visions? Is this a strong theory? What is the best way to defeat this theory?

Here are the undisputed facts:

1. Jesus was crucified by the Romans under Pontius PIlate in Jerusalem.

2. His tomb was in fact empty.

3. The resurrection was proclaimed and believed by the Church in Jerusalem within just a few days.

A number of “explanations” of these facts have been put forward by unbelievers.  They are:

1. The “swoon theory” which is that he did not in fact actually die.

2. The stolen body theory, which is that his followers stole his body from the tomb and used the empty tomb as a means to start the Christian movement


3. The mass hallucination theory, which is that the resurrection appearances were some sort of hysterical mass hallucination of the believers.

The first two are shown to be illogical based on a common sense look at the evidence.   These theories deserve a careful consideration which I will not be giving in this response.  Here is an outline in which I show why the first two theories cannot be supported by the evidence:     The Resurrection of Jesus   Resurrection PPT      Or the three the most desperate and blatantly self-refuted is the third, which is that the women at the tomb, all the apostles and more than five hundred eye witnesses all had a mass hallucination.  This theory is that the young church really did believe in the resurrection because they were mistaken about having seen Jesus alive.  Let me give a few reasons this explanation is so outrageous it does not even deserve to be listed as a legitimate possible alternative to the conclusion that Jesus was in fact resurrected.

First of all, there is no record of such a mass-hallucination of hundreds of people simultaneously.  This theory proposes an event for which there is no known precedent in all history!  The Salem witch trials have been proposed as a similar case but if we look at what happened in Salem in the 1700s, there is no parallel at all.  There is literally no record of anything even remotely like a group hallucination at Salem.  There was a mass hysteria, but no reported hallucinations.  Besides,with the five hundred who saw Jesus (1 Cor 15:3-8) we are talking about several hundred people.  These were a combination of men and women, poor and wealthy, uneducated and well-educated, young and old. This supposed mass hallucination is beyond unlikely. It defies human experience and common sense.

Second of all, the kinds of reports found in the gospels do not lend themselves to this explanation at all.  There were multiple sightings of Jesus in various settings, with various different sorts of people.  There was the case of Thomas who was so skeptical he wanted to see for himself.  He actually touched the wound, as recorded in John 20:26-29.  There were several eye-witnesses to this event, including John who wrote his own personal recollection.  Is there any example of a person touching  a hallucination with many others seeing it happen at the same time?

Then there is the supposed hallucination recorded in John 21:1-14.  This is the scene with John and Peter at the Sea of Galilee.  In this “hallucination” the hallucinated Jesus ate fish.  It is hard to imagine a hallucination sharing a meal and eating fish.  There were several other appearances, but most significant of all is Jesus’ appearance to more than five hundred in Galilee.  The proposal that this was some sort of mass hallucination is so far fetched no reasonable person would even consider it.  You can safely reject this proposed explanation of the empty tomb as being a desperate attempt to avoid the rather clear implications of the facts surrounding the resurrection appearances.

Besides, this “explanation” really does not successfully explain much of the other evidence.  There still is the empty tomb.  The bogus mass hallucination theory, even if it were believable, which it most definitely is not, cannot explain the empty tomb.  Jesus was killed his body was laid in a tomb and afterward it was empty.  How does a supposed mass hallucination explain these facts?  It does not.

John Oakes

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