Monday, May 26, 2008

Minimal Fact Argument for the Resurrection of Jesus

Below is an email I sent to my friend. It is an argument for the Resurrection of Jesus that summarizes what I have just read in The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona. I also have in there other information from other things that I have read. Please feel free to critique or comment on any of this.

I've read the first part of that book that covers Habermas's basic argument for the Resurrection of Jesus. He describes it as the "minimal fact" approach which lays out the facts which the vast majority of scholarship are agreed upon. This way we don't have to get into inspiration doctrines and all that. Let me lay them all out for you and then you can ask me questions about them.

1. Jesus died by crucifixion.

When I listed this one in my email to my father a while back he gave the most profound "duh" answer. He told me that I hardly needed to state this one. Nevertheless, it is important to state. If Jesus didn't die, then he couldn't have risen. This is attested to by the Gospels, Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, Mara Bar-Serapion and that Talmud. John Dominic Crossan wrote, "That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be."

2. Jesus' disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them.

Remember the acronym POW which means Paul, Oral Testimony, Written Testimony. The more detailed version of this is Paul's testimony about the disciples, the oral tradition passed through the early church, and the written works of the early church. About 20 years after the crucifixion Paul wrote 1st Corinthians in which he recited a creedal statement that he received from the early church. In 15:3-5 he said, "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve." It is uncertain exactly when Paul picked this up from the early church. Many scholars think that it was when he visited Jerusalem three years after his conversion and saw Peter and James. If that's true then he got the creed within five years after the crucifixion and from the disciples themselves. Other scholars think he got it later than that. In any case, he obtained it before he wrote the first letter to the Corinthians in 55 A.D.

Another source that contains oral testimony from the early church is the Book of Acts. In it are sermons that bear the markings of short summaries early church teachings that can be traced to the earliest teachings of the church and possibly to the disciples themselves. Thus, we have stuff contemporaneous with the apostles, attributed to the apostles, and in agreement with Paul's eyewitness testimony that this is what the church was preaching.

There are also the Gospels. Nearly every scholar agrees that they were written in the first century, meaning that at the latest they were written within 70 years of Jesus's death and alleged resurrection.

Next are the apostolic fathers. Clement of Rome (30-100 A.D.) attests to the proclamation of the resurrection by the apostles. Irenaeus and Tertullian later on confirm this. Clement notes that the resurrection was the central teaching of the church. Polycarp also emphasizes the centrality of the resurrection in his writings.

The skeptical New Testament critic who did not believe in the resurrection, Norman Perrin wrote, "The more we study the tradition with regard to the appearances, the firmer the rock begins to appear upon which they are based."

I remember reading an atheist NT scholar who believed in the appearances. By that I mean that he thought that the disciples believed that they saw the risen Christ. People throughout history up to now have believed many false things so this does not show that the appearances were real but that the disciples thought that what they experienced was true.

Not only did they claim this but they believed it. By this I mean that they were willing to suffer to the death for it. A contemporary of the apostles, Clement of Rome attested to this. The book of Acts does as well. So did Polycarp, Ignatius, Tertullian, and Origen.

Thus, we can conclude from this that the disciples regarded their belief as true. Even Bultmann granted this. The atheist New Testament scholar Gerd Ludemann said, "It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus' death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ."

3. The church persecutor Saul of Tarsus (later Paul) was suddenly changed.

This is well attested to and I don't think I need to go into great detail about it. Many of the same people I mentioned above attested to this as well as Paul himself. It should be noted though that this is independent of the other disciples since Paul wasn't converted by them but by a vision of the risen Christ. Of all the stuff I've heard disputed, this is not one of them.

4. The skeptic James, the brother of Jesus, was suddenly changed.

The Gospels state that James along with Jesus' other siblings did not believe during his ministry.
That ancient creed (1st Cor. 15:3-7) states, "then He appeared to James"

In Acts as well as Paul's letter to the Galatians, James is identified as a leader of the Jerusalem church.

James was martyred for his belief in Jesus. This is attested by Josephus, Hegesippus, and Clement of Alexandria. I put more weight on the Josephus reference because the the two others were reported by Eusebius who I have some legitimate doubts about. But heck, the fact that Eusebius screwed up on some things doesn't mean that he screwed up here. Anyway, despite some doubts about the martyrdom, I think we have good evidence that he did see the risen Christ, convert, and become a leader in the early church. That alone is good enough.

5. The tomb was empty.

Unlike the other four claims, this one is not agreed upon by nearly all scholars. Habermas did a study on this and found that in our early 21st century period the ratio of scholars who believe this compared with those who reject it is about 3:1.

After the crucifixion and alleged resurrection, the disciples proclaimed the faith first in Jerusalem. If the tomb was not empty all the Jewish priests and Roman authorities would have had to do was to take the body out of the tomb as show it to the people. Skeptics have said that after fifty days (which was when the preaching started) the body would have been unrecognizable due to decomposition. Habermas argues that the dryness and heat of the region would have prevented this. (He cites a medical examiner in Virginia who said that even in Virginia summer weather that level of decomposition would not have happened.) The second problem with this is that the enemies of the faith would still have gotten an advantage out of showing a decayed corpse to the masses. The Christians would have disputed it but it may have caused a mass exodus of believers which would have presumably been mentioned by Justin, Tertullian and Origen later, assuming that none of these also lose (or never gain) faith because of this. Celsus would have wanted to say something about it if this happened as well since it would have given him ammunition.

