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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Visions of Jesus throughout History and Today

Philip Wiebe, the chair of Philosophy for many years at Trinity Western University, is the author of a book entitled: Visions of Jesus: Direct Encounters from the New Testament to Today. In the book, he examines the reports of people who have claimed to see Jesus.

He writes:
"Visual encounters" with a being taken to be Jesus have been reported since the earliest days of Christianity. In fact, the Christian belief that Jesus was resurrected seems to have been based largely upon the reports of appearances of him after his apparent death by crucifixion, for the report of an empty tomb by itself would hardly have given rise to the Resurrection belief. Christic visions and apparitions have been reported during the entire history of the Christian church . . . " (p. 5).

These visions of Jesus as well as visions of Mary and other saints are rampant throughout Church History. Wiebe mentions several other books that document specifically visions of Jesus in history (actually there are far more books dealing with apparitions of Mary).

1. A Dictionary of Miracles by E. C. Brewer (1901)

2. The Apparitions and Shrines of Heaven's Bright Queen by W. J. Walsh (1904)

3. I Saw the Lord by Chester and Lucille Huyssen (1992)

One of the appearances of Jesus in Church History that I found interesting was the report by St. Jerome. Jerome (347-420 CE) was one of the great scholars and intellectuals of the first millennium of the Christian Era. He translated the Bible into Latin which became the standard translation for Christians for a thousand years. Jerome describes having been beaten for his love of Cicero and his neglect of the Scriptures. He was taken to the judgment seat of God and scourged on the orders of Jesus. He remarks: "Let none think this is a vision or a dream!! The angels know it was no dream. Christ himself is my witness it was no dream; yea, my whole body still bears the marks of that terrible flagellation" (Brewer, p. 368 cited in Wiebe, p. 18).

That is an interesting report. Jesus had Jerome scourged because he was neglecting the Scriptures. Its a good thing Jesus doesn't do that now as I am told that while the Bible is the world's bestseller, most Christians have never read it in its entirety and many Christians seldom read any of it.

In 1221 St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226 CE) saw Jesus, Mary his mother, and a multitude of angels, and two years later he saw Jesus again. This time St. Francis was given three white and three red roses of exquisite beauty as an external ratification of the reality of his vision, it being in the midst of winter, when a rose was nowhere to be found (Walsh, vol. 2, p. 34 cited in Wiebe, p. 20).

William Booth (1829-1912 CE) reported seeing a myriad of angelic beings as well as patriarchs, apostles, and Christian martyrs. Then he saw Jesus, who rebuked him for his "nominal, useless, lazy, professing Christian life." (Huyssen, p. 34 cited in Wiebe, p. 21). This experience led Booth to start the Salvation Army.

After surveying church history, Wiebe, in chapter two of his book, discusses the experiences of 30 people he interviewed between 1988 and 1993 who claimed to see Jesus. He says:
I do not know whether any of them would accept the designation "visionary," for most were quite mystified about having had such an experience, and none is in monastic life, although some are very active in their religious communities. None of them, moreover, seems to have deliberately induced the visionary experience(s), and most appear to think of themselves as quite ordinary. All of them were quite committed in their faith when I spoke to them, although a number indicated that this commitment had fluctuated in their lives, even after the visionary experience(s). (pp. 40-41).

These individuals either responded to a newspaper ad that Wiebe ran or were referred to him by those who knew he was involved in this research. The individuals interviewed lived in the UK, the US, Australia and Canada. A number were from his home province of British Columbia which has a population of 4 million; this fact tells him that this phenomena of Christic appearances must be much more common than most expect. There were 19 women and 11 men interviewed and their religious affiliation included Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Mennonite, Pentecostal Holiness, Christian Reformed, Baptist, United Church of Canada, Anglican, non-denominational Evangelical and several with no religious affiliation at the time of their vision. 7 of these have gone on to enter the Christian ministry and all are now actively involved in their churches.

