A Closer Look at the Subjective Visions Hypothesis
[The Case for Subjective Visions] [Paul and John's Visions] [The NT Differentiation] [Physical Rez] [Gospels and Legendary Accrual] [Primitive Tradition Indicators] [Individual Narratives] [The Disciples' Convictions] [The Wrong Way Legend] [Problems with Mass Hallucinations] [Lack of Explanatory Scope] [Objective Visions vs. Ordinary Sight] [Conclusion] [Postscript]
That numerous individuals, including Jesus' closest disciples, had experiences subsequent to the crucifixion that led them to conclude that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead is a fact accepted by essentially all New Testament scholars, even those that are most skeptical of Christianity and of the resurrection itself. How these experiences are to be properly understood, however, is a subject of intense debate. It seems though that the different explanations of Christ's post-mortem appearances generally fall into one of three categories: "ordinary sight", "objective visions", and "subjective visions". Before proceeding, we need to define what exactly we're intending to convey in the context of Jesus' post-mortem appearances through the use of these particular terms.
First, there is that of "ordinary sight", by which we mean simply that Jesus appeared in a way that would be essentially no different than, say, when he was present with his disciples before the crucifixion. This categorization does not preclude the possibility that Jesus had a supernatural body with supernatural features (e.g. the ability to appear and disappear at will), but simply that these appearances otherwise took place in as mundane a fashion as Christ's presence with the disciples would have been before he was crucified. Another way of putting it would be that these appearances were perfectly a part of the earthly realm (as opposed to say, the heavenly realm), and that Jesus would have been just as visible to anybody that happened to be around at the time as he was to those to whom he wished to explicitly make his appearance.
Second, there is the argument of many scholars that Jesus' post-mortem appearances were that of "objective visions". This entails that Jesus really did appear to his followers, but he did so through the use of visions, not through mundane appearances in the earthly realm. Under this scenario, Jesus would have only been visible to those that he allowed specifically to see him.
Finally, according to the "subjective visions" theory, those that saw Jesus did so within the context of a dream, vision, etc., but Jesus did not really appear. In other words, it was the result of the mind playing tricks, or a hallucination. While this latter theory, along with the other classic alternative theories that were in vogue more than a century ago to explain away the evidence for Christ's resurrection (e.g. Swoon Theory; "Wrong Tomb" theory; "The Disciples Stole the Body" theory, etc.), is widely rejected by New Testament scholars, it nevertheless remains the most popular of the lot among skeptical scholars today.
So, while the "ordinary sight" and "objective visions" categories each entail that Jesus was resurrected, the "subjective visions" category is compatible with naturalistic alternatives to Jesus' resurrection. It is the purpose of this article to demonstrate that the "subjective visions" hypothesis is untenable, while at the same time arguing that the data best supports the "ordinary sight" hypothesis as opposed to that of "objective visions".
II. The Case for the Subjective Visions Hypothesis
It should first be mentioned that a vision's authenticity, particularly if it occurs to just one individual at a time, is almost impossible to prove or disprove. In other words, when somebody claims to have had a vision, whether in ancient or modern times, it cannot be proven whether or not it was objective (i.e. real) or subjective (i.e. not real). Certainly many that have such visions, particularly in cultures where such are relevant, believe that they are real events (i.e. objective). However, since these occur in contexts only perceivable by the persons having them, it is impossible to determine whether or not the event is merely all in the person's mind or if there truly is some kind of extra-mental correlate. Thus, the objectivity of the appearances cannot be disproved even if they can be shown to be just as plausibly explained as the result of subjective influences, but if the latter is achieved, it must be conceded that the "subjective visions" hypothesis could serve as a reasonable naturalistic explanation of the data.
Such a proposition seems to become especially tenable when we consider some background knowledge on the issue of visions. Consider the following:
Anthropologists studying cross-cultural psychology define altered states of consciousness as conditions in which sensations, perceptions, cognition, and emotions are altered. Such states are characterized by changes in sensing, perceiving, thinking, and feeling. When a person is in such a state, the experience modifies the relation of the individual to the self, body, sense of identity, and the environment of time, space, or other people. One scholar has identified twenty such states of consciousness: dreaming, sleeping, hypnagogic (drowsiness before sleep), hypnopompic (semiconsciousness preceding waking), hyperalert, lethargic, rapture, hysteric, fragmentation, regressive, meditative, trance, reverie, daydreaming, internal scanning, stupor, coma, stored memory, expanded consciousness, and 'normal.' In trance or in any other altered state of consciousness, a visionary encounters, indeed enters, another level or aspect of reality registered physiologically in the brain in the same way 'normal' experiences are. Culturally 'normal' or consensual reality is that aspect or dimension of reality of which a person is most commonly aware most of the time. Alternate reality describes that dimension of reality in which the deity and spirits reside, which human beings from culturally 'normal' reality can sometimes visit in ecstatic trance by taking a journey (variously called 'sky journey' or 'soul loss' and the like), and to which people go when they die. (Those who do not believe any of these things would call this nonconsensual reality.)
During the centuries before and after the Gospels were written, countless persons reported a range of visions and appearances involving celestial entities. There is no reason not to take the experiences of these persons seriously, at their word. Their experiences have to be interpreted within the framework of their own culture's consensus reality (rather than ours)…
Mainstream U.S. culture frowns upon and even denies the human capacity for visions, trances, and experiences of alternate realities. We are very curious about nonrational dimensions of human existence, but tend to label all such occurrences as irrational. John Pilch cites the work of Erika Bourguignon, who compiled a sample of 488 societies in all parts of the world, at various levels of technological complexity, and found that ninety percent of these societies evidence 'alternate states of consciousness.' Her conclusion: 'Societies which do not utilize these states clearly are historical exceptions which need to be explained, rather than the vast majority of societies that do use these states' (cited by Pilch 1993). Thus it would be quite anachronistic and ethnocentric to take our post-Enlightenment, post-industrial revolution, technologically obsessed society as normative for judging anyone other than ourselves. For most of the world, even today, a report of alternate states of awareness would be considered quite normal. [Malina & Rohrbaugh 2003; pp. 327-329; emphasis added]
Malina and Rohrbaugh also attribute numerous events within the gospels regarding Jesus to visions, including the resurrection appearances:
The appearances of Jesus raised by God are visions of Jesus in alternate reality, where he, as God's chosen holy one, continues to live. The appearances of a holy man are altered-states-of-consciousness experiences and therefore are quite real. The interpretation that the disciples gave to these experiences was that God had raised Jesus from the dead. [ibid. 328]
Whether or not we agree with the Context scholars in this case we'll get to later, but for now it is important to note that the phenomena of visions are firmly embedded within most cultures, ancient and modern.
More importantly, when we come to the New Testament itself, it becomes clear that visions were common in the life of the early church, including angelic visions and visions of Jesus (see Acts 9:10-16; 10:3-6; 10:9-17; 18:9-10 for a couple of examples of each). But, even more to the point, critics claim that since Paul's encounter with Jesus was in the form of a vision (see Acts 9:3-9; 22:6-11; 26:12-18), and since he places the appearance of Jesus to him in the same list as that of the other apostles (I Corinthians 15:3-8), it is reasonable to assume that the appearances to the other apostles were also visionary in character. The vision of John in Revelation is also sometimes appealed to in this regard (see Rev. 9:8-11ff.). This is again significant in the mind of critics since it is widely regarded that John is the author of the book of Revelation. Thus, it is asserted that the only direct accounts we have of those reporting post-mortem appearances of Jesus describe them as visions.
So, in sum, the skeptic can rightly assert that the cultural background of the Biblical period (and indeed, of most cultures throughout history) provides fertile grounds for the occurrence of visions, there are numerous visions recorded in the New Testament itself (including to the likes of key apostles themselves such as Peter and Paul), and that the only two instances of direct testimony we have (i.e. Paul and John) indicate that the appearances were visionary in character. In addition, given that Paul equates his appearance to those of the other apostles in I Corinthians 15:3-8, it is most likely that we are to take the appearances to them as visionary in character as well.
III. Refutation of the Subjective Visions Hypothesis
Having summarized the typical arguments (as I've seen them at least) used to legitimate the "subjective vision/hallucination" hypothesis, we now move on to the main point of this article, which is to demonstrate why this hypothesis nevertheless remains untenable. This will be a fairly lengthy treatment of this subject, so I tried to avoid the temptation of reinventing the proverbial wheel as much as I could on topics that have already been addressed on-line, particularly here on Tekton. Thus in such places I provide a link (or links) to articles that I felt establishes the case(s) for which I'm arguing. Furthermore, the reader that wishes to delve into the various issues raised here in more depth, including that which provides responses to some push-backs that, for the sake of brevity, we will not address here, we highly recommend that they check out the sources that we reference in the appropriate sections.
I have divided this section of the article into several subsections for organizational purposes. But, it seems that the best way to begin our analysis is to critically consider the assertions commonly made in favor of the subjective visions/hallucinations hypothesis (see above).
IIIa. Problems with Making the Visions of Paul and John Paradigmatic for the other Appearances
As mentioned above in section II, the arguments by some in favor of the visionary character of the post-mortem appearances of Jesus revolve partially around the fact that the appearances to Paul and John were visionary in character, and it is supposedly only in these two cases that we have first-hand descriptions of the post-mortem appearances of Jesus. In regards to John's vision in Revelation, it is easy enough to respond by simply pointing out that the vision John experienced on Patmos occurred well after the time of Christ's Easter appearances (30-60 years later), and thus the comparison of this event to the Easter appearances is invalid. The critic could respond, however, by suggesting that this appearance of Jesus to John in a vision was the same in nature as his appearances to John (and the other disciples) shortly after he was allegedly resurrected, but whether or not such a suggestion is tenable rests on other grounds, which we will discuss later.
The matter with Paul, however, is more complex. First of all, it should be pointed out that, even if the appearance to Paul was in the form of a vision, this does not necessitate that the appearances to the other apostles were of the same nature (even though Paul included the appearance to himself in the same list as that of the other apostles in I Corinthians 15). William Lane Craig notes, in regards to this:
In including himself in the list, Paul in no sense implies that the foregoing appearances were the same sort of appearance as the one to him (32). He is concerned here, not with the how of the appearances, but with who appeared. He wants to list witnesses of the risen Christ, and the mode of the appearance is entirely incidental. But furthermore, in placing himself in the list, Paul is not trying to put the appearances to the others on a plane with his own; rather he is trying to level up his own experience to the objectivity and reality of others (33). He wants to say that what he saw was every bit as much a real appearance of Jesus as that which they saw. Hence, no inference can be made from the sort of appearance Paul received to the sort received by the earlier apostles. Paul affords no such deduction.
(32) D.H. van Daalen The Real Resurrection (London: Collins, 1972), p. 53. Even Fischer, who propounds the heavenly vision view, agrees that Paul does not concern himself with the kind or manner of the appearances, but with the unity of the apostolic testimony (Karl Martin Fischer, Das Ostergeschehen, 2d ed. [Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1980], p. 74).
(33) For good statements of this point, see Brooke Foss Westcott, The Gospel of the Resurrection (London: Macmillan, 1906), pp. 93-94; James Orr, The Resurrection of Jesus (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1909), p. 39; P. Gardner-Smith, The Narratives of the Resurrection (London: Methuen, 1926), pp. 21-22; Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, s.v. "Resurrection in the New Testament," by J.A.T. Robinson. Dunn even hypothesizes that Paul's placing himself in the list could be a case of special pleading-interpreting a less distinctive religious experience as a resurrection appearance in order to boost his claim to apostolic authority (Dunn, Jesus, p. 99)! Dunn rejects the hypothesis in the end because the pillar apostles accepted Paul's claim without serious dispute (Ibid., p. 108). [Craig 1989; pp. 73-74; emphasis the original]
Moreover, the description of Paul's vision does not come from Paul's own pen, but rather from the second hand testimony of Luke. N.T. Wright remarks:
Common though this interpretation is, it is as much a figment of the imagination as Caravaggio's splendid horse. What seems to have happened is that mainstream critical scholarship has forgotten its much-trumpeted principle of reading Paul's own letters as primary evidence and the accounts in Acts as secondary. (5) The spectacular picture of the Damascus Road event, related no fewer than three times in Acts, has coloured the imagination of those who have read the brief and perfunctory mentions in Paul himself; it has been wrongly aligned with one passage in particular (2 Corinthians 4:6) which is about something else; and this imaginative reading has distracted attention from what Luke was trying to do through telling the story in that way (or 'in those ways', since the three accounts differ). All this should prevent us from taking it as decisive evidence for a non-bodily 'seeing' of Jesus. To make this case we must look at the evidence piece by piece. [Wright 2003; p. 376] 
Wright furthermore suggests that Luke's account of Paul's conversion is not necessarily to be taken literally. He suggests instead that Luke tailored his account to other well known parallel stories in ancient literature (i.e. 2 Maccabees 3:24-28 and a romance entitled Joseph and Aseneth (14:2-8)), and that he may have been "also evoking biblical stories of the call of the prophets" like Ezekiel and Daniel in order to "align Paul with the prophets and visionaries of Israel's history, and also (less certainly, but with strong possibility) to place him alongside penitent pagans who turned round and went in a new direction." [See Ibid. 388-393 for details]
Wright's theory appears to be plausible, though in light of the fact that Luke reports Paul describing the appearance to King Agrippa in Acts 26:19 as a "heavenly vision" (ouranios optasia), it seems most likely that Luke is trying to relate what actually happened to Paul on the road to Damascus. But, there remain numerous obstacles to the critic that tries to derive from this event that Paul experienced a subjective vision. First, it is clear that Paul's companions also experienced something along with Paul. In Acts 9:3-9, they heard the voice; in Acts 22:6-11, they saw the light, but did not hear the voice; in Acts 26:12-19, they fell to the ground with Paul. While the apparent contradictions in these accounts are well known, I find it unlikely that Luke would have truly so blatantly contradicted himself within the space of a single document (see here for some thoughts on harmonization), and at any rate all three accounts agree that Paul's companions did experience something.
Secondly, Paul was blinded for 3 days from the moment that the vision ended. This is also suggestive that the event was more than just a mere vision. It has been theorized by some critics that Paul may have suffered from a conversion disorder. This is a phenomenon that occurs when a person is experiencing some sort of subconscious conflict or emotional distress, resulting usually in a neurological abnormality, including blindness. It is often suggested that Paul had a guilt complex due to his struggling under the Jewish law and/or because of his persecution of Christians. This in turn resulted in his having a hallucination of Jesus. Sometimes added to this is the conversion disorder theory (cf. below the comments by Goulder), accounting for Paul's short bout of blindness.
First, Craig points out some problems with the idea that Paul suffered from a "guilt complex":
3. Is it plausible? Let me give two reasons why I think Dr. Lüdemann's hypothesis has little plausibility. First, I do not find his psychoanalysis of Peter and Paul very plausible for these reasons: (1) The data to do this kind of psychoanalysis is simply insufficient. Psychoanalysis is notoriously difficult even when the patient is seated in front of you, but is virtually impossible with historical figures. That is why psychobiography is rejected by historians. Martin Hengel, a great New Testament scholar, writes, 'Lüdemann…does not recognize these limits on the historian. Here he gets into the realm of psychological explanations, for which no verification is really possible….The sources are far too limited for such psychologizing analyses.'  (2) The evidence we do have indicates that Paul did not struggle with some guilt complex under the Jewish law. Nearly forty years ago, the Swedish scholar Krister Stendahl pointed out that Western readers have the tendency to interpret Paul in light of Martin Luther's struggles with guilt and sin. But Paul the Pharisee experienced no such struggles. Stendahl writes:
"Contrast Paul, a very happy and successful Jew, one who can [say,] 'As to the righteousness under the law, (I was) blameless' (Philip. 3:6). That is what he says. He experiences no troubles, no problems, no qualms of conscience. He is a star pupil, the student to get the thousand dollar graduate scholarship in Gamaliel's Seminary….Nowhere in Paul's writings is there any indication…that psychologically Paul had some problem of conscience. "
And thus Dr. Lüdemann's hypothesis simply has little plausibility in its psychoanalysis of Peter and Paul.
 Martin Hengel and Anna Maria Schwemer, Paul Between Damascus and Antioch, trans. John Bowden (Louisville, KY.: Westminster John Knox, 1997), p. 342; cf. pp. 40-41.
 Krister Stendahl, "Paul Among Jews and Gentiles," in Paul Among Jews and Gentiles (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976), pp. 12-13; cf. p. 80, "The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West." [Craig "First Rebuttal" 2000; pp. 50-51; emphasis the original]
Moreover, the whole idea of "guilt" may be irrelevant in honor-shame societies such as that of first-century Palestine. See here for more.
Michael Goulder espouses another psychological theory, calling on Carl Gustav Jung for assistance:
Paul tells us that he, like Peter, was liable to 'revelations' (2 Cor 12:7), the word he uses for his call (Gal 1:16). But two features of his conversion make us think that psychological forces are at work, similar to those at work in other people: his persecution of the church and his blindness. Here we may allow the psychoanalyzing to be done by Carl Gustav Jung:
"Fanaticism is only found in individuals who are compensating secret doubts. The incident on the way to Damascus marks the moment when the unconscious complex of Christianity broke through into consciousness. Unable to conceive of himself as a Christian on account of his resistance to Christ, he became blind, and could only regain his sight through complete submission to Christianity. Psychogenetic blindness is, according to my experience, always due to unwillingness to see; that is, to understand and to realize something that is incompatible with the conscious attitude. Paul's unwillingness to see corresponds with his fanatical resistance to Christianity. (11)"
Again, Jung as a psychologist is offering a theory. No doubt some improvements have been made on his theory, though it may sound rather convincing to the amateur. But what matters is Jung's experience as a doctor. He has known a good number of people whom he defines as 'fanatics'; that is, they force their creed on other people-in Paul's case by persecution. Such people are especially liable to strong changes of commitment. He has also treated a number of people who have experienced temporary blindness arising without external physical causes ("psychogenetic blindness") and has found that they regain their sight when they come to accept a situation to which they had been strongly resistant.
(11) Carl Gustav Jung, Contributions to Analytical Psychology (ET; New York: Harcourt Brace; London: K. Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1928), p. 257 [Goulder 2000; pp. 94-95]
Again, however, problems arise. First, as was alluded to earlier in the previous quote from Craig, with our limited data, Jung was in no position to psychoanalyze Paul to nearly the same degree as his own patients (I might add that in Paul we're talking about a person living in a completely different culture separated in time by a couple of millennia as well, which makes psychoanalysis that much more difficult). Secondly, the suggestion that Paul was harboring secret doubts is pure speculation. It is more likely that Paul was so zealous because he perceived Christianity to be a dangerous cult that could lead many of his countrymen astray, rather than that it could be true. Third, it is one thing to have a strong change in commitment, but it is quite another to do so to the extent that one goes from trying to stamp out a new religious movement to being quite possibly its most staunch advocate, and making this radical transition in an almost-immediate fashion. This is particularly telling given that for Paul this entailed moving from a prestigious position as a Pharisee to one that resulted in a great deal of suffering (see e.g. II Cor. 11:23-28) and eventually martyrdom under Nero in probably 64 A.D. Fourth, Paul was not a likely candidate to experience a conversion disorder:
Third, Paul does not fit the profile of one who is likely to experience a conversion psychosis. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV (28), the primary source used by professional psychologists and psychiatrists for diagnosing psychological conditions, women are more likely than men to experience conversion psychosis by as much as a 5:1 ratio. Adolescents, military persons in battle, those of a low economic status, and those with a low IQ are likewise more prone to experience the phenomenon. Paul does not fit into any of these categories (29). This does not mean that he could not have experienced the disorder. Men still experience depression, although women are much higher candidates for it. However, combined with other challenges to the theory, the fact that Paul does not fall into any category of those likely to experience a conversion disorder renders the condition all the more unlikely as the cause of his experience of the risen Jesus. [Habermas & Licona 2004; 114]
Additionally, this theory does not account for the full range of the data of Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus. Craig notes in response to Goulder:
Gary Habermas has pointed out to me in personal conversation that Goulder's hypothesis also has little plausibility in that it requires the conspiration of at least four separate psychological disorders occurring simultaneously in Paul: a conversion disorder (these are not, contrary to Goulder's representation of them, hallucinatory in character), a visual hallucination, an auditory hallucination, and a messianic complex involving the belief that one had been commissioned by God. [Craig "Closing Response" 2000; 196, n. 41]
Perhaps most remarkably of all, a third problem with treating Paul's experience as a subjective vision is that a parallel vision was experienced at approximately that same time by Ananias, a disciple staying in Damascus. It could, of course, be argued that the vision by Ananias was subjective, but if such is the case, how strange is it that he should have had such a vision that would serve not only to vindicate a great persecutor of the new faith, but to authenticate this persecutor as the primary instrument that would be used by the Lord in bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles? This seems like very unlikely content for a hallucination. For that matter, how strange is it that the timing of this parallel vision ended up being so perfect, occurring no more than 3 days after Paul arrived in Damascus in his blinded state subsequent to his own vision? For Ananias to have braved entering the presence of this great persecutor of the new Christian Way, I submit that the vision he experienced is likely historical. It also seems reasonable to assert that the occurrence of such a peculiar vision along with its impeccable timing makes coincidence a highly unlikely explanation.
Thus, the Lukan account indicates that there were extra-mental correlates to Paul's conversion experience, and also that it was associated with other incidents that make the explanation that it was the result of a hallucination highly improbable. Critics that wish to use Luke's description of Paul's conversion to argue for a subjective vision would thus have to select only the aspects of the account that fit their theory while at the same time ignoring other key aspects of the account which would clearly contradict their theory. It seems perhaps that the evidence best warrants the conclusion that Paul experienced an objective vision on the road to Damascus. That is, what Paul experienced, while containing some visionary characteristics, truly did occur, and cannot be accounted for as a mere projection from the apostle's mind.
Before moving on, it behooves us to emphasize another very important point regarding what can be gleaned from the post-mortem appearances of Jesus as they are described by Luke. To reiterate the critic's typical argument, it is often stated that since the appearance to Paul was a vision, and since Paul places the appearance to him within the same list (I Cor. 15) as that of the other apostles, then the appearances to the other apostles must also have been visions, and that the appearance traditions we have in the gospels must therefore be late legends. In addition to the arguments against this by Craig we provided above, it should be noted that this argument is fallacious because it is Luke that serves as our actual source for the visionary characteristics of Christ's appearance to Paul, not Paul himself. This is significant because it is also Luke that provides us with some of our most important testimony to the physical, rather mundane nature of the appearances of Jesus to the disciples, both at the end of his gospel and at the beginning of Acts. Since Luke's gospel was obviously penned before Acts, the appearances Luke details in his gospel therefore cannot be considered legendary based solely on the fact that he describes an appearance with visionary characteristics to Paul.
IIIb. The New Testament Differentiation
What reasons then are there to assert that the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus were in fact NOT subjective visions? The first and most obvious reason to differentiate the post-resurrection appearances from the later visions of the early church seems to be that the writings of the New Testament themselves both implicitly and explicitly make this distinction.
The place to start this discussion is with a consideration of the gospel narratives themselves. Sandra Schneiders elaborates on how the post-resurrection appearances contained in the gospels are not descriptive of visionary experiences:
Secondly, the appearances, however extraordinary and non-physical in the natural sense of the term, were objective in the sense that they were not self-induced on the one hand or hallucinatory on the other. They were real and their cause was independent of the experiencing subject. The narratives testify to this 'objectivity' in a number of subtle but convincing ways. The recipients, we are told, did not expect to see Jesus alive. Mary Magdalene, the disciples on the way to Emmaus, the gathered disciples in Luke were lost in grief and despair and were totally astonished, even to the point of disbelief, by the appearance. Furthermore, the recipients were manifestly incapable of inducing the appearances. Mary Magdalene searches for the body, questions the angels and Jesus himself; the disciples on the way to Emmaus admit to Jesus their despair. Had they been able to 'conjure up' his presence these stories would have been unnecessary and pointless. It is also important to note that the appearances are not 'visions of the night' like Joseph's or the Magi's dreams in Matthew's infancy narrative (see Mt 1:20-23; 2:12, 19-20) or ecstatic experiences like Paul's rapture to the third heaven (2 Cor 12:2) or Peter's vision at Joppa (Acts 11:5-20) or the apocalyptic vision of the Seer on Patmos (Rev 1:9ff) (14). The Easter appearances happened in 'broad daylight' while their subjects are fully awake and going about their ordinary, historical business such as meeting, eating, traveling, and fishing in the very real world of houses, gardens, cities, roads, and boats. Finally, the Easter appearances were unique, limited to the time just after the death of Jesus, and they came to a definitive end after the appearance ('as to one untimely born' [1 Cor 15:8]) to Paul on the road to Damascus (15). Although the history of spirituality is replete with accounts of visionary encounters of the mystics with Jesus, e.g. those of Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, or Catherine of Siena, the church has never suggested that these visions were identical in kind or comparable in significance with the Easter appearances. The faith of the church does not rest upon these experiences even though it is greatly enriched by them. [Schneiders 1995; 90-91]
So, the description of the appearances themselves within the gospels indicate that they were essentially mundane in nature, lacking in visionary elements. Note here the contrast in how the gospels present the post-resurrection appearances from the "altered states of consciousness" described in section II by Malina & Rohrbaugh. More evidence of the New Testament differentiation can be found in Acts:
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven." (Acts 1:1-11; emphasis added)
It is first of all notable that Luke states that the time frame of Jesus' appearances was finite, occurring over a period of 40 days. Furthermore, Luke appears to clearly be describing a "final appearance" here in chapter 1 of Acts given that Jesus' ascension takes place at the end of it. After this scene, the disciples returned to Jerusalem, instated Matthias as the twelfth disciple to replace Judas Iscariot, and then chapter 2 describes the coming and advent of the Holy Spirit (the theme of the Holy Spirit's advent after Christ's departure from earth is not peculiar to Luke - see John 14:16-20, 25-31; 15:26-27; and esp. 16:7-16). Furthermore, while the pre-ascension appearances of Jesus to his disciples are obviously physical, yet essentially mundane, the post-ascension encounters of Jesus found in the book of Acts are visionary in character, including even the appearance to Paul (see last section). Thus, it is clear that for Luke the visionary encounters experienced in the early church are different from Christ's post-resurrection appearances that preceded his ascension.
