Did the Disciples Hallucinate the Resurrected Jesus? | Evidence for the Resurrection | Michelle Englehardt


“One of the most popular challenges sceptics use against the appearances of the risen Jesus is the Hallucination Theory. This is the belief that the followers of Jesus were so distraught by his death that they hallucinated His appearance three days later. Let’s examine this theory:

One of the earliest writings we have about the post-resurrection appearances is found in an intriguing letter written by Paul to the Corinthians, which contains this early creed:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins- according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day – according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also” (1 Corinthians: 15:3-8)

What is fascinating about this creed is that scholars date it to within only a few years of the resurrection events. Because of this, it shows that the early church had settled on the belief in the resurrection appearances very early on. But could their experiences have been hallucinations? Interestingly, Hallucinations have a psychological basis, happening from within a person’s mind. If I were to have a hallucination, I could not share that experience with you. In fact, you would not be able to see or experience what I was seeing or experiencing, because my hallucination would be created in my brain. And yet as we read in the Corinthian letter in one instance there were up to 500 men and women who saw Jesus at the same time.

Another interesting fact about Hallucinations is that they tend to happen in one, or in rare cases two, MODES or senses:  sight, sound, smell, touch, or taste. And yet remarkably we see that the eyewitnesses experienced more than one mode as they were able to see, hear and talk to Jesus – to touch him and even to eat with him during their shared experiences.

It was as if He was really there. In fact, the followers went to their deaths believing their experiences were real. Yet we know shared hallucinations are impossible. Some have claimed in their desperation to see Him, the disciples emotional states might have caused them to hallucinate their risen Messiah.

But is this reasonable?

Jesus mentioned several times leading up to his death that he would die and rise again, however it appears the disciples did not really grasp what that meant. The idea Jesus was their Messiah was destroyed when He was crucified by the Romans. It was humiliating for them – to see their leader killed – not in a great battle, but in a dehumanising manner reserved for common criminals and dissenters. Rather than working themselves up into a frenzy causing them to hallucinate a risen messiah, the disciples struggled to come to terms with their bitter disappointment in Him. In fact the majority of them scattered. They were not expecting to see him again. The Hallucination theory has no plausible psychological credibility . There was no good reason for the disciples to make such amazing claims unless they were real. 

To quote Tom Wright:

“We are left with the conclusion that the combination of empty tomb and appearances of the living Jesus forms a set of circumstances which is itself both necessary and sufficient for the rise of early Christian belief. Without these phenomena, we cannot explain why this belief came into existence, and took the shape it did. WITH them, we can explain it – exactly and precisely.””