The proposal that someone can resurrect after being dead for three days is often a very tough product to sell in todays’ westernized self-proclaimed intellectual culture, which is primarily dominated by naturalists who claim that nothing can occur outside of the laws of nature. Of course, we Christians firmly hold to the idea that our Lord, Jesus of Nazareth, rose from the dead three days after being crucified. Some of us place faith in this fact solely based upon the reading of the Bible and others have read the Bible and have gone the extra mile to confirm the historical credibility of such a claim. Regardless of how you came to your faith in Christ and his resurrection, it is important that we assess our own beliefs by objectively viewing the facts to see how they reinforce or contradict our worldview.
In the defense of the skeptic, Christians are making a gigantic claim. You would be somewhat skeptical if you heard your friend say, “You are not going to believe this but Bob (who died three days ago) is now alive and talking to everyone in front of the mortuary. You should stop by and see him!” You would likely think your friend was crazy and would not seriously consider the notion that Bob could resurrect from the dead because it is believed that once a living organism dies, it remains dead.
However, imagine if you started getting text messages from multiple friends saying something like, “Did you hear? Bob is back from the dead and he is in front of the mortuary! You should come down!” If you are anything like me, you would probably come to the conclusion that your friends are playing a distasteful joke on you and would dismiss the text messages as foolish. After receiving the texts, pretend you turned on your computer and logged into Facebook only to find that there are pictures of Bob in front of the mortuary on some of your friend’s profiles with posts stating, “Bob is back from the dead! He says Jesus brought him back!” Now, you are starting to become a little less skeptical of your friends’ wild and seemingly impossible claims. Even though you went to Bob’s “showing” earlier that same day and intended to go to his funeral the following day, the evidence is compiling high enough to compel you to investigate the evidence to its conclusion.
With this newfound evidence, you jump into the car and drive hurriedly to the mortuary to see if these claims are genuine rather than some morbid prank. You get to the mortuary only to see Bob surrounded by a group of ecstatic people who are as shocked to see Bob as you. The seemingly impossible claims were truthful. Bob’s claim that Jesus raised him from the dead validated the existence of the Christian God because you recognize that a corpse does not naturally rise from the dead without divine intervention. This divine intervention can now be attested to by Bob, you, and all of those who also witnessed Bob back from the dead. Those that do not believe in this event can view the evidence for themselves however their non-belief would be contrary to the evidence provided by the eyewitnesses.
Using this illustration, we can identify the natural absurdities of what Christians are asking skeptics to believe. However, using the same example, we can recognize that if we follow the evidence to where it leads, we will discover our Savior as long as the investigation is approached with the commitment to accept the logical conclusion of the available evidence. However, imagine that the evidence was never followed. Bob being raised from the dead by God would have been dismissed due a failure of being ideologically accepting of supernatural occurrences. If presuppositions are devastatingly devout to a naturalistic worldview, even the strong evidence as the one presented in this example could potentially be disregarded or easily dismissed as a hoax. The truth is plain to see in the case of Bob and Jesus but the lack of openness to the supernatural hinders people from discovering the truth in both stories.
This illustration does not serve the purpose of portraying an exact parallel to Jesus’s resurrection. The point behind this example expresses how dogmatic naturalistic ideologies keep some people from accepting the logical conclusions that are founded on objective evidence. The facts contained within the minimal facts argument are accepted by a large majority of New Testament scholars, which include believers and skeptics. While everyone may not find the Bible to be a reliable authority, these facts that are being presented are historically reliable and can be attested to by scholarly skeptics and believers alike. As you read, allow yourself to objectively weigh the resurrection hypothesis versus all naturalistic hypotheses and let the evidence dictate your conclusion, not your ideology.
