One of the earliest and most important creedal statements of Christianity can be found embedded in the text of a letter from the apostle Paul to the church in Corinth, Greece. In it, Paul gives testimony that he “received” this information directly from those who had experienced the event. Paul wrote,
For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received – that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas [aka Simon Peter], then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as though to one born at the wrong time, He appeared to me also. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
We see here in the last part of the passage above that Paul claims to have seen the resurrected Jesus himself. But Paul accepted the death of Jesus, His burial, and His bodily resurrection as real events, not only on the basis of his own conversation with the resurrected Jesus Christ. (See Acts 9.) He also embraced them as historical facts experienced and attested to by other individuals, by small groups, and by one large group. Based on what Paul reported in his own letter to the churches in Galatia (in what is now Turkey), Paul received this additional information within about three years of the actual occurrence of the events.
The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, therefore, cannot be a legend or a myth that evolved over the decades or centuries following His crucifixion. It was attested to by a great number of people immediately following its happening. Realizing the temporal proximity of the claims of Jesus’ resurrection to the event of His crucifixion, some people have suggested then that Jesus’ followers were probably suffering from hallucinations.
Answering the Charge That Paul and the Others Were Hallucinating
A hallucination is an experience wherein someone believes they see someone or something which is not really there. Now can that–in any way–really be the case in regard to what Paul recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8?
As Gary Habermas and Michael Licona admit in their excellent book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, “It is common for a person to experience grief hallucinations following the death of a loved one. No different than us moderns, the ancients used wine and drugs to soothe emotional pain. Too much of either might cause people to see things that are not there.” (p. 105-106)
Admittedly, two or more people could hallucinate simultaneously in each other’s company. Yet just as no two people experience the exact same dream down to all of the precise details, so also, no two people would have the exact same hallucination down to the precise details. Yet “the twelve,” the “more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time,” and “all the apostles” claimed to have seen and heard exactly the same manifestation of Jesus Christ simultaneously.
By the way, we can add to this list of appearances of the risen Jesus to groups of people. In Luke 24:13-25 for example, it is recorded that Jesus appeared to, walked with, and had a discussion with two men as they made a seven-mile journey on foot. When the two men hurriedly returned to Jerusalem to tell Jesus’ followers what had happened, the gathering of followers said, “The Lord has really risen, and has appeared to Simon!”
As Habermas and Licona additionally point out, a group hallucination could not account for the tomb of Jesus being empty. It, also, could not account for people who had been hostile to the claims of Christ suddenly becoming convinced of those same claims.
Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances occurred over a period that spanned forty days. He spoke to people each time. How would that work out if it were a “group hallucination”? Interesting! A three-way or a twelve-way hallucination conversation!
Jesus ate with groups of people on at least two different occasions after His resurrection. (Luke 24:41; John 21:13) What would have been on His plate after the hallucinations were over, if indeed they had been hallucinations?
After rising from the dead, Jesus twice offered for His followers (in group settings) to touch Him so that they could see that He was not a ghost or a spirit [or a hallucination]. (Luke 24:39; John 20:27)
Quite plainly, the hallucination challenge does not stand up to the recorded data about the claims that Jesus Christ bodily rose from the dead. So if this is one of the arguments that has been holding you back from trusting in the biblical account of Jesus’ resurrection, hopefully you can set that excuse aside and move one step closer to mankind’s Savior.