Next, we turn to the evidence from John:
After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you." Then He said to Thomas, "Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing." Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed." Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:26-31; emphasis added)
Kendall and O'Collins comment briefly on this passage:
What is the difference between those who have seen the risen Lord and believed, and those who believe without having seen him? This question is taken up by Raymond Brown in his commentary on John 20:29 (61). Brown emphasizes that the contrast here is between seeing and not seeing rather than between seeing and believing….Brown, in maintaining his position, is in good company. C.K. Barrett points out that John 20:29 contrasts seeing with believing apart from site-Thomas who saw contrasted with the later Christian believers who did not see. Barrett adds: "but for the fact that Thomas and the other apostles saw the incarnate Christ there would have been no Christian faith at all" Barrett stresses the unique importance of those who saw the risen Lord: "The disciples of the first generation had the unique distinction of standing as a link between Jesus and the church; John indicates this in saying that their successors equally may believe, and that their faith places them on the same level of blessedness with the eyewitnesses, or even above it" (p. 574). Barrett then concludes his comments as follows: "It is not true that the first apostles have no particular and unique importance; for later generations believe through their word (17:20), that is, it is in their word that later generations encounter the Risen Christ and become believers" (pp. 574-75). While the era of visible signs has ended, it remains indispensably important for all subsequent believers (64).
(64) Rudolf Schnackenburg (The Gospel According to St. John [3 vols.; New York: Crossroad, 1982] 3. 334) similarly argues that the special experience of Thomas can be summed up in "seeing." "Thomas is the exponent of that experience by a disciple, of Jesus' "appearances", which is denied to later believers." He explains his position in more detail thus: "The participle forms in the aorist (instead of in the present) are noticeable but not inexplicable. The attention is turned to the future when Christians, without having seen the risen Lord, attain to faith in him. The sense of the Greek puts him vividly in the future and then looks back on events which have already taken place; comparable to the aorist in 4:38; 15:8; 17:14,18 (q.v.). Also a need for stylistic variation can have had an effect; cf. the alternation between perfect and aorist in 1 John 1:1. In any case, the beatitude is no general concluding sentence, but was consciously and concretely expressed into the historical situation at the time of the evangelist, an appeal to the later believers without the 'seeing' granted Thomas, to come to the same firm faith and high-minded confession as he did" (pp. 334-35). R. H. Lightfoot (St. John's Gospel [Oxford: Clarendon, 1956] 334) also holds that the Easter appearances, which were essential for the apostles to bear witness to the resurrection of the Lord, came to an end. John 20:29 emphasizes that such manifestations were temporary, and that the Lord's words in this verse "would come charged with special relevance and value to those many disciples who, not having themselves been eyewitnesses, first read this gospel; and they should so come also to all disciples through the centuries." [Kendall & O'Collins 1992; 303-305]
So it is clear that Luke and John believed that the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus came to an end and were only for an exclusive group of people. This is despite the fact that others were having visions of Jesus in the early church (a fact that Luke not only acknowledges, but even tells us of in Acts). Before moving on, however, let us see if any data can be gleaned from our earliest New Testament writer on this differentiation of Christ's post-resurrection appearances and the visions of Jesus experienced in the early church. Once again, Kendall and O'Collins write:
Many commentators understand the list in I Cor 15:5-8 (of individuals and groups to whom the risen Christ appeared) to follow a chronological sequence (29). Within the context of this article, two points are important: the tense of the verb ophthe, and Paul's phrase of "last of all".
The aorist tense of "appeared" which Paul uses in I Cor 15:5-8 suggests events over and done with in the past and not repeated (30). As regards I Cor 15:8 and the appearances to Paul, C.F. Evans wonders whether Paul meant "last of all" to be a factual statement. Or is it an expression of Pauline egoism (31)? Evans does not answer his own questions but implies that the apostle holds that the appearance to him was in principle the last: "Paul envisages the whole series as coming to a close only with the appearance of the Lord to himself." (32)
Hans Conzelmann argues that the long list of witnesses, starting with 1 Cor 15:5 and ending at 1 Cor 15:8, is there to maintain the resurrection's "temporal distance from the present and thereby to rule out the [present] possibility of a direct appropriation of it." (33) Here Conzelmann seems to be saying that the witnesses, from Peter to Paul, directly appropriated the resurrection (directly encountered the risen Lord) in a way that was simply not possible for believers when Paul wrote I Corinthians.
Fuller is quite clear in holding that the appearance in Paul (I Cor 15:8) is in principle the last appearance of the risen Lord. He argues for two types of appearances (founding the eschatological community and inaugurating the Christian mission). He asserts that Paul not only knew of no other appearances during the past twenty years after his own, but also ruled out in principle any such appearances (34). Fuller sums up his points by saying: "The appearances occurred over a period of some three years or so, the last and definitive one being to that of Paul" (49). (35)
In commenting on I Cor 15:8 Jacob Kremer argues that the "of all" refers to all the Easter witnesses listed in I Cor 15:5-8, and not simply to "all the apostles" just mentioned in v 7. He further argues that even if "last of all" might in theory mean "least of all the apostles" (a sense of values), it reflects the "then" of vv 6-7 and clearly carries a temporal meaning (36).
Charles K. Barrett faces the same question and decides more emphatically for the temporal sense of "last of all." (37) Similar opinions are expressed by Grosheide ("Paul was the last to see the glorified Lord with his own eyes, in order that he might be a true apostle") (38), Morris ([Paul] "thinks of himself as the last in the line of those who have seen the Lord") (39), Wand (the "historical accuracy [of Paul's preaching] was guaranteed by a number of witnesses of whom Paul himself was the last") (40), and Rengstorf (41). Finally, Gordon Fee states that the appearance to Paul "was a unique and gracious gift that occurred after the time when such appearances were understood to have ceased" (42)
The conclusion seems well supported: Paul understood the risen Lord's appearance to him to be, both in fact and in principle, the last of a series. With his special case such experiences ended.
(30) Beda Rigaux (Dieu l'a ressuscite: Exegese et theologie biblique [Studii Biblici Franciscani Analecta 4; Gembloux: Duculot, 1973] 123) is one of the few authors to note the significance of the difference between the aorist tense of "he died," "he was buried," and "he appeared" (four times) and the perfect tense of "he has been raised" (I Cor 15:4). The perfect indicates the beginning but not the completion of an act. The aorist tense, however, locates an event in the sphere of past history, among things that happened, so as to be over and done with. Kessler similarly notes how the aorist tense of ophthe (I Cor 15:5,6,7,8) indicates a closed series of events (Sucht den Lebenden, 152). Grammars of NT Greek agree that in the first century A.D. the aorist indicative normally pointed to something that had simply come about, without being continued or repeated (Maximilian Zerwick, Biblical Greek [ed. Joseph Smith; Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1963] 77; Friedrich Blass and Albert Debrunner, A Grammar of New Testament Greek (ed. Robert Funk; Chicago: University of Chicago, 1961] 176). In our case, while the present impact of the resurrection itself continues (perfect tense), the appearances of the risen Christ, like the death and burial (all in the aorist) tense, are once-and-for-all events of the past that are not repeated.
(37) C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on The First Epistle to the Corinthians (HNTC; New York: Harper & Row, 1971) 334-44: "The last of the witnesses of the risen Christ was Paul himself. It is true that 'last of all' could be taken to mean 'least in importance', and would agree with verse 9; but at the end of a list punctuated by then…then…then, the other meaning of the word must be accepted." [Kendall & O'Collins 1992; 295-297]
Furthermore, N. T. Wright has some commentary on the uniqueness of Jesus' post-resurrection appearances. First of all, concerning I Corinthians 9:1, he notes:
As far as Paul was concerned, an 'apostle' was someone who had seen the risen lord; but the proof of apostleship came in the fruitfulness of the apostolic ministry (28). Paul takes it for granted that apostleship bestows a freedom of sorts, and he mentions this first because this is the point he is going to develop. But for us the critical connection is between the second and third questions. He is an apostle because he has seen Jesus the Lord (29). He is one of those, a finite and limited number, who saw Jesus and remained marked forever by the fact of having done so (that is the significance of the perfect tense of heoraka, 'I have seen': the perfect draws attention to the present and continuing significance of a one-off past event) (30). This is not a way of speaking that Paul has been drawn into by adopting, despite his own better judgment, 'the Christian practice of referring to such revelatory experiences as "seeing" the Lord' (31). He wants to make his point because he believes it to be true, and the truth of it matters for his argument.
The combination of this verse with 15:8-11 (see below) makes it clear that Paul intends a 'seeing' which is something quite different from the manifold spiritual experiences, the 'seeings' with the eye of the heart, which many Christians in most periods of history have experienced. The Corinthians had had all kinds of spiritual experiences, for which indeed Paul congratulates them in 1.4-7; but they had not had this experience. Paul, too, has had many spiritual experiences as his life and work have progressed, but he is not here referring to something that might occur again. This was, for him, a one-off, initiatory 'seeing', which constituted him as an apostle but would not be repeated. The resurrection appearances of Jesus came to a stop. His was the last; almost, in fact, too late.
The word heoraka, 'I have seen', is a normal word for ordinary sight. It does not imply that this was a subjective 'vision' or a private revelation; part of the point of it, as Newman stresses, is that it was a real seeing, not a 'vision' such as anyone in the church might have (32). The same is emphatically true of the other text from I Corinthians. [Wright 2003; 381-382]
Concerning I Cor. 15, Wright goes on to discuss four factors that "tell strongly in favour of Paul's intention to refer to a real 'seeing' with his ordinary eyes, rather than a 'seeing' in the sense of a private or internal 'experience'." First, Wright notes because of the proximity of this passage to I Cor. 9:1, which implies a real seeing, that must be the case here as well. Second, the "last of all" phrase used by Paul (see discussion quoted from Kendall & O'Collins above) indicates the post-resurrection appearances were different, especially in light of the fact that it was obvious that ongoing spiritual experiences were still occurring in the church (including there in Corinth). Third, Wright notes:
…it is noteworthy that 15.1-11 as a whole clearly speaks of a public event for which there is evidence in the form of witnesses who saw something and can be interrogated. As we saw earlier, those who have wished to say that the risen Christ was not that kind of being, that the resurrection was not that sort of event, that it did not have that kind of evidence, and that any witnesses would simply be speaking of their own inner conviction and experience rather than the evidence of their eyes, have had to say that Paul has here undermined the point he really should have been making. The best example of this, giving hereby a sign of hermeneutic that is about to walk blindfold over a cliff, is Rudolf Bultmann (34). [Ibid. 382-383; emphases the original]
Fourth, Wright appeals to the fact that I Cor. 15 clearly does not speak of a "non-bodily resurrection", an oxymoron in context:
The very close connection between Paul's view of what happened to Jesus and his view of what will happen to all Christians, and the robustly 'bodily' account of the latter given throughout I Corinthians 15, present an unanswerable case for the fact that when Paul spoke of Jesus 'appearing' in verse 8 he did not mean that Jesus appeared in his (Paul's) heart or mind, but to his bodily eyes and sight, as a real human being, truly and bodily raised from the dead. Paul knows there was something different about this 'seeing' of Jesus from that of the others in the list. He was out of time; the appearances had all but come to a stop; but he was granted this not least as a sign of grace (15.10). [Ibid. 382-383]
On this last point of Wright's, I would argue that even an apparently physically risen Jesus would not rule out the possibility of it being the result of a subjective vision (see next section), though it is obviously clear that Paul thought that he had seen the risen Jesus, and that the event was not merely a subjective vision.
Finally, Craig writes:
In including himself in the list, Paul implicitly asserts to have been the recipient of a genuine appearance of Jesus, not simply a vision. Paul was familiar with religious visions (II Cor. 12:1-7), and what he saw on the Damascu [sic] road was no mere vision. His use of εωραηα (I Cor. 9:1) is not only reminiscent of the language of the appearances, but also indicates an event in the past with enduring consequences: the unrepeated event of seeing Christ and being commissioned as an apostle. His use of εσχατον δε παντωυ (I Cor. 15:8) also indicates that the appearance to him was not repeated. The εητρωμα in the same verse could also be an indication of the uniqueness of that event. Paul held that the resurrection appearances ceased with himself and that this event was therefore essentially different from his later "visions and revelations of the Lord" (II Cor. 12:1). Convinced that this was no mere vision, Paul seems eager to include himself among those who had received an appearance of the Lord, perhaps because his detractors denied or doubted his apostleship (I Cor. 9:1-2; II Cor. 11:5; 12:11) and his having seen Christ would be an argument in his favor (Gal. 1:1, 11-12; 15-16; I Cor. 9:1-2; 15:8-9). A vision of Christ so much later than the appearance to the Twelve would naturally be regarded with suspicion, (31), and so Paul is anxious to include himself with the other apostles as a recipient of a genuine, objective appearance of the risen Lord. [Craig 1989; 70-72]
Thus, the New Testament itself clearly differentiates the post-resurrection appearances to the apostles from the visions of Jesus that were apparently fairly common in the early church . Obviously, those that were experiencing these later visions probably thought that they were "objective" in nature, yet they still were unlike those experienced by the earliest followers of Jesus. In light of the contrast spelled out by the New Testament itself between the post-mortem appearances of Jesus and the later visions of Jesus experienced by many in the early church, reducing the former to mere subjective visions is without foundation .
IIIc. The Physicality of the Resurrection
The debate over the nature of the resurrection body becomes indirectly relevant when considering the feasibility of the subjective vision/hallucination hypothesis. The resurrection narratives in the gospels (particularly in Luke and John), while depicting Jesus' post-resurrection body as somehow different from that of before the resurrection (e.g. containing the apparent ability to appear and disappear at will), nevertheless present the post-resurrection appearances to be physical in nature.
Zusne and Jones relate, regarding the content of hallucinations:
Hallucinations may be visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, haptic, kinesthetic, or organic. Visual hallucinations range from simple light phenomena to the seeing of life-sized, life-like persons engaged in various activities. Objects usually appear to be three dimensional and solid. They cast shadows, people do not walk through walls and furniture, but around them, and the entire vision may not appear any less detailed, vivid, or substantial than ordinary perceptions. Sometimes, however, the hallucinations may be less substantial and may appear to be larger or smaller than natural size. Micropsia and macropsia-the seeing of objects as being of a size smaller or larger than their natural size-in hallucinations may have given rise to stories about diminutive people, such as fairies or leprechauns, or of giants. [Zusne & Jones 1982; 133]
Thus it should be noted that establishing the physicality of the resurrection would not necessarily rule out the possibility of their being explained as subjective visions. However, doing so would serve to bolster our confidence in the historicity of the gospel narratives, which in turn would allow us to make some observations about them which are difficult to account for under this hypothesis.
The place where such a debate must start is with the data provided by Paul, given that his writings are almost universally accepted to be our earliest sources. If it can be determined that Paul taught a physical resurrection, this lends credibility to the gospel narratives. As far as I can tell, there are four theories on the proverbial market regarding Paul's teaching on the nature of the resurrection body:
1. The body that is raised is supernatural, though still physical, and is a transformation of the same body that died and was buried.
2. The body that is raised is spiritual, and was a transformation of the same body that died and was buried.
3. The body is not raised at all as the resurrection Paul refers to is only of the spirit, and the body that died stays in the grave.
4. The body that is raised is a completely different body from the one that died, and thus the body that died stays in the grave.
Clearly, theory 1 seems to be the most harmonious with the testimony contained within the gospels, and it is this one that we believe is best supported by the data. Given the extensive work already performed on these issues by JPH, this is one area where I'll avoid the temptation of "reinventing the wheel". Thus, I refer the reader to the following links where this premise is argued and defended in substantial depth:
Additionally, see the helpful discussions in [Craig 1989; pp. 117-159] and [Wright 2003; pp. 312-398]. In fact, more than the first 500 pages of Wright's magisterial book on the resurrection is dedicated largely to very thorough analyses of how "resurrection" was defined in the ancient world by pagans, Jews, and Christians through about 200 A.D. [Ibid. chapters 1-11] Finally, there is Robert Gundry's painstaking treatment of the pivotal word used by Paul in I Corinthians 15: Soma in Biblical Theology: With Emphasis on Pauline Anthropology.
Next we come to the gospel narratives themselves. As I'll argue in more depth below, if the appearance traditions found in Matthew, Luke, and John can be established with reasonable confidence to reflect real events, or even if only a couple of them can so be established, this renders the subjective vision hypothesis extremely tenuous. We will describe in more detail later why this is the case, but for now we need to discuss whether or not there are good reasons to believe in the essential historicity of the appearance traditions in the gospels. It should be noted here that it is not my intent to provide a harmony of the four gospels' resurrection narratives, though I think JPH has successfully demonstrated here that such is possible. The important point for us is not to establish that the four evangelists provide us with accounts consistent with Biblical inerrancy, but rather to determine whether or not at least some of the post-resurrection traditions utilized by the evangelists are likely to be based on historical cores of truth.
IIId. The Gospels and Legendary Accrual
Obviously, of prime importance when attempting to answer this question is whether or not Christ's post-resurrection body as portrayed in the gospels is consistent with what we find in the writings of Paul. Of course, we believe that Paul, along with the gospels, do indeed teach that the post-resurrection body was physical, and that the sources we provided above demonstrate this persuasively. However, if any ambiguity as to the nature of the resurrection body remains after thoroughly examining the Pauline corpus, it seems that the unanimous testimony of Matthew, Luke, and John to the physicality of Jesus' post-resurrection body would clearly tilt the balance of evidence in favor of the assertion of the bodily resurrection of Christ. This is especially so given that these gospels each report different traditions and were penned no later than between about 70-100 A.D. It seems then that we have multiple, independent accounts contained in documents written at least within two generations of when the alleged events took place.
Our confidence against significant legendary accrual is further enhanced by the basic reliability of the oral tradition that would have underlined the writing of the gospels as well as a very good possibility that Jesus' followers actually recorded Jesus' words and deeds shortly after they occurred! Here we quote John Wenham at length:
There is one further consideration which should be taken into account at this point: that is the unique fittedness of Matthew to be the author of the first gospel. This matter has been examined with great thoroughness in an undeservedly neglected book by E. J. Goodspeed, Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist (21).
Goodspeed has no doubts about the priority of Mark, but at the same time he believes in the traditional authorship of Matthew, arguing that it was normal practice to use sources without acknowledgement. But he considers it improbable that in the Greek world of books the author should have been forgotten. He stresses the sheer greatness of this gospel, which throughout the whole history of the Christian church has usually been regarded as the greatest of the four. Its very quality presupposes a writer who knew his subject at first-hand. How could his name have been forgotten, and why was Matthew's name adopted if he was not in fact the author? Goodspeed suggests that Jesus found himself in a similar position to Isaiah, when it became clear that his message was going to be rejected by the people as a whole. He deliberately took steps for the preservation of his teaching among his disciples. He observed the faith and commitment of Levi the tax-collector and recognized him as one who was capable of making a record of his teaching. The other leading disciples could doubtless read and write, but from what we know of them they all seem to have been essentially practical men. The only one who was a professional pen-pusher was Matthew.
Goodspeed shows how sophisticated the tax system was. It is known that in Egypt at this date there were 111 kinds of tax, and many of the tax-collectors knew shorthand. Matthew's livelihood was earned by intertwining tax-payers and discussing their affairs (usually in Aramaic) and then writing up his reports in Greek. He had a lifelong habit of noting things down and of preserving what he had written. It cannot be too strongly stressed that the world of Jesus' day was highly literate and that (whether or not Goodspeed's notion that Jesus made Matthew his recorder is true) it is altogether likely that there were people who made notes of what Jesus said. He made a tremendous impact on a wide variety of listeners, and it seems unlikely that no one attempted to make a record of what he taught.
This point was commonly made in an earlier generation, for example, by such scholars as W. M. Ramsay and G. Salmon (22). But, as it is now unfashionable, it may be well to quote some modern writers on the subject. R. H. Gundry says:
"The only hypothesis with enough flexibility to meet the requirements is that a body of loose notes stands behind the bulk of the synoptic tradition. The wide use of shorthand and the carrying of notebooks in the Graeco-Roman world, the school practice of circulating lecture notes and utilizing them in published works, and the later transmission of rabbinic tradition through shorthand notes support this hypothesis. As a former publican, the Apostle Matthew would have been admirably fitted to fill a position of note-taker in the band of uneducated apostles (23)."
M. Lowe and D. Flusser write: 'It was common practice for the disciples of rabbis to make notes of their sayings. It is also notable that Justin Martyr repeatedly refers to the gospels as απομνημονευματα… a technical term for memoirs.' (24) (it is particularly important to observe this note-taking in rabbinical circles since learning by rote was the method of education favoured by the rabbis. Goodspeed 48 summarises the Jewish rule as "Commit to memory', and the Greek rule as 'If you have no paper, write it on your garments!') L. C. A. Alexander observes in connection with the training of professional men in the Greek-speaking world that note-taking was 'necessary in academic life' (25).
D. A. Carson says: 'Recent research has argued for written records that go back to Jesus' ministry,' and he gives further references from the works of H. Schürmann (1961), and R. Riesner (1981) (26). E. E. Ellis (1987) says: 'Traditions of Jesus were carefully cultivated, transmitted by an authorized leadership and fixed in writing much earlier than was formerly supposed.' And in 1988 he wrote: 'There are good grounds, then, for supposing not only that the traditioning of Jesus' acts and teachings began already during his earthly ministry, as H. Schürmann has argued, but also that some of them were given written formulation at that time.' (27) P. H. Davids writes:
"There is no reason to assume that the early transmission was exclusively oral. The apostles may not have been studied in the Jewish law (so Acts 4:13), but due to the prevalence of education in Jewish communities many, if not most, of them must have been literate. We should therefore not be surprised if at least a minimal amount of the testimonia, narratives, and teaching which found their way into the gospels was recorded in writing before or soon after Easter… The pre-Easter Sitz-im-Leben of such material was the mission of the twelve and the need to leave teaching behind as the itinerant band traveled. The post-Easter setting was the teaching needs of the growing church and especially the mission outside Jerusalem. The Hellenists of the Stephen group had reduced much of the Gospel to writing in Greek (28)." [Wenham 1992: 112-114; emphases the original]
For more on oral tradition and the possibility of written notes utilized by the early church, see the following:
With the time frame that we're working with in mind, William Lane Craig discusses 3 factors that make it very probable that the traditions as we have them are basically historical:
(a) There was insufficient time for legend to accrue significantly. Ever since Strauss broached his theory that the gospel accounts of Jesus's life and resurrection are the products of legendary development, the unanswered difficulty for this conception has been that the temporal and geographical distance between the events and the accounts seems to be simply insufficient to allow for the extent of development postulated. Julius Müller's critique of Strauss has yet to be answered:
"Most decidedly must a considerable interval of time be required for such a complete transformation of a whole history by popular tradition, when the series of legends are formed in the same territory where the heroes actually lived and wrought. Here one cannot imagine how such a series of legends could arise in an historical age, obtain universal respect, and supplant the historical recollection of the true character and connexion of their heroes' lives in the minds of the community, if eye-witnesses were still at hand, who could be questioned respecting the truth of the recorded marvels. Hence, legendary fiction, as it likes not the clear present time, but prefers the mysterious gloom of grey antiquity, is wont to seek a remoteness of age, along with that of space, and to remove its boldest and more rare and wonderful creations into a very remote and unknown land." (3)
Roman historian A. N. Sherwin-White has urged the same consideration. He remarks that in classical historiography the sources are usually biased and removed at least one or two generations or even centuries from the events they narrate; but historians still reconstruct with confidence what happened (4). In the gospels, by contrast, the tempo is "unbelievable" for the accrual of legend; more generations are needed (5). The writings of Herodotus enable us to test the tempo of myth-making, and the tests suggest that even two generations are too short a span to allow the mythical tendency to prevail over the hard historic core of oral tradition (6). Müller challenged scholars of his day to show where in 30 years a great series of legends, the most prominent elements of which are fictitious, have anywhere gathered around an important historical individual and become firmly fixed in general belief (7); the challenge was never met. Dibelius sought an analogy in the Apophthegmata Patrum (8), but the tradition in this case took a century to form, not thirty or forty years; such a temporal gap for the gospel traditions would land us in the period when the apocryphal gospels were beginning to originate.