The most interesting account to me was the case of Kenneth Logie, a Pastor of a Pentecostal Holiness Church in Oakland, CA for 40 years. He claimed multiple experiences of seeing Jesus in his church service with one of these even being videotaped. The first encounter was on a Sunday night in April 1954. While preaching Kenneth
saw a shadow on the exterior glass doors, made by someone standing outside. He wondered who might be arriving so late in the evening. He reported that "the door opened up, and Jesus started walking down the aisle just as plain as you are." He turned to the people on one side of the aisle, and then to the people on the other side of the aisle, smiling as he went. He walked up to the platform where Kenneth was preaching, but instead of walking around the pulpit, moved right through it. When he placed his left hand on Kenneth's shoulder, Kenneth collapsed to the floor. Jesus then knelt down alongside him and spoke to him in another language. Kenneth responded in English, believing that he was interpreting what was being said to him. He says that this event was witnessed by the congregation of about fifty people present on that occasion (p. 77).

In May 1959, a Mrs. Lucero got up to testify of seeing Jesus and being healed.
As she spoke she disappeared from view, and in her place stood a figure taken to be Jesus. He wore sandals, a glistening white robe, and had nail prints in his hands--hands that dripped with oil. Kenneth reports that this figure was seen by virtually everyone in the congregation, which he estimated at two hundred people. He also reports that the figure was filmed (in color) by a member of the church with kind of eight-millimeter movie camera popular that the time. Kenneth says that the photographer was so awestruck that he shook, and placed the camera on top of the organ in order to keep it steady. The appearance was much like Sallman's "Head of Christ." Kenneth says that the effect upon the people in the church was electrifying. After several minutes Jesus disappeared, and Mrs. Lucero was again visible (pp. 77-78).

Wiebe had met Logie in 1965 at a meeting in Grenfell, Saskatchewan where Logie was speaking about the appearance and showing the movie clip of Jesus to a group of about 200 people. Wiebe says this was the impetus for the research that led to his book some thirty years later. In 1991, while researching for his book, Wiebe visited Logie in Oakland. He writes: I visited him and the church that summer, and spoke with four or five persons who were present in his church in 1959 when the incident took place. They supported the account given above. I naturally wanted to see the film again... and was disappointed to learn that it had been stolen from the apartment in which Kenneth lives (p. 78).

Wiebe says: My own memory of the film is that it showed a figure that looked like traditional images of Jesus. . . . My memory of the glistening white robe as well as the outstretched and scarred hands is clear, but I cannot remember any movement of the figure, nor do I remember seeing the full face appear (pp. 78-79). Wiebe says he remembers the responses of some of the people who saw the film with him in 1965--some thought it was Jesus and others thought it was an actor playing Jesus. Wiebe doesn't give his own personal opinion.

This is a fascinating report. If true, you would have Jesus appearing to a group of people at one time and even being recorded on film. This should prove once and for all that Jesus was raised from the dead and lives today. Unfortunately, the film has been stolen.

If its not a genuine appearance of Jesus, then you need to be able to explain how a crowd of people could have been fooled. It could have been an actor but it could also have been a mass delusion . (I am intentionally avoiding the term hallucination for now as it carries the connotation of a mental disorder). Groups of people have been deluded or fooled by an illusion. Large crowds have claimed to see the Virgin Mary in Medjugorje, Bosnia. 10 miles from where I currently live, from 1990 to 1998, in Conyers, Georgia, thousands of people claimed to see Jesus and the Virgin Mary . See this video:

Interestingly enough, most Protestants will deny that anything miraculous happened in Conyers or in Medjugorje but they will insist that the miraculous happened in Jerusalem circa 32 CE. Many Christians both Catholic and Protestant will deny that what the people claimed to see in 1959 in Oakland, CA was really Jesus but they will insist that what Paul saw on the road to Damascus circa 38 CE was really Jesus. Is this being consistent? I maintain that all of these claims are not genuine appearances of Jesus or Mary but rather are best explained as delusions.