The Minimal Facts
To preface the remainder of this article, it is important to lay out the facts that serve as the foundation for the minimal facts argument. They are as follows…
1. Jesus died by crucifixion
2. The disciples of Jesus were sincerely convinced that he rose from the dead and appeared to them
3. Paul (aka Saul of Tarsus), who was a persecutor of the Christians, suddenly changed his beliefs towards Christianity
4. James (brother of Jesus), who was a skeptic of the Christian faith, suddenly changed his beliefs towards Christianity
5. The Tomb of Jesus was found empty three days after the crucifixion of Jesus (Habermas and Licona 2004, 48-76)
These are the facts that a majority of New Testament scholars consider to be historically accurate. As stated before, these scholars are not solely believers of Christianity but also include skeptics who aggressively question the notion that the resurrection actually happened. However, their skepticism of Jesus’ resurrection does not prevent them from acknowledging that there are certain facts that can be known regarding the life, ministry, crucifixion, and post-death happenings of Jesus.
Fact One – Jesus Died by Crucifixion
We can acknowledge that all four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, testify that Jesus was crucified (Habermas and Licona 2004, 48). These New Testament gospels were written roughly 30 – 50 years following the crucifixion of Jesus, which is considered a tremendously early source in the study of ancient antiquity. However, the Biblical sources are not the only sources for the historical fact that Jesus was executed by crucifixion.
There are multiple extra biblical sources for the crucifixion of Jesus. The first of them being Josephus, who was a Jewish historian, wrote concerning Jesus, “When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified” (Josephus 1981, Volume 9). The second source we have is Tacitus (56 AD – 117 AD), a senator and historian for the Roman Empire, who writes, “Nero fastened the guilt [of the burning of Rome] 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 Pilate” (Tacitus 115). The third source we have is Lucian of Samosata (125 AD – 180 AD), a Greek satirist and a skeptic of the Christian faith, who writes, “The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day – the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account” (Lucian of Samosata Mid-second century, 11-13). The fourth source we have is Mara Bar-Serapion, who wrote to his son in 73 AD from prison with the following comments, “Or [what advantage came to] the Jews by the murder of their Wise King, seeing that from the very time their kingdom was driven away from them?” (Donaldson, Roberts and Coxe 1935-1952). As you may notice, the quote from Mara does not specifically reference the crucifixion; however it makes a specific reference to the “murder” of their “Wise King”.
Upon viewing the multiple sources of the crucifixion of Jesus, we can say with confidence that it is a historically reliable claim that Jesus was crucified during this time period of the first century. Outside of the few people in academia who venture to believe that Jesus never existed at all, most objective New Testament scholars acknowledge the solid foundation of reliable evidence for this fact, which leads them to the undeniable conclusion that Jesus was crucified in the first century.
Fact Two – The Disciples Sincerely Believed Jesus Rose from the Dead and Appeared to them
There are two major sub-facts that need to be viewed closely in order to truly appreciate the full impact of this second fact. The two sub-facts include the disciples making the claim that Jesus rose from the dead and had appeared to them and the second is that the disciples were radically transformed from being individuals who abandoned Jesus after his execution to intensely loyal advocates of Jesus’ gospel who courageously faced intense persecution, imprisonment, torture, and martyrdom (Habermas and Licona 2004, 50). These two facts that make up second fact of this argument, allow us to put ourselves in the disciples’ shoes and hopefully allow us to imagine how we would react in the same situation.
The disciples made the claim that Jesus rose from the dead and that he had appeared to them. The sources of this claim fall into three separate categories. The first is the testimony of Paul and the disciples. The second source is the oral tradition of the early church. The third and last source is the written works of the early church. These three sources are able to historically establish these claims as reliable historical fact (Habermas and Licona 2004, 51).
First, the testimony of Paul and the disciples serve as a valuable indication for what they actually believed. While that may be a rather obvious statement, it is essential that we are able to identify why it is monumentally important when discussing the resurrection of Jesus. Paul, who maintained that his authority was equal to that of other apostles, noted a specific verse containing his position on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:3 – 8 (NASB),
“3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.”
Paul made this personal claim that Jesus resurrected from the dead because he claimed that Jesus appeared to him along with Cephas, the twelve Disciples, five hundred brethren, James, the apostles, and then to Paul himself. Paul personally knew Peter, James, and John (Galatians 1:18 – 19; 2:2 – 20) and the Bible also states that Paul fellowshipped with the disciples (Acts 9:26 – 30; 15:1 – 35). This is also attested to by other early church writers that lived within one hundred years of Jesus (Habermas and Licona 2004, 51). Historically, Paul can confidently be classified as an early independent source.
