Appearances of Jesus as ADC: Rejoinder to Gary
|by Dr. Ken R. Vincent
Abstract and Keywords
Gary Habermas has chosen to respond to my paper
resurrection of Jesus as an
communication using theological arguments that
try to prove the resurrection of Jesus was
somehow a religious event unique in all human
history. I counter his assertions with data from
religious/spiritual experience research and, to
a lesser extent,
liberal Christian scholars. I
restate my conclusion that Paul's first-hand and
verified second-hand accounts of the
1 Corinthians 15 are comparable
with modern after-death communications; the
difference between Jesus and others is not one
of kind but of degree. Over the past 150 years,
religious experience researchers have
successfully applied the tools of science and
begun to unlock the mysteries of how humans
experience God and afterlife.
resurrection, Jesus, after-death communication,
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Rejoinder to Habermas' Critique of Resurrection
Appearances of Jesus as ADC
Gary Habermas was correct in stating
that he and I agree that Jesus was
raised from the dead and that there
a substantial amount of data from
religious experience research that
points to an afterlife (Habermas,
2012). He acknowledged that scholars
before me have suggested that Jesus'
post-resurrection appearances might
be interpreted as a variation of
after-death communications (ADCs),
also known as post-death visions.
Although he affirmed the
post-resurrection appearances and
modern-day ADCs, he was adamant that
they are not the same. I believe
that Habermas' theological roots
prevented him from accepting
anything but a resurrected Jesus
with a physical body, returned to
Earth in a supernatural miracle,
unique among other holy figures or
ordinary people. As I have
maintained in previous writings:
supernatural miracles such as Moses
parting the water, Jesus walking on
water, and Buddha levitating and gliding
over the water are outside the
experience of the modern world and yet
to be demonstrated by science" (Vincent,
2007, p. 7),
but religious experience is as common
today as it was in ancient times.
Some time after the
editor of this Journal submitted my article to
Habermas for his review and he agreed to write a
response, he and I spoke on the telephone at
length (personal communication, July 12, 2012).
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he had
some knowledge of the growing amount of data on
transpersonal experiences being mined in the
fields of social science and medicine. However,
in his References, he cited only two religious
Michael Perry and myself
My article was
intentionally based on research into spiritually
transformative experiences (mystical
ADCs) as integral to the normal,
healthy human life experience.
faulted me for ignoring "historians,
philosophers, and New Testament researchers"
(p. 151) and chose to frame his arguments in
theological terms. However, my paper dealt with
universality of religious experience across
time and culture, and any reference to
philosophy or theology was only tangential. For
me, theology is basically an argument about a
book - or, in the case of the vast Hindu
scriptures, a set of books. In my view,
spiritually transformative experience is the
basis for all that is holy in scripture, and the
validity of the Bible or any other sacred book
rests on the religious experience(s) in it. I
share the view of
William James that religious
experience is primary, and religion is secondary
(James, 1902/1990, p. 35).
My doctorate is in
counseling psychology, and I am a religious
experience researcher; I use the older term
"religious" because the topic of my original
article is the resurrection. Many of my
colleagues prefer to use the word
rather than "religious." I am not quite as
hostile to the idea of religion as
(2012) who stated that:
afterlife can exist independent of
religion. In fact, I can now say with
assurance that 'religion' and
'afterlife' are two entirely different
concepts linked together only by
religious dogma" (p. 32).
Sir Alister Hardy
(1997), founder of the
Research Centre, asserted that religious
experience is not supernatural but rather is
part of normal reality (pp. 131–142). Some time
ago, I began reading scientific literature
exploring the ADC phenomenon in which Jesus has
appeared to modern people. More importantly, I
began paying special attention to the first-hand
accounts of people I knew to be credible and not
psychotic. When I reexamined the stories of
Jesus' resurrection in the New Testament, I was
delighted to find that they resembled modern
ADCs (Vincent, 2012).
"Response" began with some "forceful reasons"
(p. 149) that Jesus' post-resurrection
appearances are different from ADCs before he
presented his "six major dissimilarities" (p.
153) between Jesus' post-resurrection
appearances and contemporary ADCs. I will now
try to provide some clarity.
Habermas took issue
with my using
L. Michael White (2004) for
references in dating the gospels. Granted,
conservative scholars tend to prefer the
earliest dates possible for
writers and liberal scholars generally use later
dates, but I did not choose White to "favor my
conclusions" (Habermas, 2012, p. 151). I did so
for economy; White has used broader time spans,
and I find White to be a generally fair source.
The 10-year discrepancy in dates is irrelevant
to my case; even the earlier date of 60CE is 30
years after Jesus' death and provides plenty of
myth-making to begin.
