Are Marian Apparitions [Medjugorje] Comparable to the Resurrection of Jesus?: A Response to Hector Avalos


My introductory point is going to be that the scholars, we are told, say among other things that there are minimal facts about Jesus.  In other words that it it is historically credible that the apostles lost Jesus to crucifixion and did not expect him to rise.  They reported his tomb empty and Jesus appearing to them.  As the Bible says if visions happen and are real you have to have explanations for how so the suggestion here is Jesus was restored to life in an immortal and suffering free state and that explains it.  The possibility of a real resurrection explains all the data including the apostles suffering so much for and dying for their faith.  This is Christianity's best argument, the "best explanation" argument and it ties in with the minimal facts that need an overall explanation.


Let us quote the article.

Avalos' counter is that the appearances of Mary at Medjugorje satisfy the criteria for the best explanation, which is something that a protestant such as William Lane Craig would not want to accept.


The first major problem with such an argument is that, if true, would do nothing whatsoever to undermine the argument for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. At worst, it would demonstrate that those who accept the resurrection of Jesus but deny the reality of the appearances of Mary were simply employing double standards. Yet, this would do nothing to impact their arguments. To suggest otherwise would simply be an argument ad hominem.


However, it has not escaped notice that the Marian apparitions do not even come close meeting the criteria for the best explanation. There are at least four generally agreed upon facts that can be used to infer the historicity of the resurrection, yet there are none for the assumption of Mary. The doctrine of the assumption of Mary was not developed until the 5th century AD, whereas belief in Jesus' resurrection has been an integral part of Christianity since its beginning. There are no sources that directly state Mary was assumed, whereas we have numerous sources that state Jesus was resurrected. Roughly 500 people were said to have seen the risen Christ, whereas only six people were said to have seen Mary at Medjugorje. The belief in the assumption of Mary has been around for hundreds of years prior to the reported sightings of Mary, whereas the disciples had no such prior belief that Jesus would be resurrected prior to their visionary experiences. Mary made no radical personal claims, whereas Jesus did. It was concluded by the Catholic Church that supernatural appearances were NOT occurring here.


What then, does Avalos have to say in response? One of his main points is that we must take into account the earliest interview recordings, as most of the standard accounts are based on later interviews conducted years after the events. It is interesting that Avalos brings up this point, when the accounts that ignore these earlier recordings consist mostly, if not entirely of accounts that argue in favour of the authenticity of these apparitions....

Avalos goes on to say that the witnesses were subjected to medical and scientific analysis in 1984, and their apparitions were deemed not being the result of hallucinations. Deceit and drug usage were similarly ruled out as possible natural explanations. However, I find it odd that Avalos would mention these results, without discussing the results of earlier analyses. Indeed, the earlier transcripts to which Avalos refers reveal that the visionaries were subjected to police interrogation and medical inspection at Čitluk a mere three days after the apparitions, and were subject to medical inspection two days later. These earlier analyses were inconclusive, although they did ascertain that these visions were not pathological in nature, but that their 'ecstasies' weren't genuine.


The study that Avalos references was one led by Dr. Henri Joyeux, and it seems as if there are some problems with it that cast suspicion on their results.


Firstly, only one member of the team was in any way qualified to make professional medical pronouncements on the functioning of the human nervous system, namely Dr Jean Cadhilhac, a neuro-physicist. The conclusions reached regarding the possibility of hallucinations, etc. would have required a full team of such specialists, including psychiatrists and psychologists.


Secondly, there is evidence that Dr Joyeux had close ties with the Charismatic Renewal movement that had taken hold over the Catholic population of Medjugorje. This is important because, as Foley explains, such ties would have coloured Dr. Joyeux's attitude towards the visionaries, for reasons explained earlier in his book.

Avalos makes the claim that these witnesses have therefore been subjected to more scientific and medical probing than any of the witnesses to the resurrection. However, it seems as if the scientific and medical analyses conducted so far have not been as thorough, nor have they been as conclusive as one would like. Indeed, Bishop Zaniç wrote to Laurentin stating that he was concerned regarding the possibility of simulation, and whilst Laurentin stated that their study ruled out such a possibility, there is no actual clear indication that any tests were carried out by the team lead by Dr. Joyeux in regards to this issue. Their reports further indicate further problems, which Foley cites, such as difficulty with communicating via translators, as well as difficulty with transporting their equipment from France. Thus, it seems clear that practical as well as ideological considerations make Joyeux's study less than meticulous.


Avalos was "claiming that the minimal facts used by Campbell [Christian apologist], myself and others are not facts at all, and claims that appeals to a consensus is nothing more than a shorthand for saying that there is a consensus amongst Christian scholars.... Dr. Gary Habermas has spent quite some time analysing publications on the subject of the resurrection of Jesus from 1975 to roughly the present day, and has noted that roughly 75% of all critical scholars accept the historicity of the empty tomb, whereas 25% do not. To suggest that to appeal to such a scholarly consensus is to cite Islamic scholars for the veridicality of Islam, or Catholic scholars on the truth of Mariological doctrines is simply dishonest. This is also not even bothering to take into account the arguments presented for the historicity of these things.