(b) The controlling presence of living eyewitnesses would retard significant accrual of legend. Related to the temporal and geographical proximity of the gospels to the events they narrate is the controlling presence of living eye-witnesses who knew what did and did not happen. Taylor has twitted skeptical New Testament scholars for their neglect of this factor, observing that if these critics were right, then the disciples "must have all been translated into heaven immediately after the Resurrection." (9) The witnesses listed by Paul in I Cor. 15 continued to live and move in the early community and would exercise a control on the appearance traditions. As Plummer observes, those who had seen Christ after the resurrection would soon become "marked men." (10) Similarly, if the persons like Mary Magdalene and the women did not see Jesus, then it is difficult to see how the tradition could arise and continue that they did, in opposition to the better knowledge of first generation believers.
(c) The authoritative control of the apostles would have helped to keep legendary tendencies in check. Since the apostles were the guardians of the Jesus tradition, it would have been difficult for fictitious appearance stories incompatible with the apostles' own experience to arise and flourish so long as they were alive, or for the true story to be supplanted by a false. Künneth's judgment is worth repeating:
"It is extremely difficult to see how the gospel accounts of the resurrection could arise in opposition to the original apostolic preaching and that of Paul…The authority of the apostolic eyewitnesses was extraordinarily strong. It would be inconceivable how there should have arisen in opposition to the authoritative witness of the original apostles a harmonious tradition telling of an event that has no basis in the message of the eye-witnesses." (11)
Fabrication of stories on the part of Christians, he believes, would have been "sharply contradicted by the apostles or their pupils." (12) Discrepancies in secondary details could exist, and the theology of the evangelists could affect the traditions, but the basic traditions themselves could not have been legendary so long as the disciples were in charge of the deposit of Christian tradition and directing the Christian community. The accounts which are unhistorical in substance did not arise until the second century, and even then they were universally rejected by the early church.
These three factors-the insufficient temporal and geographical distance between the events and the accounts, the controlling presence of eye-witnesses, and the authoritative control of the apostolic leaders-seem to insure that the traditions underlying the gospel appearance narratives are not unhistorical legends and that therefore the appearance stories of the gospels are substantially accurate accounts of what took place.
(3) Julius Müller, The Theory of Myths, in its Application to the Gospel History, Examined and Confuted (London: John Chapman, 1844), p. 26. Müller further argues that one cannot ascribe to the apostles such carelessness that they should not have remarked the formation and general diffusion of unhistorical legends about Jesus among the communities of Palestine, or if they remarked them, that they should not have opposed them vigorously. Moreover, were the stories without historical foundation, the enemies of Christianity would surely have seized upon this fact. Luke's use of eyewitnesses in particular (Lk. 1:4) ensures that he at least is not copying down myths, thinking it is history (Ibid., pp. 29-33). Compare the argument of August Tholuck, who in his critique of Strauss also laid great weight on Luke's proximity to the events in question and ability as a historian (A. Tholuck, The Credibility of the Evangelical History [London: John Chapman, 1844]). He argues that the author of Luke-Acts was a companion of Paul and that several lines of evidence point to a date for Acts of AD 63-64, which puts the gospel even earlier (Ibid., pp. 5-8). We are thus placed in the time of eyewitnesses to the recorded events. Tholuck then argues on the basis of the details in Acts for Luke's competence as a historian (Ibid., pp. 8-23). This means not only that Luke's narratives are historically credible, but the narratives of the other gospels as well, since they generally concur. Athanase Coquerel also scored Strauss for allowing insufficient time for the accrual of legend. Comparing the gospel stories to the myths about Charlemagne, he maintains that it takes ages for myths to form; the legends Strauss seeks are actually the apocryphal gospels (Athanase Coquerel, Reply to Dr. Strauss's Book, 'The Life of Jesus' [n.p.; n.d.], pp. 37-45). All these considerations press with almost equal force today. [Craig 1989; pp. 381-82; 387-89; emphasis the original]
In order to avoid potential confusion, we should perhaps elaborate on a very important point made by Craig regarding the accrual of legend. Once again, it is the historical core of truth that is unlikely to be supplanted within such a short period of time. This obviously does not preclude that some falsehoods could be generated and even circulate widely within two generations. However, it is very unlikely that such falsehoods could become the generally accepted facts among the relevant population(s) to the point where the true historical foundations are completely eclipsed within such a short period of time. Let's consider an analogy from the gospel portraits of Jesus as a miracle worker. Our argument would thus entail that since Jesus is universally portrayed as a miracle worker by the four gospels, each of which was written within 2 generations of his death, it is very unlikely that such a portrayal could have been the result of legendary accrual. This does not preclude the possibility that some elements within the various miracle traditions incorporated into the gospels are unhistorical, or even the possibility that spurious miracle stories crept into the gospel accounts. However, the data is such that we can state with a very high degree of confidence that the miracle-working aspect of Jesus' ministry in general is very firmly embedded within the true historical tradition. Similarly, in the case of the post-resurrection appearances, while our argument would not necessitate that all of the various elements of the appearance traditions be historical, it would make it very unlikely that the appearance traditions, at their historical core, would have become so tainted by legendary accrual so as to have been universally accepted within such a short period of time, thereby supplanting the original form of the appearance traditions that some critics would have us believe were originally circulated by the church. See the following article where JPH demonstrates the importance of this principle in greater detail in a response to Robert Price regarding legendary "build-up":
Of course, if at least a couple of the gospels were written prior to 70 A.D., then the probability of the above conclusions are that much more accentuated. If such was the case, the reports are located firmly within one generation of when the actual events took place. John Wenham argues cogently that Matthew may have been written in Aramaic as early as 42 A.D., with Mark and Luke having been originally composed in 45 and 55 A.D., respectively. John A.T. Robinson argues that all four gospels, including John, were composed prior to 70 A.D. See [Wenham 1992] and [Robinson 1976], and the link provided below.
Another important factor to consider is whether or not any of the four gospel authors (whoever they may have been) can be directly connected to apostolic testimony. If the answer is yes, particularly in the cases of Matthew, Luke, or John, then our confidence thus increases that much more in regards to the essential historical reliability of the appearance narratives contained therein. For starters, in the case of Luke, we are told at the beginning of his gospel that his information comes from eyewitness sources. From the "we" passages in Acts (see e.g. 16:8-10), it is most natural to conclude that the author knew and traveled to at least some extent with Paul. Furthermore, Paul tells us directly that he visited the apostles 3 years after his conversion (e.g. Gal. 1:18-19). Gary Habermas informs us as to the possible nature of Paul's visit:
Describing his personal and lengthy visit with Peter in Jerusalem shortly after his conversion, Paul uses the term historeo, most likely indicating an investigative inquiry. William Farmer argues that the word in this context signifies that Paul cross-examined Peter. During this visit Paul also visited James (Gal 1:19). In any case, the immediate context suggests that the chief topic of conversation concerned the nature of the gospel (Gal 1:11-16), which included reference to Jesus' resurrection (I Cor 15:1-4). As Dodd declares, a maximum of "seven years after the crucifixion" Paul "stayed with Peter for a fortnight, and we may presume they did not spend all the time talking about the weather." [Habermas 1997; 265]
The significance of this for our present purpose is that it seems probable that Paul would have known something about Christ's post-resurrection appearances to the disciples based on his two week stay with the disciples, particularly if it was indeed an investigative inquiry, as postulated by Habermas. It is at this meeting between Paul, Peter, and James that most scholars argue that Paul probably received the information contained in I Corinthians 15:1-8. If that was the case, it seems reasonable to suggest (out of human curiosity if nothing else) that Paul would have inquired as to the story behind the appearances contained therein as well. Thus, not only does Luke inform us at the beginning of his gospel that he passed along eyewitness testimony, but it seems that through Paul he would have been in a very good position to do so regarding the post-mortem appearances of Jesus to the disciples as well. In fact, our confidence in Luke's reporting of what actually took place is substantially strengthened by the fact that he has been proven to be very reliable in areas where his testimony can be checked against outside sources. See here, for instance. Also see [Hemer 1990].
As far as Mark is concerned, church tradition tells us that he penned his gospel from the teachings of Peter. Martin Hengel discusses several internal considerations from Mark that support the external evidence, among which I found the following significant:
1. Peter is the first disciple to be called immediately after Jesus' public appearance. His name is also the last of the disciples to appear in Mark (Mark 1:16; 16:7).
2. In Mark 16:7, the and Peter, according to Hengel "disrupts the narrative and is completely superfluous", and it is notable that this unnecessary addition is omitted by Matthew. Hengel states that it is also odd that only here when the disciples and Peter are mentioned together that Peter is mentioned at the end, whereas elsewhere he always is mentioned at the beginning. From this Hengel concludes that Mark structured his gospel so that Peter would be named at the beginning and end in order to give it Peter's stamp of authority.
3. Mark's gospel is predominantly Galilean in character compared with Luke and John, which is significant since Peter served as the "spokesman of the Galilean disciples."
4. According to Hengel, the "disciples" are mentioned a total of 43 times, but Peter is emphasized as he is mentioned 25 times. Matthew also mentions Peter 25 times, but the "disciples" in his gospel are mentioned 75 times. Plus, Matthew's gospel is 70% longer than that of Mark. In an end-note, Hengel cites the work of Feldmeier, who determined ratios for the number of times Peter is mentioned per the number of words in the three Synoptic gospels. The ratio is substantially higher for Mark at 1:443, with that of Matthew and Luke standing at 1:772 and 1:648, respectively. Of course, if the Markan priority paradigm is accurate, then this is that much more significant since the emphases that Matthew and Luke also place on Peter could be largely the result of their use of Mark as a source.
5. Finally, Hengel states that the mentions of Peter tend to accumulate at important parts of Mark's gospel, such as at the beginning of Jesus' activity (ch. 1), the denouement in chs. 8 & 9, and of course, the passion narrative in ch. 14.
From this, Hengel concludes:
Only secondarily is it to be noted that the period of tradition between Jesus and the time of Mark is not more than forty years and the remembrance of the ministry of Jesus in Galilee and Jerusalem was still vivid. In other words, the fact that the name of Simon Peter has been quite deliberately and massively retained in his Gospel is grounded not only in the importance of Peter for the evangelist, but also in remembrance and historical reality. For Mark, the chronological distance from Jesus of about forty years could still be surveyed relatively easily, and hardly more than five years separate him from the martyrdom of Peter, his teacher. Even if we did not have the reports of Irenaeus, the two Clements and Justin, the Papias note and I Peter 5.13, we would have to assume that the author of the Second Gospel is dependent upon Peter in a striking way, for historical, theological, and quite personal reasons. [Hengel 2000; 82-85]
Of course, Mark is of limited help for our present cause since he does not record post-resurrection appearances. Or, if he did, we do not at present know what he wrote about them. On the other hand, he does report the empty tomb, so for him we do know that only options 1 and 2 listed above regarding the resurrection body would be feasible. If we have in his gospel the authority of Peter, we thus have an indirect link to apostolic testimony that is at least in harmony with what we are arguing for here, bodily resurrection.
Now, if traditional authorship is accurate in the case of the other two evangelists, or even of just one of the two, then this is all the more remarkable. Given that Matthew and John were disciples of Jesus, and thus would be among those that actually experienced these post-resurrection appearances, we would have in their cases actual first-hand testimony as to the nature of the post-resurrection appearances! The significance of this cannot be understated. But, even if traditional authorship is to be rejected in both of their cases, it seems more than reasonable to suggest that their pupils, in this case, would have given us basically historically reliable accounts since we'd still only be one remove away from those that actually experienced the events contained within the gospels . Before leaving the issue of apostolic testimony, I'd like to briefly touch on the apparent eyewitness accounts we find in John's gospel, namely that of the "Beloved Disciple" . Since the post-resurrection narratives in John are arguably our best witnesses to the bodily resurrection of Jesus, this seems to be pertinent for our present purposes. Leon Morris summarizes some of the internal evidence:
We should also notice that there are touches which many have felt indicate an eyewitness (21). This is not universally agreed, but then it is difficult to know what all would agree does indicate the eyewitness. What to one is unmistakable evidence of first-hand observation is to another no more than a touch introduced to give an air of verisimilitude to the narrative. But it is difficult to think that that is an adequate explanation of all the passages adduced in this Gospel. Sometimes these concern the time of day at which a thing happened (1 : 39; 4 : 6, etc.), or perhaps they link it with one of the feasts (2 : 13, 23, etc.). Place names are brought in very naturally, and often for no apparent reason save that it was there that the incident happened (e.g. Cana in ch. 2). Many have seen the reminiscence of an eyewitness in the way the call of the disciples is described (1 : 35-51), or again the episode of the feet-washing (13 : 1-20). With this we should take information about persons not mentioned elsewhere such as Nicodemus, Lazarus and others. It is difficult to see a reason for introducing the name of Nicodemus into the narrative, for example, other than that this was in fact the inquirer's name. And why else should we be told that the name of the high priest's servant whose ear Peter cut off was Malchus (18 : 10)? Or that he was related to one of those who accused Peter of being a follower of Jesus (18 : 26)? To personal knowledge again we should surely ascribe the information that Annas was father-in-law to Caiaphas (18 : 13). All in all the information supplied by this Gospel gives good reason for us to hold that its author knew the facts at first hand and wrote of what he knew and had seen.
It is also the case that there are claims to eyewitness testimony. The first is in 1 : 14, "we beheld his glory". Some see this as meaning, "we Christians", "believers generally". But in the first instance this is a very unnatural way to take the words, and in the second the word "see" appears to mean, "see with the outward eye" (22). It is much more likely that the words refer to what the writer and his friends have seen physically. A second appeal to witness appears in 19 : 35, "he that hath seen hath borne witness, and his witness is true: and he knoweth that he saith is true, that ye also may believe." There is a problem as to whether the writer means that he himself has borne the witness or that someone else has done so. But there is good reason for seeing eyewitness testimony behind the statement (see the note on the passage) (23).
With this we should consider the controversies referred to in the Gospel. These are not the kind of questions that Christians discussed among themselves in the second century (like episcopacy, Gnostic emanations, the date of keeping Easter, etc.), nor are they the standard disputes between Christians and Jews. There is an authentic note about them as of the kind of subject that was in dispute in first century Palestine. So we get discussions of the use and abuse of the Sabbath (ch. 5), about the Messiah and his credentials and whether he would rescue the Jews from the Romans (6 : 15; 11 : 47-50), about true and false Judaism. P. Borgen has made a close study of the sixth chapter and he points out that in subject matter and method this is authentic Palestinian (24). From another angle Raymond E. Brown has discussed the concept of the "Logos" in this Gospel. He has shown that it is not a Hellenistic philosophical idea that has strayed into a Jewish work, but that the form and content given it by John shows it to be of Palestinian origin (25).
The writer of this Gospel had a good knowledge of the apostolic band. He recalls words the Twelve spoke among themselves (4 : 33; 16 : 17; 20 : 25; 21 : 3,7). He shows knowledge of their thoughts on occasion (2 : 11, 17, 22; 4: 27; 6: 19, 60f.). He knows the places they frequented (11 : 54; 18 : 2). Sometimes he speaks of mistakes they made which were later corrected (2 : 21f.; 11 : 13; 12 : 16). If he were of their number all this would fall into place.
(21) For example, W. C. van Unnik says, "Many things in this Gospel are suggestive of personal reminiscence (1 : 39f.; 4 : 6; 13 : 21 ff., especially in chs. 18 to 21)" (The New Testament, Its History and Message, London, 1964, p. 61). So also Barclay: "Many of these things are such apparently unimportant details that they are inexplicable unless they are the memories of a man who was there" (I, p. xx). B. P. W. Stather Hunt goes as far as to say, "no other Gospel bears upon its face such undeniable proof that its author was an eyewitness of the scenes which he records" (Some Johannine Problems, London, 1958, p. 7).
(22) The verb is θεαομαι of which AS says, "in NT apparently always in literal, physical sense of 'careful and deliberate vision which interprets…its object'".
(23) Sanday refers to "all those marks of an eye-witness which we shall see to be present in great number and strength. They point to a first-hand relation between the author and the facts which he records. If the Gospel is not the work of an eye-witness, then the writer has made a very sustained and extraordinary effort to give the impression that he was one" (op. cit., p. 70) [Morris 1971; pp. 14-16]
Of course, even if the gospel was not written by the Beloved Disciple, it seems clear from John 21:24-25 that the Beloved Disciple was at the very least the source of information for the 4th evangelist. Craig notes:
If, in order to allow the use of sources by the evangelist, we differentiate between the Beloved Disciple and the evangelist, then in order to give due weight to the considerations adduced by Morris, we must interpret 21:24 as stating the Beloved Disciple is bearing witness in the written gospel and that he caused these things to be written. In this case, the Beloved Disciple is the authority and personal source behind the fourth gospel, though not himself its author. As Brown remarks, this is the minimal interpretation that can be given to v. 24 (75). [Craig 1989; p. 300]
Thus, as mentioned earlier, we are probably at worst one remove from apostolic, eyewitness testimony in the case of John, which is very significant. Of all of the gospel events, we would expect the post-resurrection appearances to be discussed by those that experienced them in as great of depth and in as much detail as virtually anything contained therein, and that these discussions would have taken place quite often and from the very beginning of the church's existence. This is because potential converts being evangelized by the apostles would almost certainly desire to know as much as possible regarding the nature and detail of these experiences, as these experiences served as the basis of the movement to which they were being asked to turn over their lives. So, it is likely that those who may have served as pupils to any of the evangelists, particularly in the cases of Matthew and John, would have heard their teachers tell the stories many, many times, and hence would have been in great position to retell and/or record these stories accurately.
For more on Johannine authorship, see [Morris 1971; pp. 8-30]; [Robinson 1985; 93-122]; and [Blomberg 2001; pp. 17-41]. For a more extensive treatment, see the dated work of [Westcott 1908; ix-lii], and especially that of [Morris 1969; 139-280]. Finally, there is JPH's comprehensive defense of traditional authorship and dating of the four gospels:
While the debates about gospel authorship will continue, regardless of what may be the truth in this matter, we can be confident that the actual authors had access to reliable apostolic tradition, and this is another factor mitigating against the claim that the post-resurrection narratives as they appear in the gospels are substantially tainted by legendary embellishment.
IIIe. Indications of Primitive Tradition in the Resurrection Narratives
While the combined factors of 1) the short period of time between the occurrence of the events and the composition of the gospels and 2) the likelihood that the gospel authors were interested in and had access to eyewitness testimony (even if traditional authorship is to be rejected) makes legendary embellishment highly unlikely, it is intriguing that the narratives themselves appear to reflect very old material for a number of reasons. For example, Craig, citing Wolfgang Nauck, notes:
Nauck observes that many theological motifs that might be expected are lacking in the story: (1) the proof from prophecy, (2) the in-breaking of the new eon, (3) the ascension of Jesus' spirit or his descent into hell, (4) the nature of the risen body, and (5) the use of Christological titles .
Wolfgang Nauck, "Die Bedeutung des leeren Grabes für den Glauben an den Auferstandenen," ZNW 47 (1956): 243-67. According to Kremer, every theological reflection on the meaning of the resurrection is lacking, so the tradition must come from a very early time. For its origin in Palestine (Jerusalem) counts not only the interest in the empty tomb itself, but also the names of the women and the Semitic τπ μια των σαββατων (cf. πρωτη σαββατου [16:9]; "after three days" [8:31; 9:31; 10; 34]) (Jacob Kremer, "Zur Diskussion über 'das leere Grab,'" in Resurrexit, p. 153).
N.T. Wright discusses four intriguing features of the narratives that indicate that this may be the case. These four features are, as Wright entitles them:
I. "The Strange Silence of the Bible in the Stories"
II. "The Strange Absence of Personal Hope in the Stories"
III. "The Strange Portrait of Jesus in the Stories"
IV. "The Strange Presence of the Women in the Stories"
Here all we can do is attempt a brief summary of Wright's points. In regards to I, it is noted that the narratives are told with only a marginal amount of embroidery and echoes from the Old Testament when compared with the rest of the stories contained within the gospels up to that point. Given the obvious importance, extending all the way from very early sources such as the early sermons in Acts and I Corinthians 15:1-7, to Paul's letters, to the gospels up to the point of the post-resurrection narratives(!), and through to the early church fathers ("the line from Athenagoras to Tertullian" as Wright makes note), of connecting the words and deeds of Christ to the Old Testament Scriptures by the early church, why would the evangelists do so comparatively little of this in the most important of places, the obvious climax to Christ's ministry? [Wright 2003; pp. 599-602] 
As for II, Wright notes the lack of mention of such things as "life after death", "eternal life", or the "resurrection of all Christ's people" in the stories. Instead, the stories are more about the vindication of Christ and his Messianic claims, and the commissioning of the disciples to spread the message to the world. Wright rightly asks why this should be the case given that "this marks out the resurrection narratives from virtually every mention of resurrection in Paul and the rest of the New Testament outside the gospels and Acts, and virtually every mention of it in the post-canonical literature" where such links are either made explicit or are implied [Ibid. pp. 603-604] .
Another feature (III) Wright draws attention to is the relatively mundane portrayal of Jesus in the resurrection narratives. While Jesus' new body appears to be vested with certain remarkable properties, such as the ability to appear and disappear at will, and to occasionally be unrecognizable even to his closest colleagues, he is not (as we have argued above) portrayed in a manner so as to emphasize the fact that he had been vindicated and exalted by God. Wright elaborates:
The sightings of, and meetings with, Jesus are not at all like the heavenly visions, or visions of a figure in blinding light or dazzling radiance or wreathed in clouds, that one might expect to find in the Jewish apocalyptic tradition, or in connection with Merkabah mysticism. Whatever we say about Paul's conversion (chapter 8 above), these stories are not at all like that. Whatever account we give of the vision of Jesus in Revelation 1, there is nothing in the gospel narratives that corresponds to it. They are not, that is, the sort of thing one would expect if the evangelists or their sources had wanted to say that Jesus had been exalted to a position of either divinity or heavenly glory. Nor are they the kind of thing that would have been said if the tradition had begun by wanting to say that Israel's god had approved Jesus' project, that his death was a success not a failure, and that the Bible had been fulfilled. [Ibid. pp. 604-605]
Wright suggests that the above description would be deemed even more likely given an Old Testament text like Daniel 12:1-3, which would clearly have served as a great template for the early church to describe the resurrection of Christ as one that "shall shine like the brightness of the sky…like the stars forever and ever". But, once again, despite the fact that Jesus' body does have some remarkable properties, his appearances are quite free of such spectacular descriptions (save with that of the appearance to Paul). This is a another feature mitigating against the possibility of legendary embellishment, especially since even the angels in the post-resurrection narratives are in a couple of places described as wearing very radiant, white garments (Matthew 28:2-3; Luke 24:4). In fact, it is interesting to compare the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus with that of the Transfiguration (e.g. Mark 9:2-3), where Jesus' "clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anybody in the world could bleach them". The features of the Transfiguration have led some scholars to postulate that this pericope is actually a displaced post-resurrection appearance of Jesus, though ironically Jesus is not portrayed in such terms in the actual post-resurrection narratives. Some have suggested that the evangelists, in making these appearances so mundane, are doing so for the sake of an anti-docetic apologetic (though see below in section IIIh) [Ibid. 604-606].
Finally, Wright discusses the prominence of women in the narratives. Given the tendency of this particular era to greatly devalue the testimony of women, it is unlikely that they would be the first to find the tomb empty or be the ones to whom Jesus would first appear if the narratives are legendary (for more on the issue of women witnesses see the next section) [Ibid. pp. 607-608].
After a discussion of these four points, Wright concludes:
The very strong historical probability is that, when Matthew, Luke and John describe the risen Jesus, they are writing down very early oral tradition, representing three different ways in which the original astonished participants told the stories. These traditions have received only minimal development, and most of that probably at the final editorial stage, for the very good reason that stories as earth-shattering as this, stories as community-forming of this, once told, are not easily modified. Too much depends on them. [Ibid. p. 611]
Unfortunately, the above summary in no way, shape, or form does justice to the brilliant case espoused by Wright, so we highly recommend the reader to check out his treatment of these subjects in [Wright 2003; pp. 599-615]. However, this should suffice to illustrate the point that the resurrection narratives as we have them, without substantial Biblical embroidery, with little indication that Christ's vindication implies our own, with narratives that are essentially mundane, and finally with women serving such prominent roles, are very likely to be reflective of some of the earliest traditions we have of them!
