By Matt Lefebvre

This post is a continuation of the argument from Jesus’ resurrection. Please see Part 1, Part 2 if you have not read them yet.

To read along with audio for this article, click here Resurrection-Part3

Jesus’ disciples believed that He had risen from the dead and appeared to them

Although the death of Jesus by crucifixion and the subsequent emptiness of His tomb three days later are quite significant historically, they are not enough to require a resurrection of a dead man.  In fact, this is actually attested to within the New Testament itself, for the majority of those who either saw or heard of the empty tomb remained unconvinced that the explanation was that Jesus had been raised from the dead (the possible exception would seem to be John 20:8-9).  So at this point in our investigation of the evidence for the resurrection, we must delve further into the history surrounding the event in question.  Well, to take things in sequence, after Jesus died and His tomb was found empty, something extraordinary happened: His disciples claimed that they had seen the risen Jesus.  It may surprise some people to hear that, of all the facts I am presenting, the fact that Jesus’ disciples had experiences that they perceived to be the risen Jesus is the one which attains the most scholarly consensus (though there is considerable debate about what those experiences consisted of).  This again comes from the research of Gary Habermas, who, if you recall from above, has consulted thousands of works on this subject.  He concludes, “As firmly as ever, most contemporary scholars agree that, after Jesus’ death, his early followers had experiences that they at least believed were appearances of their risen Lord.” (Quoted in The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, p.373).  This might seem like a devastating admission on the part of the many skeptical scholars who acknowledge this as fact, but of course, they would likely not admit it and remain skeptical if they did not have an alternate theory up their sleeve.  As we will also see below, the question is certainly not whether the disciples had these experiences or not, but what the nature of these experiences is best explained by.

To those who deny the possibility of a dead man rising from the dead, that the disciples actually experienced Jesus alive after His death is out of the question, so a common retreat is to postulate that the disciples hallucinated these experiences.  That is, Jesus was not objectively there with them in some resurrected state, though they perceived that He was through hallucinations.  However simple an explanation this may seem at first, it is now on the skeptic to explain what they mean by hallucination, both because the term has been used rather ambiguously in previous theories and because many such theories have been discredited and abandoned.  Lüdemann recognizes this in defining what he means by saying, “‘Hallucination’ nowadays has negative connotations, in the sense of illusion.  I follow Simon in also regarding hallucination as vision.” (Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology, p.221).  Whatever the skeptic may call it, the basic idea is that the disciples think they see something that is not actually present, as Mike Licona brings attention to:

“According to the American Psychological Association, a hallucination is ‘a false sensory perception that has the compelling sense of reality despite the absence of an external stimulus.’” (The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, p.483).

Is it possible that the disciples really experienced something that seemed so real to life to them, and yet, was not present at the time they were experiencing it?  In examining the evidence for the resurrection appearances, I believe we will not only see why the fact of the belief in the post-mortem appearances of Jesus is so widely held, but also whether the hallucination hypothesis is adequate to explain it.  There are at least five good reasons to accept that Jesus’ disciples had experiences that they believed were appearances of the risen Jesus after His death.

1. As with the death of Jesus, and even implicitly with the empty tomb, there is early testimony to the appearances of Jesus to His disciples.  First, we again see that 1 Corinthians 15 provides early testimony, this time to Jesus appearing to a number of different people and groups of people (1 Corinthians 15:3-10).  I have mentioned that this tradition comes from a letter written around 55AD, was proclaimed around 51AD, and likely originates from around 3 to 8 years after the crucifixion of Jesus, so this is remarkably early testimony to Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.  To emphasize the point once more, I could also add Gerd Lüdemann’s thoughts, for he writes “We can assume that all the elements in the tradition are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion of Jesus.” (Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology, p.38).  Now, he interprets the experiences as visions in his understanding of the term (and he cuts the initial proclamation of Paul at verse 6), but there is certainly no doubt in his mind that the earliest Christians were proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus and His appearances to them.

Alexander the Great

Second, though the Gospels are certainly later than Paul’s testimony, they are still significantly early.  The latest dating of the latest Gospel (John) is before 100AD, though it could certainly be written earlier (Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, p.235-236).  Accordingly, the Gospel in its finished form came no more than 70 years after the events reported.  Though this may seem like quite a lot of time, it is actually relatively good compared with other trusted ancient documents.  As Craig Blomberg aptly points out, “we are still far closer to the original events than with many ancient biographies.  The two earliest biographers of Alexander the Great, for example, Arrian and Plutarch, wrote more than four hundred years after Alexander’s death in 323 B.C., yet historians generally consider them to be trustworthy.” (In Jesus Under Fire, p.29-30).  Accordingly, even if we did not have Paul’s early testimony, the Gospel testimony to the resurrection would still be considered early in terms of history.  William Lane Craig discusses how long it took for legend to arise in the ancient world, reflecting the views of well-known historian of Roman times, AN Sherwin-White.

