Sunday, April 3, 2011

You (Don’t) Look Like You’ve Seen A Ghost

In the past, some critics of the Resurrection have sought to explain it away by saying that his followers merely hallucinated seeing a risen Jesus. Like most theories, this one too falls to shreds upon the slightest scrutiny.

The apostles made it very clear that when they said Jesus was risen, they meant bodily. They weren’t talking about seeing a ghost or the spirit of Jesus; they were adamant that the physical body of their Teacher was up and about. Now it’s true that this body apparently now had some supernatural abilities—such as the ability to appear in a room unannounced, and the ability to mask its identity until He desired to be recognized—but the apostles (and Jesus himself) took great pains to emphasize the fact that it was his actual body that was risen:

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. (Luke 24:30)

They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have." (Luke 24:37-39)

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, "Do you have anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.  He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." (Luke 24:40-44)

So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!" So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. (John 20:1-9)

After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. (John 20:20)

Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." (John 20:27)

When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. (John 21:9)

A very important fact here is that Jesus appeared to groups of people at a time. Hallucinations only happen to individuals.  In fact, in the very earliest written testimony we have of the Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15—not the gospels, as one might think), Paul says that Jesus appeared to 500 people at once. As this was only 3-5 years after the death of Jesus, he goes on to say that most of those 500 are still alive, so go ask them yourself!

And of course, we always have our good old standby, our Old Reliable: the empty tomb. If it was a hallucination (did they have LSD back then?) all you gotta do is, you guessed it….Bring out yer dead! Bam, mystery solved. But as we all know by now, there was nobody in the tomb to bring out.

The disciples obviously believed that they had seen a risen, physical body of Jesus. In fact, they took great care to emphasize the physical aspect of it so as to negate any hallucination-explanations. The only way to get around this belief (besides believing they were right) is to say either that the disciples were telling bare-faced lies about the resurrection, or to say that the gospels themselves are forgeries.

I’ll address both those issues in my next posts.

In the end, it’s the hallucination theory that is insubstantial and bodiless, not Jesus.

Truth poorly defended loses not its truthfulness;
likewise Falsehood aptly defended loses not it's falsity.

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  1. Another fact that hallmarks the resurrection's validity, is the raising of other dead people at that same time - - seen & confirmed by those that also saw Jesus post-crucifixion. The writings of Josephus and other historians certainly affirm something other-worldly about the Gospel narrative.

    I'm curious about the latest writings found in Jordan (in recent weeks); writings that apparently date to the earliest church, and that contain additional information/conformation about this very subject.

    What a fabulous post!


  2. Sassy Granny, which writings are you referring to? I'm very curious to do some research!

  3. While perhaps at first sounding plausible, many factors contradict such a notion.
    To name a few:
    The large number of witnesses (hundreds) (1 Corinthians 15:5-8)…
    Covering the spectrum of personality types (e.g., John 20—Peter, Thomas, the two Marys, etc.), contradict the theory of hallucinations which, by definition, are not shared experiences.
    There is no such thing as a vision appearing to a crowd. It's generally received only by one person at a time, and that person must be expecting the vision and be in a highly emotional state. As the Bible shows, none of Jesus' followers expected him to rise from the dead. Luke said that when Jesus appeared to the disciples, "They were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit" (Luke 24:37).

  4. My approach to Classics is historical. And I tell you that the evidence for the life, the death, and the resurrection of Christ is better authenticated than most of the facts of ancient history

  5. 1. Well, how does Paul know Jesus appeared to 500?

    A. He doesn't claim to have known Jesus when Jesus was alive in the flesh.

    B. His "conversion" came way after this event.

    C. He himself doesn't ever claim to have witnessed it.

    So where did he hear the story? Do you KNOW(as in KNOW, not guess) where he heard it? He doesn't attribute it to anyone-he merely says some of these people are "alive today".

    The inference is that THEY told him, but he doesn't say so and in any case, gives no reason why they should be believed, other than that they support his theological arguments.

    2. When Paul claims to have seen Jesus on the road to Damascus, that certainly sounds like a "vision" to me. He doesn't claim to have seen the physically resurrected Jesus-as described, it clearly(or certainly very arguably is a vision). Yet this "vision" changed the entire direction of his life and, if you to be believed, his persecution and death.

