Jesus appeared to his followers after his crucifixion—but how do we know they weren’t just hallucinating?
That’s a question I asked when I was first investigating the resurrection. People see all kinds of strange things—Jesus on burnt toast, the Virgin Mary’s tears on paintings and statues, angels peering from the clouds. Why get worked up about a handful of zealots claiming to see a risen Jesus?
Then I actually studied the matter, and found out there are good reasons to reject the hallucination hypothesis. Here are a few:
“The disciples were fearful, doubtful, and in despair after the crucifixion, whereas people who hallucinate need a fertile mind of expectancy or anticipation,” Dr. Gary Habermas said to me. “Peter was hardheaded, for goodness’ sake; James was a skeptic—certainly not good candidates for hallucinations.
“Also, Habermas continued, hallucinations are comparably rare. They’re usually caused by drugs or bodily deprivation. Yet we’re supposed to believe that over a course of many weeks, people from all sorts of backgrounds, all kinds of temperaments, in various places, all experienced hallucinations?”
In addition, psychologist Dr. Gary Collins explains, “Hallucinations are individual occurrences. By their very nature only one person can see a given hallucination at a time. They certainly aren’t something which can be seen by a group of people.”
That made sense to me. If I asked you, “How did you like that dream I had last night?” you’d think I needed a bit more rest—or an appointment with Dr. Collins! Dreams, like hallucinations, are not shared events. Yet the earliest report we have about the resurrection says Jesus appeared to five hundred people at once! Besides, the disciples claimed they talked to and even ate with the risen Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:3–7, which will be discussed further in the next answer, and Luke 24:36–48).
When you look at all of the information, it becomes clear that the disciples and others actually encountered the resurrected Jesus.
“Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
Jesus, in Luke 24:38–39