“The writings of the Greek historian Herodotus enable us to test the rate at which legend accumulates; the tests show that even the span of two generations is too short to allow legendary tendencies to wipe out the hard core of historical fact.” (The Son Rises, p.101).

It might be easy to make the claim that the Gospels are late and therefore unreliable in reporting that Jesus actually appeared alive to His disciples after His crucifixion.  However, it is certainly not as easy to demonstrate that this is in fact the case, especially since there is general agreement between the later Gospel narratives and the earlier Pauline proclamation (William Lane Craig, The Son Rises, p.91-92, in Jesus Under Fire, p.153-156).

2. Though hallucinations might be able to account for the “when” of the testimony to Jesus’ post-mortem appearances, it starts to get into trouble in discussion of the “who”.  Coupled with the fact that the attestation to Jesus having appeared to His disciples is early comes the fact that these reports also attest that Jesus appeared to different people and groups of people on different occasions.  Just in 1 Corinthians 15, our earliest source, there are appearances to Cephas (Peter), the Twelve (disciples), more than 500 brothers at one time (most alive, some dead), James (the Lord’s brother), all of the apostles (wider than just the Twelve), and Paul (1 Corinthians 15:4-10).  First, it should be noted that Paul is not just listing people randomly in this description.  In giving the names of some and the status of others (alive or dead), Paul is open to critical scrutiny.  If this disagreed with what the other apostles themselves were teaching (which what I have already written about the origin of this tradition speaks against), Paul could be exposed.  Indications elsewhere in the letter suggest that the Corinthians knew the preaching of others (1 Corinthians 1:12).  In the case of the 500 in particular, Paul seems to be inviting earnest inquiry.  Why would Paul mention that most of them were still alive unless he was, in effect, saying that they could be asked if there were any doubts?

Second, the event in question should more correctly be referred to as events, for it was not a single appearance of Jesus to one person that gave rise to the preaching of the resurrection, but several different appearances in several different places at several different times.  According to Acts 1:3, Jesus appeared to His disciples during 40 days, and even the description of Paul shown above suggests different times and different places for the appearances.  Naturally, the appearance to the Twelve and the appearance to the 500 would likely refer to different appearances, since the numbers are noticeably different.  It is also conceivable that Paul, in referring to himself last, is claiming that the appearance of the risen Jesus to him was after the other appearances, which would fit with the description of the appearance to Paul in Acts (9:3-7, cf. 1:3).  The Gospels also describe different appearances at different times in different places (Matthew 28:6-10, 16; Mark 16:6-7; Luke 24:13-15, 36; John 20:19, 21:1).  The problem with trying to describe the many and various appearances as hallucinations is that hallucinations are not anything like what would be required in the case of the resurrection appearances.  According to clinical psychologist Dr. Gary Sibcy,

“I have surveyed the professional literature (peer-reviewed journal articles and books) written by psychologists, psychiatrists, and other relevant healthcare professionals during the past two decades and have yet to find a single documented case of a group hallucination, that is, an event for which more than one person purportedly shared in a visual or other sensory perception where there was clearly no external referent.” (Quoted in Evidence for God, p.178).

It is all well and good to claim that one person might have hallucinated an appearance of the risen Jesus (at least at this point), but claims that 500 people had the same hallucination are beyond the reach of current scientific findings.  As stated in the definition of a hallucination above, there is an absence of external stimulus, so the experience is going on in the mind of the person, and can thus not be shared, somewhat similar to a dream.  So the fact that disciples of Jesus saw Him at the same time on several occasions makes the hallucination hypothesis unlikely, if not impossible.

Third, even if a group could share the same hallucination, there would still be no guarantee that the disciples would.  As Mike Licona states,

“Far more punishing to such a proposal, however, is the requirement of mind-boggling coincidences.  Despite the fact that hallucinations are experienced by roughly 15 percent of the general population and a much larger 50 percent of recently bereaved senior adults (only 14 percent of which are visual in nature), an incredible 100 percent of the Twelve would have experienced a hallucination, of the risen Jesus (rather than something else such as guards), simultaneously, in the same mode (visual) and perhaps in multiple modes.  It would be an understatement to claim that such a proposal has only a meager possibility of reflecting what actually occurred.  Embracing it would require an extraordinary amount of faith.” (The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, p.485-486).

