Investigating Easter: Were the Disciples Simply Influenced by Limited “Spiritual” Sightings?

by J Warner Wallace

As an unbelieving investigator of the gospels, I made a list of explanations for the what the gospel authors reported about the Resurrection of Jesus. I was a committed philosophical naturalist at the time, so I rejected the Resurrection as unreasonable. Instead, I believed there had to be a better explanation. Were the disciples lying? Did they imagine the Resurrection? I searched for a more “acceptable” alternative. In recent years, some skeptics have offered one such alternate explanation: Perhaps one or two of the disciples had a “vision” of the risen Christ and then convinced the others that these “spiritual” sightings were legitimate. They argue that additional sightings simply came as a response to the intense influence of the first visions.

This proposal may begin to explain the transformation of the apostles, but it fails to explain the empty tomb and offers an explanation of the resurrection observations that is inconsistent with the biblical record. It’s not unusual to have a persuasive witness influence the beliefs of other eyewitnesses (I’ve written about this in Cold-Case Christianity, Chapter 4). I’ve investigated a number of murders in which one emphatic witness has persuaded others that something occurred, even though the other witnesses weren’t even present to see the event for themselves. But these persuaded witnesses were easily distinguished from the one who persuaded them once I began to ask for their account of what happened. Only the persuader possessed the details in their most robust form. For this reason, his or her account was typically the most comprehensive, while the others tended to generalize since they didn’t actually see the event for themselves. In addition, when pressed to repeat the story of the one persuasive witness, the other witnesses eventually pointed to that witness as their source, especially when pressured. While it’s possible for a persuasive witness to convince some of the other witnesses that his or her version of events is the true story, I’ve never encountered a persuader who could convince everyone. The more witnesses who are involved in a crime, the less likely that all of them will be influenced by any one eyewitness, regardless of that witness’s charisma or position within the group. This theory also suffers from all the liabilities of the earlier claim that the disciples imagined the resurrected Christ. Even if the persuader could convince everyone of his or her first observation, the subsequent group visions are still unreasonable for all the reasons we’ve already discussed. There are many concerns related to the claim that a select number of persuaders convinced the disciples of resurrection…


Investigating Easter: Were The Disciples Simply Influenced By Limited “Spiritual” Sightings? | Cold Case Christianity