IIIf. Indicators of Historicity in some Individual Narratives
While it seems that there are numerous good reasons to consider the post-resurrection appearances as recorded by Matthew, Luke, and John to be generally reliable, there are some additional considerations to be drawn when we consider some of the individual appearance stories as well.
The Appearance to Women
First and foremost is the appearance(s) of Jesus to women. While all 4 gospels report that it was the women that discovered the empty tomb, 2 of the 3 in which we have actual post-resurrection appearances report that Jesus made his first appearance to women as well, that being Matthew and John. The fact that such an appearance is said to come first is remarkable given the general disdain for women's testimony in this place and time (See here for more on that) .
Richard Bauckham expands on this issue after considering a couple of passages from Pseudo-Philo's Biblical Antiquities, a book (possibly written by a woman) from the relevant period that accords women great prominence and importance in Israel's history. There are two passages within the book that Bauckham considers where women receive divine revelation, only to be disbelieved by those that receive the information that they pass along. Here we will discuss one of the two passages that Bauckham analyzes, that being a revelation sent to Miriam, the sister of Moses:
The spirit of God came upon Miriam one night, and she saw a dream and reported it to her parents in the morning, saying, "I had a vision this night, and behold a man was standing in a linen garment and he said to me, 'Go and say to your parents, "Behold the child who will be born of you will be cast forth into the water; likewise through him the water will be dried up. And I will work signs through him and save my people, and he will exercise leadership always."'" When Miriam reported her dream, her parents did not believe her (31).
(31) Translation from H. Jacobson, A Commentary on Pseudo-Philo's Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum vol. 1 (AGAJU 31; Leiden: Brill, 1996) 105. [Bauckham 2002; 272]
Bauckham then elaborates:
The parallel to the story of the women at the tomb is striking, though it is Mark and Matthew who have the command of the angel, "Go and tell," and Luke who reports that they were not believed. What is striking about Pseudo-Philo's account is that Miriam's parents are the righteous couple Amram and Jochebed. Amram has been portrayed as a man of great faith and faithfulness to God, approved by God. There does not seem to be any strong reason in the plot for their failure to believe their daughter's prophetic dream. It seems as though Pseudo-Philo sees their unbelief as the expected reaction, even by such admirable characters as Amram and Jochebed, to a claim by a woman to have received divine revelation. Yet there is no doubt that Pseudo-Philo portrays the revelation given to Miriam as authentic (at the end of the chapter he points out that it was fulfilled: 9:16) and readers are surely therefore entitled to think that Amram and Jochebed should have believed it. [Ibid. 272]
Intriguingly, Bauckham then goes on to discuss a parallel account of this revelation from Josephus, but at the same time gives us a further glimpse of how divine revelation to women was minimized during that time period:
Indirect confirmation of this understanding of the story is provided by the striking parallel and contrast in Josephus, who also records a dream predicting that Amram and Jochebed's child would deliver Israel. In this case, however, the dream is Amram's; it is Amram who then tells his wife about it; and they believe the promises of God (Antiquities 2.210-18). Here the revelation is given by God to a man and there is no problem of belief. Whether Josephus knew the tradition about Miriam's dream and corrected it (32), or Pseudo-Philo knew the tradition Josephus records and transformed it, we cannot be sure. Josephus was certainly capable of correcting even a biblical text portraying revelation given directly to a woman. Whereas in Genesis Rebekah inquires of the Lord about her unborn children and receives a prophetic oracle about them (Gen 25:22-23), in Josephus it is her husband Isaac who prays and receives the prophecy from God (Antiquities 1.257). Josephus does not consistently remove every case of God speaking directly to or through a woman that he found in his Scriptures, but he does seem to minimize them (33), and largely restricts them to a few women whom the Bible calls prophets, such as Deborah (Antiquities 5.200-209) and Huldah (Antiquities 10.59-61), but not including Miriam, whom the Bible (Exod 15:20) but not Josephus calls a prophet (34). It looks as though Josephus represents an opinion that was disinclined to believe that God communicates revelation directly to women and that Pseudo-Philo was concerned to counter this notion.
(33) In Josephus's retelling of the story of Manoah and his wife (Antiquities 5.276-281) the theme of revelation is subordinated to the picture of Manoah as a jealously suspicious husband of a remarkably beautiful wife. Compare Pseudo-Philo's version discussed below. [Ibid. 272-273]
Sometimes skeptics will counter the apologetic argument of the women's prominence in the resurrection narratives by suggesting that this was mainly an issue in legal settings and hence of marginal to no relevance when it comes to a general historical setting. However, the data from Josephus and Pseudo-Philo seems to indicate that this was also a substantial problem when it came to women being used as vessels for divine revelation, which is pertinent here given that Jesus appears first to women in two of the gospels, and all of the gospels tell us that women received the initial revelation through angels of Jesus' being raised from the dead. Bauckham then goes on to draw a connection here to Luke's narrative:
In Luke's resurrection narrative the reaction of the apostles to the women's report from the tomb functions similarly to the comparable motif in Pseudo-Philo: It counters the male prejudice about revelation to women. There is no doubt that the apostles ought to have believed the women (43). When the travelers to Emmaus report what the women had said and imply that, though right about the empty tomb, they were evidently wrong about the risen Christ, since the men had not seen him (Luke 24:22-24), the incognito Jesus retorts: "O how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!" (24:25). [Ibid. 276; highly recommended is the full discussion in Bauckham, particularly pp. 268-277]
Some more indications for historicity come about when we consider the appearance Jesus made to Mary Magdalene in John 20:11-17. Ben Witherington III notes:
C. H. Dodd once suggested that the story of Mary Magdalene at the tomb is one of the most self-authenticating stories in all the Gospels. In his view, it has all the elements of the personal testimony of an eyewitness. First of all, given what the tradition said about Mary Magdalene's past (Luke 8:2), it is hardly credible that the earliest Christians would have made up a story about Jesus' appearing first to her. Second, it is not credible that a later Christian hagiographer would have had her suggest that perhaps Jesus' body had been stolen from the tomb [This is especially the case when we discover that the earliest Jewish polemic against the resurrection was that the disciples stole the body (Matthew 28:11-15)]. Third, it is not believable that later reverential Christians would have suggested that the first eyewitness mistook Jesus for a gardener! The portrait of Mary and her spiritual perceptiveness is hardly flattering here. Fourth, it is not believable that the early Christians would have created the idea that Jesus commissioned Mary to go proclaim the Easter message to the Eleven. On this last point we have the clear report of I Corinthians 15, where we see that the testimony of women to the risen Lord, if not totally eliminated in the official witness list (they might be alluded to in the reference to the appearance to the five hundred), is clearly sublimated. [Witherington 1998; 141-142]
Finally, speaking of Dodd, we will close this subsection with an oft-quoted passage from his work on this passage:
This story never came out of any common stock of tradition; it has an arresting individuality. We seem to be shut up to two alternatives. Either we have here a free, imaginative composition based upon the bare tradition of an appearance to Mary Magdalen, akin to that represented by Matt. xxviii. 9-10, or else the story came through some highly individual channel directly from the source, and the narrator stood near enough to catch the nuances of the original experience. It would be hazardous to dogmatize. The power to render psychological traits imaginatively, with convincing insight, cannot be denied to a writer to whom we owe the masterly character-parts of Pontius Pilate and the Woman of Samaria. Yet I confess that I cannot for long rid myself of the feeling (it can be no more than a feeling) that this pericope has something indefinably first-hand about it. It stands in any case alone. There is nothing quite like it in the gospels. Is there anything like it in all ancient literature? [Dodd 1968; 115]
The Appearance by the Sea of Tiberias
The next narrative we'll consider is the appearance of Jesus to the seven disciples by the sea of Tiberias, located in John 21 . Like with other post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, the disciples once again fail to recognize him (21:4). But, verse 14 tells us that this was the 3rd time that Jesus appeared to them ! Thus, certain objections to historicity arise. First of all, why would the disciples fail to recognize Jesus even though he had appeared to them two times previously? Secondly, given that Jesus has already appeared to them in Jerusalem twice (as is detailed in John 20), and that in the first appearance, where Jesus breathes on them and tells them to receive the Holy Spirit, why is it that the disciples would be fishing and not either 1) carrying out their commission already or 2) anxiously awaiting another appearance of Jesus.
The second objection in my mind is quite easily dispensed with, as it is not clear why the disciples could not go fishing yet still be in the midst of planning their evangelism to the world. It is sometimes suggested that this scene depicts the disciples, especially Peter, returning to their trades as fishermen, but I do not see the necessity in this interpretation. This is especially so since they still obviously had to have food to eat. Regarding the apparent commission when Jesus told them to receive the Holy Spirit, Blomberg notes:
Many critical scholars find this a radically transformed Johannine equivalent of Pentecost (Acts 2). At the opposite end of the spectrum are those who believe Jesus' behaviour to be exclusively symbolic and foreshadowing the later bestowal of the Spirit (see esp. Carson 1991: 649-655). An intermediate option seems best. On the one hand, this passage forms the climax of John's recurring motif of the Holy Spirit; no other passage within his Gospel so qualifies as the fulfillment of all of Jesus' prior predictions about the Paraclete's coming ministry (chs. 14-16). On the other hand, Thomas is not present on this occasion, yet John would surely agree that he, too, was subsequently endowed with the Spirit. And chapter 21, even if a later addition (on which see below, pp. 272-273), shows that the final editor of the Gospel did not see the disciples as yet ready for the mission they would soon undertake. John undoubtedly knows the traditions of Christ's ascension and outpouring of the Spirit fifty days after the resurrection (Acts 1-2) and can assume his audience knows the basic storyline, too.
It seems, therefore, that John and Luke are describing separate events, both equally real and significant. As I have phrased it elsewhere,
The resurrection of Jesus was the climactic vindication of his sinless life and unjust death, yet his ascension to the right hand of the Father was needed to complete the process and to make public to the universe his triumph and sovereignty. So also Jesus' breathing out the Spirit gave the disciples the authority to lead the company of his followers, even though the full, public and permanent manifestation of this gift would arrive only at Pentecost. To put it almost simplistically, in John 20 the disciples receive the Spirit; in Acts 2 they are filled with the Spirit, who empowers them to preach the gospel boldly. (Blomberg 1987: 168) (396) [Blomberg 2001; 266-267]
Additonally, we should remember that in John 14-16, Jesus tells the disciples that the Spirit will come after he goes away (see above section IIIb). To suggest that John has here telescoped the event of Pentecost in his account would thus be to accuse him of blatantly contradicting himself within the space of only a few chapters, which is unlikely.
So what about the fact that the disciples did not at first recognize Jesus? I think that this objection carries more weight, yet is far from insuperable. I think it is reasonable to suggest that their inability to recognize Jesus at first was so partly because the disciples were not at this time expecting a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus. We mentioned above the objection that it seems improbable that the disciples would be fishing at this time. Craig proposes that the disciples were likely given a specific time and place in Galilee to meet with Jesus (which is likely given that in Mark and Matthew we are told of an appearance in Galilee). Given that the predicted appearance is likely the one that takes place on the mountain in Galilee, as per Matthew, it is reasonable to postulate that the disciples were simply awaiting the time of this appearance while in the meantime resumed their daily activities. Thus, this unexpected appearance of Jesus in Galilee by the sea of Tiberias would help to explain the surprise on the part of the disciples [Craig 1989; 291-292]. It could further be postulated that their inability to recognize Jesus could be because they were about 100 yards away from shore, and/or that, like with the appearance to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, they were supernaturally prevented from recognizing him for the time being .
Blomberg, in his commentary on this chapter, gives numerous positive indicators of historicity found within the stories:
1. The passage in vs. 12, "None of the disciples dared ask him, 'Who are you?' They knew it was the Lord", is enigmatic, probably reflecting the disciples' continuing perplexity regarding Christ's resurrected state, and is not the sort of detail we'd expect to have been invented.
2. Jesus' prediction in vs. 18 about Peter's fate is very vague, whereas if the narrative was composed after Peter's actual martyrdom (by being crucified upside down during the Neronian persecution) and/or if the event was fabricated by the evangelist, we'd expect the prophecy to be more specific.
3. There is also the matter of the apparent rumor floating around in the church at the time of John's writing about the Beloved disciple surviving until Christ's return. "If the Fourth Evangelist felt free to create words of Jesus, he would surely have created a prediction that explicitly denied this rumour (cf. R. E. Brown 1970: 1118; G. R. Osborne 1984: 264). Instead, we read a more opaque saying that clearly could have given rise to such a later misunderstanding. Hence, the need for clarification (v. 23) proves historically probable as well." [Blomberg 2001; 276-279]
For a more thorough walk-through of John 21, including a listing of more positive indicators for historicity of the various sections of the chapter, see [Osborne 2003; 293-329]
Some Indicators of Historicity in Other Appearance Narratives
Concerning, for instance, the appearance to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Dunn argues that Luke likely discovered this story in his quest for eyewitness testimony:
Why otherwise would he attribute the first fully narrated appearance of the risen Jesus to two otherwise unknown and relatively obscure disciples, only one of whom is named (Cleopas)? The story cuts across the priority otherwise given to the appearances to Peter (despite 24:34) and to the twelve. So probably Luke took up the basic tradition simply because it was there, however awkwardly it fitted in with the overall schema. [Dunn 2003; 848-849]
There is good reason for also considering the appearance story to Thomas as basically historical as well , given that it is unlikely that such a story would have been fabricated by the church about one of the twelve disciples. D.A. Carson writes:
Are we to think that the church made up a story that pictures one of the Twelve as incredulous to the point of unreasonable obstinacy (v. 25), and that reports the Lord's public reproof of that apostle (vv. 27, 39)? Even if the narrative has an apologetic purpose, that is scant reason for assessing it as unhistorical: it is surely as justifiable to conclude that the account was chosen precisely because it was so suitable. At least one part of the story (v. 25) finds parallel elsewhere (Lk. 24:39); and the portrait of Thomas is in thorough agreement with what we learn of him from 11:16 and 14:5. The speed which Thomas' pessimistic unbelief was transformed into joyful faith is surely consistent with the experience of the other witnesses (e.g. vv. 16, 20). [Carson. D.A. "The Gospel According to John; quote taken from Blomberg 2001; 269-270]
As Carson alludes to in the above quote, this doubt motif is not peculiar to Thomas, as it is stated in Luke 24:39 that when Jesus first appeared to the disciples they feared and thought that they were seeing a spirit (pneuma). Again, considering the criterion of embarrassment, it seems that such fear and doubts upon those that became the very foundation of the church are unlikely to have been invented, but more likely reflect historical reminiscence.
Summary of Factors Mitigating Against Legendary Embellishment
In the above section, we have seen that numerous factors provide substantial obstacles to the claim that the post-resurrection narratives arose as the result of legendary embellishment. The factors that we have discussed here and/or provided links for further discussion include:
1) There was too little time and geographical distance for legend to supplant the actual historical cores of the stories, even if the gospels were written after the fall of Jerusalem.
2) A good case can be made, however, for a substantially earlier date for at least 3 of the 4 gospels, which would make legendary accrual that much more unlikely.
3) The apostles and eyewitnesses to the events described would have been in a position to guard the historical core against fabrications.
4) The established reliability of oral tradition, plus the high possibility of there being written records in the form of note-taking very shortly after the events took place make significant legendary accrual highly unlikely.
5) A very solid case can be made for traditional authorship of the gospels, which if true, would mean that we have direct apostolic, eyewitness testimony to the events in question!
6) Even if traditional authorship is to be rejected, however, there are very probable direct links between the gospel authors and the apostolic, eyewitness testimony to the events in question.
7) The appearance narratives as we have them, for numerous reasons espoused by Nauck and Wright, appear to be based on very primitive tradition, likely taking us back to very shortly after the events took place.
8) There are positive indicators of historicity in some of the individual appearance stories contained within the gospels
Obviously, we were not able to deal with all of the relevant issues raised when considering the gospel post-resurrection appearances, For a detailed walk-through of all of the resurrection narratives of the four gospels, see [Craig 1989; 197-325]; also instructive regarding criticism of the post-resurrection narratives are [Alston 1997] and [Osborne 2003].
IIIg. The Power of the Disciples' Convictions
Another factor to take into consideration is the power of the disciples' beliefs in Jesus' resurrection. However the appearances are to be explained, it must account for the fact that the disciples were willing to believe that Jesus had somehow been vindicated despite being crucified, and that this vindication not only meant that he was a righteous man after all, but that his claims of being the Messiah and even the Wisdom of God Incarnate were also true, and that their nation's eternal fate (and even that of the world) rested upon how it responded to Jesus. Furthermore, it must account for the fact that the disciples saw in Jesus' death and resurrection the forgiveness of sins, the ultimate fulfillment of the Scriptures, the breaking in of the new age, and a guarantee of their own future resurrection. Finally, it must account for how the disciples were able to remain steadfast in their proclamations about Jesus despite persecution, imprisonment, the risk of dishonor and alienation from their communities, and even the threat of death (see here).
So, the question is whether or not subjective visions can adequately account for the above facts. And, it is here where I think that the skeptical boasting of the prevalence of visions in that day and time backfires. N.T. Wright elaborates on this point:
However, precisely because such encounters were reasonably well known (the apparently strong point of those who have recently tried to insist that this is what 'really happened' at Easter) they could not possibly, by themselves, have given rise to the belief that Jesus had been raised from the dead. They are a thoroughly insufficient condition for the early Christian belief. The more 'normal' these 'visions' were, the less chance there is that anyone, no matter how cognitively dissonant they may have been feeling, would have said what nobody had ever said about such a dead person before, that they had been raised from the dead (14). Indeed, such visions meant precisely, as people in the ancient and modern worlds have discovered, that the person was dead, not that they were alive (15). Even if several such experiences had occurred, if the tomb was still occupied by the dead body they would have said to themselves, after the experiences had ceased, 'We have seen exceedingly strange visions, but he is still dead and buried. Our experiences were, after all, no different from the ones we have heard about in the old stories and poems.' (16)
(15) See e.g. Chariton, Call. 3.7.4f. Jaffe 1979 provides plenty of modern examples, typically of people who suddenly see a friend or family member in the room with them and subsequently discover that they had died at that moment. [Wright 2003; 690-691; emphases the original]
We will later show in section V that, even with an empty tomb, the disciples would still have not likely concluded that Jesus had been resurrected, even after experiencing such visions.
It must also be remembered that the disciples preached the resurrection for a long time after Jesus' death, in at least several cases 30 years or more (and possibly 60 years or so in the case of John), and that this preaching also often led to martyrdom (on which see [Habermas & Licona 2004; 56-62]). Thus, the disciples had plenty of time for reflection upon their encounters with Jesus. It is a virtual certainty that the disciples would have constantly heard from their enemies that they were either frauds or had gone mad (in fact, we see that they were accused of drunkenness on the first day of evangelism! - Acts 2:13). It is easy to imagine, particularly when things were not going well, the disciples second-guessing their convictions. If the disciples had merely experienced something along the lines of what was so common throughout the ancient world, is it really plausible that they would have continued preaching the resurrection, along with the grossly exuberant claims and implications they attached to the event, particularly in the face of persecution? I submit that this is very unlikely.
IIIh. This Legend is Going the Wrong Way!
While the above considerations produce a cumulative argument that renders the claim that the post-resurrection appearances as we have them in Matthew, Luke, and John arose as the result of legend untenable, there is an important factor independent of the above considerations that makes legendary accrual unlikely. That is the fact that, if the original reports were subject to change substantially with time, it is more likely that the reverse would have happened. That is, we'd expect the reports to go from physical to immaterial rather than the opposite. Given that the Jews were clearly expecting a bodily resurrection, something like what we have in the gospels is what we'd expect from a Jewish point-of-view. However, as the church became more Hellenized with time with the influx of Gentile converts ever increasing, the direction of embellishment would have been much more likely to go from physical to spiritual (or immaterial). This is because matter was considered by the Gentiles of that time to be inherently evil, and the ultimate goal was to escape the flesh and live in a disembodied state. JPH notes:
Indeed, among the pagans, resurrection was deemed impossible. Wright in Resurrection of the Son of God quotes Homer's King Priam: "Lamenting for your dead son will do no good at all. You will be dead before you bring him back to life." And Aeschylus Eumenides: "Once a man has died, and the dust has soaked up his blood, there is no resurrection." And so on, with several other quotes denying the possibility of resurrection. [32-3] Wright even notes that belief in resurrection was a ground for perseuction: "We should not forget that when Irenaeus became bishop of Lyons he was replacing the bishop who had died in a fierce persecution; and that one of the themes of that persecution was the Christians' tenacious hold on the belief in bodily resurrection. Details of the martyrdom are found in the letter from the churches of Vienne and Lyons to those of Asia and Phrygia. The letter describes how in some cases the torturers burnt the bodies and scattered the ashes into Rhone, so that no relic of the martyrs might still be seen on earth. This they did, says the writer, 'as though they were capable of conquering god, and taking away their rebirth [palingenesia]'." (See here)
It is often suggested though that the material nature of the risen Jesus in the narratives is due to an anti-docetic apologetic on the part of the gospel authors. However, Craig refutes this claim at length:
Actually, there are positive reasons to think that the physicalism of the gospels is not an anti-docetic apologetic: (1) As we have seen, for a Jew the very term "resurrection" entailed a physical resurrection of the dead man in the tomb. The notion of a "spiritual resurrection" was not merely unknown; it was a contradiction in terms. Therefore, in saying that Jesus was raised and appeared, the early believers must have undersood this in physical terms. It was Docetism which was the response to physicalism, not the other way around (27). The physical resurrection is thus primitive and prior, Docetism being the later reaction of theological and philosophical reflection. (2) Moreover, had purely "spiritual appearances" been original, then it is difficult to see how physical appearances could have developed. For (a) the offense of Docetism would then be removed, since the Christians too, believed in purely spiritual apearances, and (b) the doctrine of physical appearances would have been counter-productive as an apologetic, both to Jews and pagans; to Jews because they did not accept an individual resurrection within history and to pagans because their belief in the immortality of the soul could not accommodate the crudity of physical resurrection. The church would therefore have retained its purely spiritual appearances. (3) Besides, Docetism was mainly aimed at denying the reality of the incarnation of Christ (I Jn. 4:2-3; II Jn. 7), not the physical resurrection (28). Docetists were not so interested in denying the physical resurrection as in denying that the divine Son perished at the cross; hence, some held that the Spirit deserted the human Jesus at the crucifixion, leaving the human Jesus to die and be physically raised (Irenaeus Against Heresies 1. 26. 1). An anti-docetic apologetic aimed at proving a physical resurrection therefore misses the point entirely. (4) The demonstrations of corporeality and continuity in the gospels, as well as the other physical appearances, do not seem to have been redactional additions of Luke or John (it is thus incorrect to speak, for example, of "Luke's apologetic against Gnosticism"), but were part of the traditions received by the evangelists. Docetism, however, was a later theological development, attested in John's letters. Therefore, the gospel accounts of physical resurrection tend to ante-date the rise and threat of Docetism. Moreover, not even all later Gnostics denied the physical resurrection (cf. Gospel of Philip, Letter of James, and Epistle of Rheginus). It is interesting that in the ending added to Mark there is actually a switch away from material proofs of the resurrection to verbal rebuke by Jesus for the disciples' unbelief. (5) The demonstrations themselves do not evince the rigorousness of an apologetic against Docetism. In both Luke and John it is not said that either the disciples or Thomas actually accepted Jesus's invitation to touch him and prove that he was not a spirit. Contrast the statements of Ignatius that the disciples did physically touch Jesus (Ignatius Ad Smyrnaeans 3.2; cf. Epistula Apostolorum 11-12). As Schnackenburg has said, if an anti-docetic apology were involved in the gospel accounts, more would have to have been done than Jesus's merely showing the wounds (29). (6) The incidental, off-hand character of the physicality of Jesus's resurrection appearances in most of the accounts shows that the physicalism was a natural assumption or presupposition of the accounts, not an apologetic point consciously being made. For example, the women's grasping Jesus's feet is not a polemical point, but just their response of worship (30). Similarly, Jesus says, "Do not hold me," though Mary is not explicitly said to have done so; this is no conscious effort to prove a physical resurrection. The appearances on the mountain and by the Sea of Tiberias just naturally presuppose a physical Jesus; no points are trying to be scored against Docetism. Together these considerations strongly suggest that the physical appearances were not an apologetic to Docetism, but always part of the church's tradition; there seems to be no good historical reason to doubt that Jesus did, in fact, show his disciples that he had been physically raised from the dead (31). [Craig 1989; 335-338]
Moreover, it could be said that if the gospel authors were trying to refute Docetism, they seemed to include some elements within their apologetic that would be counter-productive. While the accounts make it clear that the risen Jesus was indeed physical, particularly in Luke and John, it would nevertheless appear unlikely that Luke, for instance, (if he had an anti-docetic apologetic in mind) would leave in his accounts such peculiar features as Jesus being able to appear and disappear when and where he will, and his being difficult for his followers to recognize at times. Thus, we can sympathize with Witherington when he writes:
It is sometimes suggested that the stress on the physicality of the resurrection of Jesus is pure apologetics. I have always been mystified by this claim. If the Gospels were written in the last third of the first century when the church not only had a viable Gentile mission but was well on the way to becoming a largely Gentile community, why in the world would such a group trying to attract Gentiles make up a resurrection story, much less emphasize the material resurrection of Jesus? This notion was not a regular part of the pagan lexicon of the afterlife at all, as even a cursory study of the relevant passages in the Greek and Latin classics will show. Indeed, as Acts 17 suggests, pagans were more likely than not to ridicule such an idea. I can understand the apologetic theory if, and only if, the Gospels were directed largely to Pharisaic Jews or their sympathizers. I know of no such scholar, however, who has argued such a case.
