Did Paul Hallucinate The Risen Jesus? There are many naturalistic theories that attempt to disprove the resurrection of Jesus. The problem is, there are so many evidences for the resurrection, that one explanation can’t discredit them all.
Paul’s conversion to believe in the risen Jesus is cited as one of these evidences. Paul (previously named Saul) had been one of Christianity’s greatest enemies. He was active in the persecution of the early Church. That is, until he encountered Jesus for himself. Historians and theologians agree that Paul had a radical transformation in his personality. He went from an enemy of Christianity, to perhaps its greatest champion and hero. But what was this event that changed Paul so profoundly?
A Naturalistic Explanation
3 As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. 4 Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
5 And he said, “Who are You, Lord?”
Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”
6 So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”
Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
7 And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. 8 Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.– Acts 9:3-9
Many have attempted to explain away this encounter by claiming that Paul actually hallucinated these events. But does that theory hold water?
Did Paul Have A Mental Disorder?
There are two ways in which someone can have a hallucination. The first is a physical or chemical aliment that produces a hallucination. Typically someone that has these types of hallucinations will display other symptoms as well. They will often be delusional or incoherent. They will display manic or paranoid behavior. And they will not always have clarity of thought.
We see no evidence of this in the Disciple Paul. He is extremely lucid and communicates and argues his points well. He also authored some of the most theologically rich documents ever produced. In short, these are not the writings of a person with deep psychological issues.
What About Guilt?
The second way that people can hallucinate is through profound grief. If we miss a departed loved one deeply enough, sometimes we can hallucinate their presence with us.
Again, this doesn’t seem to be the case with Paul. While the other disciples that knew and loved Jesus might have fallen into this category, Paul does not. He did not wish to see Jesus alive again. In fact, this is the last thing he wanted! Paul wanted to eradicate Christianity, and for that to happen, Jesus had to remain dead.
But what about guilt? Could Paul have felt guilty about how he treated the early Church? Again, there is no evidence to suggest this. In fact, Paul was showing great zeal in continuing his persecution of the Church. That was the whole reason he was making this trip in the first place. So no, there is no evidence that Paul felt guilt about his treatment of the early Christians. Paul may have felt guilty after his conversion, but not before.
One Final Bit Of Evidence
Before we end, we should point out one other piece of evidence that shows this was not a hallucination. And that is that there were other witnesses. While they did not see Jesus as Paul did, they heard the voice of God.
This is significant. Why? Because hallucinations are not group events. People do not have the same hallucination. Hallucinations are mind independent events. Think of it like a dream. You can’t invite other people in to share your dreams. They are specific to you. People may share an optical illusion, such as thinking you see water off in the distance of a desert. But they don’t share hallucinations.
The fact that the others with Paul only heard the voice of God is also significant. It rules out that the group had seen an optical illusion. As mentioned above, people can share an optical illusion, but they can’t share a hallucination of a verbal message.
In looking at all the evidence, it is clear that Paul did not have a hallucination of the risen Jesus.
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