Groups of Christians Today Claim that Jesus Appears to Them. If Even Most Protestant Christians Doubt These Claims, Why Should Skeptics Believe the Original Group Appearance Claims?

“An account is told of Jesus’s sorrowful face appearing on the wall in sight of an entire congregation shortly before the Great War began, with many witnesses and many conversions.  Nothing was unusual about the lighting.”

“On one occasion, it is reported that many persons who venerated the sun were converted through the Indonesian preaching team when a vision of Jesus appeared just above the sun, seen by everyone present.”

—Craig Keener, author “Miracles”, p. 879

One of the strongest pieces of evidence that most Christians believe supports the bodily Resurrection of Jesus are the claims in the Early Creed quoted by Paul in First Corinthians chapter 15 that groups of people saw the resurrected Jesus.  It is important to note, however, that this Creed gives little if any details about these alleged appearances by Jesus to groups of believers.  What exactly did these people see?  What did Jesus look like?  What if anything did he say?  Did he move?  Did he allow them to touch him?  Did he touch them?  Did he eat with them?  Did he spend a significant amount of time with them?  Answer:  We do not know because the Early Creed does not say!

Many Christians assume that the appearances in the Early Creed are the same appearances we read in the four Gospels in which Jesus talks, moves, eats, and comes into physical contact with his disciples.  But this is an assumption.  We have no proof from Paul or from anyone else that the appearance claims in the Early Creed are the same appearances described in the Gospels.  Due to the fact that most scholars believe that the Gospels were written as Greco-Roman biographies, it is very possible that the detailed appearance stories of the Gospels are simply literary embellishments, meant to put “flesh” on the historical, bare-bones appearance stories of the Early Creed, by authors writing many decades after the alleged event.  In other words,  claims of appearances by the resurrected Jesus really did occur among his disciples shortly after his death, but they were not the elaborate stories we find in the four Gospels.  The exact details of the original appearance stories are quite possibly lost to history.

The question is, however, were these perceived first century appearances to groups similar in character to the perceived appearances to groups described by Charismatic Christians in the Third World today who report seeing static images of Jesus on church walls or hovering above the sun?

Answer:  We don’t know, but probability tells us, they most probably were!

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8 thoughts on “Groups of Christians Today Claim that Jesus Appears to Them. If Even Most Protestant Christians Doubt These Claims, Why Should Skeptics Believe the Original Group Appearance Claims?

  1. One thing that gets me is that there are no narrations or versions of Jesus’ post resurrection appearances that the official church accepted and preserved outside of the very limited versions in the New Testament:
    The appearances in the 4 gospels, the Ascension in Acts, the one in Paul, and the Book of Revelation. The appearances of Jesus to James and Peter and the 500 are not in the officially preserved texts.

    There is the controversial Shepherd of Hermes where Pope Clement’s brother has visions that include Jesus.
    There was the Gospel of the Hebrews, but that was eventually rejected and lost.
    The Apocalypse of Peter was once accepted, but Eusebius considered it a fraud and we only have a Greek fragment that we happened to discover and a later embellished Ethiopian version.

    We do have or know of four gospels that could narrate the resurrection appearances like Gospel of Peter that could be from about the 1st century and which I don’t know have been shown to be gnostic gospels. But they have all been rejected.

    Yet we have maybe 20-30 works from the mainstream church from c.40-150 AD and none of them add any information beyond what I mentioned. It’s not as if Pope Clement in 1 Clement adds in a paragraph about Jesus’ post-resurrection meeting with James.

    It’s strange. I would have expected at least one of them to add at least some detail that he got out of an oral history. They do add maybe 10-15 sayings of Jesus that aren’t in the gospels.

    If Jesus’ appearances were real, I would have expected some versions or details to get out beyond just what we have in the canon. It’s as if the narratives of Jesus became very tightly constricted and policed in the 3rd to 4th centuries.
    Already in the end of the 2nd century you can see this process, where Origen and Irenaeus say that there are ONLY four gospels. It’s like they are saying that there are basically no other legitimate narratives about Jesus beyond what is in those four, Gary.

    It’s frustrating for me as someone who wants to find out more about these resurrection appearances.

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      1. Gal 1:8 says
        But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.

        Maybe the apostles themselves had an agreement not to preach about what happened beyond what they published officially. Paul’s and the others’ epistles give little narrative about Jesus’s life beyond the basics, although they have deep theology. It Is so little that some scholars ask if Paul even knew major parts of the gospels. But the silence could be deliberate. If your group is using a myth, you don’t want your storytellers to go beyond the joint narrative because conflicts could show up between storytellers.

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          1. Skeptics say paul didnt know about the virgin birth because he never mentioned it, and his story about the 500 and james seeing jesus was an interpolation. But maybe the real reason is that he was not authorized to narrate jesus’ life in his epistles and the narrative was tightly controlled.

            At least by the time of origen and irenaeus the gospels were already set in number

            I think it was origin who wrote
            The church has four gospels, heresy many.

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          2. I think I told you that before, but now it looks like it was Origen who used that saying.
            Origen said in his homily on Luke:
            ((The Church possesses four Gospels, heresy a great many, of which one is entitled ‘The Gospel according to the Egyptians’, and another ‘The Gospel according to the Twelve Apostles’. ))
            I have seen Origen’s words translated different ways, but basically the same paraphrasing.
            The second gospel that he names may have been what scholars today call “The Gospel according to the Ebionites”, a name created in modern times.

            Irenaeus said:
            ((It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the “pillar and ground” 1 Timothy 3:15 of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh.))
            http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103311.htm

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  2. In fact, if we didn’t have the latest of the two gospels, Luke and John, we would only be left with Mark hinting at a Galilee appearance and Matthew briefly saying that they saw Jesus on the mount in Galilee, with no more details besides giving Jesus’ sermon and the teaching that some people didn’t believe it. Such pre-Lukan accounts must rely on the apostles giving oral reports of the resurrection sightings. Maybe they didn’t put it in writing because doing so would hold them to fixed written testimony.

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