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Summary in 400 words or less:
The “minimal facts approach” argues for the resurrection of Jesus based on its ability to explain the relevant historical facts that are “strongly evidenced…[and] granted by virtually all scholars on the subject, even the skeptical ones” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 47). This approach narrows those facts down to five or fewer: 1) Jesus died by crucifixion; 2) the disciples claimed to have seen the risen Jesus; 3) James, the skeptical brother of Jesus, converted to Christianity after claiming he had an experience with the risen Jesus; 4) Paul converted from an antagonist of Christianity to an apologist for Christianity after having claimed an experience with the risen Jesus; 5) Jesus’ tomb was found empty very soon after his interment.
Minimal Fact #1: Jesus died by crucifixion
It is universally held that Jesus was crucified under the order of Pontius Pilate. All four Gospels testify that Jesus died by crucifixion by Pilate’s order (Matthew 27:26; Mark 15:15; Luke 23:25; John 19:15-16). In addition, extra-biblical citations from Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian of Samosata and others identify Jesus as having been crucified. So much is the evidence for Jesus’ crucifixion that even skeptic John Dominick Crossan wrote, “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be” (Crossan 1991, 145).
Minimal Fact #2: The disciples claimed to have seen the risen Jesus
Habermas and Licona write, “There is a virtual consensus among scholars who study Jesus’ resurrection that, subsequent to Jesus’ death by crucifixion, his disciples really believed that he appeared to them risen from the dead” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 49). Again, all the gospels present Jesus as risen from the dead (incl. Mark 16:6-7). Perhaps the most important biblical creed that supports the resurrection is found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. The creed dates back to within about a year after the death of Christ and includes that “he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” A multitude of other creeds exist in the New Testament that supports the resurrection of Jesus. Clement of Rome, a first-century Christian who apparently knew the apostles of the Lord, wrote that they were “fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Clement of Rome, “First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians,” XLII).
Minimal Fact #3: James, the skeptical brother of Jesus, converted to Christianity after claiming he had an experience with the risen Jesus
James was one of the brothers of Jesus. John records that the brothers of Jesus did not believe in Jesus during Jesus’ earthly ministry (John 7:5). Yet, James became a believer and a strong, influential leader of the early church (Galatians 1:19, James 2:26). The early creed in 1 Corinthians 15 lists James as one who had encountered the risen Jesus. Habermas and Licona report that James’ “martyrdom is attested by Josephus, Hegesippus, and Clement of Alexandria” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 68).
Minimal Fact #4: Paul converted from an antagonist of Christianity to an apologist for Christianity after claiming he had an experience with the risen Jesus
Paul was a Jew educated under Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), he was a Pharisee (Acts 26:5), and he was a persecutor of the church (Philippians 3:5-6). Yet, Paul became an advocate for the church. Paul’s transformation, says Habermas and Licona, is “well documented, reported by Paul himself, as well as Luke, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Tertullian, Dionysius of Corinth, and Origen. Therefore, we have early, multiple, and firsthand testimony that Paul converted from being a staunch opponent of Christianity to one of its greatest proponents” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 65). The evidence is also found in the establishment of several churches by Paul.
Minimal Fact #5: The Empty Tomb
Habermas shows that “roughly 75 percent of scholars on the subject accept the empty tomb as a historical fact” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 70). Habermas also reports that “There were apparently reports in Palestine that caused the emperor to issue an exceptionally strong warning against grave robbing, which was punishable by death (Nazareth Decree)” (Habermas 1996, 185). Not only does archaeology imply an empty tomb, the Bible states that there was an empty tomb (Mark 16: 6, 8; John 20:6-7). Justin Martyr refers to the empty tomb when he writes in his response to Trypho: “his disciples stole him by night from the tomb, where he was laid when unfastened from the cross” (Justin Martyr, Trypho, CVIII).
The minimal facts approach argues that Jesus’ resurrection is the only theory that explains all the facts accepted by even skeptical scholars.
Scripture for YouVersion: 1 Corinthians 15:3-7
Lee Strobel on the “four ‘e’s” of evidence for the resurrection: http://vimeo.com/79130984
Gary Habermas audio on the Minimal Facts Method: http://www.garyhabermas.com/audio/habermas_minimal_facts_approach.mp3
Gary Habermas (Veritas): The Resurrection Argument That Changed A Generation of Scholars:
Three questions (one fill-in-the-blank, one multiple choice, one discussion question):
References for further reading:
The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary Habermas and Mike Licona (Kregel, 2004).
Jesus’ Resurrection is the Most Plausible Explanation
Resurrection game on Gary Habermas’ website: http://www.garyhabermas.com/games/games.htm
Collaborators: Brian Chilton, Maryann Spikes
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