Jesus Online Ministries examines what Jesus Christ represented in the new book Who Is the Real Jesus? This is the final excerpt from Chapter 5.
Chuck Colson, implicated in the Watergate scandal during President Nixon’s administration, pointed out the difficulty of several people maintaining a lie for an extended period of time.
I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, and then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world—and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.
Something happened that changed everything for these men and women. Morison acknowledged, “Whoever comes to this problem has sooner or later to confront a fact that cannot be explained away. . . . This fact is that . . . a profound conviction came to the little group of people—a change that attests to the fact that Jesus had risen from the grave.” We have to move on to the third option: hallucination.
People still think they see a fat, gray-haired Elvis darting into Dunkin Donuts. And then there are those who believe they spent last night with aliens in the mother ship being subjected to unspeakable testing. Sometimes certain people can “see” things they want to, things that aren’t really there. And that’s why some have claimed that the disciples were so distraught over the crucifixion that their desire to see Jesus alive caused mass hallucination. Plausible?
Psychologist Gary Collins, former president of the American Association of Christian Counselors, was asked about the possibility that hallucinations were behind the disciples’ radically changed behavior. Collins remarked, “Hallucinations are individual occurrences. By their very nature, only one person can see a given hallucination at a time. They certainly aren’t something which can be seen by a group of people.”
Hallucination is not even a remote possibility, according to psychologist Thomas J. Thorburn. “It is absolutely inconceivable that . . . five hundred persons, of average soundness of mind . . . should experience all kinds of sensuous impressions—visual, auditory, tactual—and that all these . . . experiences should rest entirely upon . . . hallucination.”
Furthermore, in the psychology of hallucinations, people would need to be in a frame of mind where they so wished to see that person that their mind contrives it. Two major leaders of the early church, James and Paul, both encountered a resurrected Jesus, neither expecting nor hoping for the pleasure. James was skeptical of Jesus’ deity prior to the resurrection. The apostle Paul, in fact, led the earliest persecutions of Christians, and his conversion remains inexplicable except for his own testimony that Jesus appeared to him, resurrected.
The hallucination theory, then, appears to be another dead end. What else could explain away the resurrection?
From Lie to Legend
Some unconvinced skeptics attribute the resurrection story to a legend that began with one or more persons lying or thinking they saw the resurrected Jesus. Over time, the legend would have grown and been embellished as it was passed around.
On the surface this seems like a plausible scenario. But there are three major problems with that theory.
First, legends rarely develop while multiple eyewitnesses are alive to refute them. One historian of ancient Rome and Greece, A. N. Sherwin-White, argued that the resurrection news spread too soon and too quickly for it to have been a legend.
Second, legends usually develop over several centuries by oral tradition and don’t come with contemporary historical documents that can be verified. Yet the Gospels were written within three decades of the resurrection. Paul’s historical account of the resurrection, written a decade earlier, cites a creed many critical scholars say originated “within five years of Jesus’ crucifixion and from the disciples themselves.”
Third, the legend theory doesn’t adequately explain the fact of the empty tomb, the Jews’ argument that the body was stolen, or the historically verified conviction of the apostles that Jesus was alive.
The perspective that the resurrection was a legend doesn’t seem to hold up any better than the other attempts to explain away this amazing claim. It seems that Jesus really was dead, that the disciples showed no sign of engaging in a conspiracy to promote a false resurrection, that they knew what they were talking about when they said they saw the risen Jesus, and that the resurrection could not have been a legend that grew up over time.
That leaves us with one extraordinary conclusion.
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