In our previous blog post, Can We Trust The Resurrection – Pt. 1, we introduced the purpose of this series: is the historical account of Jesus’ resurrection trustworthy or is one of the proposed alternatives presented by skeptics a more likely alternative?
In the previous post, we discussed the validity of the following alternative theories:
1. His disciples lied on purposed
2. His disciples’ teachings never taught Jesus resurrected. Instead, His resurrection became a myth which developed over time.
Today, we will begin looking at two more theories to see if they offer insight to the historical facts surrounding Jesus’ resurrection.
3. His disciples were a group of uneducated fishermen who were confused and believed the rumors they heard about Jesus’ resurrection.
This theory of explaining Jesus’ resurrection states the disciples, after the death of Jesus, found themselves without work. For three years prior they were following Jesus and were unemployed during this time. So, after Jesus’ death, the disciples started hearing stories of His possible resurrection and believed them. This led them to start a religious movement based on the rumors they heard and believed to be true, which gave them influence and a livelihood. This theory can be referred to as the “1st Century Ignorance Theory.”
Again, this theory, without a critical analysis, seems like a logical explanation to Jesus’ resurrection. So, what are some problems with the 1st Century Ignorance Theory? First, every disciple of Jesus was raised in a Jewish home alongside other Jewish families being taught the Jewish interpretation of the Scriptures. Within the Jewish tradition, the idea of a physical resurrection was not an expectation of a current happening. Instead, they believed, at the end of time, all would be resurrected at once after the Messiah established His kingdom on earth.
Therefore, within the Jewish culture the disciples were living, there would have been no expectation of Jesus resurrecting. There wouldn’t have been rumors spread about Jesus resurrecting from the dead. The Jewish culture, which is the culture the disciples are living in, didn’t believe in it. This lack of expectation is emphasized by the disciples returning to work (which we will discuss in a moment).
Within the Jewish Scriptures, there were only 3 recorded bodily resurrections. All of these resurrections took place by the work of 2 prophets: Elijah and Elisha. All three of these instances were the direct cause of a prophet’s work. The rumors of Jesus’ resurrection were He (Jesus) caused Himself to be resurrected while He was currently dead. In order words, Jesus made Himself come back to life even though He was, physically, no where to be found. This is not a Jewish rumor. It is not concurrent with a Jewish understanding of how a bodily resurrection worked.
Another problem with the 1st Century Ignorance Theory is the aforementioned idea of the disciples “being out of work.” If we take the gospels for what they are, a biographical account of both Jesus and His disciples, then we have a self-recorded account of what life was like after the resurrection. In John 21, they are found fishing even after they have encountered the resurrected Jesus. They had gone back to work.
2Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. 3Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” 6He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. 7That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. 8The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off (John 21:2-8, ESV).
*It is important to note some critics would suggest this is when the disciples decided to make up a lie concerning Jesus’ resurrection. This argument has already been addressed.
An additional problem the 1st Century Ignorance Theory has is similar to one discussed in our previous blog concerning the False Witness Theory. If the disciples found out about Jesus’ resurrection from a rumor they were unable to confirm, it seems highly unlikely every single disciple would be willing to suffer violent methods of torture for something they never saw. Based on all of these counterarguments, it is only logical for there to be another way the disciples found out about Jesus’ resurrection than mere rumors.
4. His disciples had mass hallucinations and were delusional based on this experience.
Another explanation, which has been gaining traction as of late, is the idea Jesus’ disciples experienced visual and auditory hallucinations of Jesus after His death. These hallucinations were so vivid and “real” it convinced Jesus’ followers He had resurrected from the dead and they began to proclaim it as if it were fact when, in reality, they were mistaken. This theory is often referred to as the “Hallucination Theory.”
The Hallucination Theory seems to be an understandable explanation for the supernatural events the disciples claimed to have witnessed. It explains why the disciples were convinced the supernatural occurred, which avoids the arguments plaguing the False Witness Theory. It also avoids the societal problems the Legend Theory and 1st Century Ignorance Theory cannot overcome. So, if this theory avoids the previous issues, is it a viable explanation?
The first glaring weakness of the Hallucination Theory is the number of people these hallucinations, supposedly, affected. According to the disciples, Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene, then to the disciples minus one, then all the disciples, then two disciples on the road to Emmaus, then to the fishermen on the shore, then James, and then to 500 at once. Hallucinations are not corporate events. They are personalized and individualized. There is no uniformity or even conformity to them. They are not contagious and they are not corroborated. Therefore, to believe over 500 people had simultaneous and identical hallucinations is to reject science.
This leads us to the second problem with the Hallucination Theory, which is very similar to the first. Hallucinations are specific to an individual. This means someone’s ethnicity, socio-economic status, thought process, and social factors are all at play when a hallucination occurs. In other words, if a rich older Egyptian woman and a poor younger Jewish man were to hallucinate at the same time they would have vastly different experiences.
If we looked at the upbringing and personality of the disciples, we would see vastly different situations. One of the disciples was Matthew. He was a Jewish tax collector, which would have made him wealthy, and his profession was highly despised within the Jewish community. Then, there were James and John. They were brothers, Jewish fishermen working a blue-collar job, and they worked for their father who likely ran his own fishing business. Just looking at the difference between these men lets us know they would view the world from an entirely different lens. Meaning, they would experience a different hallucination. And yet, are we supposed to believe over 500 people had simultaneous hallucinations of the same thing? Again, this is unscientific.
Another, very basic argument against the Hallucination Theory is the statistical fact that hallucinations, generally, do not change the lives of those who experienced them. To have this many people experience a hallucination and to have ALL of them have their lives drastically altered as a result is statistically improbable.
There are still some other thoughts to consider for the Hallucination Theory. Why did the hallucinations last so long? Hallucinations usually last seconds to minutes. These hallucinations lasted for forty days which would make them unique. This begs the question, why did the hallucinations stop? There was a period of forty days when the disciples of Jesus claimed to come in contact with Him, but then they ceased to occur. Why did they happen more than once? Hallucinations usually only happen once except in the case of the insane. A mental disorder of this kind would isolate someone to the point they would be ostracized from society. Those are not circumstances under which we meet any of the disciples.
When one takes all of these factors under consideration, the Hallucination Theory is not plausible. It is creativity in its ability to side-step the arguments from the previous theories. However, that is not enough to give it lasting credibility.
In following blog posts we will examine the two remaining explanations one might be given to disprove the resurrection of Jesus. They are:
- His disciples stole His body from the tomb.
- He didn’t die on the cross, but later escaped and died in a hidden location.
*I would like to thank Joe Mulvahill for his help and guidance in my preparation for this series on the resurrection account. He is a gifted teacher and a valued friend.