Monthly Archives: December 2018

Via Dolorosa (The Way of Sorrow)

December 2018 Pulse

In February 2015, Gay Byrne, host of the Irish religious television programme The Meaning of Life, asked militant atheist Stephen Fry what he would say to God if he found himself standing before Him at the Pearly Gates.

Fry replied with his characteristic sting: “Bone cancer in children: what’s that about?” He then proceeded with a lengthy diatribe on how evil must be the God who would so cruelly inflict such terrible suffering on little innocent children.

There is a sense in which Fry may be forgiven for working with that particular understanding of divine agency that informed his view of God. There are, after all, Christian writers who have postulated this concept of divine sovereignty and providence, and have – for example – attributed the tragedy of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami to the direct expression of the divine will.

The Orthodox theologian Bentley Hart rightly rejects such views as serious distortions of the biblical portrait of God.

“Such a God,” writes Bentley perceptively in The Doors of the Sea, “at the end of the day, is nothing but will, and so nothing but an infinite brute event; and the only adoration that such a God can evoke is an almost perfect coincidence of faith and nihilism.” Such an incoherent view of God, Hart points out, only provides ammunition for critics of the Christian faith (like Fry).

The God whose very nature is love cannot be the direct cause of suffering and evil. Their presence point to the fact that we inhabit a world that has come under the divine curse because of human rebellion and sin – a world that is sorely in need of redemption.

Although God cannot be said to be the author of suffering, He can use the trials and difficulties that we experience to fulfil His own purposes for us (and for the world). This is especially true for the Christian who trusts in God in the midst of the tribulations of life.

In the hands of the sovereign God, suffering can be a pruning tool to excise that which is unholy in our lives – the darkness in our souls that stunts our spiritual growth. In the mysterious outworking of divine grace, suffering removes our reticence and causes us to draw closer to God.

As Pope John Paul II put it in his apostolic letter Salvifici Doloris (Salvific Suffering), for the Christian, “suffering must serve for conversion, that is, for the rebuilding of goodness in the subject, who can recognise the divine mercy in this call to repentance.”

I should clarify at this point that suffering in and by itself is never virtuous. Neither is it a sign of holiness and/or means by which we attain greater intimacy with God. As we have seen, suffering, and the evil that gives rise to it, is an antithesis to the purposes of God.

Lent summons us to grateful contemplation of the suffering and death of the Son of God on the cursed tree, for the salvation of sinful humanity and the restoration of the fallen creation, showing that the evil and suffering that plague this world was never part of God’s original intention.

But the Passion of Christ has not only brought redemption to this fallen world, it has also translated all human suffering into a new situation. “In the Cross of Christ not only is the Redemption accomplished through suffering, but also human suffering itself has been redeemed”, wrote the late pontiff.

This means that for the Christian, the death and resurrection of our Lord throw salvific light on human suffering in the most penetrating way. Although suffering is an evil that must be resisted, the Christian knows that God can use it to accomplish the good (Romans 8:28).

The resurrection of Christ demonstrates that evil and suffering do not have the last word. For a day will come when suffering will be totally eradicated, when “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore” (Revelation 21:4).

Those who live with this hope can declare together with the Apostle Paul that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

Thus, because of Christ’s death and resurrection, the Christian can walk the via dolorosa (the way of sorrow) with faith, courage, and hope.

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

Different but Equal

December 2018 Credo

In an article in the 1991 issue of Christianity Today entitled, ‘Let’s Stop Making Women Presbyters’, evangelical theologian and leader J. I. Packer wrote: ‘Presbyters are set apart for a role of authoritative pastoral leadership. But this role is for manly men rather than womanly women, according to the creation pattern that redemption restores’.

This view, which subordinates the woman to the man, is underscored by the Reformed evangelical preacher John Piper in a book he edited with theologian Wayne Grudem entitled, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism.

Piper writes: ‘At the heart of matured masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women in ways appropriate to man’s differing relationship’. The converse is also true: ‘at the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships’.