Avalos' ... ignores critiques of the alleged Marian apparitions at Medjugorje, some of which come from Catholics. For example, Donal Foley notes multiple problems with the reports, as well as the medical/scientific reports conducted by Dr. Joyeux. Avalos would need to show that the arguments made for the historicity of the minimal 'facts,' can be used to justify a core of minimal facts related to the Marian apparitions at Medjugorje, and then demonstrate that the best explanation is that the visions were genuine.


Avalos continues by further mischaracterising Campbell's case against the veridicality of the Marian appearances at Medjugorje. He says that Campbell rejects the account of Mary's bodily resurrection purely because it is apocryphal, but there are apocryphal accounts treated as historical by New Testament writers, namely the assumption of Moses. Avalos asks if apocryphal material can transmit historical data, what makes Marian reports apocryphal and the Jesus stories not. The problem is that Campbell is not dismissing accounts regarding Mary because they are apocryphal, but is rather noting a key distinction between the quality of the source evidence between the accounts on Jesus and the accounts on Mary. One of the historical criteria used to support the historicity of the minimal facts is the fact that they are multiply attested in a variety of early sources. Furthermore, noting that there are apocryphal accounts that may contain historical truths in them does nothing to demonstrate the quality of the Marian accounts, and so to appeal to such other accounts is simply a red herring. If Avalos wants to convince us that such Marian accounts are on the same standing as the source material on the resurrection, then he needs to actually show it.

Avalos' next complaint is that Campbell places a temporal limit on appearances, judging them not to be credible if they arose a certain amount of time after that person's death, yet there are accounts in the New Testament of post-mortem appearances of the figures Moses and Elijah who had been deceased for centuries prior to the 1st Century AD. This is simply misconstruing what Campbell and other apologists are arguing. The closeness of the disciples' experiences to the death and burial of Jesus is important because Jesus' body would have still been in the tomb had he not risen from the dead. In other words, people could have checked to see if Jesus' tomb was actually empty. Now, the examples Avalos cites could very well be genuine, but clearly not for the same reasons given in defence of the resurrection of Jesus. Secondly, Campbell is not dismissing other accounts because they are a significant amount of time after the death of the individual believed to have appeared. He is simply noting that Avalos' comparison in his original argument is invalid in this regard. Furthermore, the disciples' encountering what they believed to be the risen Jesus is only one of the minimal facts appealed to in defence of the resurrection. The arguments Avalos is appealing to are used to justify the truth of the minimal facts, not the resurrection, and so Avalos' counter-argument here is simply an invalid comparison once again.


Here the implication is that Jesus needed a body to explain his appearing, "One existing after death is not enough to grant them the ability of appearing to the living post-mortem in Jewish and Christian belief. Indeed, when the disciples first saw the risen Jesus, they assumed that it was Jesus' 'ghost,' i.e. not Jesus himself, but a being from the spirit world."

A genuine flaw in Avalos's argument is how he "claims that the later appearances are different from the earlier appearances, when he goes on to argue later on that the visionaries used 'objective language' to describe all of their experiences. ....This is further compounded Avalos' complaint that the encounter witnessed by Kenneth Samples' could have been the type of encounters experienced by Paul and Stephen, and that Samples' dismissal is somehow a problem. On the one hand, Avalos wants to have us believe that the visionaries experiences were equal in both sets of instances, yet he is simultaneously suggesting that such visions could be different in nature."  Regarding Medjugorje


"Avalos is trying to convince us that the Marian apparitions at Medjugorje are of the same type as the appearances of Jesus to the disciples."

He says as with Medjugorje the first visions were comparable to the first visions of Jesus and later on visions changed and you had Stephen seeing Jesus in the clouds and Paul seeing a light talking to him and hearing Jesus speak.


Objection, "whilst Paul's companions do not see or hear Jesus, they nonetheless perceive a bright light."  [But there is no record of what they said?  It is what the author of Luke said about them!]


Objection, "It does not matter if these appearances are consistent with other Biblical accounts, since we are discussing the account of Jesus' resurrection exclusively."  [This seems to argue that if the New Testament has some odd ideas about visions the explanatory value of a real resurrection remains.  But surely that is leading to the notion that implausible visions can create a culture where visions are more readily accepted and then when you are writing your gospel you cherry-pick the stories that ring true the best?]