Along with Paul, the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) serve as an excellent source that is well-accepted to have been written within the first century (Habermas and Licona 2004, 53). Like Paul, each Gospel attests to the resurrection of Jesus. In addition to Paul and the four Gospels, we have the book of Acts, which was written as a sequel to Luke, falling in line with the claim of the resurrection of Jesus. The Gospels and the Pauline writings were all considered to be written within the first century which makes them exceptionally early accounts. Given that these books were written by individuals that had been present at the recorded events or interviewed people who were eyewitnesses to the actual events, it would be reasonable to conclude that these writings reflected what they genuinely believed to be true.
Oral tradition was used to preserve the message being passed along. Clearly, they would not be able to record events in the same manner that we do today for obvious reasons. They could not whip out their smart phone in first-century Palestine and start recording things Jesus said or did. While this would be ideal for us moderns, those that existed in the first century had to work with the resources they had available to them. In the first century Jewish culture, an efficient way to preserve information was through the means of oral tradition. Oral tradition was a method of teaching others and it was frequently used in the form of creeds, hymns, story summaries, and poetry in order to more easily memorize the information being preserved (Habermas and Licona 2004, 52).
A good example that we can view in support of this oral tradition is viewing 1 Corinthians 15:3 – 5 (cited earlier). This scripture is identified as a creed that was used in the earliest traditions of Christianity and actually predates the writings of Paul. It is believed by many scholars that Paul received this creed from Peter and James while fellowshipping with them in Jerusalem (Habermas and Licona 2004, 52), which would mean that Paul would have learned this creed from the disciples directly within five years of the crucifixion of Jesus.
Lastly, the writings of the early church were written by the apostolic fathers, which were the individuals who succeeded the original apostles (Habermas and Licona 2004, 53). Some of these apostolic fathers could have spent a good deal of time with the apostles and could have possibly been appointed by them. However, the main takeaway from their writings should be that they are reflective of what the apostles thought and believed about the resurrection. It is important to study the apostolic writings in order to further evaluate the “bigger picture” of what the apostles believed about Jesus’ resurrection.
Apostolic Father Clement (referred to in Philippians 4:3) spent a good amount of time with the apostles, particularly Peter, according to early church fathers by the name of Irenaeus and Tertullian. They both wrote about Clement in the time period of the late second century – early third century and wrote about how Clement had direct interaction with the apostles and how Clement received first hand instructions and observed their early traditions (Habermas and Licona 2004, 54).
Now that we have multiple church leaders commenting on how Clement received specific guidance from the apostles directly, what does Clement actually say about the resurrection? Clement wrote,
“Therefore, having received the orders and complete certainty caused by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and believing in the Word of God, they went with the Holy Spirit’s certainty, preaching the good news that the kingdom of God is about to come” (First Clement 42:3)
What implications does this have in our investigation of what the apostles truly believed? This assures us that the apostles remained true to their belief that Jesus rose from the dead and that they had seen him after the resurrection. This further confirms the claims being made in the New Testament were not claims conjured at a later date by someone else completely disconnected from the original events.
Polycarp (69 AD – 155 AD), along with Clement, is another Apostolic Father who mentioned the resurrection of Jesus five times in his letters to the church in Philippi (Habermas and Licona 2004, 55). According to writers of Irenaeus and Tertullian, the content of the messages that Polycarp was sending derived directly from the original apostles because it was said that he was appointed to his position by the apostles, which wanted to preserve the Christian messages by providing their successors with all of the correct information and doctrines. Polycarp ultimately was martyred in Smyrna at the age of 86 in 160 AD (Habermas and Licona 2004, 55).
After the claims of the resurrection of Jesus were made and the ultimate determination is made that this is what they sincerely believed, how did this belief actually affect their lives? There are several resources that we can look to in order to gather an insight into how their lives were transformed. All the resources that are currently available reinforce the fact that these apostles were willing to suffer for their belief in the resurrection of Jesus.
