The Rejection of Pascal's Wager
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The Nature of the Appearances

The resurrection appearances were like visions. The reason is simple.

The Appearances in the Gospels

The gospel accounts of Jesus' appearances presents them clearly in a material and tangible form. It was presented to make sure that the readers understand that it was not an immaterial specter that the disciples saw. In Matthew the two Marys were described to have clasped Jesus' feet (Matthew 28:9). In Luke, Jesus was made to tell his disciples to touch him to make certain he is real. He is also able to eat:

Luke 24:36-42
While they were still talking about this, Jesus stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while still they did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, "Do you have anything to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.

In John's account too the resurrected Jesus was a tangible being who allowed doubting Thomas to touch his hands and his side:

John 20:24-28
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe." A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!"

The Existence of Doubt

Another surprising common ground that seemed to have shown itself in the above passages from Luke and John was the existence of doubt among the disciples. Even in Matthew, some of the disciples were said to have doubts when they saw Jesus (Matthew 28:17). Had the appearances of Jesus been as tangible as the gospels made them out to be, the existence of these doubts cannot be explained.

But the presence of skepticism must have been so strongly imbedded in the traditional material the evangelists were drawing from that none of them could entirely ignore it. We must keep in mind that the gospel are nowhere near first hand accounts of the incidents. If anything, the last previous chapters of this book should convince the rational reader that the "gospel truth" cannot be accepted blindly. With that being the case, had the resurrection appearances been of less tangible and less lasting forms the existence of doubts can easily be explained. For one of the disciples could claimed that he had a fleeting glance of Jesus, while the rest not seeing anything would have doubted.

Paul's Visions of the Resurrection

We have strong support of this from an unexpected source, Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. The epistles of Paul represents the only authentic writing of an early Christian who actually "saw" the risen Christ. While there is nothing in these that describe in any detail his experience of the risen Jesus there are three accounts of this in the Acts of the apostles. Given below is one of the passage from Acts which had Paul describe his vision to a crowd in Jerusalem:

Acts 22:6-11 (Also Acts 9:3ff; 26:12)
"While I was on my way and approaching Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone about me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?' I answered, 'Who are you, Lord?' Then he said to me, 'I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.' Now those who were with me saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me. I asked, 'What am I to do, Lord?' The Lord said to me, 'Get up and go to Damascus; there you will be told everything that has been assigned to you to do.' Since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, those who were with me took my hand and led me to Damascus."

Nowhere in the accounts given in Acts are we actually told that Paul saw the risen Jesus. All he saw was a blinding light and a voice which his companions either did not hear or understand. The experience of Paul was nowhere near the tangible Jesus of the resurrected Jesus in the gospels. Paul's vision was a lot more uncertain than those described by the gospels.Yet we note that Paul in no way considered his vision as any different from those actually experienced by Peter and the other apostles, as he himself asserts:

I Corinthians 9:1
Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?

Paul, as evidenced from the passage above, does not think his vision to be any inferior than those experienced by the other apostles. Now anyone reading the gospel accounts of the resurrection appearances of Jesus and compare them to Paul's vision as narrated in Acts will not fail to notice that the Paul's vision is a lot less tangible and less certain than the apostles'. For one thing nobody around him heard (or understood) the voice. For another Paul didn't actually see Jesus all he saw was a blinding light, whereas the gospel narrated the disciples as actually seeing, talking and even eating with Jesus. It should be remembered that Paul's epistles predated the gospels by at least four decades. (Mark does not have any resurrection appearance). And in his own description of the resurrection appearances of Jesus (in I Corinthians 15:3-8), Paul used the word ofti (he was seen, he was observed). The choice of this word is significant according to Guignebert:

This word does not necessarily imply the actual appearance of a person, but may only indicate an unusual phenomena...the use of the word ofti in enumerating other visions in the Pauline lists...excludes such details as prolonged conversations, meals and resumption of ordinary life, on which the gospels dwell. [1]

The precedent of the Pauline epistle strongly suggests that the appearances witnessed original followers of Jesus amount to nothing more than the type described by Paul, i.e. visions. We have absolutely no reason to believe that Paul understood Jesus' appearances to the apostles as anything different from his own experience. [2] This view finds another adherent in the ex-nun turned author, Karen Armstrong:

It is interesting to note that Paul makes no distinction between his own vision of Jesus and those apparitions to Peter and the others. Where the gospels show Jesus as physically and inconvertibly present to the apostles, able to eat drink and be touched, Paul, who was writing much earlier, shows the events as entirely similar to his own violent vision, which he compares to an abnormal childbirth. The apparitions to Peter and James and the rest were probably visions like Paul's on the road to Damascus, rather than physical manifestations of the risen Lord. Paul does not suggest that they were any different. [3]

If, as we have seen is very likely, the actual resurrection appearances of Jesus were nothing more than hallucinatory visions brought on by psychological factors, it becomes clear why there were skeptics among the original followers of Jesus as to stories and claims of seeing the risen Christ.

Keeping in mind our dictum about extraordinary claims and the considerations above, it is inherently more likely that the actual resurrection experience of the first apostles were of a visionary and hallucinatory nature, akin to that of Paul's. The resurrection appearances of Jesus as described in the gospels are pure myths.

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1.Guignebert, Jesus: p523
2.Guignebert, Jesus: p524
3.Armstrong, The First Christian: p55

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