These writers advocate what is sometimes called the ‘hierarchicalist’ view of the relationship between the man and the woman. This view maintains that although God has created men and women equal, he has designed the woman to be subordinated to the man.

Proponents of this view maintain that the subordination of the woman to the man points to the complementary role she is given by God. This view of the male-female relationship may also be described as the traditional view, since it is the view that Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and many Protestant churches espouse.

In what follows, I will argue that there is strong evidence to suggest that the Bible teaches that men and women are created equal for reciprocal and mutual relationship with each other. One gender is therefore not subordinated to the other. Rather men and women are to mutually support each other in all dimensions of life.

Man and Woman in Creation

We begin by examining the account of the creation of the first humans in Genesis. There, we are told that human beings – male and female – are created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:27). That both the man and the woman are bearers of the divine image suggests that they both have been bestowed with the same dignity and value.

It is important to note that the image of God is also a relational concept. This means that the first human pair images the God who created them by enjoying community with each other.

According to this understanding, the woman was not created by God merely to complement the man. Rather she was created to ‘complete’ the divine image by delivering the man from his isolation. This primal community of the man and the woman reflects the triune God who created them, who is Being-in-Communion.

Although the proponents of the traditional view would agree with this, they argue that the fact that the woman was created from the man indicates that she is subordinated to him. This argument is, of course, fallacious: the context of the narrative has to do not with the hierarchical order of creation but the alleviation of the man’s solitude and loneliness.

In its depiction of the woman as created from the man, the narrative stresses that only the woman is a fit companion for the man. This is beautifully brought out in Genesis’ portrayal of marriage as the joining of the man and the woman in such a way that they become ‘one flesh’ (2:24).

Marriage is the bond between the man and the only creature that is like him (2:23). It is also this profound similarity between male and female that allows the woman to be the man’s ‘helper’.

To describe the woman as the man’s ‘helper’, however, does not mean that she is subordinated to him. Hierarchicalists have used this to substantiate their position. For instance, based on this description John Piper has categorically declared that ‘God teaches us that the woman is a man’s “helper” in the sense of a loyal and suitable assistant in the life of the garden’.

But the term ‘helper’ (Hebrew: ezer) does not necessarily refer to a subordinate. There are seventeen references to God as our helper in the OT. Furthermore, the specific term that Genesis uses for the woman (‘ézrer kenegdô : fit helper) suggests equality, not subordination.

As Semitic specialist David Freedman explains: ‘When God creates Eve from Adam’s rib, his intent is that she will be – unlike the animals – “a power (or strength) equal to him”’.

Paul’s Magna Carter

In Galatians 3, Paul reinforces the conclusions we have drawn from the creation narrative in Genesis concerning the equal status of the man and the woman. In what is sometimes described as his ‘Magna Carta of Humanity’, Paul writes: ‘There is neither Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal 3:28).

In Christ, believers enjoy the same benefits from God, regardless of race, class or gender. These distinctions, to be sure, are not obliterated in Christ. Rather, they no longer serve as the basis for social or functional discrimination.

Hierarchicalists also recognise the implications of Paul’s declaration of equality in Christ. But they argue that this declaration has to do only with the positions of redeemed persons in Christ, not their relationships and functions. They argue that although the woman is equal in status with the man, she is relationally and functionally subordinate to him.

But positional equality cannot be severed from equality in relationships and functions. The former must surely imply the latter.

Christ has brought about not just a change in status, but also a change in relationships. And if this is true for the relationship between Gentile and the Jew, and the slave and the citizen, surely it must also be true for the relationship between the woman and the man.

Reflecting on the implications of this especially in relation to Christian ministry, F. F. Bruce could write:

No more restriction is implied in Paul’s equalising of the status of male and female in Christ than in his equalising of the status of the Jew and Gentile, or of slave and free person. If in ordinary life existence in Christ is manifested openly in church fellowship, then, if a Gentile may exercise spiritual leadership in church as freely as a Jew, or a slave as freely as a citizen, why not a woman as freely as a man.

