Were The Disciples Hallucinating?
People still think they see a fat, gray-haired Elvis darting into Dunkin Donuts. And then there are those who believe they spent last night with aliens in the mother ship being subjected to unspeakable testing. Sometimes certain people can “see” things they want to, things that aren’t really there. And that’s why some have claimed that the disciples were so distraught over the crucifixion that their desire to see Jesus alive caused mass hallucination. Plausible?
Psychologist Gary Collins, former president of the American Association of Christian Counselors, was asked about the possibility that hallucinations were behind the disciples’ radically changed behavior. Collins remarked, “Hallucinations are individual occurrences. By their very nature, only one person can see a given hallucination at a time. They certainly aren’t something which can be seen by a group of people.”
Hallucination is not even a remote possibility, according to psychologist Thomas J. Thorburn. “It is absolutely inconceivable that … five hundred persons, of average soundness of mind … should experience all kinds of sensuous impressions – visual, auditory, tactual – and that all these … experiences should rest entirely upon … hallucination.”
Furthermore, in the psychology of hallucinations, the person would need to be in a frame of mind where they so wished to see that person that their mind contrives it. Two major leaders of the early church, James and Paul, both state forcefully that they encountered a resurrected Jesus, neither expecting, or hoping for the pleasure. The apostle Paul, in fact, led the earliest persecutions of Christians, and his conversion remains inexplicable except for his own testimony that Jesus appeared to him, resurrected.
The hallucination theory, then, appears to be another dead end. What else could explain away the resurrection?
From Lie To Legend
Some unconvinced skeptics attribute the resurrection story to a legend that began with one or more persons lying or thinking they saw the resurrected Jesus. Over time, the legend would have grown and been embellished as it was passed around.
On the surface this seems like a plausible scenario. But there are three major problems with that theory.
- First, legends simply don’t develop while multiple eyewitnesses are alive to refute them. One historian of ancient Rome and Greece, A. N. Sherwin-White, argued that the resurrection news spread too soon and too quickly for it to have been a legend.
- Second, legends develop by oral tradition and don’t come with contemporary historical documents that can be verified. Yet the Gospels were written within three decades of the resurrection.
- Third, the legend theory doesn’t adequately explain either the fact of the empty tomb or the historically verified conviction of the apostles that Jesus was alive.
Therefore, the legend theory doesn’t seem to hold up any better than other attempts to explain away this amazing claim. Furthermore, the resurrection account of Jesus Christ actually altered history, beginning with the Roman Empire. How could a legend make such an enormous historical impact within such a short time period?