Five Minimal Facts for The Resurrection Parts I-V

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 Crucifixion

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.

The Disciples

The second fact is the belief, and belief unto death, that Jesus’ disciples had in the resurrection. While whether or not Jesus actually raised himself from the dead is a point that can be argued, the fact that his disciples believed he was raised and appeared to them is not. The New Testament consists of the writings of Jesus’ brothers—James and Jude—three of his disciples—Peter, John, and Matthew—the Apostle Paul, and Mark and Luke who wrote from firsthand accounts handed down to them from the disciples and others. These writings clearly establish the fact that these men, as well as numerous women, all believed that not only had Jesus rose from the dead, but that he had appeared to them in the flesh after his death. Several passages of scripture state this explicitly with the key scripture being 1 Corinthians 15:3-8:

“[3] For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, [4] that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, [5] and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve. [6] Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. [7] Then he appeared to James [brother of Jesus], then to all the apostles. [8] Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”[4]

Other passages that speak of Jesus post resurrection appearances include: Mark 16:14; Luke 24:36; John 20:19; John 20:26; Acts 1:3; and Acts 10:41. The point is that these men sincerely believed that Jesus was alive, and that they had spent time, ate, drank, and prayed with him. They could be written off as crazy, but there is no evidence to support such assertions, especially considering that they were able to travel throughout the Roman Empire establishing churches and governing them while writing what would become the New Testament. They could be called liars, but most liars will only carry a lie so far, and gruesome tortuous death is farther than most liars would go to support a lie.

We must also look at the fact that when Jesus was arrested the disciples all went into hiding, and when he was killed they continued to stay hidden in fear of their lives. Yet for some reason they all radically changed and came out of hiding, proclaiming what they called the gospel far and wide. Greek writer and rhetorician Lucian (circa A.D. 120 – after A.D. 180) could not stand the boldness and what he called a “contempt of death” that the Christians had.

“The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day—the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account. . . . You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take quite on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property” (my emphasis).[5]

To go from fear of death and hiding to welcoming death and bold proclamation of a risen savior is an odd shift to make simply on the basis of a lie or foggy notion. So it can be firmly established that the disciple did indeed believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, and that they had physically interacted with him following his resurrection.

Paul of Tarsus

The conversion of the church persecutor Saul (his Jewish name), who would become known as Paul (his Roman name), is the third fact that helps establish the truth of the resurrection.

“…[4b] If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: [5] circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; [6] as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”[6]

“[3] I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.”[7]

Here we see that Paul was a devout Jew educated in a Jewish rabbinical school where he would have been taught law; indeed he says that he was a Pharisee with regard to the law. F.F. Bruce, the former Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at the University of Manchester before his death, states that, “At the feet of Gamaliel, in addition to rabbinical training he and his fellow students could well have been given prophylactic courses in Greek culture.”[8] This focus on Paul’s education is to refute the common charge that his conversion was the result of mental or psychological issues. Paul was a highly educated man, and respected member of the Jewish community. Paul claims to have been on the road to Damascus with orders from the high priest to apprehend Christians, when suddenly he has an encounter with the risen Christ. Following this encounter Paul says that he was taught by Christ himself, and from then on out Paul becomes one of the greatest Apostles, and a devout follower of Jesus, which resulted in him being the author of the majority of the New Testament.

Paul’s conversion story along with his claim to have interacted with the resurrected Jesus can be found in Acts 9:1-30; Acts 22:1-21; Acts 26:1-18; and Galatians 1:13-16. In the Acts 26 account of particular interest is the fact that he is recounting his conversion to the King of Agrippa, which again shows that to call him crazy or delusional is an error when he is able to gain an audience with a ruler, who, if he was crazy, would not have taken the time to listen to a word he had to say. Not only this, but Paul was also sane enough to present his own defense before the Emperor of Rome. The fact that Paul, a highly educated and respected man who was zealous about Judaism, suddenly abandoned his entire belief system and way of life based off of the personal conviction that he had an encounter with the physical and resurrected man Jesus of Nazareth, is another historical fact that helps to substantiate the resurrection claim.

James The Brother of Jesus

Fourth is the conversion of Jesus’ brother James. James, and the rest of his family, initially did not believe in Jesus, as far as his claims of being God, and actually thought that he was a madman.

“[20] Then he [Jesus] went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. [21] And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”[9]

“[1] After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him. [2] Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand. [3] So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. [4] For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” [5] For not even his brothers believed in him.”[10]

So we see that his family in the first passage, and specifically his brothers in the second passage thought that he was crazy, and they did not believe in what he claimed about himself. Yet not only does James come to later believe in Jesus after seeing him in his resurrected body,[11] but he also became one of the most respected leaders in the Church, and the head of the church in Jerusalem.[12] So again we see a radical change take place in person, and that person claiming said change is based solely on the truth of the resurrection.

Still many criticize James conversion by saying that there are several people called James in the New Testament making it impossible to know if the one referenced is actually the brother of Christ except where it is specifically mentioned, such as Paul’s references to him. Some detractors also point out that while scripture says Jesus’ brothers did not believe in him, it never explicitly states that this included James, thus James may have always believed. These criticisms rely heavily on assumption and speculation, and deny the fact that the Early Church, and the Early Church Fathers affirmed that this was undoubtedly James the brother of Jesus.

The Empty Tomb

The final fact, and the most difficult to establish, is the empty tomb. Dr. Habermas himself says that he has “…never counted the empty tomb as a Minimal Fact; it is very obvious that it does not enjoy the near-unanimity of scholarship.”[13] We have established that the disciples, Paul, and James all believed that the tomb was empty. Scripture states that the guards, the Sanhedrin, and Mary Magdalene all believed the tomb to be empty.[14]

One of the main counters to the tomb being empty is simply that the disciples stole the body, although scripture says that this was a rumor started by the Jewish leaders.[15] To that criticism I restate my previous point that even if they did steal the body, it seems unlikely that they would endure such persecution, and eventual death, for a lie. The evidence for the empty tomb relies mostly on the testimony of the guards and Mary Magdalene. However, the fact that the disciples and others believed Jesus was resurrected, coupled with the guards admitting that the tomb was empty, and the conspiracy by the Jewish leaders to explain it away suggests that, at the least, the tomb was empty.

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

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.

[5] Matt Slick, “Non biblical accounts of New Testament events and/or people,” Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, accessed November 19, 2014, http://carm.org/non-biblical-accounts-new-testament-events-and-or-people

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Philippians 3:4-6.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Acts 22:3.

[8] New Testament History (1969; repr., New York: DoubleDay-Galilee, 1980), 237.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mark 3:20-21.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001) John 7:1-5.

[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.

[12] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Acts 15:13; Acts 21:18; Galatians 1:19; Galatians 2:9; Galatians 2:12.

[13] 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): 25-26, Accessed November 19, 2014, http://www.galaxie.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/article/str03-1-02

[14] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Matthew 28:11-15; Matthew 28:1-10.

[15] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Matthew 28:11-15.

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