Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Apparitions of Jesus

Recently I read Tom Doyle's book, Dreams and Visions: Is Jesus Awakening the Muslim World? (Thomas Nelson 2012). I also read Strobel's interview with Doyle in L. Strobel, The Case for Miracles (Zondervan 2018), chap. 8. In addition, I read or listened to some material by David Garrison, which covers much the same ground, but is independent of Doyle, and has different anecdotes. 

Doyle and Garrison document reported apparitions of Jesus to Muslims. However, the phenomenon isn't confined to Muslim converts to Christianity. For instance:

A few observations:

1. I don't automatically believe or disbelieve any particular report. I think there's cumulative plausibility, when you have multiple independent reports of the same kind of phenomenon. One doesn't have to credit all of them to think that, odds are, given that many reports, at least a fraction are probably authentic.

2. In many cases this involves individuals who have a incentive not to believe in Jesus. This happens in spite of their predisposition.

3. Of course, some people indulge in tall tales about supernatural encounters. We must always make allowance for that. Just as, odds are, a fraction are probably authentic, a fraction are inevitably fraudulent. 

4. By the same token, some people experience hallucinations. They are sincere, but mistaken.

5. However, some of the anecdotes, if reliably reported, have veridical elements. Information is imparted that they wouldn't be in a position to naturally know, but it's later confirmed. Strobel also mentions two people having the same dream the same night, although I didn't read any examples of that (unless I missed it). But if they happen, synchronized dreams would be veridical. Likewise, dreams that come true–if they're sufficiently specific and naturally improbable. 

6. How do we classify a Christophany? There seem to be two basic categories:

i) Jesus physically appearing to someone

ii) Jesus telepathically appearing to someone

Most of the cases I've read comport with (ii), although some cases have physical traces which might indicate (i). 

7. Given the number of reported encounters, if a subset of those involve Jesus physically appearing to people, then that implies bilocation, because Jesus would have to be in two or more places at once to appear to that many people. (I'm referring to modern-day reports.) 

If so, that might have implications for Gospel harmonization. If Jesus sometimes physically appears in two (or more) places at once, then "contradictory" reports of when, where, and to whom Jesus appeared after the Resurrection may have a neglected principle of harmonization. 

8. In modern-day Christian apologetics, there's an overemphasis on ancient documentary evidence. Although it's necessary to defend the inerrancy and historicity of Scripture, and while it's useful to make the Resurrection a component of Christian apologetics, the evidence for Christianity isn't confined to literary reports of biblical miracles. Christianity is a living faith. Throughout church history, some Christians encounter God in extraordinary ways. These reports need to be carefully sifted, but that's true for testimonial evidence generally. Modern-day Christian apologetics frequently suffers from tunnel vision in the sample of evidence it showcases. But the evidential database is much broader. 


  1. Since Satan can manifest as an angel of light, and since we have no descriptions of what Jesus looked like, how do the recipients of these visions know that they are "seeing" the Lord, and not a deceiving spirit?

    1. Because Jesus has telepathic access to human minds. How did Abraham know God was speaking to him rather than a deceiving spirit? At some point you must grant that God has the ability to be unmistakably recognizable to recipients.

    2. Maybe a case of cessationism looking like knee jerk naturalism?

  2. I think it would depend on the message. A demonic entity would not want someone to believe the truth. Pretty simple, I think you have some knee jerk skepticism. Also, there is a high probability that the Turin shroud is legit. So we probably go have a good idea of what Jesus looked like, but that would not be sufficient to determine if some image was Jesus, since a supernatural agent could appear in a multitude of ways.

  3. Most Iranians who are all former Muslims that I have met over the last 25 years have had some kind of vision/dream of some kind - but it usually is the kind of experience that prepares them for getting the gospel later - by a person or by getting a Bible or NT in Farsi, or watching the Jesus Film in Farsi, or a tract or Christian program on satellite TV. It is usually a Cornelius like kind of experience - Acts 10:22 ("to hear a message from you (Peter)"); Acts 10:33 ("we are all here present before God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord"; Acts 11:14 ("and he shall speak words to you by which you will be saved . . . ").
    I just heard the testimony of 3 others a few days ago of amazing dreams/visions and then they got the gospel later and one of them, spent time in prison in Iran. All I can do is listen, be patient, and seek to preach the gospel and teach the believers the Scriptures. It is hard to judge exactly how much is their own pysche / mind or is it miraculous. It is usually more at the beginning of their Christian life; and after that there is more growth in the word and teaching. I am sure that some people exaggerate and embellish their stories, and some is just psychological dreams that were informed by other things in their lives; but this thing is very common. (Former Muslims having dreams/visions - It is common about former Muslims, like Nabeel Qureshi's testimony in his book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus)
    There is also a series of movies of 5 former Muslims and their dreams called "More than Dreams" (The Arabic one is the most interesting to me; because the dreams came after he started studying the Bible in order to critique it and destroy Christianity; and he discovered that the Bible is true and the Qur'an is false; but he started out in a terrorist organization and the leader commissioned him to destroy the Bible by reading it and studying it to find problems and contradictions. (Khalid's story) The Iranian one (Khosrow's story) - I know of/ met him one time outside of Iran - that guy and he escaped Iran to Turkey and to Europe (Pentecostal). He is part of a Pentecostal Iranian church today in USA. The Turkish one (Ali's Story) is interesting because it was Jesus who finally gave him victory over his anger, cruelty to his wife, and his addiction to alcohol. You can see all of them on You Tube. The other 2 are about an Indonesian and a Nigerian (I think) former Muslim. the first 3 are the ones I have watched more than once. (the Arabic one, Persian, and Turkish.)

  4. I wrote an article on this a while back; and you can see the links to the You Tube videos there on 2 of those. (the Arabic one and Farsi one) (They have English dubs also) Look for the Turkish one on Ali - interesting also.