Women in the Church

There is strong evidence that women were involved in the various ministries of the church in the earliest period of its history. Christian art of the first and second centuries, for example, depicts women baptising, administering the Lord’s Supper, teaching and caring for the congregation.

But the most important evidence of the egalitarian view of the early Church with regard to the participation of women in the ministry is found in the pages of Acts. Luke mentioned the involvement of women in the early expansion of the church in cities such as Jerusalem (Acts 5:14), Samaria (8:12), Philippi (16:13-15), Thessalonica (17:4), Corinth (18:2) and many others. For example, Lydia (Acts 16:40) played a significant role in assisting Paul in the Philippian church.

Significantly, women prophesied and taught in the early church. Acts 21:8-9 describes the four unmarried daughters of Philip who prophesied, suggesting that these women exercised some form of significant leadership at the church in Caesarea. Acts 18 also clearly indicates that Priscilla (together with her husband) was a teacher of the Scriptures who helped to further enlighten the already erudite Apollos about ‘the way of God’ (18:26).

Women were not excluded even from the office of the apostle.

In Romans 16:7, Paul writes: ‘Greet Andronicus and Junias … They were outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was’. The question whether Junias is a man or a woman is a much disputed one among contemporary scholars. But the Fathers of the early church, including Origen and John Chrysostom maintained that Junias was a woman.

The Question of Submission

 The creation narrative, Paul’s Magna Carter for Humanity, and the practice of the early Church provide the framework for understanding male-female relationships. It is within this framework that one should interpret the passages that prohibit women from performing certain ministries.

Thus, scholars have argued that even Paul’s declarative statement in 1 Timothy 2:12 (‘I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over the man’) must be understood contextually and must not be taken as a timeless imperative. In addition, linguistic studies have shown that here we have a temporary directive, not a permanent rule.

It is also within this framework that we should understand the Pauline concept of submission. Paul maintains that the overarching principle that should govern the human community (especially the Christian community) is mutual submission: ‘Submit to one another, out of reverence for Christ’ (Eph 5:21).

Mutual submission demolishes the social hierarchies and discriminations brought about by the Fall by according equal dignity and worth to every human being regardless of ethnic heritage, social status and gender. In the context of marriage, such mutuality is seen in the relationship of reciprocity where the wife willingly submits to her loving and devoted husband.


In conclusion, I must stress that in rejecting sexual hierarchy, I am not rejecting all hierarchy as such.

Society is so ordered that an egalitarianism that knows no supra- and subordinate levels, no authority and obedience is in the end naïve and untenable. In the concrete structures of society, some women may be subordinated to men, as the occasion requires.

But the egalitarianism that is portrayed in Scripture rejects the view that all women must be subject to all men all the time because they are women, in other words, that hierarchy should be based on gender.

It is in this respect that the biblical vision of the male-female relationship is truly counter-cultural. It points to the kind of human community that God had intended in creation, and the eschatological reality that the redemptive and restorative work of Christ has made possible.

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

A Decent Society

December 2018 Pulse

In his erudite and captivating book, Conscience and Its Enemies (2013), Robert George discusses the essential features of a decent society. According to the Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, the three pillars on which a decent society rests are (1) respect for the human person, (2) the institution of the family, and (3) a fair and effective system of government and law.

As a Roman Catholic, George established these foundations of a decent society on the basis of Catholic social doctrine (rooted in the teachings of the Bible and Christian tradition) as well as natural law.

The first pillar has to do with taking seriously the inviolable dignity of every human being. The Bible distinguishes the human creature from the rest of God’s creation by emphasising that it alone is the bearer of the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27).

‘The divine image is present in every man’, declares the Catechism of the Catholic Church. ‘It shines forth in the communion of persons, in the likeness of the unity of the divine persons themselves’.