And remember, this does not just happen one time, but several times in several places, over 40 days, and then, all of a sudden, they stop.  This does not fit the description of hallucinations by a long shot.

Fourth, it is significant that these witnesses are named, but especially that James and Paul are mentioned as witnesses to the resurrection of Christ.  Because we know who some of these people are and have portions of their life narrated elsewhere in the New Testament, we can see if they were adequate candidates for a hallucination.  Craig brings attention to the fact that “Visions require either a special state of mind or artificial stimulus through medicines in order to occur.”  In the case of the disciples, they were crushed by the crucifixion of Jesus and following their Jewish beliefs, which we will come to in due time, they did not have any disposition to think that Jesus would be raised from the dead.  Since a hallucination is a projection of the mind, a person can see nothing new that is not already in the mind.  It is not true to the historical evidence to suggest that Jesus’ disciples, dejected and afraid for their own lives, would be expecting and hoping that Jesus would be raised from the dead.  There would just not be anything like that idea in their minds.   The problem is compounded in the case of James and even more so for Paul.  For James, he was an unbeliever during the earthly ministry of his half-brother Jesus (Mark 3:21, 31-35; John 7:5, cf. Mark 6:2-3), so to think that he was disposed to believe that Jesus was in fact the Messiah and was to be raised from the dead, vindicated by God, is even harder to believe than for the disciples.  If those who believed in Him did not expect His resurrection, why would those who did not believe?  To consider Paul, he was fundamentally against Jesus and would have certainly approved of the crucifixion as just punishment on Jesus’ blasphemy for His false messianic claims.  It is certainly true that any one of the disciples could even have thought this about Jesus, since it certainly looked as if Jesus was a failed Messiah, like others who had suffered a similar fate without bringing in the promised kingdom.  However, Paul was especially against the idea of Jesus being raised from the dead, if it would have even come into his mind at all.  I suspect, however, that based on his Pharisaic beliefs in the general resurrection of everyone at the end of time, it would not.

Fifth, even if they could have some sort of hallucination in which Jesus appeared to them, it would not convince them that Jesus had been raised from the dead.  This is also assuming that the hallucination would be of Jesus, when it could just as well have been of soldiers which they were certainly thinking of behind locked doors in Jerusalem (John 20:19).  The above mentioned hurdles that the hallucination theory has to jump over are quite substantial, but supposing the disciples did have some sort of visionary experience, it would lead them to believe that Jesus was exalted by God, awaiting the resurrection at the end of time, not resurrected in history.  Again, this would be what a hallucination theory would have to work with, since there cannot be external stimulus and the minds of the disciples would not generate new information not already there.  This is where a skeptic could claim that the resurrection was in fact just another way of indicating Jesus’ exaltation to heaven, but we have both refuted the idea of a non-physical resurrection above and will address the uniqueness of the Christian resurrection claim below.  The skeptic is already on thin ice, but we are not even halfway through this section (William Lane Craig, The Son Rises, p.92-99, 120-121).

3. Speaking of bodily resurrection, it is important to notice that the nature of the resurrection appearances is bodily and physical.  Looking again at our earliest source, Paul, some try to point out that he does not mention the bodily nature of the appearances, and even that the appearance of Jesus to him was visionary and not physical.  This may seem plausible at first glance, and then the implication is made that Paul is actually referring to all the appearances that he cites in 1 Corinthians 15 as the same as his own, and thus, all the appearances of Jesus were visionary in nature.  However, what we do not want to do with something so important is stop at the first glance, especially when it is in conflict with so much other evidence.  First, in discussing the empty tomb, I explained how the idea of a spiritual, as in immaterial, resurrection body in 1 Corinthians 15 is a misinterpretation of both the words Paul uses and of the concept of resurrection in general.  When Paul indicates that Jesus was raised from the dead and appeared to the various people and groups, he meant physically, in a physical body.

