Five Minimal Facts Part I: The Crucifixion

Written by Victor Stanley Jr.

The Christian faith receives a great deal of criticism from the secular world on its claims of Jesus being God, and the savior of the world. While many agree that he was a ‘good’ teacher who died for his beliefs, they deny that he resurrected and is indeed the one true God. Dr. Gary Habermas, who is a leading theologian, apologist, and philosopher specializing in the historical Jesus, offers what he calls the “Minimal Facts approach to a critical study of the resurrection of Jesus.”[1]*

These five minimal facts are used to establish the resurrection of Jesus as historical fact, and are as follows: Jesus died by crucifixion; Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them; The church persecutor Paul was suddenly changed; The skeptic James, brother of Jesus, was suddenly changed; and the tomb was empty. I will briefly explore each of these five points.

The first fact is the crucifixion of Jesus, which has been established not only in scripture, but also in external sources from the first and second centuries. The Bible states that Jesus was arrested and brought before the high priest and Jewish council, and charged with blasphemy for claiming to be God. He was then taken before Pilate, then sent to Herod before finally being returned to Pilate, and ultimately convicted of treason against Rome. He was brutally beat beyond recognition, nailed to a cross, and hung to die, which he did after several hours. Each of the gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—give varying details of the events and circumstances surrounding the crucifixion, but all ultimately agree with each other. Apart from scripture, it is known that historically the Romans crucified thousands of people for varying reasons, and Jewish people, especially those who caused trouble for the Romans, were no exception.

There are a couple extra-biblical sources that reference the crucifixion of Jesus; Roman historian Tacitus, who lived circa A.D. 55 to A.D. 71, spoke of Christ’s crucifixion in book fifteen of his work titled the Annals, Tacitus writes that:

“Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus…”[2]

Here we see a Roman historian who had no ties to Christianity simply documenting historical events, one of which is the death of Christ. Jewish historian Josephus, who lived circa A.D. 55 to A.D. 107, and was not a Christian himself, wrote the following:

“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him…”[3]

The mention of the cross by Josephus, and the mention of Pilate by both historians, lines up with scripture’s account of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, which can be found in detail in Luke 22:47 through the end of chapter 23. Despite this evidence, many have offered up alternative theories, as well as flat out denied that the crucifixion happened at all. Several of the alternate theories are that Jesus actually survived the crucifixion, and thus never died; that he was never crucified, but was simply killed; or, that he was crucified, but that there was never a trial, and instead he was crucified as part of a mass crucifixion of dozens of Jews at the time of Passover.

Some also assert that Romans would tie people to crosses, not nail them to crosses, and thus the biblical account is inaccurate, however, historical records and archeological findings show that although the Romans commonly tied people to crosses, they also used spikes and would nail people to crosses. The fact that Jesus was crucified and died is one that is commonly held by most scholars, including secular scholars.

*Disclaimer: While this is not by any means an exhaustive or even mildly in depth look into the argument from historical facts for the resurrection of Jesus, it does provide a brief overview. This overview of Dr. Habermas’ five minimal facts provides a starting point for anyone interested in seriously pursuing the research to grapple with and truly understand these facts and the evidence they provide for the veracity of the resurrection.

[1] Gary Habermas, “The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus: The Role of Methodology as a Crucial Component in Establishing Historicity,” Southeastern Theological Review 3, no. 1 (Summer 2012): 15, Accessed November 19, 2014, http://www.galaxie.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/article/str03-1-02

[2] Matt Slick, “Why is evidence of Jesus found only in the Bible?,” Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, accessed November 19, 2014, http://carm.org/why-is-evidence-of-jesus-found-only-in-the-bible

[3] Matt Slick, “Why is evidence of Jesus found only in the Bible?,” Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, accessed November 19, 2014, http://carm.org/why-is-evidence-of-jesus-found-only-in-the-bible

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