A good place to start for this insight would be the book of Acts. However, there are other sources that can be found in the early apostolic writings. Clement wrote about the sufferings and the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul,
“Because of envy and jealousy, the greatest and most righteous pillars have been persecuted and contended unto death. Let us set the good apostles before our eyes. Peter, who because of unrighteous envy endured, not one or two, but many afflictions, and having borne witness went to the due glorious place. Because of envy and rivalries, steadfast Paul pointed to the prize. Seven times chained, exiled, stoned, having become a preacher both in the East and in the West, he received honor fitting of his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, unto the boundary on which the sun sets; having testified in the presence of the leaders. Thus he was freed from the world and went to the holy place. He became a great example of steadfastness” – First Clement 5:2 – 7
Polycarp, in the same spirit as Clement, wrote the following to the Philippians that reinforced Clement’s message regarding the suffering of Paul and the rest of the apostles, “They are in the place due them with the Lord, in association with them also the suffered. For they did not love the present age…” (Polycarp n.d.) Polycarp’s testimony granted us an insight into the sufferings the apostles went through.
During the lifetime of Polycarp, he had forwarded on his apostolic teachings to many people, including Ignatius. Ignatius wrote seven letters recording the information he was given by Polycarp regarding the teachings he received directly from the original apostles. He wrote about how the disciples were strengthened by Jesus, which led them not to fear death, but rather they believed that through death “they are found” (Habermas and Licona 2004, 57).
Along with Clement, Polycarp, and Ignatius, we can also look at the writing of Tertullian, Origen, and Eusebius as resources for the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul and we can use Josephus, Hegesippus, and Clement as sources for the martyrdom of James, the brother of Jesus (Habermas and Licona 2004, 59). These sources that are being evaluated are not found in the Bible and are considered legitimate historical references to people who actually lived and died. They corroborate the message of the Bible.
Given the testimony of Paul, oral tradition, and the written tradition, we can feel confident in proclaiming that we know that the disciples believed Jesus rose from the dead and that Jesus appeared to them. It is a reasonable assumption that these apostles believed in the resurrection with so much certainty and sincerity that they were willing to die a martyr’s death.
Fact Three – Paul dramatically changed his stance on Christianity in a very short period of time
Paul the apostle was once known as Saul of Tarsus. Prior to Paul seeing the appearance of the resurrected Jesus, he was a devastatingly loyal persecutor and murderer of Christians. The actions of the pre-Christian Paul are described in the book of Acts. Given all of the good things that were done by Paul after his conversion, it is hard to imagine that he could have done all of those horrible things to Christians. Prior to becoming a Christian, Paul’s reputation was specifically known for being a persecutor of Christians. It almost seems as though he is a transformed person after the appearance of Jesus.
Paul wrote a narrative about his conversion to Christianity, so the notion that we should question his own testimony regarding his experience seems to be unnecessary. In addition, we have multiple attestations regarding his strong belief that he did see the appearance of the Lord along with independent attestation for the suffering of Paul by the apostolic fathers who mentored under Paul. The significant amount of attestations to the fact that Paul was a transformed person after the appearance of Jesus is notable in a historically investigation like this one.
In this case, we are not solely relying upon secondary evidence. We have primary evidence directly from the source. Paul’s own writings exemplify his persecutory pre-Christian lifestyle along with how his life was completely transformed because of Jesus appearing to him. After Paul gives his testimony through his writings, we have further corroboration through the apostolic fathers of his beliefs along with the experiences of suffering and ultimate martyrdom he was put through for his unfailing belief in the resurrected Jesus. Ultimately, this builds a strong case for Paul’s life being completely transformed because of his claim that Jesus appeared to him after the crucifixion.