Habermas (2012) cited
my assertion that Paul's first-hand and
second-hand accounts (1 Corinthians 15:4–8) of
Jesus being raised in a spiritual body offer
more credibility than the later Gospel writers'
reports of an
empty tomb that implies a
resurrection. Sociologist and religious
James McClenon (2002, p.
116) classified experience as first-hand,
second-hand, and folkloric (greater than
second-hand). By this standard, most of the
Bible is folklore. Many religious experience
researchers and liberal Christian scholars (Funk
& the Jesus Seminar, 1998, pp. 449–495) took
Corinthians 15 as the only reliable information
about Jesus' resurrection.
(2012) took issue with my assertion that
view of a spiritual resurrection is an ADC. He
claimed that what I call the "modern view" is
actually out-of-date. It is most decidedly not
out-of-date with religious experience
researchers and liberal Christian scholars such
as G. Riley (2001, pp. 154-156),
J. Tabor (2006,
pp. 230-238, 329-330),
W. E. Phipps (2008, pp.
P. Wiebe (1997, pp. 121-125),
(2008, pp. 88-95),
A. F. Segal (2004, pp. 393,
J. McClenon (1994, pp. 75-77),
H. Ellens (2008, p. 159),
M. Borg (1997, pp.
T. Harpur (2011, pp. 131-156).
Seminar, a group of liberal scholars intent on
separating the authentic words of Jesus from the
mythic parts of the Gospels, focused in 1995 on
"More than 90%
of the Fellows and a huge majority of
the Associates, agreed that Jesus'
did not involve the resuscitation of a
corpse" (Scott, 2008, p. 45,
emphasis added) and that his body
decayed in the usual way.
In my mind, this
conclusion puts them in agreement with Paul who
point on the translation of
John 20:17 is well
taken. He stated that new translations have
Jesus telling Mary Magdalene not to "hold on" to
him rather than to "touch" him. However, this
variant in translation does not alter my
assertion that the resurrection was a spiritual
Modern ADCs sometimes include an
aspect of touch between the living and the
In my view,
(2012) grasped at straws when he cited an
obscure point of logic that things can appear
similar but not be the same. With this point, he
seemed to exclude the possibility that things
that appear similar could be the same. In
asserting that Jesus' resurrection was unique
among all others, Habermas's position flies in
the face of the larger truth of
that favors the simplest explanation: Jesus'
post-resurrection appearances resemble
modern-day ADCs, and so they are. Science is
based on observation, and Habermas's argument
for exceptionalism in the case of Jesus defies
survey of scholars who support his view is
countered by an exceptionally large number of
scholars who favor my position - the largest
group being the Jesus Seminar.
Their analysis of
the true words and deeds of Jesus remains a
major piece of scholarship (Funk, Hoover, & the
Jesus Seminar, 1993;
Funk & the Jesus Seminar,
1998). More importantly, new cases of ADCs are
continuously being added to databases in
departments of social science and medicine in
universities and medical schools.
Haraldsson's (2012) latest book, The Departed
Among The Living, is an excellent example that
chronicles 449 cases in Iceland.
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3. A Critique of Habermas and His "Six Major
Habermas began his "Six Major
Dissimilarities" with his defense of
the empty tomb.
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a. A Critique of Habermas' Major Dissimilarity
Personally, I prefer to
leave the question of the empty tomb a mystery,
as an empty tomb is simply unnecessary for
Jesus' spiritual resurrection (Vincent, 2012).
The Jesus Seminar felt that the empty tomb
represented a later development (Funk & the
Jesus Seminar, 1998, p. 462). In
Easters," Robert Price (2008) noted that
original Gospel of Mark has no resurrection
story but ends with the empty tomb. Price also
stated that many
ancient Hellenistic texts have
a missing body and an assurance from a heavenly
voice or visitor that the person has been taken
to heaven; he asserted that this is enough
evidence to indicate an ascension (Scott, 2008,
pp 49–53). Price's examples include
Apollonius of Tyana. Space does not
allow me to explore all the possible
explanations for the empty tomb
, but it is worth
James Tabor (2006, pp. 233-240,
319-330) gave several explanations for the empty
tomb and proposed his own theory that Jesus was
reburied in a family tomb.
