The Resurrection: Real or Imagined?

Did Paul see a physically resurrected man or did he hallucinate some sort of spirit? What does the bible say?

Paul describes his encounter with the risen Jesus in his letter to cultists in Galatia:

For I did not receive it (the gospel) from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ… God was pleased to reveal his Son in me… (Galatians 1.12 & 15)

‘Revelation, revealed, in me’: there’s no physically resurrected body here.

In his letter to the little community in Corinth, Paul tells us explicitly that Jesus was raised as a ‘life giving spirit’ (1 Corinthians 15.45). Whatever this means, this is how Paul experienced the risen Christ. Nowhere in his letters does he claim to have seen a man who has physically risen from the dead. Even in the legend created around Paul’s mystical revelations decades later, there’s no physical Jesus: a bright light and disembodied voice is what Luke comes up with.

Why does this matter? Well, for a start, Paul’s is the only first hand account of an encounter with the risen Jesus we have. And it was of an entirely ‘spiritual’ nature. Second, Paul assumes that those who ‘saw’ the risen Jesus had exactly the same sort of experience he did. He says in 1 Corinthians 15.5-8,

…(the Risen Jesus) appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Paul makes no distinction between the way he experienced the risen Jesus, as a life giving Spirit, and the way these others did. His persistent use of ‘appeared to’ also underlines the mystical nature of these encounters; he doesn’t say Jesus ‘visited’ James or ‘spent time with’ Cephas or ‘chatted with’ the apostles over a fish supper (those legends would come later). There’s absolutely no human interaction here between these people and a real human being. No: instead, Paul says Jesus ‘appeared to’ them, as in ‘he was an apparition’.

The translation of the same passage in the King James version makes this obvious:

…he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.  And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.

As for Paul, then, so for all these other sightings (we only have Paul’s word they actually took place.) They were apparitions, hallucinations, innervisions, emotional, spiritual experiences – call them what you will – ‘seen of’ others. They were not of a real man physically raised from the dead.

Why do some Christians find this so hard to accept? After all, this is much their own experience today. They may not hallucinate that Jesus is standing in front of them (assuming that’s what the ‘life giving spirit’ looked like to Paul and others) but they have an emotional experience at conversion that they credit to the presence, the spirit, of this long dead individual. If that’s how it is for converts today, why not for the original Christians? Why does there have to be physical resurrection at all?

Spoiler: there doesn’t and there wasn’t.


12 thoughts on “The Resurrection: Real or Imagined?

  1. In my humble opinion, Paul was nothing more than a charlatan and con man. He says he was a Pharisee but seems to know little about Pharisaic Judaism. This is almost certainly a lie since he claims to have been tutored by Gamaliel, an absolute giant of Pharisaic Judaism and a teacher for such students in Jerusalem, not Tarsus where Paul was born, raised & lived. He also claims to have been sent to Syria – a complete other country – to persecute Christians at the behest of the Sadducees, a total rival sect to the Pharisees! This would be like getting sent on a mission for the Catholics if your were a Mormon! It’s an absolutely crazy assertion furthered by the claim that he had any such authority in Damascus, another country! His story overall is completely insane.

    However, it is clear to me that Paul – not Jesus – is the creator of the myth of Christianity. A blend of Judaism with heaping helpings of Greco-Roman mystery cults and Paul as the star witness/advocate. He was the “Jim Jones” of the ancient world.


    • I agree, he was seriously delusional. Whether he was a charlatan or believed his own fantasies, I don’t know, but he is responsible for Christianity as we know it. There must have been some sort of Jesus-belief before him – he says others had a similar illusion to his and claims he later he met these other zealots – but quite what that belief was is anybody’s guess.


  2. I think the problem you have in understanding the resurrection is the “spiritual body.” Well, you’re in good company; the disciples had just as much trouble as you have. You only have to read the several Gospel accounts. Jesus wasn’t just revived. He was distinctly different. Yet he was not a spirit or a vision. He had lunch with the disciples. He could be touched. He had a body, but different.

