What were they smoking?

Did eyewitnesses hallucinate their encounters with Jesus?

By Jeff Laird

The historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is extremely strong. It's all but impossible to deny that, almost immediately after His crucifixion, people believed that they'd seen Jesus alive. Further, those making these claims were willing to suffer social rejection, persecution, torture, and even death as a result. These beliefs predate the writing of the Gospels themselves. Whether or not one chooses to believe in the resurrection personally, you can't reasonably deny that contemporaries of Jesus, in Jerusalem, believed in it enough to sacrifice their lives.

For those hard-set on denying the resurrection, this leads to an interesting quandary: how does one account for these beliefs if Jesus didn't actually rise from the dead? One theory which seems to live on, despite its flaws, is that the disciples hallucinated their encounters with Christ. That is, through either psychotropic drugs, or sheer emotional anguish, or both, these men and women merely imagined seeing Jesus, and were therefore convinced of His resurrection.

There are two primary reasons why the hallucination theory of the resurrection accounts cannot be true. First, historical belief in a bodily resurrection does not begin with the Gospels, it begins with the earliest believers, far too early for myth to overrun recent history. But second, and more critically, the nature of hallucinations makes the idea of hundreds, even thousands of people imagining the same minute details at the same time, and thinking they were real, simply impossible.

In particular, it's important to note how absolutely convinced the early eyewitnesses were: enough for willing martyrdom. People who hallucinate almost always recognize the event as imaginary, either during or after. Those who can't distinguish hallucination from reality, even after the fact, show clear signs of psychological disturbance. These eyewitnesses did not. And hallucinations are generally specific to a particular sense, such as sight, or hearing. Even more critical is that these experiences are purely internal, meaning they're produced by a person's own psychology and physiology.

So, if the earliest believers were only hallucinating a risen Jesus, everything in the following three paragraphs would have to be literally true:

- On multiple occasions, people with no prior or later signs of psychosis experienced vivid illusions of a resurrected Jesus. Each event involved at least three separate, simultaneous hallucinations, in visual, auditory, and tactile modes. Every delusion began and ended so seamlessly that those experiencing them never realized they were hallucinating. These hallucinations corresponded to each other so perfectly that the appearance seemed to be real, and not imaginary.

- During almost all of these events, several people experienced a hallucination at the exact same moment in time, such that it appeared they were each seeing, hearing, and touching the same person at the same moment. These independent visions were also perspective-adjusted, such that everyone in the room thought they were seeing the exact same event, but from their own physical location. Groups of people experienced these coordinated hallucinations, sometimes hundreds at a time, in different times and places, without any contradictions in details, such as Jesus' general appearance, voice, specific words, and so forth. All of these events occurred precisely within a few weeks of the execution of Jesus, then abruptly stopped.

- These hallucinations were so perfectly timed, and so perfectly coordinated, that those who experienced them were willing to suffer persecution, imprisonment, torture, and death rather than change their story. They did not claim to have been chemically altered, they did not claim to have conspired, and they did not claim to have merely seen similar "spiritual" appearances or mirages. They were utterly and absolutely convinced what they'd seen was real. This included people who had travelled and studied personally with Jesus for more than three years.

That's the perspective one would have to adopt in order to claim the disciples and early believers were "seeing things." You'd have to believe a cosmically-improbable, historically unique, and scientifically inexplicable string of psychotic episodes convinced thousands of otherwise normal people that they had seen, touched, and spoken to a dead man, to the extent they literally sacrificed everything to tell other people about it. And, that this type of event never happened before or since. And, it just so happened to match millennia-old prophecies. And so on and so forth.

There are those who demand a "naturalistic" explanation for the resurrection accounts. For them, the above version of hallucinations is about as good as it gets. But it takes a significant level of blind, un-supported faith in order to accept, not to mention being so improbable as to be impossible. Anyone who really thinks hallucination is a good counter to all of the historical and scriptural evidence or the resurrection might well be smoking something themselves.

TagsBiblical-Truth  |  Jesus-Christ

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Published 5-16-14