Yes, Early Christians Did Believe that Multiple People Can Experience the Same Vision

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The vision of Jesus meeting with Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration

One of the most common Strawman arguments that conservative Christian apologists love to lob at counter-apologists and other skeptics when discussing the evidence for the Resurrection is that we believe in the existence of group hallucinations/visions. And it is because of our uninformed belief in group hallucinations/group visions that we dismiss as delusional nonsense the New Testament’s claims of groups of eyewitnesses seeing a resurrected Jesus at the same time and place.

I personally have never made this claim and most modern counter-apologists I know do not make this claim.

Why?

Because we know that the overwhelming majority of modern psychiatrists and psychologists believe that it is extremely unlikely that even two people would have the same hallucinatory experience (or dream) at the same time let alone a group of people.

But what is funny is this: The New Testament itself claims that group visions are possible!

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I[a] will make three dwellings[b] here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved;[c] with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” 

–Gospel of Matthew, chapter 17

It’s too bad that the divinely inspired authors of the New Testament weren’t aware of the fact that group visions/hallucinations are not possible. Maybe if they had known that, they wouldn’t have invented such a silly tall tale.

Jesus and his three disciples did not simultaneously “see”, at the same time and place, a meeting with Moses and Elijah on the top of a mountain in their four brains. This is a silly, scientifically ignorant tall tale. Yet Christians insist that we accept other preposterous claims—told in these same books—such as virgin births, people walking on water, and resurrecting corpses as historically accurate facts.

How ridiculous.

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End of post.

17 thoughts on “Yes, Early Christians Did Believe that Multiple People Can Experience the Same Vision

  1. re: “…we believe in the existence of group hallucinations/visions”

    Wait. Let’s stop right there. What’s with this “/” mark between hallucinations/visions???

    Are you trying to EQUATE the two?

    Hallucinations are hallucinations, visions are visions. Don’t ASSUME that they are somehow the same thing.

    I don’t know a thing about “visions”, per se – except – the BELIEF about them is that they are OBJECTIVELY REAL events. Which is why more than one person can see the same “vision”. They are not, like hallucinations, which are subjective events.

    But, what I’m getting at is that the belief about “visions” – and that more than one person can see the same “vision” – doesn’t “prove” that anything like “group hallucinations” are real.

    “… we know that the overwhelming majority of modern psychiatrists and psychologists believe that it is extremely unlikely that even two people would have the same hallucinatory experience at the same time let alone a group of people.”

    Yes. Correct. But then you go on to say “But what is funny is this: The New Testament itself claims that group visions are possible!”

    Right there, you’re pulling a classic “Gary”. The New Testament does indeed claim “group VISIONS” are possible – but you make the ENORMOUS ASSUMPTION that visions MUST BE hallucinations.

    If anything, the “group visions” demonstrate that whatever they experienced, it WASN’T hallucinations, because as you said “we know that the overwhelming majority of modern psychiatrists and psychologists believe that it is extremely unlikely that even two people would have the same hallucinatory experience at the same time let alone a group of people.”

    This may be one of the most ill-thought-through, totally bogus posts you’ve made. And I’m not even a big “defender” of the “visions” thing… But my vision is good enough to see right through what you’ve posted…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If a patient comes into a doctor’s office and says that he had a “vision” that Martians appeared in his bedroom, we would consider that person to either of had an hallucination or a vivid dream. Either way, it is an experience within the brain, not an external reality. So, yes, I group them together.

      If you believe that “visions” are reality, we have a comfortable “jacket” for you and a quiet room in a mental institution.

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    2. So either Jesus and his fishing buddies all saw, with their eyes, two dead guys pop in and out of thin air or they all “saw” this scene in their heads. Which was it?

      Christians are always trying to have their cake and eat it too. Either you believe that multiple people can have the same dream or hallucination or you don’t. If you agree with medical experts that group dreams and group hallucinations are impossible, then you have to either claim that this event literally happened or the entire story is fiction. And if you believe that this event literally happened, then you have to explain why Jesus called it a “vision”.

      Good luck.

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  2. It would be interesting to know if those psychologists took into account someone leading a group, such as a worship leader in a modern charismatic church, where he could get the whole congregation, or most of it, into a state of trance where they all saw a very similar thing because he was guiding them to it.

    If Paul wasn’t making up the idea of the 500, that could have applied to them. Who knows what conditions they were in when they “ saw” Jesus.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. People can see a bright light and afterwards be talked into believing that they had all seen a person. But if you ask each individual to describe, in detail, what the body looked like, there is no way they are all going to give the same description—unless they had been prepped on the correct answers beforehand.

      My guess is that the “five hundred” story is based on a case of a group of people seeing someone in the distance or in a crowd who looked like Jesus and then “disappeared” or a case of a group of people seeing an illusion (a bright light, cloud, shadow) and believing it to be an “appearance”.

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  3. Lemme try it this way.

    If some religion out there claimed there were supernatural beings that traveled in “chariots of fire” through the skies (sounds kinda familiar, doesn’t it?), it takes somebody with a tinfoil hat firmly on their head to say “see? There ARE aliens from other planets that visit earth!!!”

    In other words, it is, to the tinfoil-hat-wearing commentator, OBVIOUS that there’s no such thing as “supernatural beings”. So, therefore, what was being said had to have corresponded to some “natural event” – and in this case, it’s “space aliens” on a vacation to the Blue Planet.

