J. Warner Wallace

Author, Cold-Case Christianity

Investigating Easter: Did the Disciples Imagine the Resurrection?

In the many centuries since the disciples of Jesus reportedly observed the risen Christ, critics of Christianity have challenged the supernatural claim of the Resurrection. Some skeptics believe the disciples, as a result of their intense grief and sorrow, only imagined seeing Jesus alive after His death on the cross. These critics claim the appearances were simply hallucinations that resulted from wishful thinking. But this proposal fails to explain the empty tomb and only accounts for the resurrection experiences at first glance.

As a detective, I frequently encounter witnesses who are related in some way to the victim in my case. These witnesses are often profoundly impacted by their grief following the murder. As a result, some allow their sorrow to impact what they remember about the victim. They may, for example, suppress all the negative characteristics of the victim’s personality and amplify all the victim’s virtues. Let’s face it, we all have a tendency to think the best of people once they have died. But these imaginings are typically limited to the nature of the victim’s character and not the elaborate and detailed events that involved the victim in the past. Those closest to the victim may be mistaken about his or her character, but I’ve never encountered loved ones who have collectively imagined an identical set of fictional events involving the victim. It’s one thing to remember someone with fondness, another thing to imagine an elaborate and detailed history that didn’t occur. Based on these experiences as a detective, there are other reasonable concerns when considering the explanation that the disciples hallucinated or imagined the resurrection:

1. While individuals have hallucinations, there are no examples of large groups of people having the exact same hallucination.

2. While a short, momentary group hallucination may seem reasonable, long, sustained, and detailed hallucinations are unsupported historically and intuitively unreasonable.

3. The risen Christ was reported seen on more than one occasion and by a number of different groups (and subsets of groups). All of these diverse sightings would have to be additional group hallucinations of one nature or another.

4. Not all the disciples were inclined favorably toward such a hallucination. The disciples included people like Thomas, who was skeptical and did not expect Jesus to come back to life.

5. If the resurrection was simply a hallucination, what became of Jesus’s corpse? The absence of the body is unexplainable under this scenario.

Hallucination theories simply fail to account for the detailed observations of the disciples and the empty tomb of Christ. Someone would certainly have questioned these observations and checked the tomb to see if Jesus’s body was present. If the disciples only imagined seeing Jesus alive after the Resurrection, the tomb should still have contained His body. It didn’t. The truth of the Gospel accounts and the Resurrection of Jesus is still the most reasonable inference from the evidence. This brief review of the issues related to the resurrection is excerpted from Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. For more information, please refer to Chapter Two – Learn How to Infer. A complete assessment of the evidence for the Resurrection can also be obtained as an accessible Easter “tract” called ALIVE.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene. He appears in God’s Not Dead 2 as an expert witness, making a case for the reliability of the New Testament.

Comments

About J. Warner Wallace

J. Warner Wallace is a cold-case homicide detective, adjunct professor of apologetics at Biola University, Christian case maker and author. J. Warner was a conscientious and vocal atheist through his undergraduate and graduate work in Design and Architecture (CSULB and UCLA); he always considered himself to be an “evidentialist”. His experience in law enforcement only served to strengthen his conviction that truth is tied directly to evidence. But at the age of thirty-five, J. Warner took a serious and expansive look at the evidence for the Christian Worldview and determined that Christianity was demonstrably true. After becoming a Christ follower in 1996, Jim continued to take an evidential approach to truth as he examined the Christian worldview. He eventually earned a Master’s Degree in Theological Studies from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. J. Warner served as a Youth Pastor for several years, then planted a church in 2006. Along the way, he created and built the Cold-Case Christianity website, blog and podcast as a place to post and talk about what he discovered related to the evidence supporting Christianity. Jim has appeared on television and radio, explaining the role that evidence plays in the Christian definition of “faith” and defending the historicity of Jesus, the reliability of the Bible and the truth of the Christian worldview. Jim also speaks at churches, retreats and camps as he seeks to help people become confident Christian case makers. J. Warner’s first book, Cold-Case Christianity, provides readers with ten principles of cold case investigations and utilizes these principles to examine the reliability of the gospel eyewitness accounts. In his second book, God’s Crime Scene, he investigates eight pieces of evidence in the universe to make the case for God’s existence. J. Warner’s professional investigative work has received national recognition; his cases have been featured more than any other detective on NBC’s Dateline, and his work has also appeared on CourtTV and Fox News. He also appears on television as an investigative consultant and had a role in God’s Not Dead 2, making the case for the historicity of Jesus. J. Warner was awarded the Police and Fire Medal of Valor “Sustained Superiority” Award for his continuing work on cold-case homicides. Relying on over two decades of investigative experience, J. Warner provides his readers and audiences with the tools they will need to investigate the claims of Christianity and make a convincing case for the truth of the Christian worldview. You can follow J. Warner Wallace on Twitter @JWarnerWallace

  • Editors' Picks

    Why the Church Must Start Talking about Domestic Violence
    Why the Church Must Start Talking about Domestic Violence
  • Don't Think of Church as Your Own Spiritual Power Bar
    Don't Think of Church as Your Own Spiritual Power Bar
  • So You Think Theology Is Impractical?
    So You Think Theology Is Impractical?