When a society recognises, values and respects the human person, writes George, its institutions ‘and the beliefs and practices of the people, will be such that every member of the human family, irrespective not only of race, sex, or ethnicity but also of age, size, stage of development, or condition of dependency, is treated as a person – that is, as a subject bearing profound, inherent, and equal worth and dignity’.

A society that fails or refuses to nurture respect for the human person and acknowledge the sanctity of human life will embrace an inhumane utilitarianism that tramples upon the dignity of the individual for the sake of some nebulous ‘greater good’.

The second pillar is the institution of the family. With characteristic perceptiveness and clarity, George writes: ‘The family, based on the marital commitment of husband and wife, is the original and best ministry of health, education and welfare’.

For Pope John Paul II, the family is fashioned in such a way that it reflects the triune God himself. In his Letter to Families (1994), the late pontiff states that ‘the primordial model of the family is to be sought in God himself, in the Trinitarian mystery’. The family as a ‘communion of persons’ (communio personarum) is grounded in the triune God, who is Being-in-Communion.

So foundational and important are families to society that where they fail to form or where too many break down, writes George, ‘the effective transmission of the virtues of honesty, civility, self-restraint, concern for the welfare of others, justice compassion, and personal responsibility are imperiled’.

The third pillar of a decent society, according to George, is a fair and effective system of government. Based on the biblical revelation of the sinfulness of our fallen humanity, George provides an argument for the need for law and government that is consistent with Scripture (Romans 13) and the Christian tradition.

Law and government are necessary, he writes quite plainly, ‘because none of us is perfectly virtuous all the time, and some people will be deterred from wrongdoing only by the threat of punishment’.

Together with conservatives, past and present – e.g. Edmund Burke (in the 18th century) and Roger Scruton (in ours) – George believes that law and government are meant to protect the safety and morals of society and advance general welfare.

It should be quite obvious to many that we live in the world in which each of these pillars has come under assault – sometimes by totalitarian regimes and their dehumanising ideologies, and sometimes in the name of the ideals of modern liberal democracy, such as autonomy and rights.

In countless clinics across the world, foetuses are being routinely killed because women want to exercise autonomy over their bodies and parents want to exert their rights.

Take, for example, the routine abortion of foetuses diagnosed with Down syndrome.

Iceland could boast that no babies with Down are born there. This is not due to the ‘genetic exceptionalism’ of Icelanders, but the policy of prenatal screening and abortion. It is reported that in the United States, 90 percent of babies diagnosed with Down are aborted because genetic counsellors having been pushing this option very hard.

Canada legalised euthanasia in June 2016. Since then, over 1,029 patients have been euthanized. The Canadian Paediatric Society reported that doctors and paediatricians are increasingly asked by parents to euthanize their disabled or dying children or infants. Pro-life doctors who refuse to be party to this are required by law to refer their patients to other doctors who would provide the service.

Abortion and euthanasia are just two of many examples of the assault on the human person that we witness in modern civilised society.

Marriage and family have also been subjected to severe battery in our time.

The growing acceptance and legalisation of same-sex marriage has radically redefined marriage and altered the structure of the family. In fact, such legislations have in effect resulted in the abolition of marriage.

Science and technology have also contributed to the assault on the family. One example is assisted reproductive technologies that ‘create’ a child with the genetic contribution from a third party – through the use of donor gametes.

 Attacks on the family are also not uncommon in the academy, especially in the West.

George explains: ‘The line here is that the family, at least as traditionally constituted and understood, is a patriarchal and exploitative institution that oppresses women and imposes on people forms of sexual restraint that are psychologically damaging and that inhibit free expression of personality’.

The assault on government and law is seen most acutely in the totalitarian governments in modern history. Within regimes like Stalin’s Soviet Union and Mao’s China, all power is located in the particular leader or group that controls everything, from politics to culture. In such regimes, the only form of power is the political.