    He could do things that no ordinary man could do. He could appear and disappear at will. And he looked enough different from the Jesus they had spent three years with that they didn’t immediately recognize him, until he spoke. The best they could do in explaining it was to say he had a spiritual body.

    And that is what they expected to be in the resurrection. They did not expect and Paul did not say in 1 Corinthians that they would be spirits. They would have spiritual bodies like Jesus.

    So, why does there have to be physical resurrection at all? I don’t think there HAS TO BE. It is simply a statement, underscored every place either Jesus’ resurrection or ours is mentioned, that this is what the resurrection is like.

    But the spiritual body resurrection is also physical enough to fit the rest we know of the future: the eternal state of the resurrected will be on a material new earth in a physical new universe (heavens). We are not resurrected to heaven.

    Now, the truth is I would not care. The appeal of eternal life is an eternity enjoying God and those who, like I am, are the redeemed. Heaven would satisfy that. It just isn’t what the Bible describes. And it doesn’t fit the purpose of God as we see it unfolding on the pages of the Bible. We were created physical on a physical earth. God’s purpose was that we would be the superintendents of the earth and that we have eternal life (the tree in the garden, you know). It will be different from the earth we now know, but I expect that it will be enough the same that we shall have the opportunity to live out God’s purpose – on a new and material earth in a new and material universe.

    Along with Jesus the resurrected son of man who is also God the Son.

    I look forward to that.


    • I think the problem you have, Don, is that you see the gospels as accurate accounts of historical events. They are not; as John states blatantly, they are propaganda, written so ‘you might believe.’ The stories of Jesus’ physical resurrection are just that: stories. When we look at the earlier accounts of the resurrection (or, more accurately, of ‘the Risen Jesus’) we find that no-one claims to have experienced a raised body. Instead, they talk about seeing visions or claim to have experienced ‘revelations’ in their own heads. Your faith, like the gospels, is based on these illusions. Life, however, is too valuable to squander it living according to 2,000 year old imaginings.


  3. “Propaganda,” your word, does not mean it is not an accurate account. It means it is presented so you might believe the facts presented.

    Neil:” When we look at the earlier accounts of the resurrection (or, more accurately, of ‘the Risen Jesus’) we find that no-one claims to have experienced a raised body.”

    I suppose you mean the Gospel of Mark. It does end in the form we have at verse 8 without mentioning anyone who experienced the risen Jesus. But almost all biblical scholars agree that the text is truncated. As a student of literature. I cannot imagine any ancient author ending at that point. For one thing, there is no denouement to the plot. It leaves the reader hanging. For another, what is the point in writing this Gospel if it ends at verse 8? It would be like a student writer who writes and essay with no point or conclusion at the end. (We who are acquainted with modern literature do know pieces that are indefinite at the end, but that is a modern innovation. Even so, for most readers, that is unsatisfactory. It is like crime thriller without the criminal being caught.)

    The additions to the Gospel are tacit indication that the ancient writers thought the same, so they added the denouement based on the other accounts available and on the experience of the church following the resurrection.

    Life should be lived in reality. I think that the resurrection is reality.


    • I am referring to Paul’s sightings of the risen Jesus. These are by far the earliest accounts we have of the so-called resurrection, about thirty years prior to those in Matthew (as you concede, Mark’s gospel does not have any. We have no way of knowing if those added much later are accurate or not – despite your assertion they must be!) Paul’s experience also has the benefit of being a first hand report; our only one. And yet Paul does not say he saw a physical body. He doesn’t even say he saw a bright light (Luke creates that for him much later.) No; he says he received a ‘revelation’ of the risen Jesus in his head. That’s it.

      He goes on to imply that appearances of the risen Jesus, to Cephas, James and others, are of exactly the same nature. A revelation. From the 30s – 50s, therefore we have no record whatsoever of Jesus resurrecting in a physical body. That doesn’t come until about AD80, when Matthew got to work altering Mark’s gospel. Read the NT in order, Don, and you’ll see.

