The Hallucination Theory is the idea that argues that the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus were not literal appearances but were instead hallucinations experienced by His followers. David Strauss popularized this theory in his book A New Life of Jesus published in two volumes in 1879. Strauss “ suggested that the recollection of Jesus' teachings in the clear air of Galilee produced among some of the more emotional disciples hallucinations of Jesus appearing to them”.1 This paper will demonstrate the falsehood that the disciples hallucinated the resurrection appearances of Jesus.
Hallucinations are Individual Occurrences
Clinical psychologist Dr. Gary Collins states “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…Since a hallucination exists only in the subjective, personal sense; it is obvious that others cannot witness it.” 2 Dr. Collins makes what many may say would be a bold statement. It would seem to stop the objection of the hallucination theory dead in its tracks. However, the hallucination theory is regaining popularity in recent years. This is due in part to New Testament scholars such as Gerd Ludemann that state:
Gerd Ludemann, a German New Testament scholar, “states a case that is quite reminiscent of Nineteenth Century attempts, holding that this explanation can be applied to all of the chief participants in the earliest church: the disciples, Paul, the 500, and James, the brother of Jesus. Ludemann holds that it is clear from Paul's language that the term ophthe in 1 Corinthians 15:3 means that he was speaking of actual sight, of "his own active sensual perception...", as well as that of the other apostles. So Paul "must have expected the Corinthians to understand the term historically.” Ludemann concludes that hallucinatory visions are required, along with "auditory features" that produced a "stimulus," "enthusiasm," "religious intoxication," and "ecstasy" for Peter. This spread to the other disciples by "an incomparable chain reaction." Paul, the other apostles, 500 persons, and James all similarly experienced these subjective visions. The appearances were collective, amounting to a "mass ecstasy”3
There are many problems with Ludemann’s statement. First, the advancement in the study of hallucinations since the 19th century as stated previously. It is well documented that hallucinations do not occur in group form. In fact, most derive from a mental illness, or lead to some type of psychological disorder. Second, the interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15 is not accepted as “proof”, but Ludemanns interpretation. And finally, his conclusion based on his first two faulty premises would seem to indicate a type of logical fallacy. In addition, many, if not most, experts in the field of psychology concur with Dr. Collins. One being Dr. Gary A Sibcy:
As clinical psychologist Gary A. Sibcy has commented, “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.”4
If this isn’t enough, Lee Strobel, a well respected apologist, author, and pastor critiques the hallucination theory in a light hearted, but effective quote, “I went to a psychologist friend and said if 500 people claimed to see Jesus after he died, it was just a hallucination. He said hallucinations are an individual event. If 500 people have the same hallucination, that's a bigger miracle than the resurrection”.5
The three arguments presented above are a strong defense of why the hallucination theory is false. The evidence presented would appear to show why this particular objection to the resurrection of Jesus is one of the most refuted. Yet, this is only the foundation of why the contention that the disciples hallucinated the resurrection appearances of Jesus is false.