Fact Four – James dramatically changed his stance on Christianity in a very short period of time
The story about the conversion of James and subsequent transformation is not as well documented as what we have for Paul, but there is certainly enough evidence to establish that James was a skeptic prior to the crucifixion and a believer in resurrection of Jesus after he had an appearance of Jesus alive after the crucifixion. There are multiple sources that confirm the fact that James was once a skeptic before his belief in the resurrected Jesus and multiple sources for the fact that the appearance he had of the risen Jesus transformed his life to the point to where he was willing to be martyred in order to remain loyal to the belief that Jesus was resurrected from the dead.
The Gospels record that Jesus’ brothers, who included James, did not believe Jesus and the message of his ministry. Below are three scriptures that depict the nonbelief of friends and family,
“21 When His own people heard of this, they went out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, “He has lost His senses.”” – Mark 3:21 (NASB)
“3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him. 4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives and in his own household.”” – Mark 6:3 – 4 (NASB)
“5 For not even His brothers were believing in Him” – John 7:5 (NASB)
Given these particular scriptures, we are confident that James was not a supporter of Jesus. However, the transformation in James’ life began when James saw the appearance of Jesus. As was noted earlier in the article, one of the earliest creedal materials that are currently known is 1 Corinthians 15:3 – 7, which indicates that Jesus had appeared to James.
“3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles” – 1 Corinthians 15:3 – 7 (NASB)
After viewing the scriptures that present the facts that James was indeed a skeptic as well as the scripture that stated that Jesus appeared to James, how can we be certain that James actually martyred himself for the belief in the resurrection of Jesus? As discussed in the “Fact Two” section of this article, Josephus, Hegesippus, and Clement are sources for the martyrdom of James (Habermas and Licona 2004, 59). The idea that James can transform from a skeptic to a full-blown martyr for the belief system that he was originally skeptical of is nonsensical without something radical occurring in his life. In this case, given the circumstances behind what was going on in James’ life at that period of time, are we to believe that James abandoned his skepticism of Jesus without having believed in the resurrection? What else could possibly explain James’ devout loyalty to Jesus after having been skeptical his whole life of him?
Fact Five – The Empty Tomb
This is a fact that is not supported by the overwhelming majority of New Testament scholars as the other four facts are, however it is still considered to be historically reliable by 75% of New Testament scholars (Habermas and Licona 2004, 70). While this is not an overwhelming percentage, it is still a rather high percentage. There are good reasons for why three out of four scholars advocate for this fact. The evidence for why the tomb was empty on the third day is certainly compelling enough to still be considered a fact for this minimal facts argument.
There are three arguments in favor of Jesus’ tomb being empty on the third day. These three arguments are the Jerusalem factor, enemy attestation, and the testimony of the women. These three arguments in support of the empty tomb give us confidence that we can validly claim the tomb was empty as fact. After viewing all of them, it will be clear that there is substantive reasoning behind the idea of the empty tomb.
The Jerusalem factor is the theory that Christianity would have not expanded in the manner that it did if the body would have been present in the tomb in Jerusalem, which is where Jesus was crucified, buried, and where he first appeared after the crucifixion. The reason why Christianity would have become a complete flop if Jesus had remained in the tomb is because everyone in Jerusalem would have heard about it. In fact, if the body of Jesus was still present in the tomb when the claims of his resurrection were being made, the Romans and Jewish leadership would have publicly displayed Jesus’ corpse to show everyone to prove that Jesus was undeniably dead. If this would have happened, the power of the resurrection claim would have completely lost all power and the movement would have likely failed (Habermas and Licona 2004, 70).
According to the book of Acts, the public Christian ministry began fifty days after the crucifixion of Jesus. There is no record of any exhumation of Jesus’ body at this time by anyone. You would think that the local leadership would want to stomp out this claim in any way they could. Despite the decomposition of the corpse after fifty days, the arid climate would allow for the corpse to keep certain distinctive physical qualities such as hair, stature, and wounds, which would have identified the identity of the highly decomposed corpse (Habermas and Licona 2004, 70).
