There is a popular theory to dismiss the eyewitness accounts of the resurrected Jesus, namely that the eyewitnesses were hallucinating.This hallucination hypothesis suffers from serious problems and weaknesses and can be easily refuted by logical arguments and historical evidences. In this paper I will show how and why the hallucination hypothesis fails to account for the documented testimonies of the people who bore witness to the resurrected Jesus Christ.
First, I will set up test criteria by defining a typical hallucination event. Second, I will gather test information about the actual documented eye-witness accounts. Lastly I will test this hypothesis by evaluating the data.
Typical hallucination event
What is a typical hallucination? A hallucination occurs when an individual sensually perceives an experience of an object or event, but in reality it does not exist. Typically this occurs when a person see, hears, or touches a physical object that cannot be seen, heard or touched by anyone else.
Hallucinations are typically a side effect of certain mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, epilepsy, insomnia, and drug addiction.It is less prone to occur to healthy individuals. In cases where people reported to have experienced at least a single hallucination in their lifetime it can be contributed to the results of brain surgery or trauma, or when individuals are sleep deprived, deprived of his or her senses, are excessively excited, while dreaming, drugged or intoxicated, or are hypnotised. For most of these individuals, hallucinations typically occur during late nights or early mornings since it is linked to sleeping patterns.
Furthermore, a hallucination is a private occurrence experienced by single individuals and the same hallucination is never witnessed by groups of people. In extreme conditions groups of people can experience a similar hallucination out of a desperate expectation such as lifeboat survivors at sea desperately seeking a rescue ship or wandering survivors in a desert desperately seeking an oasis with shelter and water.
There are fifteen recorded appearances of Jesus after His resurrection in the New Testament.The eyewitnesses include Jesus’ mother Mary, Salome, Mary Magdalene, the remaining eleven apostles, Cleopas, an undisclosed amount of people in the church in Jerusalem, Saul, Peter, and a group of five hundred people at once.
These appearances occurred at random times of the day, at various places, and over a period of forty days. The descriptions by the witnesses are very detailed and their experiences include visually seeing Jesus, hearing Him speak and speaking back to Him, walking alongside Him for kilometers, seeing Him eat actual food, and physically touching Him.
It is clear from biblical as well as extra-biblical sources that all the eyewitnesses were convinced and remain convinced of their experiences.
Testing the hypothesis
A good way to test this hypothesis is to match the actual event events described in the section above to the typical hallucination event described in the first section.
Do the actual witnesses match the profile of typical hallucinating individual? No. When considering the mental state of all the eyewitnesses in the recorded appearances of Jesus Christ it is very unlikely that any of them suffered from a typical mental condition that could lead to hallucinations. Ancient civilizations have known about, treated, and documented mental illnesses as early as 5000 B.C. People from the time of Jesus’ resurrection were therefore able to correctly identify and record a hallucination occurrence if it occurred. And since historical events of the time is recorded by multiple sources and still no evidence can be found that even a single eyewitness have been suffering from any form of mental illness, it is very improbable that any of them did.
It can perhaps be argued that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”refers to some form of epilepsy. However, his eyewitness account is line with the experiences of the more than five hundred other eyewitnesses and he also remained convinced of his experiences while clearly in a normal mental state. It is therefore very unlikely that Paul’s “condition” could have influenced or resulted in a hallucination about Jesus’ resurrection.
Do the actual experiences match the experience from a typical hallucinating event? No. None of the eyewitnesses were expecting to see Jesus. Some have suggested this in an attempt to explain the similarity of the eyewitnesses’ accounts.However, it is clear that Jesus’ disciples were devastated by His death! Their expectation prior to His resurrection was exactly the opposite and their change of behaviour after Jesus’ appearance to them clearly confirms this. N.T. Wright writes: “They were not refusing to come to terms with the fact that they had been wrong all along. On the contrary, they were indeed coming to terms with, and reordering their lives around, dramatic and irrefutable evidence that they had been wrong.” It is therefore impossible that they experienced the very same hallucination!
It can also be argued that at least some of Jesus’ followers would have been in a very emotional state resulting from their tragic loss. However, it is clear that not all the eyewitnesses shared this sentiment. Paul is a good example of an eyewitness who definitely would not have been emotional about Jesus’ death at all!
Furthermore, it is not typical for a person who is hallucinating about a dead person to insist that the person returned to life, especially in the ancient world. He would much rather insist that he saw a supernatural vision of the deceased or would live in denial that the person died in the first instance. William Lane Craig argues in his book that when a person experiences a hallucination of a loved one, in spite of how real and tangible the experience is, he usually conclude that the deceased is seen in the afterlife – and not that the person has physically returned to life. N.T. Wright argues that “for someone in the ancient world, visions of the dead are not evidence that the person is alive, but evidence that he is dead!”
Did the actual experiences occur at an expected time and place of a typical hallucinating experience? No. All the experiences occurred during different times of the day in various circumstances and multiple locations. In the absence of substance abuse or mental illness, typical hallucination events occur either early in the morning or late at night and in the confinement of one’s bed – since it is linked to abnormal sleep patterns. In this case it might be contested that at least some of Jesus’ disciples were intoxicated or were experiencing a lack of sleep. However, it is very unlikely that all the eyewitnesses experienced this at the time of their resurrection experience. William Lane Craig writes, “Jesus appeared not just one time, but many times; not to just one individual, but to different persons; not just to individuals, but to various groups; not just to believers but also to unbelievers and even enemies.”