  1. I wonder, are there similar mass apparitions documented in nonchristian religions? Anyone know?

    I listened to a debate a while back in which J.P. Moreland was citing recent appearances of Jesus to Muslims, who then convert to Christianity.

  2. ---

    The question's been asked before, but HOW DO PEOPLE KNOW WHAT JESUS LOOKED/LOOKS LIKE? I mean, there are no descriptions of Jesus' appearances in the Scriptures. There are no lonn eloquent prose describing the length or color of his, the hue of skin tone, his height, weight, and body structure. We have NO IDEA what Jesus looked like. Moreover, if we have no objective idea of what this man-god looks like, how do we know that all these varied (unfilmed--stolen, pfft) appearances are of the same person? What if John saw Jesus with long brown hair and a beard and he was 6 feet tall, and Jane saw Jesus with short gray hair, clean shaven and he was 5 feet tall? Can we say that they saw the same person?

    The visions of Mary are particularly interesting to me, and really affirm to me that there is no reality behind any of this. Anyone who has actually read the Bible and, especially anyone who has been an evangelical, will know that there is no Biblical precedent for Mary holding such an exalted place in the Christian faith. When reading the book of Acts, there is a scene where a gentelman tries to worship the apostle Peter, and Peter scolds the man, telling him that he (Peter) is only a man, and only God is worthy of worship and reverence. Scripture has given us a clear indication that NO ONE BUT THOSE WITHIN THE TRINITY are to be venerated, prayed to and worhsipped. Paul clearly teaches us that all humans are sinful and worthy of God's wrath. Why then would we worship any, even one as central to the Jesus tale as Mary?

    Now, if all these varied appearances (Jesus and Mary) are true, then God is either deliberately misleading us or he is legitimately confused as to which revelation he wants us to follow. Or maybe the Bible isn't the keystone of his revelations, but if that's the case, then our understand of Christianity is toppled over like a house of cards in a hurricane.

    If we want to regard one set of appearances as true and the other as being hallucinations and so on, but which criteria do we choose?

    My brian is starting to hurt....

  3. Steve,

    That is an excellent question and what little I have been able to find so far is that yes, Muhammad has appeared to some Muslims and some Hindu gods have appeared to some Hindus. I would not be surprised if there are some cases of Joseph Smith appearing to Mormons. If you or anyone turns up something on these, please let me know.

  4. Exploring,

    You make a great point. Is it remarkable that there is no account in the gospels of what Jesus looked like. Wiebe does mention this as a problem and it seems most of the people see something like the various artists portrayals of Jesus, like Sallman's Head of Christ.

    But you are right, how could anyone really know who they were seeing if these things were real?

  5. ---

    There was some really bad grammars and a few missed words in my last post. My apologies; I probably shouldn't be commenting at work, but this is a fascinating subject to me.

    By the way, you don't have to look very far on the internet to find stories about appearances of other figures from other mutually exclusive, non-Christian faiths. I'm sure Mohammed pops in and out of existence all the time.

    Lastly, the one gentleman mentioned the scars on Jesus' hands. Now, as far as I've read, Jesus would have been pierced in the wrists, as the hands would have been unable to handle the weight of the entire body. I may be wrong about this, but if it's correct, then why are all the visions of Jesus with scars on his hands and not his wrists? It seems that all the statues and charecterizations of Jesus that people see seem to influence what visions they have.

  6. There is an interesting person named Ramakrishna (1836-1886 CE) who saw the Hindu god Kali, later when he converted to Islam, he saw Muhammad, and then later when he converted to Christianity he saw Mary and Jesus. This guy covered all the bases.

  7. Google "The Hindu Milk Miracle". You can witness a simultaneous occurance of the Hindu God Ganesh drinking milk all across India.

  8. ---

    Ken, when I read about stories like that of Ramak Rishna, not only do I believe less in God, but I actively hope that God doesn't exist. If he could be either this imcompetent or deceitful, believe and non-believer alike should want nothing to do with him.

    Our eternity would be a pitiable one for sure.

