This is an article I penned for the Cornerstone Institute newsletter that requires one to work with a word limit of 700 or less. In this way I had to remain very brief in several key areas which would, undermine normal circumstances, require further elaboration. In this way, as an addition to this piece, I will be providing a full treatment of the Minimal Facts Approach to Jesus’ resurrection.
The Minimal Facts Apologetic to Jesus’ Resurrection.
Presenting evidence for our faith (1 Peter 3:15) constitutes a major component to evangelism. Sometimes, given our secular culture, we have to provide evidence and arguments to demonstrate that our faith is credible and worthy of discussion. Here we shall focus on the resurrection hypothesis, namely, that God raised Jesus from the dead.
Historical Evidence & the Minimal Facts Approach.
When historians wish to learn about Jesus they zoom in on the New Testament. This, explains Bart Ehrman, “is not for religious or theological reasons… It is for historical reasons, pure and simple” (Ehrman, 2000: 229). When we look at this evidence we don’t assume it being God inspired; we simply approach them as historical documents.
Academic consensus affirms four facts concerning Jesus that we need to review. Exegete Gary Habermas has engaged more than 3000 academic articles, and has thus found several facts that “are so strongly attested historically that they are granted by nearly every scholar… even the rather skeptical ones” (Habermas & Licona, 2004: 44). These are known as the Minimal Facts (MA):
• Jesus’ crucifixion.
• Jesus’ burial.
• Jesus’ empty tomb.
• Jesus’ post mortem appearances.
Fact (1), explains Professor James Dunn, “command[s] almost universal assent” (Dunn, 2003: 339) while according to Professor Ludemann the “crucifixion is indisputable” (Ludemann, 2004: 50). It is attested to in no less than 11 independent sources. The more sources we have concerning a historical event the more probable it is that it occurred; historians are quite happy to have two independent sources for such events (Craig, 2009). Fact (2) concerns Jesus’ burial which is attested to in very early sources (a creed in 1 Cor. 15 and the Pre-Markan narrative). Beyond that it is independently attested to in M & L, Acts and John. John Robinson explains that the burial is one of “the earliest and best-attested facts about Jesus” (Robinson, 1973: 131). Fact (3) concerns the empty tomb. Unlike these other facts which command universal consensus (1, 2 & 4), the empty tomb is affirmed by 75% of historians. However, the burial is independently attested to in a pre-Pauline creed (1 Cor. 15:1-11), the Pre-Markan Passion Narrative, and in the synoptics (Mark, Matthew, Luke) and John. Habermas explains that “least three, if not four, of these Gospel sources” attest to the empty tomb hence why it is “taken so seriously by contemporary critical scholars” (Habermas, 2005). Concerning fact (4) consensus holds that James, Paul and the disciples had resurrection experiences of Jesus. Historian James Crossley says that these resurrection appearances are “the hardest, best evidence we have” (Crossley, 2015). Nine independent sources attest to Jesus’ resurrection appearance to Paul, James, and his disciples.
The Resurrection Hypothesis.
So what best explains the Minimal Facts (3) and (4)? Traditionally, critics have proposed hypotheses but of which fall short. The Swoon hypothesis says that Jesus never actually died but was later revived. This, however, fails to explain fact (4) as a severely injured Jesus would never convince the earliest disciples of his bodily resurrection. The hallucination hypothesis, namely that the disciples hallucinated the risen Jesus, fails to explain fact (3), the empty tomb. Alternatively, the resurrection hypothesis adequately explains both facts (3) and (4), and therefore is richer in explanatory scope.
Lastly, we should consider probability. Now, considering the MFs, it is highly unlikely that we would have facts (3) and (4) should Jesus never have risen from the dead. In other words, given facts (3) and (4) it is more probable that Jesus was resurrected than him not being resurrected which certainly gives credibility to the resurrection hypothesis.
This treatment, given the word limit, has been far from thorough although we’ve successfully, albeit briefly, outlined a frame that provides reasons in favour of the resurrection hypothesis. There is excellent work online (see William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith), and I invite investigative individuals to visit my site James Bishop’s Theology & Apologetics that goes deeper into these subjects.
Craig, W. 2009. Independent Sources for Jesus’ Burial and Empty Tomb.
Dunn, J. 2003. Jesus Remembered: Christianity in the Making. Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing.
Ehrman, Bart. 2000. The New Testament. Oxford University Press.
Habermas, G. & Licona, M. 2004. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications
Habermas, G. 2005. Recent Perspectives on the Reliability of the Gospels.
Ludemann, G. 2004. The Resurrection of Christ. New York: Prometheus Book.
Robinson, J. 1973. The Human Face of God. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.