Second, though Paul’s conversion experience, involving what he described as an appearance of Jesus, might initially seem more visionary than physical, an examination of other clear visions reveals a distinction between vision and appearance.  In Acts 9:4-5, Saul (Paul) hears a voice asking him why he is persecuting Jesus.  Interestingly, the men with Saul hear the voice, though they do not see anyone (Acts 9:7).  Though not seeing anyone might seem to confirm that it was indeed a vision, this could be explained by the brightness of the light, that probably ends up blinding Paul (Acts 9:3, 8).  Additionally, what would not be explained by a visionary experience is why the other men would hear the voice.  Jumping back a couple chapters, Stephen is before the Council and they are enraged at him, but he looks and sees Jesus standing at the right hand of God and tells the Council (Acts 7:54-56).  The next thing they do is rush at him and stone him in great anger.  The implication is clearly that they did not see Jesus at the right hand of the glory of God, or else they would probably have changed their attitude.  So in this instance, there was a vision that only Stephen was seeing, to be distinguished from a resurrection appearance.  Other examples of visions include 2 Corinthians 12:1-6, in which it is not known whether this person is in the body or out of the body.  Revelation 4:1-2 also describes a heavenly vision, but it is again “in the Spirit” and not explicitly connected with an earthly manifestation that anyone present could be aware of.  So Paul’s case, though not presented the same way as the other appearances, is fundamentally the same kind of resurrection appearance.

Third, the fact that resurrection appearances do not continue in the early church after Paul is another point against there being no distinction between vision and resurrection appearance.  We might ask why we do not see “and then He appeared to Stephen” if there was no clear boundary on what constituted a resurrection appearance.  A Christian could have a vision of God that was real, but still not be able to claim, as Paul does, that he had “seen Jesus our Lord” (1 Corinthians 9:1).

Fourth, even if Paul’s appearance was different, it would not follow that all the appearances he lists are of the same nature as his.  The narrative provided in the Gospels makes no mistake about Jesus appearing to the disciples physically.  The claim of proponents of the hallucination theories might suggest that the idea originally was the result of hallucination, and the appearances were thus visionary, with stories of physical appearances of Jesus developing only later.  Well, it is hard to imagine, if visionary experiences had been original, how physical appearances would have developed.  Some have suggested that the physicality of the resurrection narratives in the Gospels reflect a reaction to Docetism (belief that Jesus only seemed to be human, but was really just some sort of spirit).  However, this hardly seems accurate, since Jesus appears and disappears from sight in His resurrected body in the same narratives where He eats and invites His disciples to verify that He can be touched (Luke 24:31, 36, 39-43; John 20:19, 26-27).  It also defies explanation to think of why Christians would want to develop physical resurrection appearances, since this would be offensive to Jews, because they believed in a physical resurrection only at the end of history, and pagans, because they did not believe in resurrection at all.  This seems utterly counterproductive, if it is true that visionary experiences came first and physical appearances followed.  So it appears that the hallucination hypothesis would have a lot of trouble getting Christianity anywhere close to where we see it in the earliest days of its history (William Lane Craig, The Son Rises, p.108-117, in Jesus Under Fire, p.156-158).

4. Though Paul’s evidence is certainly earlier than the Gospel narratives and Acts, there are still a number of historical indications within these latter accounts that lend credibility to their witness, in addition to the earlier evidence from Paul.  First, as already mentioned in reference to the burial of Jesus and His empty tomb, it was the women who were the first witnesses to these things, even though this would be potentially embarrassing.  It is significant then, that the women are also the first to see Jesus and be commissioned by Him to tell the other disciples (Matthew 28:9-10; John 20:16-18), considering that women had low, if any, legal status as witnesses in the ancient world.  This is probably why Paul does not mention them, but why would the Gospel writers mention them unless of course that was actually what happened?  To think of the Evangelists making up these stories about them finding the empty tomb and seeing Jesus first, does not make sense.  The writers of the Gospels could not paint a picture of the male disciples expecting Jesus’ resurrection, boldly waiting for their Master in faith, and being first to see Him in His kingdom glory, because that did not happen.  What they reported, therefore, was the truth.  Furthermore, if the women had hallucinated, it would fit in nicely with the stereotype of hysterical women who could not be trusted to responsibly report facts, and their testimony would be thus disregarded.  In fact, this seems to be the initial reaction of the male disciples in reference to the empty tomb and promise of Jesus appearing to them (Luke 24:6-11).