We are thus left with the fact that the earliest Christians, proponents of a missionary religion, nevertheless stressed a material notion of resurrection, including a material notion of what happened to their founder at Easter. I submit that the best explanation for this phenomenon is that something indeed must have happened to Jesus' body, and he must have been in personal and visible contact with his followers after Easter. [Witherington 1998; 136]
So, at the end of the day, not only can we observe numerous obstacles for the claim of significant legendary embellishment to overcome, but it is clear that even if it were possible in this case, the theme of embellishment would likely not move in the direction desired by critics. In fact, it should have moved in the reverse direction, if anything .
IV. Problems with Mass Hallucinations
Another issue that provides difficulties for the "subjective vision/hallucination" hypothesis is undoubtedly the fact that the New Testament records indicate that Jesus appeared to groups of people as well as individuals. If the post-mortem appearances of Jesus are to be explained by mere projections of the disciples' minds, it seems very difficult to account for these group appearances. After all, if one disciple standing in a group of ten others had a subjective vision of Jesus, this vision would only be visible to the individual having that vision, but not the others since the vision is only a projection of the one disciple's mind. Thus, for this theory to work, all of the members in the group present would have to go into "vision-mode" at about the same time and location. Thus, though visions were common phenomena in that time period, it still seems highly unlikely that a group of people would just happen to have visions of Jesus all at the same time, at least not without some sort of trigger (on which see below). If the group appearances recorded in the New Testament are substantially accurate (and as we've seen above there is good reason to believe that is the case), then it becomes all the more improbable that the post-mortem appearances of Jesus can be explained as hallucinations (why that is so we'll get to later).
That groups had experiences of the risen Jesus is not denied by many, though perhaps it is prudent to briefly summarize why this is the case before proceeding. The appearances of Jesus to groups are attested in every source that contains post-mortem appearances of Jesus (i.e. I Cor. 15, Matthew, Luke, John, and Acts). The earliest source we have, that of I Cor. 15, contains three such group appearances (i.e. to "the twelve", to "the 500....", to "all the apostles"). Additionally, the best attested appearance we have is a group appearance, that being the appearance to "the twelve", which is found in at least I Cor. 15, Luke, and John. The appearance of Jesus to the women recorded in Matthew, which is perhaps the most probable historical tradition due to the factors we discussed above about women serving as witnesses, is also an appearance to at least between 2-4 women (and possibly more than that, given the list found in Luke's gospel). Furthermore, although Mark records no appearances of Jesus, the one in Galilee that Jesus and the angel at the tomb predict (cf. Mark 14:28; 16:7) are more likely than not to be interpreted as a group appearance (unless we are to suppose that Jesus had in mind that he'd meet with each of the disciples individually in Galilee, though I think the most natural reading of the passage would imply a group appearance, particularly since Jesus made this prediction when addressing the whole group). Finally, we are told in what is possibly a very early tradition (Acts 10:41; on which cf. below) that Jesus "ate and drank" with the disciples, again probably implying a group appearance. So, to summarize, 1) group appearances are detailed in all of the five sources we have that contain appearance traditions (and are likely implied in two others in which none are actually detailed, at least one of which is likely to be very early); 2) There are several group appearances in our earliest source, i.e. I Cor. 15; 3) The most well-attested appearance tradition we have is the group appearance of Jesus to "the twelve"; and 4) Arguably the most historically probable appearance of Jesus is to a group of women. Thus the group appearances are firmly embedded within the appearance traditions.
Here we will discuss two main ways that skeptics have tried to account for the post-mortem appearances of Jesus to groups of people . First, we'll consider the validity of what I'll refer to as the "historical approach". By this I'm referring to the method many skeptics utilize by positing the occurrence of other alleged "supernatural phenomena or appearances experienced by groups" throughout history in order to counter those found in the New Testament. Second, we'll look briefly into what I'll refer to as the "scientific approach", in which skeptics argue that mass hallucinations can be explained on naturalistic bases.
IVa. The Historical Approach to Mass Hallucinations
First, what weight can be attributed to the objection that the post-mortem appearances of Jesus to groups are not unique, given that other supernatural occurrences/appearances witnessed by groups of people have been documented? A variety of examples are usually listed by skeptics, such as the solar phenomenon that was allegedly witnessed by thousands of people in Fatima where the Virgin Mary allegedly appeared to several children. This approach I find to be somewhat peculiar given that it actually seems quite counter-productive, given that it begs the question why these phenomena cannot also be historical. In fact, unless reasonable, non-conjectural scientific evidence (on which see below) can be produced which demonstrates that detailed mass hallucinations are possible, it seems that the only option left is to treat these other occurrences as historical, or at least the ones based on a solid body of historical evidence. Of course, if it could be shown that certain other such "group appearances/occurrences" are somehow in conflict with Christianity, skeptics could argue that these phenomena in effect cancel each other out. In other words, it could be argued that (even if there is not clear scientific evidence for these phenomena) since at least two such phenomena have occurred which are mutually contradictory to each other in the content of the messages that result from them, it follows that at least one of them must not be the result of divine intervention. But, since at least one cannot be explained as the result of divine intervention, we are given reason to doubt that the other one must be the result of this as well. However, this is not quite accurate either, for it could still be posited that both are the result of genuine supernatural occurrences, yet one is derived from an alternative supernatural source other than God . Such an assertion would certainly seem to be compatible with Christian claims (see e.g. Matthew 24:23-25; Revelation 16:13-14). So, even if the historicity of other such phenomena could be established with a reasonable degree of confidence, the supernatural origin of the post-mortem appearances of Jesus to groups are not thereby refuted. In the end, it seems that the "historical approach", if successful, only serves to compound the problem of refuting supernaturalism rather than alleviating it, meanwhile nothing meaningful has been provided to establish a reasonable naturalistic explanation for the post-mortem appearances of Jesus.
However, just for the sake of argument, it seems reasonable to assert that there are some factors that need to be considered before any possible historical parallel could be properly placed alongside that of the group appearances of Jesus. I think the objective critic would clearly agree that it is grossly insufficient merely to find a historic example of a group phenomenon and assert it as a historical parallel unless that phenomenon has comparable "credentials" to those found in the New Testament. Some of these that would seem important include 1) How early is the claim in relation to the occurrence of the event? 2) How many sources do we have of the claim? 3) Can the claim be traced back to the actual witnesses? 4) How trustworthy are the ones making the claim? 5) Is there reason to expect that such a claim would have been subject to substantial scrutiny at the time it was made? Lest this exercise be misunderstood, we are NOT suggesting that all of these criteria, or any of them for that matter, must be met before a supernatural group phenomenon can be reasonably accepted as historical. However, such considerations could nevertheless prove to be very important when assessing the possible historicity of a given group phenomenon.
When applying such considerations as the ones listed above to the New Testament evidence of group appearances, we find ourselves on very good historical ground. When considering factor #2, for starters, we already briefly discussed above that group appearances are made explicit in 5 sources (i.e. Matthew, Luke, Acts, John, I Cor. 15). Furthermore, though we can't say either way for certain, a group appearance in Galilee seems to be implied in Mark given verses 14:28 and 16:7. This is especially so given that in 14:28, Jesus is speaking to the disciples corporately. Therefore, his prediction of a post-mortem appearance in Galilee is most naturally to be understood as an appearance to all of them being present at once, rather than 10-12 individual appearances. Finally, it is quite possible that we have other very early source material contained within many of the sermons/speeches recorded by Luke in the first half of Acts. Dodd notes, for instance, that 1) the lack of elements within the speeches drawing "resemblance to writings emanating, like the Acts, from the Gentile Church in the late first century" and 2) because there are not "any echoes, even in turns of speech, of the distinctively Pauline theology, though the author, whoever he may have been, must have been associated with the Pauline wing of the Church", and 3) the fact that the speeches contain a high degree of Semitism that is likely based on underlying Aramaic oral or written sources, makes it likely that the "speeches attributed to Peter in the Acts are based upon material which proceeded from the Aramaic-speaking Church at Jerusalem, and was substantially earlier than the period at which the book was written." [Dodd 1980; 19-20; the whole discussion in pp. 17-31 of this same work is instructive] One of these speeches in particular, that found in Acts 10:34-43, states in verse 41 that Jesus ate and drank with the disciples after his death. Unless we are to imagine Jesus sitting down to sup with the disciples individually, it seems highly probable that a group appearance is also therein implied. Intriguingly, Dodd states that the best case for an Aramaic original is found within this very speech [See Dodd 1980; 20, 26-27]!
Another important source is that found in I Corinthians 15:1-8, in which 3 group appearances are listed. Paul most likely wrote I Corinthians about 55-56 A.D. Furthermore, it is almost universally accepted that this passage contains within it a creed that dates back to within a few years of the genesis of the church . Most critics assert that the core formula ends after verse 5, which contains the appearances to Peter and "the twelve", since there exists "a definite break in the sentence structure and rhythm" at that point [Craig 1989; 4]. However, there are good reasons for maintaining that the other appearances contained therein, with the exception perhaps of the appearance to Paul himself, are also based on very early creedal material. For one, Craig, following the lead of Peter Stuhlmacher, mentions the fact that "all the apostles" in vs. 7 is anachronistic at the time that Paul quotes it. It is clear that Paul considers himself an apostle, even if he considers himself to be "the least of the apostles" (cf. e.g. I Cor. 9:1; 15:9). However, by referring to Jesus' appearance to "all the apostles" before that of his own, Paul seems by implication to be denying himself the title of "apostle". This would make sense if Paul were here quoting an early tradition that was drafted when "all the apostles" could still have been a completely accurate phrase (i.e. like shortly after an appearance of Jesus to ALL of who first became apostles), but wouldn't make sense for him to have worded it that way himself at a point after Jesus had appeared to him. It seems more likely that Paul would have said something like "all of the first apostles" rather than the technically inaccurate (by his day) "all the apostles" which seems to exclude himself from that group [So Craig 1989; 5-6]. This might serve as an indication that all of the appearances listed by Paul were originally part of the same creed that included the appearances to Peter and "the twelve". Furthermore, after providing the list of appearances, Paul states in verse 11 that what he was preaching was the same as that of the very individuals and groups that he lists, and he expected the Corinthians to already be aware that this was the case. This makes even more sense when we consider Galatians 1:18-20 where Paul tells us that he visited Peter and James in Jerusalem for 15 days approximately 3 years after his conversion. It seems very likely that the resurrection would have been a topic of conversation during this relatively lengthy visit, particularly so if Paul was indeed on a "fact-finding" mission, as the word historeo would probably indicate (see above section IIId). The oft-quoted remark by Dodd that "At that time he stayed with Peter for a fortnight, and we may presume they did not spend all the time talking about the weather" [cf. Dodd 1980; 16] seems here to be right on the mark. Further, Dodd notes:
Certainly Paul appeals to the consensus of all Christian missionaries: this is the same appeal to a generalized apostolic authority that underlies the forms of 'concise' narrative in the gospels. But it is of advantage to him that he can adduce an agreed statement which particularizes the authorities. [Dodd 1968; 128]
N.T. Wright remarks regarding the creed and vs. 11:
Paul is at pains to stress that this gospel, though announced by him, was not peculiar to him. The Corinthians, after all, had had visits from numerous other apostles and teachers, Cephas and Apollos being probably only two of many. Had Paul said something significantly different form the others, on this point above all, they would have noticed. He is quite capable of emphasizing something he wants to say on his own authority, in contradistinction to other Christian teachers [cf. e.g. when Paul opposes Peter in Gal. 2:11-21]; but in this case it is important to him (and to our investigation as well) that he knew, and that he knew the Corinthians knew, that in what he was about to say he was standing on exactly the same ground as all the other apostles.
…This is the kind of foundation-story with which a community is not at liberty to tamper. It was probably formulated within the first two or three years after Easter itself, since it was already in formulaic form when Paul 'received it' (14). We are here in touch with the earliest Christian tradition, with something that was being said two decades or more before Paul wrote this letter.
The question of how much of verses 3b-8 constituted the core of this tradition need not concern us. It is quite possible that the whole passage was common tradition, with the final word being 'to Paul' instead of 'to me', and that Paul has added phrases like 'most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep'. It is also possible that the traditional formula ended with verse 5 (the mention of the Twelve) and that Paul added verses 6-8 (15); or that Paul has combined two or more different traditions (16). This does not affect the basic point to be made, either by Paul or by ourselves (17). What counts is that the heart of the formula is something that Paul knows the Corinthians will have heard from everyone else as well as himself, and that he can appeal to it as unalterable Christian bedrock. [Wright 2003; 318-319; words in  added]
Finally, James D.G. Dunn comments:
Despite uncertainties about the extent of tradition which Paul received (126), there is no reason to doubt that this information was communicated to Paul as part of his introductory catechesis (16.3) (127). He would have needed to be informed of precedents in order to make sense of what had happened to him. When he says, 'I handed on (paredoka) to you as of first importance (en protois) what I also received (parelabon)' (15.3), he assuredly does not imply that the tradition became important to him only at some subsequent date. More likely he indicates the importance of the tradition to himself from the start; that was why he made sure to pass it on to the Corinthians when they first believed (15.1-2) (128). This tradition, we can be entirely confident, was formulated as tradition within months of Jesus' death (129). [Dunn 2003; 854-855, emphasis the original]
When it comes to the gospels, Mark is commonly dated to around 66-70 A.D., while Matthew, Luke, and Acts generally between 75-90 A.D., and John in the 90s A.D. However, there are good reasons to date Mark, Matthew, Luke, and Acts to some time in the 50s or 60s A.D. [See again here]. Either way, however, we have in these documents 4 additional sources attesting to group appearances, with a 5th one (i.e. Mark) strongly suggesting a group appearance had taken place, all within 1-2 generations after the fact (see again above our comments on legendary accrual in section IIId). More over, we briefly discussed Wright's excellent case that the post-resurrection narratives contained in Matthew, Luke, and John likely reflects very early tradition [see above, but more substantially, Wright 2003; 599-615]. At the end of the day we can make a surprisingly solid case that we have as many as 5-7 sources that are reflective of very primitive church tradition, each taking us back to within only a few years of Jesus' crucifixion, and all of which contain or imply appearances to groups! At the very least, it seems reasonable to assert that the cumulative weight of our arguments gives us a high degree of confidence that group appearances of the post-mortem Jesus were firmly embedded within the earliest of church tradition, thus providing us with an answer to factor #1.
Getting back to the list we formulated, we'd argue that #3 (Can the sources be traced back to the actual witnesses?) is satisfied by our discussion of gospel authorship/eyewitness testimony contained in the previous section (see above again in section IIId). As for #4, whether or not the witnesses are trustworthy, it seems logical to conclude that this is the case, if not for any other reason, because of their willingness to continue preaching in the face of persecution, and in at least some cases, martyrdom. Plus, being God-fearing Jews, it doesn't seem that they'd likely risk eschatological damnation by preaching what they knew to be false claims. The disciples' willingness to suffer would not necessitate the conclusion that all of the various appearance traditions found in the NT are historical, but it does make it virtually impossible that they were making deliberately fraudulent claims about the post-resurrection appearances in general, since it was the appearances that resulted in the belief in Jesus' resurrection, which in turn compelled them to preach Christianity even in the face of persecution. But, as we'll show below, this is just the tip of the iceberg as to why it is implausible to suggest that the earliest followers of Jesus were making deliberately fraudulent claims. Regarding #5, on whether or not the claims would be subject to scrutiny, there is every reason to believe that this would be the case with the claims made by the early Christians. And, it is here especially that many of the other alleged group phenomena brought forward as parallels to those of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus can't seem to compare. If a remarkable supernatural claim is made, it is likely that human curiosity would automatically be intrigued enough by the claim to learn more about it, and whether or not such a claim is true. Yet, if the claim does not carry with it any consequences (positive or negative) whether it is true or false, it is much more probable that a rumor of such an incident could spread abroad with very few actually taking time to do any "detective work" to arrive at and actually investigate the source of the claim(s) being made. For those that would be willing to do such detective work, however, it may be that they find the claim to be false, yet the rumor still spreads abroad and gains "believers" because the investigator(s) did not make enough of an effort to expose the falsehood in the rumor. After all, for an inconsequential claim, why go to all of the trouble? For those that decide to believe, what harm is there in believing it since, in the end, it really doesn't matter whether one is wrong or right? After all, it isn't as if there is a worldview on the line or something like that. Furthermore, even if there would be critics zealous enough (for whatever reason) to spend time attempting to dissuade belief in such inconsequential claims, the impetus for those "believers" to hear the critics out and/or subsequently investigate matters for themselves would not be there given that the claims are indeed inconsequential.
However, this is not the case when we consider the rise of the church. The early Christians claimed that the world's eternal fate rested upon how it responded to Jesus, and at the center of this proclamation was the claim that Jesus had been resurrected, thus having been vindicated by God despite undergoing the shameful process of crucifixion. So, it is clear that if the resurrection could have been refuted, so could have been the extremely exuberant claims made by the early Christians. Converts to the new faith were forced to change their belief structures quite dramatically with little to no tangible benefit. At the same time, they were entering a situation where they risked dishonor, alienation from their respective communities, persecution, and potentially martyrdom. Additionally, the converts from Judaism (which comprised the majority of the earliest converts to Christianity) were (in the minds of themselves and their communities) risking eternal damnation by converting since, if they were wrong, they were guilty of worshiping a non-divine being. Furthermore, the shame associated with crucifixion was so great that it would have required very compelling evidence of the resurrection to truly believe that one who underwent this form of execution could still after all be God's anointed, much less the very Wisdom of God Incarnate. So, it seems that everybody would have had good reason to check out the claims made by the early church, particularly Jesus' grave sight and the appearance to the 500 that Paul referred to in I Cor. 15. We've seen that the material from the creed likely goes back to the very earliest years of Christianity, but at the worst it should be dated no later than about 20 years after the crucifixion. This was when Christianity was still in its formative stages, where demonstrations by potential converts and/or enemies of the church of fraudulent claims could have checked the movement's progress. But, even if we are to imagine a number of people being incredulous enough to convert without checking out the remarkable claims made by the church, in a collectivistic society their neighbors would have been more than happy to do so for them in the interest of exposing what would have been considered a dangerous cult. The factors discussed here also add weight to #4 on the list, since it seems unlikely that in such an environment, with the claims the church was making, that they would have even attempted fraud, given the very high likelihood of becoming exposed. More over, if they did not believe what they were saying about the resurrection appearances to themselves to be true, it is inexplicable why they would have began such a movement in the first place. For more on this, see the following article by JPH, as well as the various interactions provided at the bottom of the link with various skeptics:
Before moving on it is important to reiterate the purpose of the above discussion. While it is obvious that the list of factors provided are helpful when it comes to finding positive reasons for historicity, we are not in any way suggesting that any historical event, ordinary or extraordinary, must meet these five criteria to a reasonable degree of confidence to be deemed historical. Hypothetically speaking, it could well be true that a certain supernatural event (allegedly witnessed by a group) recorded only in a single surviving document that can be dated no earlier than 200 years after it supposedly occurred, that cannot confidently be traced back any earlier through such routes as oral tradition, and which was written by a completely unknown author, may well be historical. It could be that much of the supporting evidence for the hypothetical event that would allow us to trace the claim back further to an early, reliable source is simply lost to us. So, the five factors listed should in no way be misunderstood to represent what we insist must be present in order for a claim to be historical. However, it seems that before any group phenomena can be classified at the same level of historicity as that found within the New Testament regarding the post-mortem appearances of Jesus to groups, it should be demonstrated how the "credentials" of the former can match those of the latter. Furthermore, we are also aware that some group phenomena are reasonably well attested. The appearance of the Virgin Mary in Fatima would, for instance, seem to meet at least criteria 1-3 of the above list, though it would seem to come short in regards to #5. In any event, given that the positing of other group phenomena seems, in the absence of solid, scientific data, to compound the problem for the naturalist rather than alleviate it, this approach seems ultimately to be useless anyway.
IVb. Scientific Explanations of Group Phenomena
Thus we are left with what seems to be the only viable approach in demonstrating the possibility of what I have labeled "supernatural group phenomena". Despite the other problems discussed throughout this article regarding the subjective visions/hallucinations hypothesis, the demonstration of sound, scientific evidence of the possibility of collective hallucinations would at least be somewhat helpful in explaining how groups of people could experience the apparently risen Jesus at the same time.
As we mentioned above, collective hallucinations appear on the face of it implausible due to the fact that hallucinations are occurrences that take place in a single individual's mind. Since there is nothing that is actually occurring in the physical world, such hallucinations can only be experienced by the one whose mind is projecting it. This understanding seems to be confirmed by clinical psychologist Gary R. Collins, as quoted by Gary Habermas:
Hallucinations are individual occurrences. By their very nature only one person can see a given hallucination at a time. They certainly are not something which can be seen by a group of people. Neither is it possible that one person could somehow induce an hallucination in somebody else. Since an hallucination exists only in this subjective, personal sense, it is obvious that others cannot witness it. [Habermas 1997; 317, n. 41]
We also argued above that for a "collective hallucination" to occur, everybody in the group in question would have to simultaneously experience hallucinations similar enough in content for those involved to later interpret the event as one common experience that they all shared. The probability of such an event occurring , however, would have to be exceedingly low, especially in a group of more than a couple of people. As this number increases to 10 or 12 people, or 500(!), the probability would be so small as to be virtually zero. On the other hand, it has been argued that such collective hallucinations are possible due to the presence of certain "triggers" that would raise the probability substantially of a group in a given situation having a collective hallucination. One example of this is found in the book Anomalistic Psychology: A Study of Extraordinary Phenomena of Behavior and Experience, written by Leonard Zusne and Warren Jones. They write regarding collective hallucinations:
The same hallucination may be experienced by two or more persons. If the event is entirely subjective, as all hallucinations are, how do two or 200 people manage to coordinate and synchronize their subjective lives? Recall our discussion of the role of expectation and misperception in the preceding chapter. It is expectation that plays the coordinating role in collective hallucination. Although the subject matter of individual hallucinations has virtually no limits, the topics of collective hallucinations are limited to certain categories. These categories are determined, first, by the kinds of ideas that a group of people may get excited about as a group, for emotional excitement is a prerequisite of collective hallucinations. The most common causes of emotional excitement in groups are religious, and, indeed, phenomena related to religion are most often the subject of collective hallucinations. Second, the categories are limited by the fact that all participants in the hallucination must be informed beforehand, at least concerning the broad outlines of the phenomenon that will constitute the collective hallucination. This may take the form of a publicly announced prophecy, for example, or someone suddenly looking up and saying, "Lo, in the sky!" or words to that effect. Things in the sky, or at least overhead, are the most commonly seen collective hallucinations: radiant crosses, saints, religious symbols, flying objects, sometimes all these in combination. Once the general type of hallucination is established, it is easy to harmonize individual differences in the accounts. This may take place during the hallucination or in subsequent conversations. [Zusne & Jones 1982; 135, emphasis added]
From the portions emphasized above, according to Zusne & Jones, it is said that 1) expectation, 2) emotional excitement, and 3) being informed beforehand are factors that must be present for a collective hallucination to take place. Glenn Miller has already demonstrated how none of these prerequisites were present in the initial encounters of the disciples with the risen Jesus:
It is VERY clear from the gospel narratives that NONE of these conditions held true before the first appearances! Consider the data:
1. "expectation plays the coordinating role in collective hallucinations"
The apostles abject lack of expectation (read 'faith'!) that Jesus would rise from the dead has been a source of embarrassment to the Church for centuries! Consider just a few of the verses that document their abysmal LACK of expectations:
1. John 20.9: (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) NOTE: this is even at the empty tomb looking in!!!!!!
2. Matt 16.21ff: From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. 22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!"
3. Mark 9.9: As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what "rising from the dead" meant.
4. Mark 9.31: He said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise." 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.
5. Luke 18.33: 33 On the third day he will rise again." 34 The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.
This condition OBVIOUSLY wasn't in place!
2. "emotional excitement is a prerequisite"
How emotionally "excited" were the apostles after the miserable execution of their leader, in front of the entire nation?!!! EXCITED? Frenzied? or just TOTALLY filled with grief (Lk 22.62), despair, dejection, disillusionment (Luke 24.19ff), depression (Luke 24.17), numbness and skepticism (John 20.25; Mt 28.17; Luke 24:37-43), paralyzing fear (Mt 26.56; John 20.19)!!!