Avalos continues on to argue that the visionaries believed themselves to have had actual encounters with Mary, rather than simply visions, or a physical encounter whereby Mary appeared to different people in different ways, vis a vis Paul's roadside encounter. The problem is that this directly contradicts Avalos' earlier statements, as aforementioned. That aside, such an argument is problematic in that the transcripts of the recording of the earliest interviews that Avalos himself refers to directly refute such a claim. Indeed, the transcripts reveal that the visions are nothing like the appearances of Jesus before the disciples at all. The first vision allegedly took place whilst Ivanka Ivankovic and Mirjana Dragicevic were walking along a road near Bijakovici. However, whilst Ivanka claimed that she could see 'the Gospa,' Mirjana was apparently uncertain. Later on that day, they climbed up to Podbrdo where they apparently saw a vision. Two men were nearby, Ivan Dragicevic, whom they called up to see the vision with them, and another man, Ivan Ivankovic, who dissociated himself from the visionaries. Ivan Dragicevic reveals that the other two called to him, saying that 'the Gospa' had appeared, but states that he 'saw the light,' and apparently had a very hard time articulating what it was he actually saw. Then there is the fact that Ivanka and Mirjana had gone to Podbrdo to smoke, but explicitly lied about it, denying that they smoked at all for quite some time. As Donal Foley notes, this calls into question their credibility.
My Comment: The Christians determine the minimal facts from how many of their favourite scholars such as Habermas believe they are minimal facts. The fact remains that scholars agree that these "facts" could change after more research.  They may be facts but we cannot be sure enough.  Not all Bible believing scholars agree on what the minimal facts are and which ones matter. Most think the gospels are only giving hearsay and it is possible it is all factual but we do not know and must find the presence of the risen Jesus in our hearts to learn for sure that he rose.


The big one the empty tomb should not make the list for Jesus could have been stolen and still risen.  That Jesus' body was not stolen from the tomb is the favourite "fact" that the minimal facts scholars present. They would need you to be able to prove that reliable people definitely saw Jesus laid in the tomb and did not turn their backs to allow any funny business. The gospels give no evidence that Jesus was really put in the tomb and their writers would tell us right now that they only assumed it. They do not say that there was no way he might have been taken to near the tomb and a false impression given that he was put in it. What if he was carried out when the others were not looking? The gospels do not rule out Jesus being stolen from the tomb as they say it was open and unattended when nobody had yet verified that the body was gone. A stolen Jesus no more undermines a resurrection claim than an entombed one does. It does not matter. The fact is a mere assumption.


And Jesus did not behave after the resurrection like the physical man he was before it except once or twice when he took food and let a woman touch him.  How do we know the explanation is that he was raised bodily to an immortal state?  Jesus was touched once or twice according to the New Testament. Medjugorje has more about a person being touched in an apparition than the New Testament has.
We cannot know if the gospels ever were read by a single person who was in a position to test or rebut them and the circulation at the start would have been very small so it is unlikely.
If 500 saw Jesus how does that compare to the visionaries of Medjugorje who saw Mary countless times? Better 6 witnesses you know and have names for than thousand for whom all you get is, "They saw Jesus."  What may have been a five second glimpse of Jesus cannot compare to that. And there are six regular visionaries of Medjugorje but in fact there are tens more seeing her there.


The way the vision of something unclear at Medjugorje during the early days was translated as being Mary shows that the apostles too could have seen something unimpressive but which their own imagination and preconceived notions turned into Jesus.
It is argued above that Avalos is wrong to compare the Jesus visions to the Medjugorje visions for the latter were not detectable to people other than the visionaries. That is a major weapon for the Christian who wants to hold that Jesus really was there with the apostles after he rose as opposed to him just being a vision they alone could see. But the New Testament never says that Jesus's visions were any different. The absence of evidence of the existence of hostile witnesses might indicate that only certain people saw him and passerbys would have thought they were just talking to thin air.
If Christians believe in the resurrection of Jesus and do not make Medjugorje as good as the resurrection visions and that is a double standard is that really an argument ad hominem? Yes for Jesus might still have risen. But there is another side. It is no for Jesus tied the resurrection not just to history but to the spiritual fruits. Believers all being hypocritical believers would be a sign that the resurrection is false for a resurrection undertaken to infuse spiritual virtue and which fails is to be assumed to be a trick or scam or error.


One criticism of Avalos is that "he bases his claim regarding medical and scientific evaluations of the visionaries purely on the report of Laurentin and Joyeux, who had ideological ties that throws their objectivity into doubt."  The point is that the visions are made to look good not that the visions are real. Avalos is an atheist!  Bad support from experts is better than no support at all.  The apostles just made bald statements and had nothing.  It is how human nature turns lies into truth, that is the topic.


His critics as you see from above downplay Medjugorje for there was no proper psychiatric evaluation but surely that downplays the apostles who had not even the possibility of an evaluation?


Avalos is not saying that the resurrection is false or probably false just because believers cherry-pick what miracles they want to believe in and would ignore or reject a better miracle if it did not fit. He is saying that the problem is with the resurrection ITSELF demanding a double-standard and thus proving it is no better than superstition.


Jesus’ Resurrection and Marian Apparitions: Medjugorje as a Living Laboratory By Dr. Hector Avalos at 4/29/2013