Second, the appearance to Peter before the Twelve is mentioned by Paul, and remember how early this is, so it might be expected that this would be in every Gospel as the first appearance.  Also, considering Peter’s prominence in the early church, it might be expected that if an Evangelist were to make up a story about some appearance of Jesus, Peter might be a good choice for a disciple.  However, though Jesus certainly is shown clearly to have appeared to His twelve apostles (including Peter), his individual appearance is not directly narrated in any of the Gospels.  What we do have, though, is a passing reference that alludes to an appearance to Peter in Luke 24:34.  What can further be said about this little verse is that it might be part of an oral tradition, like in 1 Corinthians 15, though certainly not as clear.  The reasoning behind this identification, which is also reason to trust its historicity, is that it is rather awkward to Luke’s narrative and comes a little bit out of nowhere.  There is no previous appearance to Peter described and Luke obviously does not attempt to make one up.  Furthermore, Peter’s given name (Simon) is used, and not his nickname (Peter).  This might indicate Palestinian roots, and in any case, it seems that it is tradition that has been delivered to Luke, without any additional context or background (Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, p.222).  In any case, the historicity of the appearance to Peter is granted by nearly all New Testament scholars, so in some sense, Jesus was revealed to Peter.

Third, the appearance to James, including the description of him in the Gospels as shown above, seems historically credible.  James is said to be an unbeliever during the ministry of Jesus, but after the resurrection, is said to be a leader in the Jerusalem church (Acts 12:17, 15:13-21), and even a “pillar” along with Peter and John (Galatians 2:9).  It would be very difficult to try and explain why James would be labeled an unbeliever, or at least skeptical, by the Gospel writers if he was actually a devout follower of Jesus before His death.  Not only would it be out of character for the Evangelist to write that way, but it would be an embarrassment to Jesus Himself that His own family members did not believe in Him.  So, it seems that James was certainly not a follower of Jesus during His earthly ministry.  With that in mind, it is equally difficult to explain his rapid advancement in the early church in the absence of a resurrection appearance, since he was formerly an unbeliever.  As Reginald Fuller put it, if we did not have an appearance to James mentioned in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 15:7), “we should have to invent one” to explain his conversion and elevation to leader of the Jerusalem church (The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives, p.37).  As pointed out above, in the case of James (and Paul, to which I now turn) hallucination would not be an adequate explanation, considering what thoughts they would already have in their minds and how that would in fact be disinclined toward Jesus being the Messiah.

Fourth, the appearance to Paul is historically well-supported.  In the same way that it would be hard to understand why James would be spoken of as an unbeliever and a skeptic if he really was not, the fact that Paul is described as a persecutor of the church would be a strange fiction.  So also, the accounts of Paul’s conversion from what he was before are certainly historical, since it would be almost inexplicable to make one of the major apostles of the church such an antagonist toward Christianity before conversion, unless he was in fact one.  Paul’s conversion through the appearance of Jesus to him is attested in both the letters of Paul himself (1 Corinthians 9:1, 15:8-10; Galatians 1:13-16) and in Acts (9:1-9, 22:6-11, 26:12-18).  So even though Acts comes later, it preserves what was already circulating in the early church about Paul: “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” (Galatians 1:23)  (William Lane Craig, The Son Rises, p.118-119, in Jesus Under Fire, p.155-156).

5. In discussing the empty tomb above, I mentioned that it would be difficult to believe the early Jewish explanation of the empty tomb, claiming that the disciples stole the body.  The main reason for doubting this is what we know about the lives of the disciples following the appearances of Jesus.  At least seven ancient sources attest to the fact that the disciples of Jesus willingly suffered in defense of their beliefs (Acts, Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, Dionysius of Corinth, Tertullian, Origen) (Habermas and Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, p.60).  Think of it this way:

If the tomb was occupied on Easter Sunday, the disciples would have to think up a plan to make themselves more powerful or simply to continue their Master’s teaching.

They would come by night and steal the body while the guards slept (Matthew 28:13).

Perhaps they would count on the women finding the tomb, so that there would be no suspicion when they would start to proclaim the message of Jesus’ resurrection, or perhaps they would not consider this point.

Either they had experiences of Jesus (hallucinations) that led to them conspiring to steal the body, so that the Jesus resurrected in their hearts could also be worshipped by the world, or they had experiences after they stole the body.  Either way, the body is not risen.

Mostly importantly, however, they would need to hold to this deception for the rest of their lives, no matter what persecution awaited them.

I hope you can see the irony in this portrayal of the band of disciples.  First, there was no golden prize waiting for the disciples, but rather, the opposite: persecution, torture, and death.  If the church was an attempt to gain power, it is strange that official church leadership did not arrive until at least 20 years later, and that the church attempted to gain this power by submitting to oppressors and “turning the other cheek”.  As far as physical benefits, the church was low on these at times, as generous as believers were (Philippians 4:10-20).  Paul describes his life in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29, mentioning imprisonments, beatings, a stoning, danger, shipwrecks, hunger, hardship, exposure, and weakness.  This is hardly the kind of thing people would bring on themselves, but the perseverance of the disciples showed that they had something to live for.