There is literally nothing in the narratives to even remotely suggest that these dejected, embarrassed souls had ANY 'excitement' coursing around in their veins---and the data that we DO have indicates a rather dark and despondent state for them (predictably so).
So this condition doesn't seem to be in place either.
3. "must be informed beforehand, at least concerning the broad outlines of the phenomenon that will constitute the collective hallucination"
This is the crowning blow! Not only have we already seen above that they NEITHER understood NOR expected the resurrection, but when they were confronted with the appearances they couldn't even 'process them' correctly!
1. the women at the tomb were 'confused' by the experience (not well 'informed beforehand'!) [Luke 24.4]
2. they were afraid when they saw Jesus (Mt 28.10)
3. when the women told the disciples as a group, they didn't believe them at first! (cf. Luke 28.11: But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.)
4. Even as they saw Jesus, some STILL doubted!!!! (some 'collective experience', eh?!)--Mat 28.17
5. They don't even recognize Him on a couple of occasions! (John 21.4; Luk 24.16)
6. They thought he was a 'ghost'--not an expected 'Risen Lord' at first (Luk 24.37)
In other words, the very description of the experiences demonstrate further that they had NO expectation of a resurrection of Christ MUCH LESS some 'broad outlines' of what to expect in terms of experiences! Their actual responses are almost embarrassing.[And not the sort of descriptions one later goes back into the document to add, to enhance one's status, let's say!]
So, this final condition doesn't seem to match either.
The net of this is simply that a 'collective hallucination' theory cannot mesh with the only data we have about the participants, their backgrounds, their varied mindsets, their mental state (or lack thereof!), their lack of expectations--both general and detailed, and their actual responses to those phenomena. (Source)
Gary Habermas comments:
Furthermore, much of the New Testament data not only differ from but contradict the necessary conditions for these "collective hallucinations." For example, Zusne and Jones explain that "expectation" and "emotional excitement" are "prerequisites" for such group sightings. Actually, the former "plays the coordinating role" (p. 135). But this does not apply to the witnesses of Jesus' resurrection appearances, who were confronted by the utter realism of the fresh and unexpected death of their dear friend, the one who had given meaning to their lives. This is completely unlike those in the examples above, who exuberantly gathered for the explicit purpose of seeing something. [Habermas 1997; 317, n. 42; emphasis the original]
Consider also that the authors indicate that the content of most collective hallucinations occur in the sky, or at least overhead, such as the seeing of radiant crosses, saints, or religious symbols. This obviously doesn't apply to the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus in the gospels.
Moreover, while the authors' explanation of how collective hallucinations can occur seems plausible in theory, it seems to remain very difficult to account for how this theory could plausibly be applicable to a group that is experiencing a detailed event, particularly if the group contains more than a few people (but more on that below). They go on to mention a few examples, all of which are religious phenomena, such as an event in Limpias, Santander in 1919 where it was reported that saints in church paintings appeared to move outside of their frames and even drip blood in front of an audience of hundreds of people. They also speculate about Fatima:
On October 13, 1917, 70,000 people gathered to witness the public miracle. Although the children reportedly saw the Virgin, the crowd, at least many of them, witnessed a "solar phenomenon" in which the sun in the shape of a fiery disc began to move and approach the Earth. Although it had been raining before, after the fiery phenomenon, both the ground and the spectators appeared to be dry. The Fatima miracle is one instance where collective hallucination may have mingled with some celestial event along with more than a suggestion of UFO-like phenomena, long before the advent of the UFO age. [Zusne & Jones 1982; 136]
The authors conclude this short section of the book by stating:
What was said about the dubious status of pseudohallucinations can also be said of collective hallucinations. Suggestion is the primary causative factor in both, and thus it may be asked: Because the 70,000 witnesses at Fatima were neither drunk nor under the influence of drugs, presumably not fatigued, feverish, or famished, what did they really see? Did they see an hallucination, or did they think they saw something, in the same way that the experimental subject may report seeing a light when there is none to see, only because the experimenter said there would be a light to see once in a while? The final answer to these questions has not been obtained yet. [Zusne & Jones 1982; 136; emphasis added]
Thus, while it seems that the authors provide a reasonable theory that could serve to adequately explain some group phenomena as collective hallucinations, it seems that the endeavor of explaining some of the more detailed group phenomena scientifically remains very speculative. So, while it may be plausible that apparently very elusive and transient phenomena experienced by groups (especially smaller ones) can yield collective hallucinations, such would not adequately explain the gospel post-resurrection appearances, and we'll expound upon why this is the case below in section V.
Richard Carrier makes a couple of points worthy of consideration regarding scientific explanations of mass hallucinations as well in a response to Gary Habermas:
But Habermas' source (at least the one he quotes) is not telling the truth. Although this correspondent claims that it is not possible for one person to induce hallucinations in another, it has long been known that hypnosis can in fact induce hallucinations by suggestion. The power of suggestion, and the influence of a similarity in socialization and cultural expectation and background, can also contribute to groups sharing, or believing they are sharing, the same experience. Dr. Louis Jolyon West, editor of Hallucinations: Behavior, Experience, and Theory (1975)--which Habermas lists as a reference in an endnote--writes in the Encyclopedia Britannica:
"If some external object is present but inadequately recognized, an incorrect perceptual engram [i.e. a stored perceptual expectation] may be activated to be experienced as an illusion; in the absence of an external stimulus, such an engram is perceived as a hallucination. This may account for the specificity of collective visions (i.e., those shared by more than one person). Among lifeboat survivors at sea, for example, several people who share similar expectancies (mental sets) may see a nonexistent ship projected against the blank screen of empty sea and sky. Such an experience may persist in some of the people even after a logical belief in its impossibility has been communicated to all."
Sarbin and Juhasz contribute a chapter to West's anthology entitled "The Social Context of Hallucinations" where this idea is partially explored. The general consensus in psychology appears to be that the circumstantial as well as cultural or social expectations and experiential background of a group, if held in common, can lead their brains to produce similar delusions. Although this phenomenon is difficult to study, it seems that collective visions are indeed possible under the right conditions.
If this is possible in any circumstance which ancient witnesses may have found themselves in, it follows that it would have been possible to create a common hallucination--each being entirely subjective, but sharing enough features among them that all those involved think they have seen the same thing. [Emphasis the original]
We've already shown that such "prerequisites" for mass hallucinations, such as expectation, were not present in the case of the disciples following Jesus' crucifixion. Carrier states that this is not the case "since the Gospels claim that Jesus repeatedly predicted and thus created the expectation of his resurrection". But, as has been demonstrated, the disciples clearly did not understand these predictions, as the gospels themselves attest, so there is no reason to believe that this actually created expectation on the part of the disciples. Furthermore, the predictions as presented in the gospels would not likely have been understood by Jesus' audience to have been foretelling his resurrection (see section V). As for the quote from Dr. West, this seems to be the perfect kind of example we'd expect would have the power to produce a collective delusion, hallucination, or illusion, whatever the case may be. It wouldn't be too surprising for lifeboat survivors at sea, so desperate for rescue from a passing ship, to "see" what they are longing for sailing by in the distance. One lifeboat survivor that suggests the possibility that that "distant shape" is an incoming ship to the others may arouse their hopeful imaginations enough for them to also share in that belief. A similar example that comes to mind is that of a number of individuals making their way through a vast desert, and in the distance "seeing" what appears to be a pool of water, which would serve as the solution to their exquisite thirst. If such collective phenomena are indeed possible, it would seem that it would be in such contexts that they could occur. However, as we show below in section V, these kinds of examples would not be nearly comparable to those found in the gospels. A more comparable phenomenon in the case of the lifeboat survivors might be that they see the ship at close range, have a conversation with the captain, and board the ship for a meal, subsequent to which their hunger is satiated. Or, in the case of the desert mirage, it might be more comparable to what is found in the gospels to entail that the wanderers actually reached the pool, drank until their thirsts were quenched, and went for a swim which subsequently left their clothes wet. It is obviously much more difficult to imagine that more than one person could experience simultaneously such detailed visions and yet have enough features in common for them to conclude that they had actually experienced the same event. Furthermore, it is difficult to account for the physical evidence that would be left behind which indicates that something objective truly had occurred, such as the wet clothes in the case of the desert wanderers. But, even if we do not assume that any of the gospel post-resurrection appearances discussed in section V are substantially historically accurate, and we are to imagine instead that what the disciples actually experienced is more in line with the example given by West of the lifeboat survivors or my example of the desert wanderers, it is implausible that such could have resulted in the disciples unwavering belief in Jesus' resurrection, as well as the grandiose claims and implications that they attached to the event (see above section IIIg).
Carrier also writes, regarding memory:
People are also known to alter their memories as a result of social influence and suggestion, especially under the anchoring guidance of a charismatic leader or the social pressure of a group, so that even different experiences could be remembered later (even very soon after the event) as having been the same, and this can be expected to happen in situations where there is a known authoritative suggestive influence, as would be created by a group of fellow believers and by figures such as Peter.
We'll get to the possible influence of Peter just below, but for now we'll say a few words on memory and harmonization. I think Carrier's appeal in this case is reasonable. It doesn't seem to be impossible that the respective visions of a group that is experiencing a collective vision could contain some elemental differences, yet those involved could still conclude that what they experienced was actually the same event. However, it seems that this can only be plausibly stretched so far. For those involved to harmonize all of their individual experiences into one event experienced by all, the visions would still have to be very similar to each other, with a significant overlapping of the various elements involved across the whole group. As we show in section V, there are several gospel post-resurrection appearances that entail a number of elements involved, and it is extremely unlikely that the experiences of all of the different disciples would have had enough elements in common for those involved to later harmonize them into only one actual experience that occurred to the whole group. This is further strengthened by the fact that momentous events tend to be the most memorable, and it seems that of all of the events experienced by the disciples that are found within the gospels, the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus would probably rank very high on the list of momentous events! Furthermore, given that the disciples concluded from their experiences that they had a job to do in spreading the good news to their fellow countrymen (and to the world), it is safe to insist that they would not have allowed hardly any time to pass before deeply reflecting upon what they all had experienced. And, as mentioned above in section IIId, they likely would have told these stories a great many times from early on after the genesis of the church. This would have served to establish the basic forms of the post-mortem appearance stories very shortly after they had occurred. Related to this, there is, as we have mentioned earlier, the safeguards of oral tradition and possibly that of written notes which would serve to mitigate against the significant influence of memory distortion (see again here and here). For more on how the factor of memory relates to the gospels, see Glenn Miller's treatment of this subject in light of the work on memory distortion of Elizabeth Loftus (a current scholar of memory research):
Carrier goes on from there to argue for the plausibility of hallucinations occurring to individuals, even those that are psychologically normal, as well as demonstrating the prevalence of visions across various cultures. I found Carrier's treatment of these subjects to be persuasive, and this is something we conceded earlier based on the comments of the Context Group (i.e. Malina, Rohrbaugh, Pilch). However, as we have also argued, this fact also tends to ultimately backfire on skeptics who argue against the resurrection (see above section IIIg).
Gerd Lüdemann also argues for a psychological approach. He writes:
If we return to the relationship between Paul's Easter experience and that of Peter it has to be said: (a) both experience an 'original' revelation, whereas all the other Easter revelations are dependent revelations. Peter's vision of Christ shaped all the other visions of the exalted Lord in the circle of the disciples, with the exception of the vision of Paul, who had not known Jesus and Peter at all in his pre-Christian periods. (b) For both, furthermore, the vision of Jesus is indissolubly connected with the denial of Jesus or the persecution of his community. (c) In both cases the guilt feeling is replaced by the certainty of grace. (d) Both may have shared a similar doctrine of justification, even if these did not completely correspond…Where grace is understood in the power of its invitation, the notion of forgiveness is understood in unobtrusive simplicity. Peter had transgressed or sinned against Jesus by denying him. But under the impact of Jesus' proclamation and death, Peter, through an experience of the 'risen Lord', related to God's word of forgiveness present in the activity of Jesus once again to himself, this time in its profound clarity. For where is forgiveness greater than where one has previously literally denied everything and rejected it (cf. Luke 7:36-50)? The message of forgiveness thus ran literally through the death of Jesus… [Lüdemann 1994; 96-97]
Lüdemann then goes on to cite examples of people in mourning having experiences of their dead loved ones either by feeling their presence or actually seeing them in the room, and subsequently disappearing. He also cites a study performed at Harvard which surveyed 43 widows and 19 widowers at 3 weeks, 8 weeks, and 13 months following the death of their spouses in attempts to delineate what made it possible for them to tolerate the mourning process. He then lists three factors mentioned in the study that prevented mourning, which he claims applies to this particular context: 1) a sudden death; 2) an ambivalent attitude to the dead person associated with guilt feelings; 3) a dependent relationship. These factors thus hindered the mourning by Peter, yet this mourning was alleviated by a vision he subsequently experienced. Lüdemann admits that this exercise is conjectural, though may have a historical foundation. With the "original revelation" to Peter having occurred, it is argued that this event served to induce the other occurrences as well [Lüdemann 1994; 96-100].
The theory proposed by Lüdemann has the potential to move us a step closer to the possibility of viewing the post-mortem appearances of Jesus to groups as mass hallucinations. While Glenn Miller demonstrated that it was clear that the disciples were not expecting to see the risen Jesus, an initial vision by Peter and the subsequent retelling of this event by Peter to the rest of the twelve might serve to establish those "triggers", as we labeled them earlier, of "expectation", and possibly "emotional excitement" and "being informed beforehand", that would be necessary for mass hallucinations to occur as argued by Zusne and Jones. After all, according to Luke 24:34, the disciples appeared to believe at that point that Jesus was risen and had appeared to Simon (i.e. Peter). However, there remain problems with claiming that the appearances of Jesus are to be accounted for based on some sort of "contagion" that resulted from the appearance to Peter. It is again important at the outset to caution attempts to psychoanalyze individuals from a different time period and from a different culture based on a thin body of data. Beyond that, there are other problems with this theory. First, the force of the "guilt complex" argument loses a substantial degree of strength when we consider further the fact that Jesus was crucified, a sign that he was accursed of God according to the Scriptures (cf. Deut. 21:23; see more on that once again here). Given this consideration, it is well nigh possible that Peter (as well as the other disciples) had drawn the conclusion that Jesus had disappointed them rather than the reverse. While the disciples would still have mourned the loss of Jesus as well as their dashed Messianic hopes, the "guilt complex" argument may well be unfounded given how disastrous the crucifixion of Jesus would have been to Jesus' honor in that culture. Second, the appearance to Peter was very likely not the first appearance. Rather, it is much more probable that Jesus first appeared to the women. We have argued above that the first appearance to women is most likely historical given the unlikelihood of such an event being fabricated in a patriarchal society. Third, it is apparent that Cleopas and the unnamed disciple were unaware of the appearance to Peter when they experienced their own appearance of the risen Jesus, and thus this appearance was not "dependent" upon the appearance to Peter. We have seen from Dunn that there are good reasons to believe that this story is traditional, utilized by Luke as the result of his search for eyewitness testimony. In these two traditions we are told of experiences to 2 different groups of 2 or more persons independent of the appearance to Peter. This is obviously problematic for Lüdemann's theory. In addition, already the accumulation of appearances in such a short space of time seems to make the argument that these were subjective visions improbable. Furthermore, while it is much easier to envision collective hallucinations occurring to groups of only 2-4 people as opposed to 10-12 or more, we nevertheless find it improbable that this should occur twice within such a short period of time (i.e. within a day in this case), particularly since the alleged guilt hallucination by Peter had yet to occur in the case of the women and be known in the case of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. It is important to consider that in the case of the two disciples on their way to Emmaus, none of the three prerequisites discussed by Zusne & Jones would seem to have been in place. Despite the women's proclamation of the empty tomb and the angelic vision, it is clear from the narrative that the two disciples still considered their Messianic hopes at that time to be dashed. In the case of the women, however, it could be argued that the prerequisites for a mass hallucination would have been in place. After the vision of the angels that they experienced at the tomb, certainly we can agree that emotional excitement was present, but it is questionable whether or not that would have been the case for the other two: 1) expectation and 2) being informed beforehand. According to Mark and Matthew, the angel(s) told the women that Jesus would appear before the disciples in Galilee, but there appears to be no indication that the women would have been expecting Jesus' appearance strictly to them in Jerusalem shortly after this angelic vision. The expectation, rather, would have been for an appearance in Galilee. Furthermore, none of the prerequisites would have been in place to account for the women's collective vision of the angel(s) at the tomb. On the other hand, if the historicity of the angelic visit is to be rejected, or if it is a mere literary device utilized by the gospel authors, then this problem would be solved, yet then the appearance of Jesus to the women in Jerusalem would have taken place, in this case, undoubtedly without any of the prerequisites for mass hallucinations being satisfied. The improbability becomes especially low in the appearance to Cleopas and the unnamed disciple, given that this alleged hallucination experienced by the two simultaneously would have had to last for seemingly quite a while. That is, long enough for them to finish their walk to Emmaus while carrying on a conversation along the road with the visionary character, invite the visionary character into their home, prepare food for all, and finally break bread. Obviously, the more sustained each of these experiences become, the higher the improbability of their being explained on the basis of the subjective vision/hallucination hypothesis. This is because it is difficult to account for how a multiple number of people could each have such long and drawn-out experiences, yet afterwards conclude that they had experienced the exact same event. Fourth, if James was a skeptic during Jesus' lifetime, (as John 7:2-5 would suggest), and converted only after he had seen the risen Jesus, it is unlikely that he would have had a "dependent revelation" based on what Peter experienced. Fifth, as Lüdemann observes, this would not explain the appearance to Paul (though Lüdemann argues that Paul, being a persecutor of Christianity, might have experienced something similar to but independent from that of Peter, we have shown above in section IIIa where that is untenable). Sixth, according to Luke, the appearance to the eleven occurred shortly after Cleopas and the unnamed disciple returned to where the disciples were staying in order to report what had happened. We are told that there were also others with the eleven, so in this case we probably have a group of at least 14 people that experienced the risen Jesus. Luke and John relate the appearance of the eleven disciples as occurring on Easter, which would be the fourth appearance of Jesus already that day, 3 of which are to groups of multiple people, the last of which is to a rather sizeable group. It could be argued in this case that the prerequisites for a collective hallucination were met based upon the testimonies of Peter and Cleopas and the unnamed disciple, though that is not clear even in this case. It is not completely evident that the disciples were expecting an appearance even though they had heard of the other two appearances. Luke's narrative informs us that the disciples were startled, and even skeptical, when Jesus suddenly appeared in the room. Furthermore, it could be possible that the disciples did believe that Jesus would appear to them, but that this would not occur until they went back to Galilee, as per the angel's prediction. All of these appearances, each of them by themselves highly improbable (though some more so than others), occurring within such a short time period of time is extremely improbable. Finally, recall that we have yet to see solid, non-conjectural scientific evidence of the plausibility of detailed collective hallucinations in the first place. The arguments we've examined (when applied to detailed events) still appear to be quite speculative, and once again reliant on the question-begging approach of citing historical parallels (see last section). Thus it is far from clear that a guilt hallucination by Peter could result in mass hallucinations experienced by others.
V. Lack of Explanatory Scope of the Subjective Visions Hypothesis
The next problem that is important to consider regarding the subjective vision/hallucination hypothesis is that its explanatory scope is too narrow to explain all of the data we have for the resurrection. Even if it can be shown satisfactorily that collective hallucinations are possible, several data points are left unexplained. For one, there is, of course, the empty tomb. While the historicity of the empty tomb is disputed by a minority of scholars, the data favoring its historicity is nonetheless compelling. Some of the more common arguments in favor of historicity of the empty tomb include the following:
1. The term "resurrection" was understood as a physical phenomenon, so each time the word was used in application to Jesus by the earliest evangelists an unoccupied grave would clearly have been implied.
2. The empty tomb is implied in the very early creedal material of I Cor. 15, where Jesus was said to have "….died,…was buried,…was raised,…appeared". Since all of these items refer to what happened to Jesus' body, which is made particularly clear by the allusion to his burial, the empty tomb is implied. Furthermore, this must have been the way that Paul understood "resurrection", being a Pharasaic Jew who understood resurrection in physical terms.
3. The empty tomb is clearly implied in a couple of the speeches in Acts (Acts 2:25-36; 13:28-31), again quite possibly very early material (see above section IVa).
4. The speeches in Acts as well as the four gospels follow the same pattern of "….died,....was buried,….was raised,….appeared" as that found in I Cor. 15:3-5, giving us multiple attestation, while also suggesting that this reflected the earliest kerygma of the church.
5. The discovery of the empty tomb by women was very unlikely to be fabricated (see above section IIIf).
6. The subsequent checking of the empty tomb by Peter and the Beloved Disciple, being attested in both Luke and John, is probably historical, particularly since a good case can be made for direct eyewitness testimony in the case of John (see above).
7. It is highly improbable that the church could have been started, much less flourished, if Jesus' grave sight had not been empty, particularly since the earliest preaching took place in Jerusalem.
8. The story of the discovery of the empty tomb, especially in Mark, is relatively simple and unadorned by the miraculous, in contrast to later accounts such as the Gospel of Peter.
9. The earliest polemic against the empty tomb in Matthew 28:11-15 presupposes the empty tomb.
See the following links where these issues and more regarding the empty tomb are discussed and defended at length:
Another problem with the subjective vision/hallucination hypothesis is that it cannot account for how the early believers concluded that Jesus had been resurrected as opposed to having undergone an ascension to heaven or exaltation. The data we have from the period regarding Jewish belief in resurrection indicates that resurrection was something that would occur at the end of time and to everybody (or at least all of the righteous-see e.g. Daniel 12:1-3, John 11:21-24 ). Thus, the resurrection of an isolated individual apart from the general resurrection at the end of the age ran counter to Jewish beliefs at the time. While it is true that there are reports of numerous other people raised from the dead contained in the Bible (such as Lazarus), these were of a different category than that of what happened to Jesus. When Jesus was raised, he was, according to the early Christians, given an immortal, imperishable body (as is described in I Cor. 15) as opposed to the other cases where the individuals such as Lazarus were resuscitated, to eventually die again.
On the other hand, there were other categories of "victory" much more likely to have been employed by the early Christians if indeed they came to believe that God had vindicated Jesus. James D.G. Dunn discusses the idea of "translation or rapture" as prevalent examples of the day. Enoch and Elijah, according to the OT (Gen. 5:24 & II Kings 2:11-12, respectively), had been directly translated to heaven not to see death. There was also speculation that this was the case with Moses as well, despite the fact that Deuteronomy 34:5-6 clearly indicates that he had died. However, Dunn concludes that since Jesus had actually died, as opposed to Enoch and Elijah, a translation would not necessarily have been an obvious parallel drawn by the disciples [Dunn 2003; 866-867]." Thus the idea of "translation" is not a perfect parallel, though I submit that a modified (in this case) translation would have been a more probable conclusion for the disciples to have drawn than resurrection given that there were at least historical precedents of the former. This brings us to another category, coined "Vindication/exaltation" by Dunn. He writes:
A much more likely category is that of the vindication or exaltation of a dead man (186). We have already referred to the hope entertained by and for the righteous man, as classically expressed in Wis. 3.1-9 and 5.1-5 (§ 17.6a): he will be seen as numbered among the sons of God (5.5). Similarly the manlike figure of Daniel 7 represented the hopes of 'the saints' for (final) vindication before the throne of Yahweh. In 2 Macc. 15.13-14 Jeremiah appears to Judas Maccabeus in 'a trustworthy dream' (15.11) (187) as a figure of heavenly majesty. In T. Job 40.3 Job sees his dead children 'crowned with the splendour of the heavenly one' (188). In T. Abr. 11, Adam (Recension A) or Abel (Recension B) is seen as sitting in final judgment. Jesus evidently reckoned that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were not (no longer?) dead but 'living' (Mark 12.26-27 pars.).
This latter would have been the most obvious category for those who saw Jesus 'alive from the dead' to use as they attempted to articulate or make sense of (it amounts to the same thing) what they saw. The precedents were there. And indeed we do find various expressions of Christian belief to the effect that God vindicated or exalted Jesus directly from death (189). But more typically the thought of exaltation is combined with (rather than understood as an alternative to) the predominant category of resurrection (190). To be sure, it can be argued that the memory of Jesus himself predicting vindication for 'the Son of Man' in terms of resurrection (§ 17.6b) could have been stimulus enough to the disciples to see visions of the vindicated Jesus as the resurrected Son of Man (191). But the thesis stumbles on the absence of any reference to Jesus as the Son of Man in the accounts of the resurrection appearances (192). [Dunn 2003; 867-868]
Regarding Christ's predictions of his being raised on the 3rd day, it should be noted that, from a pre-Easter perspective, it is not clear that these predictions refer to resurrection, as such could clearly also refer to ascension in the context of direct exaltation to heaven (see more on that here). That the disciples were puzzled over Jesus' predictions is clear from the comments the evangelists generally attached to his predictions in the gospels (see again the quote from Glenn Miller in section IVb). This can also be seen by the disciples' skepticism and confusion in the post-resurrection narratives. Given the negative light that would be cast on the disciples by their reaction to the predictions of Jesus and their post-mortem encounters with him, it can scarcely be suggested that their doubts were fabricated by the early church. This only serves to accentuate the problems associated with why the disciples came to the conclusion that Jesus had been resurrected.