Not only did Christians believe that the tomb was empty but their enemies did too. In Matthew's gospel the early critics claimed that the disciples stole the body. The presumption of these critics was that the tomb was empty. Justin Martyr and Tertullian also demonstrate this in their writings.

The testimony of the women is also very important since if one were to invent this story back then, they would have had men discover it first since both Jewish and Roman culture of that period ran very much against the reliability of female witnesses.

The acronym JET is a good one to remember about the arguments for the empty tomb. It stands for Jerusalem Factor, Enemy Attested, and Testimony of Women.


Steven Carr said...

I have a debate on the resurrection at Resurrection Debate

Comments are always welcome.

Please provide one named person who knew James and said that he was sceptical about his brother, although Jesus was born of a virgin.

Somebody has a brother who was born of a virgin and Christians say the brother was a sceptic.

What a laugh!

Steven Carr said...

'By this I mean that they were willing to suffer to the death for it. '

Paul was there, and , of course, he claimed that Christians were persecuted on the issue of circumcision, not resurrection.

Paul claimed Christian leaders were happy to compromise their beliefs to avoid persecution for the cross (NB not resurrection) of Jesus.

This old, tired apologetics really stands no chance against intelligent people.

As can be seen from my resurrection debate.

Ron said...

Thanks for the comments Steven. I'll be sure to check out that blog.

There are two sources for the unbelief of James, the gospels of Mark and John. James and Jesus' other siblings probably didn't know about the virgin birth since it would have been difficult (to say the least) of Mary telling them about it.

If James believed from the get-go, it can be assumed that whomever wrote Mark and John would have mentioned it since he became a principle leader in the early church who presumably wouldn't have allowed a lie to propagate to his own detriment. Having James a believer all along would strengthen his claim to authority and be a good apologetic tool for Christians at that time since the closer your particular church leaders are to the apostles and to Jesus himself, the better off you are especially when many heresies were getting off the ground.

As for your second comment, the preaching of the cross and the fact that Jewish Christians did not follow the mainstream Jewish line on circumcision was because of the Resurrection. Without the Resurrection, there would have been no preaching of the cross since Jesus would be rightly regarded as a failed messiah.

Steven Carr said...

How could the family of Jesus not know that he had been born of a virgin?

Was Mary's heart not bursting with the news?

Mark, of course, denigrates the disciples and the family of Jesus, because he wanted to make clear that Jesus had kept everything secret during his lifetime.

So no birth stories, which would have tipped off the family of Jesus that something amazing had happened.

Mark has no conversion of James.

Nobody who knew James personally ever wrote that James had been a 'sceptic'.

Steven Carr said...

I like the 'would have'and 'wouldn't haves' and 'it can be assumed' and 'presumably' in your comment.

Ask Christians for facts and you are get back armchair speculation about people what would and would not do, when they have never met the people and never spoken to them.

So where are the facts?

You've had 2,000 years for your alleged god to give you some facts and you still have to come up with speculation about how James could possibly have had a personal relationship with his brother for 30 years and not noticed anything divine about him.

Ron said...


Are you saying that James believed in Jesus before the Resurrection or not? If you say that he wasn't a skeptic then you have to show that he wasn't from the evidence that we have. I gave you two sources that say that he was a skeptic along with Jesus' other siblings. We find out from the early creed that Paul quotes in 1st Corinthians 15 that Jesus appeared to James. Both Paul and Like later claim that James was a leader in the early church.

As for the virgin birth, I admit that I was speculating. The topic of the post is the Resurrection, not the virgin birth. All I was saying is that just because it is claimed to have happened to Mary does not mean that her later children would know about it or believe it if she had told them about it.

exapologist said...

Nice summary of Habermas' Minimal Facts argument, Ron!

Steven Carr said...

Please produce evidence that James was a sceptic in the way that the Samaritan woman believed in Jesus as the Messiah.

Of course, James had had a personal relationship with his brother for 30 or so years, yet never found out that his brother had been born of a virgin.

But the anonymous author of Luke found out all about it....


Steven Carr said...

Those '2 sources' are not people who ever claim to have met James.

James himself never said he was a 'sceptic' (or that his brother had been born of a virgin)

So please produce evidence for these 'facts'....

I know. It is in the Bible. What more evidence is needed for something to be a fact?

Steven Carr said...

Mind you, it is amazingly convincing that James was a sceptic who converted.

I saw a find-the-lady game in the street the other day.

I was always convinced these things were frauds

But the dealer's brother said that initially he too had been sceptical of the honesty of his brother.

But the dealer's brother had watched a few games and was now convinced that the game was on the level.

Really! Claims that the brother of someone was sceptical and was later convinced is the oldest trick in the book!