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b. A Critique of Habermas' Major Dissimilarity
Habermas contended that
Jesus predicted his own death, unlike cases of
modern ADCs. However, the text in Matthew states
that at Jesus' death:
"The tombs also
were opened, and many bodies of the
saints who had fallen asleep were
raised. After his resurrection they came
out of the tombs and entered the holy
city and appeared to many" (Matthew
These were clearly
spiritual resurrections, as the bodies of these
long-dead saints would have been thoroughly
decomposed. Jesus himself anticipated a
spiritual resurrection when he proclaimed that
at death people become "like angels in heaven"
According to the Jesus Seminar, Jesus'
predictions of his own death were put on his
lips after the fact (Mark 8:31,
Funk et al., 1993, pp. 78, 83, 94).
But is the Jesus Seminar correct in this
incidence? Mystical experiences of God and
psychic ability go hand-in-hand, and Jesus is no
(Vincent, 2010, p. 12). Premonitions
were 7% of the first 3,000 cases gathered by
Alister Hardy, founder of the
Experience Research Centre (Hardy, 1997, pp. 26,
45-6). Ordinary people sometimes have
premonitions of their own death;
is a famous example (Moody, 1994, pp. 3-4). The
problem with the New Testament or any other holy
book is determining what is factual and what is
later myth-making. Modern cases of ordinary
people's religious/mystical experiences enhance
the credibility of ancient accounts.
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c. A Critique of Habermas' Major Dissimilarity
Habermas said that the
ancients were aware that Jesus' resurrection
appearances were somehow different from other
ADCs. Crossan (1998, pp. xiii–xxxi) refuted this
point by arguing that Paul's Greco-Roman
audience would have had no problem with Jesus'
resurrection because it fit well with their
conception of the behavior of gods, heroes, and
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d. A Critique of Habermas' Major Dissimilarity
Habermas stated that,
according to the New Testament, Jesus made
multiple post-resurrection appearances, and that
such multiplicity is unlike the ADCs of ordinary
individuals. I would add - more profoundly -
that modern ADCs with Jesus indicate that Jesus'
resurrection is still in progress (Vincent,
2012)! Jesus' mother Mary, who was declared the
"Queen of Heaven" by Pope Pius XII (Phipps,
2008, pp. 50-51), is considered by comparative
religion scholars to be a goddess in her own
Apparitions of Mary to multiple witnesses
are well-documented, including 14 people at
Knock, Ireland in 1879 (Fox, 2008, pp. 39-40);
most famously, Mary appeared to 70,000 people
who witnessed a unique celestial event at
in 1917 (Sparrow, 2002, pp.
125–126). It is worth mentioning that divine
beings from other religions such as Lord Krishna
(Hick, 2006, p. 34), Amitabha, and Guanyin (Yao
& Badham, 2007, pp. 5, 38), also appear to
modern people. In ADCs, ordinary people usually
have no need to appear to anyone other than
their loved ones. In
Hello From Heaven, Bill
Guggenheim and Judy Guggenheim (1995) reported
instances of ADCs of ordinary people who
reappear many years later (p. 256), who
appeared to help loved ones recover
lost objects or money (p. 275), who appeared to
protect their families from harm (p. 290), who
appeared to prevent suicide (p. 307), and who
occasionally appear to two or more people (p.
322). Divine Beings have a greater number of
people who love them; therefore, they have a
greater need to comfort, warn, assure, and save
their followers and other souls. The
phenomenology of the ADCs is the same for
ordinary people and Divine Beings, whether the
occurrence is ancient or modern.
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e. A Critique of Habermas' Major Dissimilarity
Habermas returned to the
idea that Luke's description of Paul's
experience of Jesus in the Acts of the Apostles
- written many years later by an author who
admitted he was not an eyewitness - is somehow
more accurate than Paul's first-hand account.
Luke discounted Paul's own account (Phipps,
2008, p. 256;
Vincent, 2012). Contrary to
Habermas's assertion that light is foreign to
ADCs, it occasionally appears in ADC accounts
(Fox, 2008, p. 51). More relevant is the fact
that Paul himself did not mention light in his
own descriptive writing of his religious
experience of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:4–8).
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f. A Critique of Habermas' Major Dissimilarity
Habermas claimed that
the majority of modern scholars accept the
resurrection of Jesus as a bodily event. This is
not remarkable. I am certain that a return to
second century Egypt - at a time when the
ancient Egyptian religion was being threatened
by the spread of various Greco-Roman religions
and Christianity - would find a majority of
Egyptian priests voting "yes" on the physical
Osiris and his subsequent
elevation to King of the Dead (Mojsov, 2005, pp.
At the beginning of my
original paper, I stated that my view of Jesus'
resurrection in a spiritual body is favored by
liberal theologians and, more importantly, by
religious experience researchers. I contended
that the differences between Jesus'
post-resurrection appearances - as well as
Jesus' initial mystical experience of God - and
those transpersonal experiences of others are
not one of kind but of degree (Vincent, 2010a).