Would a sceptic of the time be convinced that a hallucination event fitted the actual event? No. Such a theory was never even considered. In fact, it would have been very easy to promote such a theory if only they could produce the body of Jesus. However, Jesus’ disciples were so convinced of an empty tomb that they preferred martyrdom over changing their story. This unexpected deed strongly suggests that in their own mind they were never convinced by any evidence that Jesus wasn’t resurrected. And since the majority of New Testament scholars concur that the actual burial of His body did indeed took place, the logical induction is that Jesus’ body inexplicably disappeared after His burial and never turned up, ever!
Would a hallucination theory therefore be the best explanation for the actual evidence? Definitely not! When considering all the historical evidences and logical arguments presented in this paper, the hallucination theory has no ground to stand on. A much more reasonable explanation would be that the events described by the eyewitnesses actually happened in reality. In fact, the evidence points so strongly towards the truthfulness of the eyewitness accounts that it seems to provide the only plausible explanation for their experiences. William Lane Craig supports this and states that if one rejects this physical resurrection of Jesus as the only reasonable explanation for the documented eyewitness accounts we are left with an unexplainable mystery.
A typical hallucination experience requires a very specific type of person, in a very specific type of environment in a very specific setting. I have demonstrated in this paper that none of these individuals with their specific circumstances fall into the typical hallucination category. The eyewitnesses in the recorded appearances are all individuals of the general population without any documented form of mental illnesses, substance abuse or any other required hallucination condition. Their testimonies are therefore reliable in the recorded appearances.
The historical evidences and logical arguments presented in this paper therefore clearly dismantle the hypothesis that the eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus were hallucinating and expose the serious problems it suffers from. I have further shown that the events described in the documented testimonies not only fit the evidence much better, but appears to be the only plausible explanation. The logical conclusion is that the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ after his crucifixion is not only a possible explanation, but a necessary one to explain the documented eyewitness accounts.
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Habermas, G. (2001, August 13). The Recent Revival of Hallucination Theories. The Christian Research Journal, 23(4), 48.
Habermas, G., & Licona, M. (2004). The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Kregel Publications.
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McDowell, J., & McDowell, S. (2009). Evidence for the Resurrection. Ventura, CA: Regal.
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Powell, D. (2006). Holman Quicksource Guide to Christian Apologetics. Nashville: Holman Reference.
Sarbin, T., & Juhaz, J. (1975). The Social Contact of Hallucinations – Hallucinations: Behaviour, Experience and Theory. (R. Siegel, & L. West, Eds.) New York: John Wiley & Sons.
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Wright, N. (2003). The Resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
 “The fact of seeming to see or hear somebody or something that is not really there”. A. Hornby, Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English (8th ed, Oxford, Oxford University Pres, 2010).
 Britannica, Encyclopedia. “Hallucination”, Encyclopedia Britannica Online (2013), http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/252916/hallucination, p.1.(2013), (accessed Feb 16, 2013).
 Ramon Boza, Hallucinations and illusions of non-psychiatric etiology. Psychiatry Online, (March 11, 1996), http://www.priory.com/halluc.htm (accessed Feb 18, 2013).
 Mitchell Liester, “Toward a New Definition of Hallucination,” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 68, no.2 (April 1998): 305 – 312.
 Encyclopedia Britannica Online, Hallucination, 1.
 Encyclopedia Britannica Online, Hallucination, 1 – 4.
 Maurice Ohayon, “Prevalence of hallucinations and their pathological associations in the general population,” Psychiatry Research 97, no. 2 (December 2000): 153 – 164
 Gary Habermas, “The Recent Revival of Hallucination Theories,” The Christian Research Journal, 23, no. 4 (August 2001): 48.
 Encyclopedia Britannica Online, “Hallucination”, p.3.
 Matthew 28:1-20, Mark 16:1-20, Luke 24:1-53, John 20:1-29, Acts 1:1-11, 7:55, 9:3-91, 10:9-16, 11:4-10, 22:17-21, 26:12-18, 1 Corinthians 15:3-7
 For example, Josephus records, “And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him.” Flavius Josephus, Book 18: Antiquities of the Jews (93 AD).
 Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell Evidence for the Resurrection (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2009), 207.
 Allison Foerschner, “The History of Mental Illness: From “Skull Drills” to “Happy Pills”,” Student Pulse 2 no. 9(2010): 1.
 Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict(Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999),
 2 Corinthians 12:7
 Habermas, Explaining Away Jesus’ Resurrection
 Thomas Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 700.
 McDowell, Evidence for the Resurrection, 207.
 Craig, Reasonable Faith, 384
 Ibid., 385
 William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truths and Apologetics (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008), 385.
 Lee Strobel, The Case for Easter (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 80.
 Strobel, The Case for Easter, 39
 Craig, Reasonable Faith, 387
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