Last Sunday night at Hampton United Methodist Church I began my new three-week class, “Reason to Believe: Examining the Evidence for the Resurrection.” As I’ve said many times before, the resurrection of Jesus Christ rests on solid historical evidence. In this first session I began laying out the evidence using the strategy of Christian apologists Gary Habermas and Mike Licona: the “minimal facts” approach. I also draw upon the writings of William Lane Craig and N.T. Wright, as well as this podcast by Glenn Peoples.
None of these ideas is original to me. In fact, since I recently listened to Dr. Peoples’s podcast in my car a few times on long car trips, I’m afraid I unintentionally stole a few turns of phrase from him. I intentionally stole some of his thoughts about Richard Carrier’s rejection of Fact #3. Sorry! But please listen to Peoples’s podcast and read his blog. He’s the best!
The minimal facts approach identifies facts surrounding Easter Sunday that nearly everyone—including the vast majority of secular historians—agrees upon. When I say “vast majority” that’s exactly what I mean: Habermas reviewed 2,200 articles related to the resurrection, written in English, German, or French, by a wide variety of scholars since 1975, and for each of these facts, nearly all agree upon the following, with the exception of the empty tomb, which enjoys a mere 75 percent of acceptance among scholars. (Don’t worry: as I say in my presentation, that the disciples found an empty tomb, especially given the historicity of Jesus’ burial in a tomb, is, from my perspective, a no-brainer.)
How one numbers and divides up these “minimal facts” varies from one person to another. In my class, I laid them out as follows (click to enlarge):
As I explain in my video, we arrive at these facts, in part, by treating the documents that make up the New Testament merely as ancient historical documents, without any commitment to their inspiration by the Holy Spirit—not to mention a belief in their infallibility or inerrancy.
Notice Fact #4: I’m not asserting that historians believe the disciples saw the risen Lord, only that they sincerely believed they did. Regarding Facts #5 and 6, my point is that we can know from history that both James and Paul were “hostile witnesses”: people who disbelieved or opposed Christianity and, upon having an encounter with a person whom they believed was the resurrected Jesus, dramatically changed their lives, such that both were martyred for their faith.
In Part 1, I only covered the first three facts. As I told my class, these are not the most interesting. In fact, as scripture makes clear, only one disciple that we know of—the “beloved disciple,” or John—comes to faith on the basis of Fact #3, the discovery of the empty tomb. Nevertheless, in order to refute alternative theories that purport to explain Easter Sunday and its aftermath, we have to understand these first four facts. (Please note: Facts #5 and 6 could fall under #4. Fact #2—that Jesus was buried—could be implied by Fact #3. You get the idea.)
Enjoy! If you have a chance to watch the video (or listen to the MP3) and can offer feedback, I’d appreciate it.