The vision theory or vision hypothesis is a term used to cover a range of theories that question the physical resurrection of Jesus, and suggest that sightings of a risen Jesus were visionary experiences. It was first formulated by David Friedrich Strauss, and proposed in several forms by mainstream scholarship, including Helmut Koester,Géza Vermes, and Larry Hurtado, and members of the Jesus Seminar such as Gerd Lüdemann.
Christian apologists object against the theory, taking the resurrection to be a literal, bodily phenomenon.
David Friedrich Strauss (1808-1874), in his "Life of Jesus" (1835), argued that the resurrection was not an objective historical fact, but a subjective "recollection" of Jesus, transfiguring the dead Jesus into an imaginary, or "mythical," risen Christ. The appearance, or Christophany, of Jesus to Paul and others, was "internal and subjective." Reflection on the Messianic hope, and Psalms 16:10,[note 1] led to an exaltated state of mind, in which "the risen Christ" was present "in a visionary manner," concluding that Jesus must have escaped the bondage of death. Strauss' thesis was further developed by Ernest Renan (1863) and Albert Réville (1897). These interpretations were later classed the "subjective vision hypothesis",[note 2] and "is advocated today by a great majority of New Testament experts."
According to Ehrman, "the Christian view of the matter [is] that the visions were bona fide appearances of Jesus to his followers", a view which is "forcefully stated in any number of publications." Ehrman further notes that "Christian apologists sometimes claim that the most sensible historical explanation for these visions is that Jesus really appeared to the disciples."
According to De Conick, the experiences of the risen Christ in the earliest written sources - the "primitive Church" creed of , Paul in and - are ecstatic rapture events.
According to Hurtado, the resurrection experiences were religious experiences which "seem to have included visions of (and/or ascents to) God's heaven, in which the glorified Christ was seen in an exalted position." These visions may mostly have appeared during corporate worship. Johan Leman contends that the communal meals provided a context in which participants entered a state of mind in which the presence of Jesus was felt.
According to Ehrman, "the disciples' belief in the resurrection was based on visionary experiences."[note 3] Ehrman notes that both Jesus and his early followers were apocalyptic Jews, who believed in the bodily resurrection, which would start when the coming of God's Kingdom was near. Ehrman further notes that visions usually have a strong persuasive power, but that the Gospel-accounts also record a tradition of doubt about the appearances of Jesus. Ehrman's "tentative suggestion" is that only a few followers had visions, including Peter, Paul and Mary. They told others about those visions, convincing most of their close associates that Jesus was raised from the dead, but not all of them. Eventually, these stories were retold and embellished, leading to the story that all disciples had seen the risen Jesus. The belief in Jesus' resurrection radically changed their perceptions, concluding from his absence that he must have been exalted to heaven, by God himself, exalting him to an unprecented status and authority.
According to Helmut Koester, the stories of the resurrection were originally epiphanies in which the disciples are called to a ministry by the risen Jesus, and at a secondary stage were interpreted as physical proof of the event. He contends that the more detailed accounts of the resurrection are also secondary and do not come from historically trustworthy sources, but instead belong to the genre of the narrative types.
According to Gerd Lüdemann, Peter had a vision of Jesus, induced by his feelings of guilt of betraying Jesus. The vision elevated this feeling of guilt, and Peter experienced it as a real appearance of Jesus, raised from dead. He convinced the other disciples that the resurrection of Jesus signalled that the endtime was near and God's Kingdom was coming, when the dead who would rise again, as evidenced by Jesus. This revitalized the disciples, starting-off their new mission.[web 1]
According to Biblical scholar Géza Vermes, the resurrection is to be understood as a reviving of the self-confidence of the followers of Jesus, under the influence of the Spirit, "prompting them to resume their apostolic mission." They felt the presence of Jesus in their own actions, "rising again, today and tomorrow, in the hearts of the men who love him and feel he is near."
Hans Grass (1964) proposed an "objective vision hypothesis," in which Jesus' appearances are "divinely caused visions," showing his followers that His resurrection "was a spiritual reality." Jesus' spirit was resurrected, but his body remained dead, explaining the belated conversion of Jesus' half-brother James. Grass' "objective" vision hypothesis finds no echo in more recent scholarship.
Alfred Edersheim (1959) pointed out several objections to the hypothesis, including that the record shows that disciples expected Jesus to remain dead and needed convincing of the opposite. Others also have cited Christ's eating with the Twelve and showing them his wounds. Several Christian apologist scholars such as Gary Habermas, William Lane Craig and Michael Morrison have argued against the vision explanations for the resurrection. William Lane Craig and Gerd Lüdemann entered a written debate on the subject in 2000.Pinchas Lapide rejected the possibility that the appearances were hallucinations. After examining the various claims he wrote, "If the defeated and depressed group of disciples overnight could change into a victorious movement of faith, based only on autosuggestion or self-deception--without a fundamental faith experience--then this would be a much greater miracle than the resurrection itself."