    It’s just too much of a leap. It’s taking one thing – supernatural beings in chariots of fire – that to the commentator is “virtually” impossible (since, darn it, there is no supernatural) – and explaining that thing by something “natural” – space aliens – that is as whacked out as the original contention.

    So, I’m sorry – but – that’s what I’m seeing in Gary’s original post. It’s trying to explain one thing that simply cannot be true, because, well… “supernatural”… by positing something “naturalist” that real experts don’t even think can happen.

    I mean, seriously – this is “Tin Foil Hats — ON!”

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    1. Curious — what makes you think that “supernatural” events exist? Simply because they can’t be explained … so that makes them supernatural?

      I agree that in your example, “space aliens” is rather far-fetched, but no more than some of the claims made by those who believe in that “supernatural” you seem to support.

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    2. Nope. You are trying to have your cake and eat it too.

      Belief or non-belief in the supernatural is irrelevant to the discussion. Christians do not claim that Jesus’ appearances only occurred in mystical mental experiences. Christians claim that the appearances were literal, observable appearances, events which anyone with two (or even one) functioning eye(s) could have witnessed.

      So either the event on the Mount of Transfiguration was a literal experience that anyone present could have seen with his or her eyes or it was a mental experience within the brains of Jesus and his three disciples. So which type of event are you claiming occurred? If you claim it was a literal event, that anyone present would have seen with their eyes, then you have to explain why Jesus called it a vision.

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      1. “So either the event on the Mount of Transfiguration was a literal experience that anyone present could have seen with his or her eyes or it was a mental experience within the brains of Jesus and his three disciples.”

        Not necessarily true at all.

        Lemme try it this way…

        We “see” (with the eyes) because the eyes act as sensors of light. And, those “signals” from the eyes are transferred to the brain where they are re-assembled into what we call “sight”. Now, nothing about our actual “seeing” experience itself is objective: the object our brain assembles, and that we experience as a “real object”, is just a bunch of blips of electrons going thru neural pathways. BUT – the object that we’ve “seen” is objectively real. It’s there, whether we’re looking at it or not, and whether we see it or not.

        “Visions” were understood in the same way – only, it wasn’t the eyes that were being used as sensors, it was the “spirit” that was the sensor. BUT – the “thing being sensed” was, itself, objectively real.

        I can see a car with my eyes – and you can see the same car – but, ONLY if you have your eyes open and are looking at it (like me). But the car itself is objectively real. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean that both you and I are necessarily going to see it.

        “Visions”, again, were understood in the same way: If two people “spiritually” both had their “spiritual eyes” open and looking in the same direction, they could both “see” the same vision. BUT – that doesn’t mean anybody else necessarily could. Nonetheless, the source of the “vision” was objectively real.

        So, you say that the Transfiguration event had to be either “literal” or just a “mental” experience.

        I would say you haven’t really thought much about it. Because if it’s just a “binary” thing – one or the other – then you must believe that if I see a car, but you don’t see it, it therefore must just be a “mental” thing. And, of course, that is patently false. It may well just mean you had your eyes closed.

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        1. Ridiculous. Of course it is assumed that everyone would have their eyes open. So with our eyes wide open, looking at Jesus, would we all have seen Jesus talking to Moses and Elijah or only those who have the correct “spiritual sensors”?

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  4. Seeing images when there is nothing in the environment to account for it is a visual hallucination. Simple visual hallucinations may include flashes or geometric shapes. Complex visual hallucinations may show faces, animals or scenes and may be called ‘visions’.

    Source: https://www.healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/F_I/Hallucinations-and-hearing-voices

    Holy Moly: If you do not agree with the definition that a “vision” is a mental experience within the brain only, please give yours.

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    1. I thought I just explained what was meant by “visions”, and what the understanding of visions is/was.

      My own “personal thoughts” on the issue are entirely irrelevant. I’m just reporting what the understanding of “visions” was to first-century thinkers (and, probably, even to some modern thinkers).

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      1. You are essentially claiming that people with magical sensors can see things that people without magical sensors cannot. That is hocus pocus nonsense. If magical sensors enable one to see a dead Moses and Elijah then maybe magical sensors enabled the disciples to see a dead Jesus! They didn’t see him with normal vision! You have just defeated your entire argument about people literally seeing a resurrected body!

        Magic sensors!

        It is 2022 not the Middle Ages.

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        1. “You are essentially claiming that people with magical sensors can see things that people without magical sensors cannot.”

          Wrong.

          I’M not claiming that at all. I said nothing at all about my own “personal” views concerning visions.

          I said very clearly that ““Visions” WERE UNDERSTOOD in the same way”, and ““Visions”, again, WERE UNDERSTOOD in the same way”. Very obviously, I’m talking about someone’s understanding IN THE PAST. I was obviously talking about how someone else understood them.

          You really need to work on your reading comprehension skills, Gary.

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          1. Then answer my question:

            So either the event on the Mount of Transfiguration was a literal experience that anyone present could have seen with his or her eyes or it was a mental experience within the brains of Jesus and his three disciples. So which type of event are you claiming occurred? If you claim it was a literal event, that anyone present would have seen with their eyes, then you have to explain why Jesus called it a vision.

            I never asked you to tell me what first century peasants thought about “visions”.

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            1. re: “I never asked you to tell me what first century peasants thought about “visions”’.

              Likewise, I never claimed one type or another event ever occurred.

              What I claimed was this: “This may be one of the most ill-thought-through, totally bogus posts you’ve made. “

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