    People WILL die for visions they believe to be true.

    And groups can and DO see visions; just look at the reports of thousands of pilgrims seeing the Virgin Mary.

    3. If Jesus rose physically, this presents "impolite" questions that must be raised. For example, in one Gospel, he cooks a breakfast of fish for the disciples and they all eat together.

    So his arisen body can eat....does it have the corresponding need to eliminate? If Jesus ate during the 40 days before his ascension, did he also..ahem..I am sorry to ask..eliminate?


  6. Tree Man,

    What planet are you on?

    We don't even know who wrote the Gospels, where they were written, or when.

    Look: if the Gospel events TRULY happened, why weren't they written directly after the death of Jesus? Why wait so long to write down such an important "historical" event as the resurrection of the "Messiah"? did illiterate Galilean peasants learn to read/write Greek?

  7. PR, your question regarding Paul and the 500 sounds like a red herring to me. I do respect your doubts but this one here seems to be little more than grasping at straws.

    As for the question regarding Jesus' post-resurrection body, and questions surrounding it...the answer is "I don't know". But how does this have anything in any way to do with the truth or falsehood of whether or not he actually rose? It doesn't. A story claims that a man rose from the grave and your objection is that it seems odd that he might have to go to the bathroom? C'mon now.

    Finally, as has been noted by Alan in another thread, we in fact have extremely good evidence for who wrote the gospels and when they did so. Also as noted by Alan, Greek was spoken by everybody in the Roman Empire.

  8. It's far from a red-herring; it's a legit question. Events of this magnitude ought to have least been mentioned, if they historically occurred, by other sources.

    And we have very poor evidence about who wrote the Gospels, and when.

    If they reflect actual events, why were they written decades after? Why not set them down as soon as possible?

    And you assertion that Greek was spoken by everybody in the Roman Empire is ludicrous; do you really think the Jews of the time taught their children Greek? Illiterate Jewish peasants in Galilee could read and write Greek?

    C'mon now...

    Finally, early Church fathers debated the issue of what Jesus' "risen" body would and would not do, so it's not my idle speculation. It calls into question the entire doctrine of a physical resurrection, which MANY early Christian sects, contemporary with what became the "church" or even preceding it, denied in favor of a spiritual appearance.

    Claiming an apostle as an author gave a direct line of authority to Jesus, and that required a physical body resurrecting that appeared to a select group of "authors".

  9. PR, I don't know where you get your information from or if your objections are ones that you come up with on your own, but they reflect a very poor knowledge of biblical history and study. The Septuagint was translated into Koine Greek, the lingua franca of the Roman Empire, centuries before Jesus was even born.

    "early Church fathers debated the issue of what Jesus' "risen" body would and would not do...It calls into question the entire doctrine of a physical resurrection, which MANY early Christian sects...denied in favor of a spiritual appearance."

    How does debating what a risen body would be like have anything whatsoever to do with whether it actually happened? It doesn't. Let's keep our eye on the ball here, PR. The important thing is whether or not it actually happened, not what it looked like.

    You're absolutely right on the point of early Christian sects denying the physical Resurrection. They were called the Gnostics, and it is generally accepted that they were the very reason why the New Testament was codified in the first place--as an effort to repudiate that view.

  10. There's a larger point; the Gnostics aren't that far from the "mystery religion" aspects of Christianity that are hinted at in the Gospels: Jesus teaching in parables to hide the inner meaning of his teachings, but revealing them directly to the disciples.

    There's an argument that Christianity started as a mystery religion-and Paul retains elements of this-but the later Church came along and stomped it out, preaching a physically resurrected, historical Jesus who passed on his authority through direct succession to the disciples who allegedly penned the Gospels.

  11. There may be an argument, but it's a pretty sad one. Perhaps several decades ago this may have been plausible, but the state of biblical scholarship today is such that it can be said without doubt that the first followers of Jesus believed in a physical Resurrection. Even non-believing scholars take this for granted. Your sources are simply incorrect.

    Besides, none of this 'evolution of Christianity' matters if it can be shown that the Resurrection didn't physically happen. First things first, my friend....