But the rule of law has come under assault even in democratic countries, not just in totalitarian ones. This happens when ideology is allowed to shape the law, and the rule of law is manipulated and bent according to the ideological whims of the powerful. When this occurs, the rule of law is nothing but the rule of politics.

Christians in different vocations – teachers, doctors, civil servants, politicians, policy-makers, lawyers, judges, etc – must strenuously resist and oppose the forces that would destroy the moral and social fabric of society.

They must do their best to promote the three pillars of a good society – respect for the human person, preservation of the family and a fair and effective system of government and law – and prevent society from coming into the grips of the new barbarism.

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

Plastic Planet

December 2018 Feature

Snorkelling off the coast of the Indonesian island of Sumbawa in 2016, nature photographer, Justin Hofman,  snapped a picture of a tiny seahorse latching on to a cotton swab, which was to bring to the world’s attention a situation that we have lived with in tacit complicity.  The photograph shared on Instagram was telling of the pervasive and pernicious problem of plastic pollution in our urban contexts, in our cities, in our waterways and in our oceans.

Two recent documentaries that highlight this prevalent plastic problem are Plastic Paradise and A Plastic Ocean.   In a study that was featured in the Guardian, Damian Carrington wrote: “The world’s 7.6 billion people represent just 0.01% of all living things, according to the study. Yet since the dawn of civilisation, humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants…”  I fear that our part in this plastic problem will affect even more species and will ultimately hurt ourselves.

Plastics have been an indispensable part of modernity and all it takes for you to realise its ubiquity is to consider the machines, utensils, appliances, devices, wardrobe, packaging, et cetera – that you use or come in contact with every single moment.

Yet the history of plastics (as it is applied today) is a rather recent invention, which is about as “far” back as the 1950s!  Yet, as researchers Roland Geyer, Jenna R. Jambeck and Kara Lavender Law observed,

the growth of plastics production in the past 65 years has substantially outpaced any other manufactured material. The same properties that make plastics so versatile in innumerable applications – durability and resistance to degradation – make these materials difficult or impossible for nature to assimilate. Thus, without a well-designed and tailor-made management strategy for end-of-life plastics, humans are conducting a singular uncontrolled experiment on a global scale, in which billions of metric tons of material will accumulate across all major terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems on the planet.  (emphasis mine)

And to that effect, the June 2018 issue of National Geographic features a pervasive and pernicious problem – plastics and its effect on the natural environment.

My particular interest in this development in mission studies is precipitated by the reticence among Christian academics and pastors in the area of stewardship/creation care as well as our complicity in exacerbating the current crisis.  Consider the imperceptive and prodigal use of plastic/polystyrene in church functions.   It may well be that we have a flawed eschatology, further fuelled by some of our Christian songs – whether it is John Newton’s last stanza of Amazing Grace or Carrie Underwood’s Temporary Home.  Or it is possibly a result of our faulty hermeneutics, where we have misunderstood God’s intention is giving to humanity the ‘exercise of dominion’ (or to subdue) in the creation account in Genesis 1.

Richard Bauckham commenting on Genesis 1 wrote:

Genesis 1 does not authorise an undifferentiated human rule over the rest of creation, even when this is interpreted as stewardship.  It distinguishes between human use of the earth, with its vegetation, for human life and flourishing, a right to be exercised responsibly, and human dominion over the rest of the animate creation.  For which humans have a responsibility to care.

Similarly, Old Testament scholar, Gordon Wenham in summarising the meaning of rule (or dominion), adds:

Because man is created in God’s image, he is king over nature.  He rules the world on God’s behalf.  This is of course no licence for the unbridled exploitation and subjugation of nature. Ancient oriental kings were expected to be devoted to the welfare of their subjects, especially the poorest and weakest members of society (Psalm 72:12-14).  By upholding divine principles of law and justice, rulers promoted peace and prosperity for all their subjects.  Similarly, mankind is here commissioned to rule nature as a benevolent king, acting as God’s representative over them and therefore treating them in the same way as God who created them.  Thus animals, though subject to man, are viewed as his companions in 2:18-20…