Additionally, the fact that "resurrection" would have been a tough sell to Jews (who despite believing in resurrection didn't understand it in the terms preached by the early Christians), and even more so to Gentiles (who ultimately hoped for a disembodied existence) makes the disciples' proclamation that Jesus had been resurrected that much more inexplicable. For from this we may submit the following considerations: 1) The social pressures, if nothing else, would most likely have influenced the earliest disciples to teach that Jesus underwent vindication or exaltation after trying to make sense of their visions (if indeed subjective visions are what they experienced). That they preached a resurrection suggests that they were given irrefutable evidence that this was what had occurred; and 2) That the church was successful in attracting a substantial number of converts among Jews and Gentiles indicates that their claim of resurrection must have been based on a substantial body of evidence.
Furthermore, the fact that expectation, as expounded by Zusne & Jones, plays an important role in the subsequent occurrence of hallucinations, puts us at even more of a loss to explain how visions of Jesus could have resulted in the belief in his resurrection. Consider the following:
The contents of hallucinations can vary over a very wide range of subjects for a given individual. The range of content is prescribed by the hallucinator's past experiences, and these are heavily influenced by culture. For this reason, a Crow Indian or an Aborigene from New Hebrides would be quite unlikely to hallucinate pixies, fairies, or gnomes clad in medieval European garb. The LSD user in the Western culture will also hallucinate only that to which the culture has exposed him or her. However fantastic a given hallucination, upon examination, it will be seen to contain only elements from the hallucinator's past experience. [Zusne & Jones 1982; 133; emphasis added]
Recall also the remarks made by Carrier we quoted above:
The power of suggestion, and the influence of a similarity in socialization and cultural expectation and background, can also contribute to groups sharing, or believing they are sharing, the same experience…The general consensus in psychology appears to be that the circumstantial as well as cultural or social expectations and experiential background of a group, if held in common, can lead their brains to produce similar delusions.
If these analyses are substantially accurate, this reinforces once again the argument that visions of Jesus would have resulted in belief in his vindication or exaltation to heaven rather than that of his resurrection. The background culture and historical/Scriptural precedents, and perhaps even more compellingly the disciples' reactions to Jesus' predictions and their behavior after his death, makes it clear that the resurrection of Jesus at that point in time was clearly a foreign concept to them, nowhere within the realm of expectation. Thus, the subjective vision/hallucination hypothesis stumbles on the fact that it was concluded by the early church that Jesus had been resurrected as opposed to having ascended and/or undergone exaltation by God .
A third problem with the explanatory scope of the subjective vision/hallucination hypothesis is that it is strained by the diversity of the appearances that occurred, which we briefly alluded to at the end of the last section. The appearance to James, for example, would probably not be explained as part of the "contagion" of hallucinations that was alleged to have been occurring within the Christian community. The same is true with the case of Paul. Thus, in each of their cases a separate mechanism would have to be proposed for how their hallucinations occurred. In the case of Paul, we demonstrated in an earlier section why the claim that Paul may have suffered from a conversion disorder is untenable. In fact, that Paul's companions apparently experienced something during the appearance to Paul complicates the subjective vision hypothesis. Are we to imagine that Paul's companions (who were also obviously not believers in Jesus' resurrection) also experienced hallucinations (albeit lesser hallucinations than that of Paul) at the same time? In this case we'd have a collective hallucination to at least three skeptics! We've also shown how the appearances to the women and to the disciples on the road to Emmaus cannot be accounted for as the result of this "contagion". William Lane Craig notes, in regards to the "diversity problem":
Recall that it is the diversity that is the issue here, not merely individual incidents. Even if one could compile from the casebooks an amalgam consisting of separate cases of hallucinations over a period of time (Lüdemann [p. 45] would doubtless consider the Marian visions in Medjugorje an example of this sort), mass hallucinations (Lüdemann would take the vision at Lourdes to be such a case), hallucinations to various individuals, and so forth, the fact remains that there is no single instance in the casebooks exhibiting the diversity involved in the postmortem appearances of Jesus. It is only by compiling unrelated cases that anything analogous might be constructed. [Craig 1997; 190; emphasis the original]
Essentially, what we're dealing with here is a matter of probability. The point is that even if it can be established that hallucinations in all of these contexts are possible scientifically, the cumulative probability of all of these various phenomena being explained away as hallucinations becomes extremely small. In other words, if the only reasonably well-attested appearance was to, say, the eleven disciples, it may be plausible to suggest a mass hallucination. We could suggest that maybe the conditions in the room and in all of their various mindsets just happened to be right on an occasion, and each could then have experienced visions of Jesus that were similar enough in content for them to harmonize the differences and conclude that Jesus had appeared to them corporately. The likelihood of all of these conditions being met would have to be at least relatively small, though perhaps not impossible. However, when we consider that something similar must have happened on at least a couple of other occasions, including to a group of more than 500 people, and in various locations and contexts, and that independently skeptics such as James and Thomas also had hallucinations (although individual in their case, still improbable given their skepticism), and that a fierce enemy of the church also had a hallucination that resulted in his conversion (!), the cumulative probability of all such events occurring (plus others we didn't mention) within a 3 year time period becomes extremely small. In fact, if we are to believe Luke (and I suggest that there is no good reason not to, given that where we can test his historical claims he is proven to be generally reliable - see again here), all of these appearances save for Paul's actually took place within a 40 day time period, making such a variety of experiences of the risen Jesus that much more improbable. Thus, the diversity of the appearances, including a number of appearances to various groups, prodigiously strain the subjective vision/hallucination hypothesis, if not actually breaking it.
The fourth and final issue we will consider regarding the lack of explanatory scope of the subjective vision/hallucination hypothesis is essentially an expansion of the last one, that being the nature and content of some of the post-mortem appearances of Jesus. We argued above that the sheer number of such inherently improbable appearances greatly strains the subjective vision theory. This problem is greatly amplified if we are to take the narratives found in the gospels to be essentially historical. Here we will consider four of the appearance stories that I find to be the most problematic for the claim that the group appearances can be explained as a result of collective hallucinations. The first, that of the appearance to the 2 disciples on the road to Emmaus, we've already discussed in the previous section. Given that this appearance was relatively lengthy (long enough for the disciples to return to Emmaus and cook and serve dinner), and resulted in a substantial amount of interaction between the apparently risen Jesus and that of the two, it is difficult to imagine that the two disciples could have simultaneously experienced this vision, for it to have lasted that long, and for the vision to have been similar enough in content for them to believe they had experienced the same event. The second example is that of the first appearance of Jesus to the eleven in Jerusalem on the day of his rising (Luke 24:36-48; John 20:19-23). In this narrative, we are told that Jesus presented himself to the disciples, which frightened them. Subsequent to this he demonstrated his physicality by showing them his hands and feet, inviting them to touch him, and most remarkably by consuming a piece of fish. Finally, he reminds the disciples of what he had said earlier about the OT Scriptures predicting the suffering of the Messiah, and that the forgiveness of sins was to be preached to all nations in his name. Third, there is the appearance of Jesus by the Sea of Tiberias to seven disciples. In this case, we have Jesus standing on the shore, asking the disciples (who were on the boat fishing) whether or not they had any fish, then after receiving a negative reaction, instructing them to cast their net in the water. This resulted in an apparently immediate large catch of fish. After this, the disciples recognized that it was Jesus, and came to shore with the large catch of fish. Subsequently Jesus cooked some of the fish, and served it with bread to the disciples. After the meal, the episode of Jesus' initiation of Peter as shepherd of his flock occurs, along with Jesus' apparent prediction of Peter's martyrdom, followed by the controversial episode about whether or not the Beloved Disciple would live to see the parousia. So, again with this appearance story, we have what seems to be a rather lengthy appearance with a number of elements in it. It could be argued that only Peter experienced the "initiation component" and that only he and the Beloved Disciple experienced the "parousia component". However, it is clear that the narrative indicates that all of the disciples saw the risen Jesus on shore and received the cooked food from him. Finally, we'll consider the appearance narrated in Acts 1:4-11. In this appearance, Jesus commanded the disciples to stay in Jerusalem to receive the Holy Spirit. Afterwards, he corrects the disciples query regarding the establishment of the kingdom, and reasserts his command for them to preach the gospel to Jerusalem and to all of the nations. Jesus subsequently ascended, and "two men dressed in white" appeared to give the disciples a short message. In each of these cases, we have numerous elements presented, and it seems virtually impossible in each case that all of the visions experienced by groups of between 7-14 (or more) people should have enough of these elements in common for them to have concluded that they had experienced a single appearance of the risen Jesus to the group in a corporate fashion. But, there are other problems as well. In at least three of the four above appearance narratives, physical evidence of the visionary character's presence would have been left. In the appearance of Jesus to the two on the way to Emmaus we find that Jesus broke the bread and gave it to the two. In the appearance of Jesus to the eleven on Easter, as detailed in Luke 24:36-48, Jesus' consumed the fish. There are two such aspects in the narrative contained in John 21 that are remarkable in this way as well. For one, an apparent miracle, or at least a very striking coincidence, had transpired after Jesus told them to lower the net in the sea. If the disciples on the boat were experiencing a collective hallucination, it is amazing that such an immediate, large catch of fish after an unsuccessful night of fishing should be caught after they were told by the character in their collective vision to drop the net in the sea. Additionally, the disciples once again would have had physical evidence that Jesus had really appeared given that clearly someone must have prepared their breakfast, and it was only the figure that they understood to be Jesus that was by the "grill". Finally, we may have in Acts 1:4 a reference to Jesus eating with the disciples. This, however, is not clear. Bruce Metzger writes:
The Committee agreed that the manuscript evidence requires the adoption of the reading συναλιζομενος. This verb, spelled with a long α, is common in classical and Hellenistic Greek and means collect or assemble. The same verb, spelled with a short α, means eat with (literally, eat salt with another). This meaning is extremely rare in Greek literature; it does not appear before the end of the second century after Christ, and no example has turned up in the papyri (10). Many of the early versions took the word in this sense; it is found in the Old Latin, the Vulgate, the Coptic (both Sahidic and Bohairic), the Peshitta and the Harclean Syriac, the Armenian, and the Ethiopic.
Since the use of συν αλιζεσθαι in its regular sense to assemble, gather is awkward when only one person is mentioned, and particularly awkward in its use in ver. 4 where the present tense is joined with the aorist π α ρηγγειλεν αυτοις, and since, as was mentioned above, συναλιζεσθαι in the sense to eat with is unknown in the first Christian century, it has been proposed to regard συναλιζομενος as an orthographic variant for αυναυλιζομενος. This theory, which Cadbury supported with many examples of similar exchange of -α- and -αυ- (11), was adopted by the RSV and the NRSV ("while staying with them"). [Metzger 1994; 241-242; emphasis the original]
So it appears that we have three possible understandings of the key word synalizo in Acts 1:4: 1) to assemble or gather; 2) to eat with; and 3) to stay with. While #1 can seemingly be dismissed due to awkwardness, option #2 still suffers from an apparent lack of precedence at that point and time while #3 suffers from the need for speculation, though not unfounded speculation. Thus it may be best to remain agnostic about the correct rendering in this case, and simply to conclude that this scene might well refer to an incident where Jesus consumed a meal with the disciples, which would make this appearance another example of one that would leave behind physical evidence that the incident was not a mere subjective vision or hallucination. To these points we should recall that Acts 10:41 indicates that Jesus "ate and drank" with the disciples. This adds further veracity to the claim that the disciples had at least one meal with the risen Jesus, particularly if this verse is based on very early creedal material, as many scholars such as Dodd have argued. At any rate, if the narratives we've discussed here preserve actual historical nuclei (or even if that is only true of one or two of these narratives), and we've noted good reasons in several previous sections for believing this to be the case, it seems that the subjective vision/hallucination hypothesis is bent well beyond its breaking point. Indeed, even if we dismiss the historicity of all of these narratives, yet believe it likely that Jesus ate alongside his disciples based on the apparent importance of what we'll call a meal motif to both Luke and John, as well as the possibility of a very early source lying behind Acts 10:41, we are still left with the implications that the experiences of the disciples would have left behind physical evidence that they were not merely hallucinating .
So, it is clear once again that the subjective vision/hallucination hypothesis is plagued by its inability to explain all of the data. Besides the fact that some of the reported appearances are improbable in and of themselves (e.g. to James, Paul, the women, and the disciples on the road to Emmaus) on the basis that they were mere hallucinations, the length and/or content of at least a few of the appearances strains the idea of collective hallucinations (even if we assume that such are possible, and that the conditions were right in these cases, both of which as we've seen are questionable assumptions) beyond its breaking point. Furthermore, this theory cannot explain the empty tomb, nor can it explain how the disciples came to the unlikely belief that Jesus was resurrected (as opposed to being exalted), and how the church was able to flourish with this message being preached.
VI. Objective Visions or Ordinary Sight?
As mentioned at the outset, it is not our primary goal to argue at great length as to whether or not the appearances of Jesus were objective visions or simply what we defined as "ordinary sight". The numerous problems we've discussed above with subjective visions would not seem to apply if the visions were objective in nature, since this would entail that Jesus really did appear to the disciples. The objective visions in this case would be explained in the same way as that of the ordinary sight, that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. I think that the data is best explained by stating that the post-mortem appearances of Jesus found in the gospels are that of "ordinary sight" while that to Paul on the road to Damascus was an objective vision. Stephen Davis gives a brief summary of the gospel data:
But how might a more critical and theologically sophisticated reader of the New Testament argue that the witnesses saw (rather than visualized) the risen Jesus? Primarily by attending to the biblical descriptions of the appearances, as summarized by Luke: 'After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God' (Acts I: 3). Taking a synoptic view of all the stories and brief claims, Jesus is said to have been seen (or to have appeared or to have shown himself) (Matt. 28: 17; Luke 24: 34, 39-46 ('Look at my hands and feet'); John 20: I4, I8 ('I have seen the Lord'), 2I; I Cor. 15:5-8), to have spoken (Matt. 28: 9, I8-20; Luke 24: I7-30, 36-49; John 20: I5-I7, I9-23, 26-29; 2I: 5-23; Acts I: 4-8), to have walked (Luke 24: I3-28), to have eaten (Luke 24: 4I-3), to have distributed food (Luke 24: 30; John 2I: I3), to have eaten (Luke 24: 4I-3; Acts I: 4; 10: 4I), to have performed 'signs' (John 20: 30), to have given a blessing with his hands (Luke 24: 50), to have shown his hands and side (John 20: 20), and to have been touched (Matt. 28: 9; Luke 24: 39; John 20: 17, 27 (only the first of these three texts specifically states that Jesus' body was touched; the other two imply it)).
My point is not that all this physical detail in the appearance stories settles the question of seeing verses visualizing. Thus far my only claim is that the natural way to read these stories-prior, that is, to approaching them critically or with certain theological convictions in place-is in terms of seeing. In the absence of convincing reasons to the contrary (and we will momentarily explore some such purported reasons), it seems sensible to understand the perception of the risen Jesus in the appearance stories in terms of normal sight. (I will return to this point in Section VI.) [Davis 1997; 130, all emphases the original]
Although there are numerous issues involved when attempting to dissect the post-resurrection narratives, only some of which could be discussed within this article, we've seen that there are good reasons to believe that at least some of these narratives preserve substantially accurate historical reminiscences. It could possibly be argued that even these narratives might hint at visionary experiences. For instance, Luke describes the women's encounter with the two angels in the tomb as visionary in nature (cf. Luke 24:23) despite the fact that the appearance doesn't seem to contain anything spectacular (compare e.g. Paul's Damascus road experience). Additionally, the angels' sudden appearance to the women correlates to such sudden appearances of the risen Jesus (cf. e.g. Luke 24:36-37). On the other hand, the angels in Luke's account are shown to be wearing "shining garments" whereas that is not the case with Jesus. Plus, despite the fact that Luke refers to the appearance of the angels to the women as a vision, he does not refer to any of Jesus' Easter appearances to the disciples as such. Another argument potentially in favor of the objective visions hypothesis is that Jesus could apparently turn on and off, if you will, the ability of others to recognize him. However, this does not necessarily follow. It is clear that Jesus, even while not being recognized, could still be seen by those to whom he was appearing. Perhaps the strongest argument in favor of the "ordinary sight" hypothesis is the fact that the appearances were essentially mundane and obviously physical in nature, though of course it could still be posited that Jesus could appear in the context of an objective vision in a mundane and physical way as well. Which hypothesis is actually correct seems to depend upon whether or not Jesus could actually be seen by anybody that happened to be around (whether his becoming visible was for their benefit or not), and as far as I can tell, there is no way to answer this question definitively either way. In the end, I think the "ordinary vision" hypothesis is the best fit (with the one exception being that Paul's experience might be explained best as an objective vision, since his was apparently different from that of the other apostles) given, as Stephen Davis notes, that it is the most natural way to read the gospel narratives.
For those interested in seeing this view discussed and defended at greater length, see Davis' full essay, "'Seeing' the Risen Jesus", in [Davis 1997; 126-147].
VII. Conclusion: Putting it all Together
We've covered quite a bit of ground in this essay. Below is a summary of our findings:
1. While the appearance to Paul may have contained visionary elements, it is very clear that it also contained extra-mental correlates.
2. Attempts to explain Paul's experience as a result of conversion disorder fail for several reasons.
3. The data is insufficient to make the appearance to Paul (and John on Patmos) paradigmatic for that of the earlier ones to the disciples.
4. In fact, Luke is our only source of information indicating the visionary nature of Paul's experience, but in an earlier work he describes the appearances to the disciples in quite mundane and very physical terms.
5. The New Testament documents themselves clearly differentiate the appearances of Jesus from the later visions experienced by the church (including those later visions that the apostles themselves (such as Peter and Paul) experienced).
6. Paul, as evidenced by his background as a Pharasaic Jew, and by his writings on the resurrection body, clearly believed that the resurrection was physical.
7. The gospels clearly depict Jesus' post-resurrection body as physical, albeit with supernatural properties, thereby corroborating the description we find by Paul in I Cor. 15.
8. Based on the typical dating of the gospels, there was not enough time for legendary accrual to supplant the historical core of truth regarding the resurrection narratives.
9. Given that a good argument can be posited that the Synoptics were written as early as between about 40-60 A.D., legendary accrual becomes that much more unlikely if such was the case.
10. The probability of either traditional gospel authorship or at least that the true authors had direct access to the earliest apostolic testimony gives us a high degree of confidence in the substantial historicity of the narratives.
11. Studies of the reliability of oral tradition and data suggesting the probability that the followers of Jesus actually made written notes shortly after Jesus words and deeds took place would serve as a substantial check to legendary accrual.
12. The controlling presence of eyewitnesses and the authoritative control of the apostles would have provided a further check to legendary accrual.
13. As elaborated by N.T. Wright, the general scarcity of references to the OT, the general absence of personal hope, the strange portrait of Jesus, and the prominence of women in the post-resurrection narratives combine to emphatically suggest that the narratives contained within the gospels reflect very primitive tradition.
14. There are numerous features within several of the individual stories indicative of authenticity.
15. The power and content of the disciples' convictions mitigate against the claim that what they experienced were mere subjective visions.
16. Even if we assume legendary accrual occurred within the post-resurrection narratives, it is improbable that it would have developed in the way that it did.
17. Given that hallucinations are by definition projections of a single individual's mind, it is highly improbable (though perhaps not impossible) for a group of individuals to have hallucinations, each being similar enough in content to be harmonized by the group into a single phenomenon.
18. The appeal by critics to historical parallels of such group phenomena bear the burden of evidence to demonstrate that such are on the same level of historicity of those found within the NT. In any event, without sound scientific evidence of the possibility of mass hallucinations, such parallels only serve to complicate their case against supernaturalism rather than alleviate it.
19. For mass hallucinations to occur, such prerequisites as expectation, emotional excitement, and even being informed beforehand should be present, none of which was initially present in the case of the disciples.
20. Although the above point could be overturned by suggesting that the appearance to Peter and his subsequent retelling of the event to the disciples served to create the above-needed prerequisites, we are still at a loss to explain the appearance to the women and the disciples on their way to Emmaus. Furthermore, explaining the appearance to Peter as the result of a "guilt complex" is tenuous.
21. The subjective visions/hallucination hypothesis is greatly strained by the diversity of the appearances and the short amount of time in which they occurred. Even if the prerequisites are satisfied, it is difficult to imagine several mass hallucinations taking place (including one to a group of more than 500 people) within such a short span of time (40 days according to Luke). Also, given that individuals like James and Thomas were skeptical, a different mechanism other than "contagion" would have to be proposed to account for the appearances of Jesus to them. To hold on to this theory we'd have to posit that a series of numerous improbabilities occurred within a very short period of time.
22. The content of several of the post-resurrection narratives is way too detailed to suggest that a group of people could experience simultaneous visions being similar enough in content for them to harmonize the event into a single appearance of Jesus to the whole group.
23. A separate, independent theory would have to be espoused to account for the empty tomb, which adds to the "series of improbabilities" alluded to above that would have to be satisfied in order to account for the data.
24. Even after all of that, however, we remain at a loss to explain why the disciples would have preached that Jesus had been resurrected as opposed to having undergone a direct ascension or vindication/exaltation under the hallucinations paradigm.
When we consider all of the data as a whole, a clear picture emerges. We have surveyed numerous data points in this article. While much of our treatment has been to argue for the essential historicity of the gospel narratives of the post-resurrection appearances through such routes as the reliability of oral tradition, the eyewitness testimony underlying the gospels, the date of the gospels and the lack of time for significant legendary accrual, etc., some other factors we've considered provide indirect confirmation of these narratives' historicity. One example is the fact that the New Testament itself differentiates the post-resurrection encounters of Jesus to the disciples from the later visions experienced by the early church (including those visions experienced by the apostles themselves-section IIIb). Given this differentiation, the relatively mundane appearance stories we find in the gospels are something like what we'd expect to find. Furthermore, we noted that the more the experiences of the disciples resembled the types of spiritual experiences and visions so common in the ancient world, the less likely it would be that such experiences would have transformed them from being a group marked by failure, despair, and dashed Messianic hopes to one that preached Jesus' resurrection boldly in the face of persecution and potential martyrdom, while at the same time attaching to this event the exuberant implications that they did (see above section IIIg). Similarly, in section V we argued that the disciples' proclamation that Jesus had been resurrected, being as it was an individual occurrence in the "middle of time", was alien to the Jewish belief system of the day. Other such historical/scriptural precedents such as translation or vindication/exaltation, as argued by Dunn, would have been much more likely candidates for appropriation by the early church in describing what happened to Jesus if what they experienced were mere visions. On the other hand, if something like what we find in the gospels is what actually occurred to the disciples, leaving what would appear to be undeniable proof of Jesus' resurrection, and occurring in essentially mundane, every-day contexts, this is the kind of thing we'd expect might lead the disciples to draw the conclusions that they did, and to remain steadfast in their convictions despite whatever obstacles were placed before them.
Thus, at the end of the day, that Jesus was resurrected from the dead remains clearly the best historical option. Naturalistic theories such as the one examined simply fall well short of the mark in explaining the available data .
I have mentioned "probability" on numerous occasions within this article, as the historicity of a given historical claim ultimately boils down to whether or not the data renders the alleged event more probable than not to having actually occurred. This is a somewhat subjective exercise, as different individuals examining the data can come to different conclusions, based on the fact that different degrees of weight are often assigned to the various data points (both for and against historicity) by different researchers. The same is true for the resurrection as well. I have argued in this article that the historical data renders Jesus' resurrection the far more probable conclusion over and against the explanation that it can be explained based on the subjective visions hypothesis. In fact, even if we just work with the minimal facts , at least a couple of alternative theories would have to be utilized to explain the data. Given that the alternative theories on the market are improbable in and of themselves, having to employ 2 or 3 to explain this one event would greatly amplify the improbability of our being able to explain the data in a naturalistic way. We've spoken at length why group hallucinations are improbable. We've also mentioned that different mechanisms would have to account for the appearances to James and Paul. I say "different mechanisms" because, while all of these appearances theoretically fall under the umbrella of subjective visions, a "contagion" proposed to account for the numerous appearances to Jesus' disciples and earliest followers would not likely affect James, and almost certainly not affect Paul. Furthermore, an alternative theory to explain the empty tomb would have to be employed. Even if we are to allow that Jesus' body could have been moved by authorities (a speculative suggestion that is not in harmony with the earliest Jewish polemic against the resurrection-in other words, why would the authorities not have countered the early Christian preaching by stating that they had moved the body rather than that the disciples had stolen the body, if indeed the former was actually what happened?), it would not make sense that the body apparently was never produced by the authorities in order to counter the disciples' claims that Jesus had been resurrected. If we try to undermine the historicity of the gospel burial traditions, the fact remains that Jesus' body would have had to have been placed somewhere, and only a collective amnesia on the part of the authorities and the disciples as to where Jesus was buried would allow the belief that Jesus had been resurrected to take off without being checked at some very early point in time by the production of the body . Of course, some critics would counter by arguing that an empty tomb is irrelevant by postulating that the early Christians taught a spiritual resurrection, though see once again section IIIc.
