The Hallucination Theory – What is it?
The Hallucination Theory is the idea that argues that the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus were not literal appearances but were instead hallucinations experienced by His followers. David Strauss popularized this theory in his book A New Life of Jesus published in two volumes in 1879. In recent years, some scholars have sought to once again utilize the Hallucination Theory as an alternative view to explain the claims of Jesus' followers to see him alive. However, several lines of reasoning reveal the weaknesses of this theory.
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First, hallucinations occur only to individuals, not groups. While this theory could be potentially proposed in situations where Jesus appeared to a single individual, there are several resurrection accounts that included groups: the women at the tomb, the disciples (both without and with Thomas), the seven disciples who saw Jesus on the shore while fishing, and the 500 who saw Jesus at once. There has never been an example of group hallucinations where every person experiences the same hallucination. This is especially true in the case where the theory is suggested to multiple groups of multiple people. Hallucinations occur to an individual, not a group.
Second, the tomb of Jesus was in a well-established location. Anyone who desired to discredit the resurrection accounts of Jesus could have done so by providing the body. Yet this did not take place, even when Peter preached in the streets of Jerusalem only weeks later at Pentecost (Acts 2).
Third, hallucinations do not generally transform lives. However, in the case of those with eyewitness accounts of Jesus, their lives radically transformed. Many died on behalf of their belief that they had literally seen the risen Jesus.
Fourth, many people were alive during that time who could have discredited the eyewitness accounts if they did not occur. When Paul wrote that 500 people had seen Jesus alive again after His resurrection (written about 20 years after the events), he claimed that most of these people were still alive (1 Corinthians 15:6).
Those who seek to discredit the resurrection and post-resurrection eyewitness accounts require a more substantiated theory than the Hallucination Theory to make a case against the resurrection. The facts discredit this theory, leaving the door open to the supernatural event of the resurrection as something that literally took place just as the New Testament writers described.
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