Not only would the leadership of Jerusalem been happy to provide a possibly identifiable corpse, they would have gladly produced any corpse! The enemies of Jesus would have been happy to see any corpse as long as it was from the tomb of Jesus. In addition to that, the believers of Jesus would have been dissuaded from believing in the resurrection of Jesus if they had seen a slightly recognizable corpse being publicly displayed in Jerusalem. The confidence of the resurrection of Jesus would have been extinguished dramatically because of the public display of the corpse, which would have had disastrous repercussions on the expansion of the early Christian church (Habermas and Licona 2004, 71). Given these observations, along with the fact that there is no record of any exhumation occurring in Jerusalem, it is a reasonable assumption that the tomb was empty on the third day after the crucifixion using the Jerusalem factor.
The second argument for the empty tomb is that there was enemy attestation. This argument illustrates that the individuals who opposed early Christianity admitted to the tomb being empty. The most popular citation of this argument would be found in Matthew 28:12 – 13 (NASB),
“12 And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 and said, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’”
While this may be the most cited, there are other sources to look to for a similar message. These messages can be found in the writings of Justin Martyr, Trypho 108; Tertullian, and De Spectaculis 30 (Habermas and Licona 2004, 71). At that time, the Jews would have no incentive to admit that the tomb was empty unless it actually was. In fact, it would have been more convenient for them to have found the corpse of Jesus in his tomb because they could have easily stomped out the early Christian movement, which they considered blasphemous. As stated in Matthew 28:12 – 13, they concocted the theory that Jesus’ disciples had taken the body, which would inevitably mean that the tomb would be empty.
The last argument for the empty tomb would be the testimony of women. It is a much different time in the 21st century western society than it was in first century Palestine. The woman’s testimony in today’s culture is accredited with just as much credibility as a man’s. However, this was not always so. In fact, it was the exact opposite. The quotes from that time period below illustrate how much credit was given to a woman’s testimony.
“Sooner let the words of the Law be burnt than delivered to women” – Talmud, Sotah 19a
“The world cannot exist without males and without females – happy is he whose children are males, and woe to him whose children are females” – Talmud, Kiddushin 82b
“But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex, nor let servants be admitted to give testimony on account of the ignobility of their soul; since it is probable that they may not speak truth, either out of hope of gain, or ear of punishment” (Josephus 1981)
“Any evidence with a woman [gives] is not valid (to offer), also they are not valid to offer. This is equivalent to saying that one who is Rabinically accounted a robber is qualified to give the same evidence as a women” – Talmud, Rosh Hashannah 1.8
After reading these quotes, you may be taken aback. This is completely contradictory to what we currently believe of women. While this may be the case, this gives us a grander insight into how the testimony of women would have been perceived in the first century.
Do you think women would have been taken seriously in first century Palestine? Absolutely not! In fact, they would have been immediately disregarded as being a person you could not trust. For the New Testament writers to testify that the women were the ones to discover the empty tomb on the third day would have been viewed as an embarrassment. If the writers wanted to add credibility to their story, they would have manufactured a story about how the male disciples discovered the empty tomb because it would have been perceived as more trustworthy. Remaining loyal to the historical happenings despite cultural stigmas would be the most reasonable explanation for why the New Testament has the women discovering the empty tomb included, therefore, it would be reasonable to conclude that their story is truthful rather than a fictional fabrication.
In the introduction of this article, a challenge was posed to the reader. It was to allow oneself to read through the facts and objectively analyze whether or not a naturalistic theory can be formulated that can explain all of the facts better than the resurrection hypothesis. Regardless of one’s ultimate conclusion, there should have undoubtedly been deep thought put into the potential possibilities of what best explains the facts.
The introduction also laid out a silly story about a friend coming back from the dead. In the story, there was a natural hesitancy of this outrageous claim until the evidence was presented and considered. Once the evidence was followed, it was discovered that Bob was raised from the dead at the hand of Jesus. In our case with viewing the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, every person is in this same circumstance on a much higher scale. However, the consequences are eternal in the case of investigating the resurrection of Jesus.
Investigation of the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus should be done objectively. We should allow ourselves to become historians and dig for the truth! This article can serve as your launching pad! You may want to pick up the book, “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus” by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona. After reading this book, you might find yourself knowing more than you ever thought possible about the resurrection of Jesus.