Thus we see that a string of at least several highly improbable events would have to be employed to explain away the data of Jesus' resurrection. In this article, however, we have argued for the historicity of far more than just the minimal facts. The more of the New Testament data that we accept to be essentially historical, the longer our string of highly improbable events becomes. While it would probably be impossible to assign actual numerical probabilities to the various data points, it still seems safe to assert that the probability of naturalistic alternatives adequately explaining the data becomes virtually zero after compounding only a few of these alternatives on top of one another.
The naturalist, however, might say, "So what? Regardless of how improbable, or even impossible, naturalistic explanations may seem, dead people do not rise. It is a proven scientific fact that dead cells do not spontaneously regenerate…" Viewing this statement through the lens of naturalism, I'm in perfect agreement with it. Regardless of how improbable naturalistic explanations for the resurrection data may be, it remains clear that dead people do not rise. It is thus still better to hold to naturalistic hypotheses than to assert what we know for certain is scientifically impossible. However, this counter-assertion carries with it the assumption either that 1) supernatural agents do not exist, or 2) if supernatural agents do exist, they cannot intervene in the physical universe. If though supernatural agents do exist, and they are free to intervene in the physical universe, the naturalist's counter loses conviction, for there would be in this case no reason why Jesus could not have been resurrected by a supernatural agent, namely God in this case, overriding the natural laws. And, the context would seem to be perfect for a resurrection, if indeed God exists and is capable of intervening in the physical universe. Let us say, hypothetically, that some obscure banker in India that never made any religious claims was said to be resurrected. Regardless of whatever data might support it, we are left without what would seem to be the proper context for a supernatural explanation of the data. In other words, we are left wondering why God would have raised this man from the dead. On the other hand, we have with Jesus someone in which the data indicates not only claimed to be Israel's long-awaited Messiah, but also claimed to be divine, performed a host of remarkable miracles, fulfilled a host of Messianic prophecies, and even predicted that his death would have great eschatological significance, and that vindication awaited him after his suffering and death. Ultimately then the question comes down to whether or not we can be confident in maintaining a purely naturalistic worldview as opposed to one that allows the possibility of supernatural occurrences. More to the point, it seems that the question revolves around whether or not God exists and whether or not He is capable of intervening in the physical universe. From my studies on the subject, I would argue (even apart from any Biblical data) that the balance of the evidence (both negative-the arguments from evil and suffering, etc.- and positive-the Kalam cosmological argument, the anthropic principle, irreducible complexity, etc.) renders the existence of God more probable than not. However, we will not even attempt to address this question here, as to do so properly would probably require another article longer than this one! I submit that if, after all of the data has been properly sifted, there remains a distinct possibility that God does exist and is capable of intervention in space and time, there remains no rational reason to reject the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus.
1. As Wright mentions in his quote, sometimes the passage in II Cor. 4:1-6 is connected with Paul's Damascus Road experience:
Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
However, Paul speaks here of the light shining in the believers' hearts. There doesn't seem to be anything external in view here, unlike what we find in the Acts account. It seems that a more likely interpretation here rests in asserting that Paul here is comparing the "light" of the Gospel versus the "darkness" of sin and the world, particularly since Paul in the last verse of this passage refers to "light shining out of darkness", apparently hearkening back to the story of Creation. For more on this passage, see [Wright 2003; 384-386; emphasis the original].
Another passage sometimes utilized by critics to argue that Paul experienced a vision is that of Galatians 1:13-17:
For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.
Wright comments on this passage:
Fifth, the key phrase in verse 16 can be understood in two ways: as emphasizing either god's revelation of his son to Paul, or his revelation of his son through Paul. The Greek 'in' (en) could mean either, or perhaps both, but the next clause indicates the main thing Paul wants to say: that the divine purpose was for Paul to preach the gospel among the Gentile nations. Paul does not elsewhere speak of god's son dwelling in him as the means of his evangelistic mission (21). But he sees his own life as a reflection of the life of Jesus, and as such to be imitated by the young church (22); and in various passages, including an important one in the next chapter, he describes his own coming to Christian faith as a paradigm of what happens to people through the gospel (23). If this is the emphasis of the passage, it seems that Paul is here referring primarily to god revealing Jesus through him, though this requires that first Jesus be revealed to him. This combination rules out the suggestion which is sometimes made, that the word 'in' points to a merely 'internal' revelation, a 'spiritual experience' as opposed to an outward seeing (24).
(21) Gal. 2.20f. and Col. 1.28f. are the closest he comes.
(22) e.g. I Cor. 11.1.
(23) Gal. 2.19f.; cf. too e.g. I Tim. 1.16, where it is said that Jesus the Messiah intended to show his patience 'in Paul', as the chief or first example to subsequent believers.
(24) Longenecker 1990, 32 speaks of 'the inward reality of Christian experience'; Thrall 1994, 317, of Paul's experience containing 'an inward element', which is undoubtedly true, but not the point.; Patterson 1998, 223f. speaks of it as an 'inner experience.' Ashton 2000, 83 believes that this verse states unambiguously that Paul 'experienced the revelation…as happening somehow inside himself'. Ashton suggests that to translate 'to me' needs 'a lot of strenuous philological wriggling', but Martyn 1997a, 158 makes the case for 'to' with not a wriggle in sight. So does Rowland 1982, 376, citing those very non-wriggling grammarians, Blass-Debrunner and Moule. [Wright 2003; 380; emphases the original]
2. Other passages in the NT sometimes alluded to that possibly imply a differentiation of the post-resurrection appearances from the visions experienced by the early church include I Peter 1:8 and I John 1:1. See [Kendall & O'Collins 1992] for a brief discussion of these passages.
3. One potential problem that remains is how we are to account for the appearance to Paul being on the same level as that of the disciples, as he states is the case in I Cor. 15:8. Luke, after all, dates the ascension at 40 days beyond Easter. Furthermore, we have seen that while Paul's vision contains extra-mental correlates, it is described by Luke differently from the appearances of Jesus to the disciples in the immediate post-Easter period. This apparent chronological discrepancy is quite possibly what Paul is referring to in describing his appearance "as to one untimely born". The solution could lie within the fact that Paul's vision contained extra-mental correlates, apparently unlike other visions within the church. I think though that a more likely solution lies in the fact that Paul received a commission by Jesus in the appearance to him, which was in turn authenticated by the parallel vision experienced by Ananias.
4. Another important point to mention I think is that of the alleged anonymity of the gospels. If the claim that the gospels were not given authorial attributions until the early to mid 2nd century can be demonstrated to be unfeasible, the case for traditional authorship becomes more highly probable. Martin Hengel has challenged the case for original anonymity, and has argued that the gospels were attributed titles much earlier than is commonly believed (See e.g. [Hengel 2000; esp. pp. 34-106]). For a refutation to arguments leveled against Hengel's thesis, see [Carson & Moo 2005; pp. 140-142]. Of course, even if anonymity could be disproved, there is still the possibilities of pseudonymity and pseudepigraphy, but on that see Glenn Miller's article on the topic. See also [Carson & Moo 2005; pp. 337-350].
5. Note here that we are not arguing specifically that John is the Beloved disciple, but rather that whoever this disciple may be, it is probable that the 4th gospel is based largely on his eyewitness testimony.
6. There are, of course, some exceptions to the general rule. For instance, there are three places in Luke where a general appeal to the Scriptures is made in regards to the death and rising on the third day of the Son of Man/Messiah (Luke 24:6-7; 25-27; 44-47). Wright also notes four allusions in John, though this is comparatively nil compared to the rest of the gospel:
…John tells us that the two who ran to the tomb 'did not yet know the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead', (34), but not only does he not tell us which scriptures he has in mind, he does not even hint at them in the story, here or later. Despite the fact that the rest of the book is so full of biblical language and imagery that it takes several books fatter than the original to tease them all out, the last two chapters, containing 56 verses, offer so far as I can see only four biblical allusions, only one of which is of real significance: in 20:22, Jesus breathes on the disciples so that they may receive the Spirit, which looks like a clear echo of Genesis 2.7 and perhaps other passages also. (35) [Wright 2003; 601]
It has also been suggested that Mark used Daniel as a model for the empty tomb story; on that see here.
7. Wright mentions, for instance, I Cor. 15, II Cor. 4,5, Romans 8:9-11 & I Thess. 4:14; examples of more "implicit" cases include Rom. 1:3 & 15:12. Wright also discusses 3 passages in the gospel post-resurrection narratives that could be cited as exceptions to this rule:
Jn. 20.31 might be thought to be an exception: the resurrection should convince you, John says, that the Messiah is Jesus, and that if you believe this 'you will have life in his name'. But here, as throughout Jn., 'life', though designed to continue beyond bodily death, is something the believer has in the present. Another possible exception is the story in Mt. of the bodies of the saints coming out of the tombs. Among the many puzzling features of that story, however (see ch. 15 below), is the fact that it is not produced as a sign of what will happen to all the righteous in due course. The third possible exception proves the point: in Mk's longer ending, 'those who believe and are baptized will be saved, but those who disbelieve will be condemned' (16.16). There is nothing like this in the genuine narratives. [Wright 2003; 603, n. 40]
8. Some have argued that the reason the women are so prominent early in the narratives instead of the disciples is because after the disciples abandoned Jesus following the latter's arrest, they fled all the way back to Galilee. However, such a conclusion can be drawn only by ignoring key evidence in the gospels. For one, the gospels unanimously attest the fact that Peter was still in Jerusalem, as we are told about his three-fold denial of Jesus. It is furthermore unlikely that this is a fabrication since it is scarcely plausible that the early church would falsely attribute such dubious actions to its key pillar. Additionally, according to John 18:15, another disciple was with Peter when this took place. In Luke 23:49, we are told that "But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things." Again, in John 19:26-35 we are told that the Beloved disciple witnessed at least part of the crucifixion and even spoke with Jesus. See [Craig 1989; pp. 244-247]. Most importantly perhaps is the fact that, if the story could have been fabricated, it is unclear why the circumstances of the disciples fleeing back to Galilee would have prevented the attribution of the discovery of the empty tomb and the first post-mortem appearance of Jesus to one of the disciples. After all, if the story is legendary and the result of "whole-cloth" fabrication, why would it in such a case matter if they had indeed fled to Galilee? In other words, it still could have been said that Peter or one of the other male disciples discovered the empty tomb.
9. Most scholars argue that this chapter of John was added to chapters 1-20 as a later appendix. For arguments against this view, see [Craig 1989; 279-284], and more briefly [Blomberg 2001; 272-273]. Whatever the truth in this matter may be, however, is irrelevant for our purposes of discussing historicity.
10. Sometimes it is objected that this could be a "3rd appearance" (as opposed to an initial one) given that Peter is only here being "reinstated as a disciple" in John 21:15-19. However, Craig argues that this is a misinterpretation of the passage:
Peter's confession of sinfulness is said to reflect his absolution by Jesus in Jn. 21 for his three-fold denial. But is it true that Jn. 21:15-17 is Jesus' absolution? While the three-fold commissioning probably reflects the three-fold denial (Jn. 21:17), this sequence is exactly that: a commissioning, not a rehabilitation (21). There is no confession of sin, no word of forgiveness-this does not appear to be an absolution scene. The absolution may have already taken place when Jesus appeared to Peter alone in Jerusalem; now he commissions him as shepherd. This would explain why Peter is so eager to see Jesus that he plunges into the sea to meet him and does not beg Jesus to depart-he is already a forgiven man, reconciled to his Lord. [Craig 1989; 265]
11. Another issue with this narrative is that it is commonly argued that the story of the miraculous catch of fish and the similar miracle reported in Luke 5 are variant versions of one underlying tradition, based on the observation of numerous similarities between the two. It is thus argued either that Luke has displaced a post-Easter event into his pre-Easter traditions, or that John has done the opposite. Graham Twelftree, expert scholar on the study of Jesus' miracles, concludes that the narratives in Luke 5 and John 21 are based on the same event, but that John preserves the correct context of the story. He furthermore includes this miracle story in his list of stories that "can be judged with high confidence to reflect an event or events most likely in the life of the historical Jesus". [Twelftree 1999; 324-325; 328] However, a good case can still be made that Luke 5 and John 21 are separate events. Grant R. Osborne writes:
The numerous parallels between this and Luke 5:1-11 have led many to posit a common origin for the two. Indeed, the detailed resemblances between them are striking:
1) Fishing all night but catching nothing;
2) Command to cast the nets together with a promise that they would catch fish;
3) The presence of other disciples;
4) Obedience to the command and fulfillment of the promise;
5) Peter's impulsive act and the peripheral place of the others in the story;
6) Jesus as Lord;
7) The missionary motif.
These seem so convincing to the majority of scholars that discussion today centers upon which represents the more primitive tradition. /15/ However, all has not been said regarding the issue. There are also notable differences: most significantly, the pericope is marked by distinctive Johannine style. But in addition, within each similarity we find the following differences (keyed to the categories above) :
1) Seven disciples in John vs. three in Luke;
2) The nets breaking and others called to assist in Luke vs. dragging the nets to shore in John;
3) The confession of Peter in Luke vs. the BD in John;
4) The non-recognition motif in John (v. 19);
5) The BD in John is the central figure;
6) Peter's swimming to shore in John;
7) The different conclusions ('fishers of men' in Luke and the meal fellowship in John).
While some could be explained as redactional additions or as separate developments of a common tradition, the differences are sufficiently strong to compel J. N. Sanders to say, 'It is fairly clear from the limited amount of common material that the one narrative cannot be an edited version of the other.' /16/
This points toward another possibility, rejected by those mentioned in footnote 15, that the two represent separate events. While this is not commonly asserted, it cannot be dismissed outright. Brown, for example, says that Peter could not experience two such similar situations without recognizing Jesus in the latter instance. /17/ Yet this is inadequate and ignores human fallibility. Peter, frustrated after a night without success, could easily fail to note similarities between events months (or even years) apart. As Marshall notes, the only common feature here is the command to let down the nets, hardly enough for Peter to draw the parallel. He states that the traditions would naturally have influenced one another. /18/ In fact, if John did know Luke's Gospel, he could easily have consciously drawn parallels between the first 'call' and the final 'recommissioning' of the disciples. Further, many scholars have noted the fact that Luke's scene shows no formal signs of a resurrection story. It is therefore probable that these are separate traditions which reflect distinct historical incidents. /19/ [Osborne 2003; 296-298]
For more on this, see [Craig 1989; 286-290].
12. It has been suggested that the "doubting Thomas" narrative arose through conflicts between Thomas, and/or his community that some postulate existed, and the Johannine community. However, as far as I'm aware, there is no hard evidence to support such a theory. In addition, if the rivalry theory were correct, it is unlikely that John would place a confession of such high Christology on the lips of Thomas after Jesus appears to him.
13. Thus it would be much more plausible in this particular historical context to posit that the spectacular appearance of Jesus to Paul as recorded in Acts (containing as it does no clear signs of physicality) on the road to Damascus to be the result of legendary or theological embellishment over and against the more mundane, physical (and thus non-palatable to Luke's Gentile audience) appearances of Jesus recorded in his gospel. Since Acts was written after the gospel, such a theory would even have the benefit of chronology, allowing that Luke's increased desire to attract Gentiles would influence how he portrayed the appearance to Paul. Of course, in the end I don't find this theory likely either, given Luke's demonstrable reliability as a historian as well as his personal contact with Paul (along with the other problems we discussed regarding legendary accrual in section III), but such a theory would at least be more plausible in this historical context.
14. One assertion we won't deal with here is that of Dominic Crossan's that the "appearances" listed, particularly in I Cor. 15, are merely symbols indicating Jesus' continued presence in the general community, specific leadership groups, or even individuals in rivalry with each other. For a refutation, see [Craig 1997; 263-270].
15. It is reasonable to respond to this line of argumentation by asking how then we could know that God, rather than an alternative supernatural source, was responsible for producing the post-mortem appearances of Jesus. I think this question can be answered satisfactorily by considering some background data in this case, yet to do so here in proper fashion would take us too far adrift from the purpose of this essay, which is to demonstrate that the post-mortem appearances of Jesus cannot be explained as the result of naturalistic processes.
16. Gary Habermas summarizes the position of a number of scholars on the dating of this tradition:
Critical scholars usually agree that this tradition introduced by Paul had a remarkably early origin. Joachim Jeremias calls it "the earliest tradition of all." (79) Ulrich Wilckens declares that the material "indubitably goes back to the oldest phase of all in the history of primitive Christianity." (80) Walter Kasper even states, "We have here therefore an ancient text, perhaps in use by the end of A.D. 30." (81) Most scholars who provide a date think that Paul received this creedal tradition between two and eight years after Jesus's death, or from approximately A.D. 32 to 38. (82)
Even skeptics frequently agree. Gerd Lüdemann thinks that "the elements in the tradition are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion of Jesus…not later than three years after the death of Jesus...[T]he formation of the appearance traditions mentioned in I Cor. 15.3-8 falls into the time between 30 and 33 CE." (83) Michael Goulder states that Paul's testimony about Jesus's resurrection appearances "goes back at least to what Paul was taught when he was converted, a couple of years after the crucifixion." (84) Thomas Sheehan agrees that Paul's formula "probably goes back to at least 32-34 C.E., that is, to within two to four years of the crucifixion." (85) Such skeptical agreement is not rare (86). [Habermas 2003; 17-18]
17. Craig lists a host of references to Jewish writings concerning resurrection in [Craig 1989; 408]. Others besides the two we mentioned above include Ez. 37; Is. 26:19; II Macc. 7:9-42; 12:43-45; I Enoch 5:7; 22:1-14; 51:1; 61:5; 90:33; 91:9-10; 100:4-5; Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs [Judah] 25:1, 4; [Zebulun] 10:2; [Benjamin] 10:16-18; II Baruch 30:2-5; 50:1; and IV Ezra 7:26-44. Wright discusses the understanding of resurrection in ancient Judaism at great length in [Wright 2003; 85-206].
18. Another possibility to throw into the mix is that the disciples might also have been more likely to conclude that their encounters were with Jesus' guardian angel rather than the resurrected Jesus himself. It is interesting that after Peter's miraculous escape from prison in Acts 12, he went to Mark's house, and after his arrival was announced by Rhoda, those in the house (thinking Peter was dead) believed that it was his angel (see Acts 12:12-15).
19. Richard Swinburne proposes an intriguing theory that Jesus may have actually reenacted the Eucharist in at least one of his post-mortem appearances. See [Swinburne 2003; 163-170; and again Swinburne 1997; 207-212], but contrast with [Bauckham 1982; 233-236].
20. In closing, I'd like to recommend to any interested readers a good book on this topic (that was utilized in this essay) by Paul Copan entitled "Jesus' Resurrection: Fact or Figment? A Debate Between William Lane Craig & Gerd Lüdemann". Besides being an entertaining read, it provides a good exchange of ideas between proponents of psychological explanations to account for the post-mortem appearances of Jesus and scholars opposed to this view. The debate section was probably the least valuable part of the book since it was simply the transcript of a live debate that took place between Craig and Lüdemann. By their very nature, timed oral debates often leave both sides with limited time to make good, well-detailed arguments, as I thought was often the case here. However, the essays that the book contains by various respondents, plus two "closing essays" by the two actual debaters, were very interesting. I found that the essays by Robert Gundry and Michael Goulder, as well as the closing essays by Lüdemann and Craig were of particular value. I think most intriguing of all was Craig's essay where he applies C. B. McCullagh's six criteria used by historians in determining historicity to the resurrection as well as to the hallucination hypothesis (this essay can actually be found on-line here).
21. I am here borrowing the terminology used by Gary Habermas and Mike Licona that refers to five facts regarding the death and alleged resurrection of Jesus that are 1) accepted by the majority of New Testament scholars and 2) based upon a compelling body of historical evidence. These five facts are 1) Jesus died due to crucifixion; 2) Jesus' disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them; 3) The church persecutor Paul was suddenly changed; 4) The skeptic James, brother of Jesus, was suddenly changed; 5) The tomb was empty. While the first four facts are accepted by virtually all New Testament scholars, the historicity of the empty tomb is not as widely regarded as historical, yet is still accepted by 75% of New Testament scholars (see [Habermas & Licona 2004; 43-77] for discussion). These figures are based on a massive study conducted by Gary Habermas, who "…recently completed an overview of more than 1,400 sources on the resurrection of Jesus published since 1975" and "studied and catalogued about 650 of these texts in English, German, and French." [Ibid. 60]
22. Some critics assert that by the time the early Christians began preaching the resurrection of Jesus, his corpse would have decomposed beyond the point of recognition, so it would not have been of any use for the Roman and/or Jewish authorities to produce the body of Jesus to refute Christianity. If the traditional story that Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea is accurate, this objection would not seem to be of much use. If there was still a body in the tomb, it would obviously have been taken to be that of Jesus. Habermas & Licona write:
There are at least two problems with this view: First, in the arid climate of Jerusalem, a corpse's hair, stature, and distinctive wounds would have been identifiable, even after fifty days . Second, regardless of the condition of his body, the enemies of Jesus would still have found benefit in producing the corpse. Even a barely recognizable corpse could have dissuaded some believers, possibly weakening and ultimately toppling the entire movement. Since that was the goal, Jesus' enemies had every reason to produce his body, regardless of its condition. It is true that, upon viewing the corpse, many Christians would have claimed that it was a hoax. Nevertheless, there still would have been a huge exodus of believers who would have lost confidence in Christianity upon seeing an occupied tomb and a decaying corpse. This exodus would presumably have required the attention of the Christian apologists of the second and third centuries, such as Justin, Tertullian, and Origen.
We certainly would expect to have heard from Celsus, the second-century critic of Christianity, if Jesus' corpse had been produced. When he wrote against Jesus' resurrection, it would have been to his advantage to include this damaging information, had it been available. In short, if a body of any sort was discovered in the tomb, the Christian message of an empty sepulcher would have been falsified. Anything but an empty tomb would have been devastating to the Resurrection account. [Habermas & Licona 2004; 70-71]
32. This information was obtained from the Medical Examiner's Office for the Commonwealth of Virginia. The physician in charge said that even in Virginia, which has a climate warm and damp enough to promote quick decomposition, an unprepared corpse undergoing a normal rate of decomposition should still after fifty days have its hair and an identifying stature. The wounds would "definitely" be identifiable. Thus, a corpse in a much worse state than what would be expected for arid Jerusalem would still be identifiable after fifty days. [Ibid. 287]
JPH adds, in a response to Robert Price:
As Craig points out, all the authorities really had to do was point to the tomb - "There it is; it is still closed up!" - and that would have been a significant deterrent to Christian belief, even a clinching one. Beyond that, if they really needed it: Since the burial place was known, all that was needed was a public demonstration where the tomb was opened, and the body, such as it was, would be taken out or even pointed out; and this could be done in spite of any legal prohibitions, because we know well enough that the Sanhedrin wasn't one to care about the law when their personal interests were at stake! Or, should the Sanhedrin choose to be law-abiding, Wright notes in The Resurrection of the Son of God  that Joseph's tomb would not lay unused after this; as a family tomb, it would be expected to be used again and again, and all the Sanhedrin had to do was arrange to have authoritative witnesses present the next time the tomb was opened, or at a period six months to two years later when the bones would be removed for secondary burial in an ossuary. And what of identification problems? 50 days, or even two thousand years later (as we know from finding the remains of another crucifixion victim from the same era - Haber.VH, 153-4), there were plenty of ways to identify the remains with those of Jesus. Who needs modern forensics? If the skeleton taken out of Joe's tomb showed evidence of crucifixion that even an amateur could discern (i.e., nails still in their places; scratched and scraped bones, or bones stretched out of their sockets - but NO breaking of the legs!), and was also about the right size and had no contrasting features (i.e., a larger brow, missing teeth), that, along with the vested authority of the Sanhedrin saying that it was indeed Jesus' body, would have been completely sufficient to destroy Christianity - or at the very least, cause it to have to alter its tactics considerably (a la Sabbateanism) in order to survive! (Source)
On the other hand, if Jesus' body was moved from Joseph of Arimathea's tomb to another site, this objection would hold more weight. However, there are still problems. Aside from the fact that such a suggestion is pure speculation, it is difficult to imagine those that moved Jesus' body not remembering where they had put it, and the body could still have been identified through use of the same points mentioned above regarding the specific wounds that were inflicted upon Jesus before and during the crucifixion. And, once again, if Jesus' body had been moved by the authorities, the earliest polemic against the resurrection more likely would have been that the authorities had moved the body, not that the disciples had stolen it.
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