For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 15:3–8)
We return to the various theories which have been put about to discredit the resurrection, and today we come the idea of mass hallucination. It’s true to say that this theory is not much mentioned these days, but it still lingers around and so for the sake on completeness we’ll consider what it has to say.
The theory is that the disciples were so committed to the idea of Jesus as a messianic figure, that they were subject to some sort of group psychosis which led to them hallucinating. Jesus was not present, but the wishful thinking of the disciples led them to convince themselves that they had in fact seen him. This is not, the theory goes, the disciples lying but rather they have either fooled themselves into thinking Jesus has risen or they have had some sort of group hallucination.
It is hard to square this view with the facts on the ground. The disciples were not expecting a resurrection and Mary Magdalene, for instance, failed to recognise Jesus when he stood by her. It is hard to think that Thomas, skeptical as he was, would share in this delusion. It is harder still to believe that Paul, when he was determined to wipe out the earliest church, would have had a vision of Christ which can be put down to wishful thinking. Remember, Jesus also appeared to a skeptical James and then five hundred people at once.
And then of course there remains the problem of the empty tomb, witnessed not only by disciples but also the temple guard who were placed at its entrance. The theory of mass hallucinations is simply not feasible.