  9. Couldn't this be like people who are mentally ill and see things that aren't there? And they would probably see something related to what they had been taught?

    Christians don't see Muhammed. Protestants don't see Mary, etc.

    People are so different. Maybe some people just have tendencies within their brains to have these experiences, so whatever religion they are in, they see visions.

    Sort of like an artist's brain or an engineer's brain works differently than mine to a certain extent. They "see" things I don't.

  10. Lynn,

    I hesitate to say that all of these people have some type of mental disorder. Some do, like this Ramakrishna character, but others are just ordinary folks. Wiebe looks at different explanations in his book and I will be addressing those in future posts.

    You are right that Protestants don't see Mary and Catholics don't see Muhammad, etc. which clearly proves to me at least that people are seeing what they are programmed to see.

  11. This is the case with Near Death Experiences. Whether or not people are experiencing something "real", it's generally perceived through the lenses with which they've been indoctrinated. For example, the Tibetans have an NDE literature, and, predictably, they encounter beings from the Buddhist pantheon, descriptions of hell-states are along the lines of what they've been taught, etc.

  12. Ken,

    I compare those who have seen the ghostly apparitions of Mary, Jesus and the whole cast and crew of the Heavenly Saints to those who claim to have seen UFO's. It's interesting that in both instances, the sudden and unusual sightings seem only to occur to those who are easily influenced.

  13. Mr. Fab,

    There is a lot of similarity between those who claim to have seen Jesus and those who claim to have seen aliens. If anything, the ones who claim to have seen aliens have a much more interesting story--they usually get probed and all kinds of fun things.

  14. There is also a good deal of similarity about how these stories get embellished and it doesn't take a long time as William Craig claims. See How Long Does it Take a Legend to Develop.

  15. This reminds me of the interview Terry Pratchett gave recently where he claims to have heard his dead father speaking. He knows it wasn't his father and just a side effect of his Alzheimer's and medication, but he said he could understand how someone could turn this into a religious experience.

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    The Coptic Church in Egypt reports that many people had appearances of the Virgin Mary. The reported mass apparition was named 'Our Lady of Zeitoun'.

    Fundamentalist Protestants must be stunned at the alleged appearances of the Virgin Mary since such reported visions do not compliment the Protestant faith but rather stultifies it. This is because the Protestants differ from the Eastern Orthodox Christians fundamentally. For instance, Protestants espouse PST while the Eastern Orthodox Christians reject it. That's an essential difference!
    How do the evangelicals deal with the visions of the Virgin Mary since allegedly many people had appearances simultaneously? Could many people be fooled into seeing the same thing? Or is it a hoax contrived by the Eastern Orthodox to win over converts namely evangelicals?

  18. George,

    Its an excellent question. I would like to see how William Craig and other apologists explain this phenomena. It seems to me that they have three options: 1) the apparitions are genuine and Mary is much more important than their theology teaches; 2) the apparitions are not genuine but can be explained on naturalistic grounds; or 3) the apparitions are diabolical, the work of Satan intended to deceive.

    I think most evangelical Protestants that I know would tend towards #2 and then resort to #3 for anything that they could not explain through #2.

  19. I think most evangelical Protestants that I know would tend towards #2 and then resort to #3 for anything that they could not explain through #2.

    Oh, without question - because evidence is "real" only insofar as it serves to reinforce their a priori conclusions.

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  21. Forgive me for arriving extremely late to the party, but this should be relevant to the topic nonetheless.

  22. Forgive me for arriving extremely late to the party, but this should be relevant to the topic nonetheless

  23. I must say that my parents were 12-year attendees of Kenneth Logie's church in Oakland, and I and my 2 older siblings were born while our family attended there. I have no personal memory of the miracles, signs and wonders that happened there, as I was too young. However, the stories my parents tell of the miracles they witnessed are amazing. My father was s skeptic, but became a believer because of the things he saw. As a teen, I also personally saw the 8 mm footage that you write about, above.