The Hebrew terms, kavash (subdue) and radah  (rule) in Genesis 1:26-28 carries the meaning that humanity was to exercise a rule over the whole of creation synonymous with that of benevolent kings.  The kings were not to rule for their own interests but rather for the welfare of their subjects.  Furthermore, in contrast to an anthropocentric worldview of the Enlightenment that perceives the superiority of humanity over the rest of creation and that prioritises creation merely for the use of man, Christopher Wright contends that “there is a paradoxical balance between the command in Gen. 1:27 to ‘ … have dominion’ over the rest of creation and the instruction in Gen. 2:15 ‘ … to serve the earth and keep it’.  Dominion through servanthood is humanity’s role, which in itself is an interesting reflection of Christ’s.”

How do we understand our role in God’s creation?  How should Christians react in the face of this plastic problem?

This article is hopefully one that provides an occasion for us to think (and question) that which we hold on to without considering the contexts, the conversations and the consequences.  And I certainly hope that it will challenge our status quo, which is often predicated by costs, convenience and comfort.

And perhaps we should purposefully stop and think about our actions; if not for our sakes, it should be for our children, for our children’s children, for the remaining of God’s creation and ultimately for the glory and purposes for which God created this earth.  We need to remember that “this is my Father’s world!”

Finally, instead of just reduce, reuse and recycle, if possible we should flatly refuse (especially the single-use plastics!).

Dr Andrew Peh is a lecturer in mission at Trinity Theological College. He is also an alumnus of Trinity Theological College as well as E Stanley Jones School of World Mission and Evangelism, of Asbury Theological Seminary. He is also ordained as a diaconal minister with the Chinese Annual Conference of the Methodist Church in Singapore.

Resurrection or Hallucination?

December 2018 Credo

Throughout the history of the Church, there have been numerous attempts by her adversaries to debunk the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. It seems that these detractors understood very well – arguably perhaps better than some Christians do – the centrality of Christ’s resurrection in Christianity.

‘If Christ has not been raised’, writes the Apostle Paul, ‘then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain’ (1 Corinthians 15:14). The resurrection of Jesus is not an optional extra, a concept or claim that can be pushed to the margins of Christianity. It is the truth upon which the Christian faith stands or falls.

The advance of modern science in the 18th and 19th centuries has led to the proliferation of naturalistic theories regarding Jesus’ resurrection. These range from the theory that the body of the dead Jesus was stolen by the disciples (Hermann Reimarus) to the proposition that Jesus did not in fact die but merely fainted or swooned (Friedrich Schleiermacher) and recovered later.

In recent decades the hallucination theory, popularised in the 19th century by David Strauss and Ernest Renan, is witnessing something of a revival.

In The Resurrection of Jesus (1994) Gerd Ludemann commandeered hallucination studies to offer a rehash of David Strauss’ hypothesis, that the appearances of the risen Christ were merely internal psychological events or subjective visions in the minds of the disciples – in a word, hallucinations.

Ludemann maintains that these hallucinatory visions were the result of ‘religious intoxication’ and ‘ecstasy’. They spread to the other disciples and to the five hundred witnesses mentioned by Paul by ‘an incomparable chain reaction’, resulting in ‘mass ecstasy’.

Michael Goulder, in a 1996 essay ‘The Baseless Fabric of a Vision’ adopts a similar approach to Ludemann, arguing that Peter was the first to experience a ‘Jesus hallucination’ due to the anxieties brought about by Holy Week and the shame he felt for denying his Master. Peter’s hallucination subsequently spread to the rest of the disciples.

In his attempt to find analogies of the ‘Jesus hallucination’, Goulder came up with some of the most farcical suggestions: the moving statue of Mary at Knock, the phenomenon of UFOs and the ‘Sasquatch’ (Bigfoot) sightings.

The most recent attempt to revive the hallucination hypothesis comes from the pen of a historian at the University of California, Berkeley, and trenchant advocate of atheism, Richard Cevantis Carrier.

