Friday, December 2, 2011

Thinking about the resurrection

If Jesus of Nazareth was not bodily raised from the dead, then Christianity would be "dead." Paul of Tarsus wrote to the Corinthians "...if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless," and "...we should be pitied more than anyone." Strong conclusions huh? If Jesus Christ has not been raised, then Christianity is not worth living, much less thinking about. True, the arguments for God are not thrown out the window, but as far as I know, one could not argue for *Christian* theism without the resurrection of Jesus.

Theologian R.C. Sproul wrote,

"The claim of resurrection is vital to Christianity. If Christ has been raised from the dead by God, then He has the credentials and certification that no other religious leader possesses. Buddha is dead. Mohammad is dead. Moses is dead. Confucius is dead. But, according to Christianity, Christ is alive."

We understand how important the doctrine of the resurrection is. How do we know it happened? Can we know? Given the evidence we have I think we can. Generally, apologists use the "minimal facts" approach to the argument for the resurrection of Jesus,  which are the following:  the empty tomb, the appearances and the early belief in the resurrection. Given my rookie status as a defender for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth by God, I'm going to take a different approach, one I am most comfortable arguing for and that is: given the data we have, the best explanation for the appearances of Jesus is that it was Jesus Himself that appeared to the disciples, the women, and the 500. What are some of the other explanations for the appearances?  The most popular one is the hallucination hypothesis; this is the conclusion I want to make you think about.

 What is a hallucination? Hallucinations are like dreams, they're subjective. I can't see your dreams nor can you see mine, they happen in the mind. There's no objective reality outside the mind that more than one person could see. And since the appearances of Jesus happened in groups, it could not have been a hallucination. Historians agree on the appearances being seen by groups. In chapter 8 of the Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Peter Kreeft and Fr. Ronald Tacelli gave thirteen arguments against the hallucination theory:

"(1) There were too many witnesses. Hallucinations are private, individual, subjective. Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene, to the disciples minus Thomas, to the disciples including Thomas, to the two disciples at Emmaus, to the fisherman on the shore, to James (his "brother" or cousin), and even to five hundred people at once (1 Cor 15:3-8). Even three different witnesses are enough for a kind of psychological trigonometry; over five hundred is about as public as you can wish. And Paul says in this passage (v. 6) that most of the five hundred are still alive, inviting any reader to check the truth of the story by questioning the eyewitnesses -- he could never have done this and gotten away with it, given the power, resources and numbers of his enemies, if it were not true.

(2) The witnesses were qualified. They were simple, honest, moral people who had firsthand knowledge of the facts.

(3) The five hundred saw Christ together, at the same time and place. This is even more remarkable than five hundred private "hallucinations" at different times and places of the same Jesus. Five hundred separate Elvis sightings may be dismissed, but if five hundred simple fishermen in Maine saw, touched and talked with him at once, in the same town, that would be a different matter. (The only other dead person we know of who is reported to have appeared to hundreds of qualified and skeptical eyewitnesses at once is Mary the mother of Jesus [at Fatima, to 70,000]. And that was not a claim of physical resurrection but of a vision.)

(4) Hallucinations usually last a few seconds or minutes; rarely hours. This one hung around for forty days (Acts 1:3).

(5) Hallucinations usually happen only once, except to the insane. This one returned many times, to ordinary people (Jn 20:19-21:14; Acts 1:3).

(6) Hallucinations come from within, from what we already know, at least unconsciously. This one said and did surprising and unexpected things (Acts 1:4,9) -- like a real person and unlike a dream.

(7) Not only did the disciples not expect this, they didn't even believe it at first -- neither Peter, nor the women, nor Thomas, nor the eleven. They thought he was a ghost; he had to eat something to prove he was not (Lk 24:36-43).

(8) Hallucinations do not eat. The resurrected Christ did, on at least two occasions (Lk 24:42-43; Jn 21:1-14).

(9) The disciples touched him (Mt 28:9; Lk 24:39; Jn 20:27).

(10) They also spoke with him, and he spoke back. Figments of your imagination do not hold profound, extended conversations with you, unless you have the kind of mental disorder that isolates you. But this "hallucination" conversed with at least eleven people at once, for forty days (Acts 1:3).

(11) The apostles could not have believed in the "hallucination" if Jesus' corpse had still been in the tomb. This is very simple and telling point; for if it was a hallucination, where was the corpse? They would have checked for it; if it was there, they could not have believed.

