A short Gnostic treatise on the Resurrection, found among the Nag Hammadi collection, asserts that Christ’s body was indeed raised from the dead. The author says that it is more suitable to believe that the world is illusory than that the Resurrection was. This ancient Gnostic teacher’s statement is a most perceptive critique of the docetic assertion that Christ was a phantom all along. “ ‘Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have’ ” (Luke 24:39).
A final theory states that Jesus truly died and His body stayed in the tomb. How then do they explain the testimony of the disciples who said they saw the risen Christ? Various explanations have been advanced by twentieth-century scholars such as Rudolf Bultmann, Johannes Weiss, Michael Perry, and, most recently, Gerd Luedemann. The disciples honestly believed that Jesus rose from the dead, we are told, but they were only experiencing a mental picture of Him. For some, this vision was a subjective dream induced by crushing disappointment. For others, the vision of the risen Christ had an objective core as a paranormal telepathic experience.
Luedemann, Perry, and others would have us place our faith in the highly dubious area of parapsychology (telepathy, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, etc.) and the study of the “unconscious,” about which various psychological schools of thought have widely divergent views. Luedemann, for example, says religion is a “psychodynamic” grappling with the unconscious, so that what the disciples experienced was induced by a kind of religious ecstasy.
However, if the ancients were unable to distinguish a vision from real life, why do we read in the gospels that Thomas and others did not believe in Jesus’ resurrection until they verified that He was physically raised by touching Him, by seeing the evidence of crucifixion, and by watching Him eat (John 20:24–29; Mark 16:14; Luke 24:41–43; cf. Matt. 28:17)? Orthodox Christianity has chosen to believe the testimony of men who insisted that they touched and saw these things with their own hands and eyes (Heb. 2:1–4; 2 Peter 1:16–21; 1 John 1:1–3).
Both modern hoax theories and vision theories arise from an anti-supernaturalist assumption that Jesus could not have risen from the dead. The theorists claim that they are pursuing the issue through “scientific” historical inquiry, yet they exclude the only plausible conclusion from the start. This is not unbiased historiography at work.
These and other alternatives to the Bible’s presentation of a loving and omnipotent God who raised His incarnate Son from the dead for our redemption are hardly persuasive. The question comes down to whose testimony we can believe. “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables … but were eyewitnesses” (2 Peter 1:16).