‘I believe the best explanation, consistent with both scientific findings and the surviving evidence … is that the first Christians experienced hallucinations of the risen Christ, of one form or another’, writes Carrier. ‘In the ancient world, to experience supernatural manifestations of ghosts, gods, and wonders was not only accepted, but encouraged’.

Before we examine the differences between hallucinations and the experiences of the disciples of the resurrected Jesus, it may be helpful to consider a broad definition of hallucination. According to the 1996 edition of the Encyclopedia Americana a hallucination is a ‘report of a sensory experience in the absence of an actual external stimulus appropriate to the reported experience’.

Scientific studies show that this phenomenon is very commonly reported among mental patients. People with normal mental health only experience hallucinatory visions when they are suffering from extreme fatigue or grief. People on certain kinds of drugs may also have such experiences.

There are a number of important factors that have led Christian theologians and apologists to rule out the possibility that the early disciples may have experienced hallucinatory visions of their dead master.

The first is the facticity of the empty tomb. No secret was made of the fact that the body of Jesus was placed in a tomb that belonged to Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin.

If the sceptics thought that the early Christians were merely hallucinating when they claimed to have seen the resurrected Christ, they could easily have exposed their delusion by simply producing the body of Jesus. However, the sceptics simply did not do this (because they could not).

The second factor that rules out the possibility that the sightings of the resurrected Jesus were hallucinations is the number of people involved. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul provides an impressive list of eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus: Cephas, the twelve, the five hundred, and finally Paul himself.

According to the clinical psychologist Gary Collins, ‘Hallucinations are individual occurrences. By their very nature only one person can see a given hallucination at a time. They certainly are not something which can be seen by a group … Since hallucinations exists only in this subjective, personal sense, it is obvious that others cannot witness it’.

In addition, the fact that the people who encountered the resurrected Jesus have different mindsets and different frames of mind when the experience took place also works against the hallucination hypothesis.

As the evangelical philosopher Gary Habermas compellingly puts it: ‘The wide variety of times and places when Jesus appeared, along with the different mindsets of the witnesses, is simply a huge obstacle. Men and women, hard-headed and soft-hearted alike, all believing that they saw Jesus, both indoors and outdoors, by itself provides an insurmountable barrier to hallucinations’.

The bodily nature of the resurrection also militates against the view that it was merely a psychological state or hallucination. All the appearances of the resurrected Jesus were bodily appearances, as opposed to only psychological visions.

The resurrected Jesus ate with his disciples on the seashore (John 21:14-15) and at the home of the two disciples traveling on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:28-30). In addition, Thomas touched the wounds of the crucifixion on the body of the resurrected Jesus (John 20:27).

Thus, William Lane Craig insists that ‘There is no trace of nonphysical appearances in the sources, a remarkable fact if all the appearances were really visionary, as some critics would have us believe. That strongly suggests that the appearances were not in fact visions, but actual, bodily appearances’.

Even the duration of the appearances serves as a strong refutation of the hallucination hypothesis. Hallucinations are usually fleeting, occurring not more than a few seconds or minutes at a time.

However, in Acts 1:3, we are told that the resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples for forty days: ‘He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God’.

Finally, the lives of the disciples who saw, touched and ate with their resurrected Lord were radically transformed. They not only became faithful witnesses of the risen Christ, but they were also willing to suffer persecution and even die for him.

Studies in hallucinations, on the other hand, show that those who experienced them are seldom transformed. This has prompted Habermas to observe: ‘Critics acknowledge that Jesus’ disciples were transformed even to the point of being quite willing to die for their faith … To believe that this quality of conviction came about through false sensory perceptions without anyone rejecting it later is highly problematic’.

The resurrection of Jesus is not a brilliant idea or a powerful myth. It is certainly not a hallucination! It is a historical reality, the non-negotiable essence of the Gospel of salvation (1 Corinthians 15:1-11).

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.