In conclusion to this dialog with Habermas, I
persist in that contention. Thanks to religious
experience research over the past 150 years,
including mystical/spiritual experiences,
near-death experiences, deathbed visions, and
ADCs, humanity currently knows more about how we
experience God and afterlife than we have known
at any other time in recorded history (Vincent,
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• Borg, M. (1997).
The God we never knew:
Beyond dogmatic religion to a more authentic contemporary
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The birth of Christianity:
Discovering what happened in the years
immediately after the execution of Jesus. New
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• Fox, M.
Spiritual encounters with unusual light
phenomena: Lightforms. Cardiff, Wales:
University of Wales Press.
• Funk, R.,
Hoover, R. W., & the Jesus
The acts of Jesus: The
search for the authentic deeds of Jesus.
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• Funk, R.,
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five gospels - What did Jesus really say? The
search for the authentic words of Jesus. New York, NY: HarperOne.
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from heaven: A new field of research-after-death
communication confirms that life and love are
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Resurrection appearances of Jesus as
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148–157. Reprinted with Permission.
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The departed among the
living: An investigative study of afterlife
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• Hardy, A.
The spiritual nature of man:
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Centre. (Original work published 1979)
There is life after death. Toronto,
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Wondrous healing: Shamanism, human
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Osiris: Death and afterlife of a god.
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• Moody, R.
Paranormal: My life in pursuit of the
afterlife. New York, NY: HarperOne.
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M. (2008). Brand x easters. In B. B. Scott
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Christian origins. New York, NY:
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B. (Ed.). (2008).
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Separating the 'super' from the
'natural.' De Numine, 42, 5–8. Reprinted
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Religious experience, Jesus, and
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in the age of science. Journal of near-death
studies, 28(3), 123–141. Reprinted with
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Testament to today.
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• Yao, X &
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Religious experience in
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5. About Dr. Ken R. Vincent
Dr. Ken R. Vincent received
his doctorate in Counseling
Psychology from the University of
Northern Colorado in 1973. He is
from teaching Psychology and
the Psychology of Religious
Experience at Houston Community
College. He is a member of the
Alister Hardy Society for the Study
of Spiritual Experience and the
International Association of
Near-Death Studies (IANDS). Dr.
Vincent served as a founding Board
member of the
Christian Universalist Association
and is the former webmaster of
The Universalist Herald website. His writings
all contain a strong undercurrent of
Universalist thought. In his book
The Magi: From Zoroaster to the
Three Wise Men, he compares the
religion of the Magi
(Zoroastrianism) to Christianity and
shows the parallels of Universal
Restoration in both faiths. In
Visions of God from the Near-Death
Experience, the wisdom of the
prophets and sages of the world's
religions is superimposed upon the
accounts of modern-day near-death
experiencers to illustrate the
similarities between them. Dr.
The Golden Thread: God's Promise of
Universal Salvation documents
the solid support for Universal
Salvation in the Bible as well as
research into NDEs and Mystical/Religious/Spiritual Experiences.
This online book is entitled
God Is With Us: What Near-Death and
Other Spiritually Transformative
Experiences Teach Us About God and
regarding this online book should be
sent to this email address:
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6. Books by Dr. Ken R. Vincent
of God from the
Ken R. Vincent
our most inspiring and
straightforward visions of God,
afterlife, and values for living
have come through near-death
experiences. In gathering
together the spiritual
highlights of many such
experiences, Dr. Vincent does a
real service for readers who
need quick access to "the good
stuff." The result is an
inspirational book that gently
reminds us how much we have
always known deep inside. A
HARDBACK edition of the book
is also available.
The Golden Thread:
God's Promise of Universal
Ken R. Vincent
modern pluralistic world, the
barriers imposed by the old
doctrine of religious
exclusivity are confronted every
day by individuals, families,
and nations. Now more than ever,
the inspirational message of
God's Universal and eternal love
for all humanity needs to be
retold. By reacquainting readers
with the God who is too good to
condemn anyone to Eternal Hell,
this book offers a Biblical
interpretation present in
Christianity from the earliest
Jesus-Followers to the 21st
From Zoroaster to
Ken R. Vincent
know why Zoroastrian priests are
on your Christmas cards? In The
Magi, Dr. Ken Vincent shines
light on a topic previously
known mainly to scholars; he
provides the layperson searching
for Christian origins an
extremely readable but thorough
exploration of a religion which
predates Christianity by
hundreds of years. This
highlights the parallels between
Zoroaster and both the Hebrew
Bible and the New Testament and
shows the use of Zoroastrian
imagery in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
An appendix includes an English
translation of the complete
hymns of Zoroaster.
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