      Alternatively, try my post on the subject:


      • Actually, Paul says he SAW the risen Lord (! Corinthians 15:8) which was predicated on the Lord being ACTUALLY raised from the dead (v. 4). There is no sense in this passage that he is spiritualizing or speaking metaphorically.

        In Galatians 1 Paul says he received the gospel by revelation not that his encounter with the risen Lord was a revelation.

        “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:12)

        If you are referring to 2 Corinthians 12:1, the “revelations of the Lord” does not refer to seeing the Lord in a revelation or vision; It refers to his experience in heaven, which he admits he was unsure if it was in the body (physical) or out of the body (spiritual). Grammatically the “of the Lord” or “from the Lord” is expressed by a genitive noun that simply conveys the idea of from. In other words, the vision or revelation was “from” the Lord not a vision “of” the Lord. Nowhere in this passage does Paul say he saw the Lord.

        Paul does say that his experience of the risen Jesus was the same as that of the other Apostles. But if you read that in context of his whole discourse on the resurrection it is clear that he means he and they saw Jesus in his RESURRECTION body which he describes as a spiritual bod. It was a body though different from his purely physical body as I have previously explained. It was the same as that which we as believers anticipate having in the resurrection – a body but different.

        So, what Paul was saying is that he and the Apostles experienced (saw) the risen Lord in his spiritual body, which was different from the physical body he had prior to the resurrection BUT NEVERTHELESS A BODY. He does not mean that they saw a vision.


      • Alas, Don, Paul doesn’t say he SAW the risen Lord. He says the risen Lord ‘appeared to him’. This is his favoured phrase and as I explain in one of the posts I directed you to, the term usually referred to a visionary experience, not a physical sighting. Bottom line: is it more likely Paul experienced an innervision or that he really saw a resurrected man in a body that wasn’t, according to you, a body?
        I don’t have the time (or inclination), Don, to address all of your cherry picking proselytising. Feel free to comment on all my posts as you seem to be doing. I shall leave you to it.


      • The word in 1 Corinthians 15 is ὤφθη. It is an aorist indicative passive verb. It is best translated as “he was seen” as the KJV has it. It can be used in a metaphorical sense – as he was perceived. But by far the verb is used as a literal seeing. In this case as in all the context determines the meaning. And as I have said before, the idea of the whole resurrection passage is that the resurrection is a physical resurrection. To shift that to a spiritual resurrection that cannot be seen or must be perceived as in a vision does injustice to the context.


  4. One question though. This blog says repeatedly that Jesus never predicted his own death and never said he’d come back to rule as a cosmic judge, yet he said so repeatedly in the Gospels. The Book of Daniel also has a figure called The Son of Man ruling over the earth and also talks about an evil worldwide dictator called The Abomination of Desolation, who is revealed more clearly in Revelations as a global dictator who forces everyone to accept the 666 mark to worship him as god

    Now, I’m not a Christian. But the whole COVID vaccine mandate and the ominous technology behind it definitely has some scary parallels to the ancient Biblical prophecies.

    I’m not a Christian. But I felt like that needed to the pointed out.


  5. Neil will most likely have a response, but if I may … the Pauline Christians mixed in many of the O.T. passages to validate their “Christ,” but nearly all of them are referring to the expected JEWISH messiah. When one looks at the “prophesies” through the eyes of the Jew, they take on a whole different meaning.


  6. I don’t believe any one person can succeed in ruling the world. Nations such as Russia, China, India, Pakistan, N Korea are opposed to the West’s tyrannical vision of a unipolar world. All 5 nations are armed with nuclear weapons and some of the largest standing militaries of any nation. Europe is too terrified to fight Russia directly as we are seeing in Ukraine. Could you imagine what would happen if they had to fight China and India alongside Russia?


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