Hallucinations Versus Illusions: Which Phenomenon Most Likely Explains the Original Appearances of a Risen Jesus?

Image result for image of jesus appearing in a stain on a wall
It’s an appearance of Jesus!

We know that in our own time, numerous individuals have experienced hallucinations in which they believe that Jesus has appeared to them.  Likewise, numerous individuals and groups have claimed to have “seen” Jesus (and his mother Mary) in cloud formations, reflections, and even stains on a wall (illusions)!  How possible is that the earliest “appearances” of the risen Jesus can be explained by one of these phenomenon or a combination of both?

If the dating of the Early Creed found in First Corinthians 15 is correct (within three years of Jesus’ death), this means that very early on, it was claimed that individuals and groups of individuals had received appearances of Jesus.  The million dollar question is:  What did an “appearance” of Jesus involve?  Were they appearances of a walking, talking flesh and bones body or were they something else?

Yes, Christians are correct that resurrection, as defined by the pharisees of Jesus time, meant a physical body, not a ghostly body, but how do we know that the persons who originally claimed to have received a Jesus appearance believed that they had seen a resurrected body?  Isn’t it possible that the original “receivers” of these appearances simply believed that they had seen something that signified to them that Jesus was back from the dead (risen)?   Is it possible that a first century person who had seen a bright light, or a shadow, or a cloud formation, or a stain on a wall would believe that they had seen Jesus, or, would they have said, “I saw a stain on a wall that looked like Jesus”?

If people today can see a stain on a wall and say “It’s an appearance of Jesus” why is it impossible that someone living two thousand years ago would do the same?

Is it possible that some of the original “eyewitnesses” saw an illusion such as a bright light, a shadow, or a stain on a wall and sincerely believed that Jesus had “appeared” to them?

How probable is the following scenario:  One disciple (maybe Simon Peter) has an hallucination due to extreme emotional trauma combined with a lack of sleep or a high fever from an illness.  Medical experts tell us that mentally healthy people can have hallucinations under certain conditions such as sleep deprivation, severe emotional trauma, high fevers, etc..  If the tomb of Jesus really had been found empty, this hallucination would explain the empty tomb:  God (Yahweh) had raised Jesus from the dead.  Jesus has appeared to Peter and told him to spread the Good News of the coming Kingdom to all the world.

The small band of Jesus’ followers is electrified by this news!  Their timidity and fear is gone.  They now boldly preach the news of a risen Jesus and a coming end to Roman rule:  the Kingdom of God is nigh!

But if the New Kingdom is to begin, the righteous dead must be resurrected.  Maybe…Jesus was resurrected as the first fruits of the resurrection of the righteous dead???  The remainder of the righteous dead are going to be resurrected from their graves at any moment!  God has raised Jesus first to demonstrate that Jesus was telling the truth.  Jesus was the messenger of God…Jesus was the Messiah!  Although the Old Testament prophecies never mention a dead Messiah, God’s ways are not our ways!  God works in mysterious but wonderful ways!

Soon groups of disciples are seeing Jesus in cloud formations, reflections, and even stains on walls.

The Resurrection belief is born!

But there had been plenty of other messiah pretenders and when they died, people stopped believing in their messiahship.  Why was it different with Jesus?

Answer:  Jesus was the only messiah pretender whose grave was found empty!

Image result for image of the empty tomb
















End of post.


10 thoughts on “Hallucinations Versus Illusions: Which Phenomenon Most Likely Explains the Original Appearances of a Risen Jesus?

  1. Again… “probabilities”. “Probabilities” is a bad joke played by Hume on the unsuspecting.

    There are no more true words than those written by Paul: “… if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain”.

    Paul was no dunce; he knew the score. If Jesus wasn’t really resurrected, then Christianity is totally bogus.

    It is a very realistic, grounded and honest statement that Paul makes. It is the statement of a man who recognizes fully that without a “resurrected Jesus”, there was simply no point whatsoever to fooling with this “Jesus stuff”.

    I realize exactly the same thing, and, for this reason, many times I have said that atheism is my #2 choice, right behind Christianity; and if someone dug up incontrovertible evidence that Jesus was not resurrected, I’d drop Christianity for atheism, and never look back.

    Paul is saying that, without a resurrected Jesus, then this whole “show” is futile, pointless, having no merit whatsoever. He sees that, he acknowledges that. This is a very strong indication of rational thinking, of being very much in touch with reality.