(12) If the apostles had hallucinated and then spread their hallucinogenic story, the Jews would have stopped it by producing the body -- unless the disciples had stolen it, in which case we are back with the conspiracy theory and all its difficulties.

(13) A hallucination would explain only the post-resurrection appearances; it would not explain the empty tomb, the rolled-away stone, or the inability to produce the corpse. No theory can explain all these data except a real resurrection. C.S. Lewis says,

"Any theory of hallucination breaks down on the fact (and if it is invention [rather than fact], it is the oddest invention that ever entered the mind of man) that on three separate occasions this hallucination was not immediately recognized as Jesus (Lk 24:13-31; Jn 20:15; 21:4). Even granting that God sent a holy hallucination to teach truths already widely believed without it, and far more easily taught by other methods, and certain to be completely obscured by this, might we not at least hope that he would get the face of the hallucination right? Is he who made all faces such a bungler that he cannot even work up a recognizable likeness of the Man who was himself?" (Miracles, chapter 16)
I find the above 13 arguments to be satisfactory defeaters (all or some, take your pick) for the hallucination theory. I don't intend to reiterate what has been said in the arguments, but I will go over some thoughts that have come to mind from reading other work on the hallucination theory. Historian N.T. Wright makes a good point: if people were individually claiming to see the risen Jesus, it's inexplicable that these appearances seem to have suddenly stopped. If people were going about claiming to have seen Jesus just to be trendy and fit in (like owning an iPad), we shouldn't expect those claims to all of a sudden stop. People would have been doing just that.

What about the group appearances?  Do the group appearances undermine the hallucination theory? I don't think so. Groups of people claim to see the mother mary in re-fried beans right? If you and I were looking at clouds and I say, "Hey, see that dinosaur?" You might would say, "Nope. Oh, wait a minute, yeah I do."  Remember this answer though in argument (3) "
Five hundred separate Elvis sightings may be dismissed, but if five hundred simple fishermen in Maine saw, touched and talked with him at once, in the same town, that would be a different matter. (The only other dead person we know of who is reported to have appeared to hundreds of qualified and skeptical eyewitnesses at once is Mary the mother of Jesus [at Fatima, to 70,000]. And that was not a claim of physical resurrection but of a vision.)" I think the numbers are important in this argument against the hallucination theory. If just a few people were witnesses to this resurrection, then the hallucination rebuttal would be weighty and effective, but given the data we have, I don't find it to be weighty and effective.

Maybe the apostles saw something or somebody who resembled Jesus, and they believed it was him. The problem with this reasoning is that the apostles weren't expecting to see Jesus. One reason, as Bill Craig often points out, is that Jews who believed in resurrection all seemed to think of resurrection as an eschatological event. It was something that happened on the last day, not in the middle of history. And the resurrection was supposed to be general, not individual.

To wrap up, I'll borrow from an illustration I heard listening to a podcast: Think of somebody you know to have died, like a relative or something. Maybe your parents. What would you honestly think if you saw that person standing right in front of you right now? It seems like you'd have a few options: you're dreaming. you're hallucinating, you're seeing a ghost, the person never died to begin with, the person has risen from the dead. Honestly, I would probably think I saw a ghost, which is what the apostles first thought. They only believed after touching the scars and such. I don't buy the hallucination theory. If we only had the appearance to Paul, which was more like a vision, then I probably would. 

I must give credit where credit is due. I learned a lot about the rebuttal to the hallucination theory from a discussion between Greg Koukl and Sam Harper on the radio show, "Stand to Reason." Harper's printed work can be found here. Is the evidence for the resurrection perfect? No, but given the data we have, I'm convinced that God raised Jesus from the dead. 

Check out how the arguments for the bodily resurrection of Jesus play out in debates. The one below is a debate between William Lane Craig and Jame Crossley.  

If you don't like watching video you can listen to audio by downloading the mp3 file from Apologetics 315 here

You can also find more debates and lectures on the resurrection here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Reformed Seth appreciates and encourages your comments, but we do have guidelines for posting comments:

1. Avoid profanities or foul language unless it is contained in a necessary quote.

2. Stay on topic.

3. Disagree, but avoid ad hominem attacks.

4. Threats are treated seriously and reported to law enforcement.

5. Spam and advertising are not permitted in the comments area.