Second, the earliest Jewish polemic against the resurrection, as I pointed out above, implicitly affirms the empty tomb, but what about the rest of it?  Well, thinking about the guard at the tomb, if they were sleeping, they would not know who took the body.  Alternately, if they were awake, they would not let the body be taken, not to mention the fact that they would probably be woken up by the movement of the disciples, even if they had fallen asleep.  The disciples would likely not have the option of stealing the body, even if for some reason they thought that the Messiah might actually rise from the dead.

Third, since the historicity of the women finding the empty tomb has already been shown, any scheme will inevitably involve them.  Since the women both observed the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, it might be more likely that the disciples would count on them coming to anoint the body after the Sabbath than that they would not consider them altogether.  The disciples would probably allow the women to think what they wanted about the empty tomb, in anticipation of their own proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection that was forthcoming.  For the women to spread an adequate rumor, however, it would not be enough to just have an empty tomb.  Perhaps the women could have hallucinations as well, but this would be beyond the attention of the disciples.  We, however, must pay attention to it.  The idea that there being an empty tomb meant that Jesus had risen from the dead both does not follow logically and disagrees with the narratives concerning the empty tomb.  This was not the basis of belief, for in the absence of resurrection appearances, the empty tomb could have otherwise been explained, as the text of John makes clear (John 20:11-15).  So the question comes down to the disciples themselves and whether they could really pass off a convincing lie or not.

Fourth, that the disciples truly believed what they proclaimed is evidenced by their willingness to suffer for their belief, as noted above.  Also noted above, is the fact that what this belief involved, from very early on, was the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It was not that the disciples were suffering for other beliefs and the resurrection was added later, for right off the bat, the disciples proclaimed that Jesus had risen from the dead and appeared to them (Ex. Acts 2:32; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8).  The point about the disciples suffering and dying (or at least being willing to suffer and die) for what they believe is very significant, but often misunderstood.  In the hope of clearing this up while emphasizing the point, I will quote Mike Licona at length on what I think to be a clear summary of the idea.

“All of these sources affirm the disciples’ willingness to suffer and die for their faith.  Of course the conviction of the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead and had appeared to them does not necessarily mean they were right.  After all, followers of other religions and causes have willingly suffered and died for their beliefs.  However, this does not mean that their beliefs are true or worthy.  This misses the point: The disciples’ willingness to suffer and die for their beliefs indicates that they certainly regarded those beliefs as true.  The case is strong that they did not willfully lie about the appearances of the risen Jesus.  Liars make poor martyrs.

No one questions the sincerity of the Muslim terrorist who blows himself up in a public place or the Buddhist monk who burns himself alive as a political protest.  Extreme acts do not validate the truth of their beliefs.  Moreover, there is an important difference between the martyred apostles and those who die for their beliefs today.  Modern martyrs act solely out of their trust in beliefs passed along to them by others.  The apostles died for holding to their own testimony that they had personally seen the risen Jesus.  Contemporary martyrs die for what they believe to be true.  The disciples of Jesus suffered and were willing to die for what they knew to be either true or false.” (The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, p.370).

The disciples were in a position to know whether or not Jesus really rose from the dead and appeared to them.  To suggest that they were lying about the resurrection experiences is to imagine them living a lie to get practically nothing good and plenty bad in return.  The prospect of the disciples being liars is certainly not a thought to be entertained for long.  However, as much as they clearly believed Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them, perhaps they were just mistaken, misinterpreting hallucinations as Jesus returned from the dead.  Well, this goes against a lot of what we know about the nature of hallucinations and leaves quite a gap to jump in terms of believing in various coincidences.  The evidence above indicates that whatever one may think of what the cause of the experiences is, the disciples certainly believed that it was Jesus, raised from the dead, who was appearing to them.  This conclusion is again affirmed by skeptical scholarship, as quotes from Paula Fredriksen and Gerd Lüdemann readily show (Quoted by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, p.60).

“I know in their own terms what they saw was the raised Jesus.  That’s what they say and then all the historical evidence we have afterwards attest to their conviction that that’s what they saw.  I’m not saying that they really did see the raised Jesus.  I wasn’t there.  I don’t know what they saw.  But I do know that as a historian that they must have seen something.” (Fredriksen)

“It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.” (Lüdemann)

Click here to see part 4 of the article


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