    And yet, Paul insists on the reality of the resurrection. This is a guy who not only could have done without this “Jesus thing” altogether, but even went as far as to put an end to the “rumors and superstitions” himself. This is a guy who could have had an hallucination, and totally blown it off as nothing but hallucination, because his own sense of reality would have won out: Jesus was crucified, he was dead, he was not resurrected, he is not Messiah. All that still would remain “rumor and superstition”, and worse – a very false and misleading lie, perpetrated by a small bunch of Jesus’ original followers.

    So, did Paul go bonkers? Did he succomb to an hallucination of a person who’s very name he was working hard to get eradicated from among his people?

    If there were strong evidence that people who had hallucinations never came to recognize that it was an hallucination, then it might serve as more reason to believe that Paul had an hallucination, and never ceased to believe it was a real thing. But, most people, having had an hallucination, come to realize that it was indeed an hallucination. Granted, at the time, they believe the hallucination is real. But, this usually doesn’t last. Rational people can begin – oftentimes very quickly – to realize that a “peculiar experience” was an hallucination. This is an incredibly common occurance. There is no shortage whatsoever, in literature, films, TV, theater, and so on, of characters who have had hallucinations, being “haunted” by “ghosts”, only to finally recognize it for what it is, and find a way to simply say “you’re not real. Go away”, People figure out their own hallucinations, by in large.

    Paul could certainly have figured his out. And, in fact, he would have been pre-disposed to writing of an hallucination of Jesus as just that – an hallucination, Neither the term, nor the phenomenon, are new things. Even Tacticus referred to the belief of the Christians as “superstition”. Concepts of hallucinations, superstitions and illusions have been around since the earliest western-civilization literature of Homer.

    Bottom line: I believe Paul saw something that he believed to be the resurrected Jesus, and, I also believe that what he did, in fact, see was the resurrected Jesus. Paul was, after all, a man who had had an “experience” that it would have been perfectly natural (and, in Paul’s case, desirable and useful) to just “blow off” as having been an hallucination. And, that happens all the time with hallucinations. They get blown off as being hallucinations.


  2. I have a Reddit post on this I think you’d find interesting.

    Mark 1:9-11 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

    Luke 10:18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”

    Did Jesus really “see” these things? Obviously, we’re dealing with an ancient superstitious culture that did not make distinctions like we do between normal “seeing” with the eyes and having some sort of spiritual religious experience. Check out Peter and Stephen’s visions in Acts where they claimed to “see” stuff too. This must be kept in mind when reading passages in Paul such as 1 Cor 9:1 “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” or saying Jesus “appeared/was seen” in 1 Cor 15:5-8. https://www.reddit.com/r/DebateAChristian/comments/8iq6k9/the_cultural_background_of_judaism_supports_the/

    Liked by 1 person

  3. How about the apparition to Paul, how do you explain that? He certainly wasn’t excited to receive a visit from the leader of the people whom he was persecuting…
    You have too much faith to believe that a ragtag group of Galilean fishermen together with a few converted pharisees could have made something up like this. The fact that every denomination sucks doesn’t make Christianity false..


    1. I never said, nor do I believe that the disciples and Paul made this up.

      They were religious zealots. Fanatics. Extremely superstitious. They “saw” what their brains wanted to see.

      It’s called: suscpetibility and gullibility.


        1. It’s not like Paul wasn’t surrounded by Christians all the time or not familiar with the theology. Show me a person on the other side of the earth who had no contact with Christians or Christianity but left a record of having a vision of Jesus, the savior of all of humanity. That would be good evidence. Besides, the appearance to Paul was only a “vision” anyway so it may or may not have had anything to do with reality.


      1. “I never said, nor do I believe that the disciples and Paul made this up.”

        the gospel of mark has absolutely no mention of any appearance. the last peter is seen denying , lying and repenting . many hints in the gospel of mark that peter was not willing to die for jesus. is it probable that mark was wrote his gospel the way he did because peter was not promoting pauls dying and rising jesus?

        how do you end a text and mention not one appearance or how do you write a text mentioning how faith kills fear and not have peter go to the tomb ?


      2. paul said he converted to the religion, he does not produce a living body as evidence, he just says he became a believer.

        since no body was produced and all paul had was his belief, how does that prove anything ?

        if gary hates all religions and tommorow had a vision of vishnu and says to the hindus how he used to hate hindu beliefs, does that prove vishnu really appeared to gary ?


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