Those that reject the resurrection hypothesis do so on an ideological basis, not an evidential one. The basis for which we evaluate this evidence is not always empirical, but oftentimes circumstantial. Skeptics often reject circumstantial evidence, but they fail to realize that circumstantial evidence is the primary type of evidence that convicts murders and other types of criminals in a court of law. It seems as though circumstantial evidence is our greatest asset in most every other investigation, but somehow it is denied as untenable by the skeptic in this case. Or is it a mere failure to overcome ideologies that will not allow for supernatural possibilities? For skeptics who remain skeptical after thoroughly researching the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, there is a massive amount of reconciling the historical evidence to formulate a merely naturalistic conclusion. Naturalism simply does not simultaneously explain all of the known facts. The resurrection hypothesis best explains all five established facts better than any other naturalistic hypothesis anyone has ever came up with.
Writing from a personal perspective, the resurrection of Jesus is undoubtedly a historical event. When a historical event is true, the facts will always align with the truth. As Christians, Christ has laid out our historical case for us and we must be open to accept the conclusions of His evidence. No conspiracy theorist can mask the truth of the resurrection of Jesus without having manipulated truth along the way. Jesus grants us truth. Jesus said, “Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” in John 18:37 (NASB). We must continue to follow His voice and align our worldviews with His. Only then will we be able to fully see the truth that He provides.
Donaldson, J., A. Roberts, and A.C. Coxe. The Babylonian Talmud. London, 1935-1952.
Haberman, Gary R, and Michael R Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2004.
Hengel, Martin. Crucifixion. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976.
Josephus. Antiquities. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981.
Lucian of Samosata. The Death of Peregrine. Mid-second century.
Tacitus. Annals. 115.
Nice! I hope you don’t mind that I added a link to this on my own “minimal facts” post. 🙂
Thank you Matt! I do not mind at all!!!! God bless my friend!
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Thanks for writing this. I’m actually sitting here with “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus” by Habermas and Licona right beside me. Their argument is very good. I’m in the process of using this with an atheist, taking it one step at a time. Keep up the good work!
Thanks for your complimentary note Eric! I appreciate your feedback. I loved “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus” book. They are certainly providing us with a blessing with that book.
The weakness to this Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection is twofold:
1–It conveniently only considers those “facts” that seem to argue on behalf of the proposition. It is precisely for this reason that we have both a prosecution and a defense in a trial. All the facts are then presented and the case can be decided. You have presented only one side of the case and that is the case that argues “for” the proposition. You’ll have to be more through and complete in any discussion of the matter. A one-sided approach such as this is, or seems to be, lacking. To omit historical “facts” that argie against the proposition is somewhat misleading, like a prosecuting attorney who only wants to present those “facts” that argue for his case.
2–Additionally, “fact” 1 can easily be disputed as there is no forensic evidence to suggest that one Jesus was actually dead when taken down from the cross. You must differentiate between someone crucified and someone crucified to death if you are going to be exact and correct. In other words, to crucify someone, especially if the process is interrupted, which was the case with this crucifixion, is distinctly different than to say that someone was beheaded. It is the same as a stoning. To say that someone was stoned is different than to say that someone was stoned to death. The stoning of Paul in Acts 13 is a good example. Really what you have with this crucifixion is the “belief” that Jesus was dead. I’m not saying that he did not die, only pointing out that you have no proof to the “belief” that he was actually dead.
Anyway, thought that I would mention these points as they seem to apply to your position and belief. thanks
I appreciate you taking the time to provide me with your opinion. Let me address your observations in the order that you made them. Before I do though, I would encourage you to read my article on the “objections to the minimal facts argument”. Hopefully this should clear a couple of your concerns up.
1) Your first remark was addressing my alleged omission of facts. However, the minimal facts argument purposefully includes facts that are only accepted as facts by a majority of all New Testament scholars, both Christian and skeptic. With that in mind, I wouldn’t include all facts that I personally accept as a Christian because some skeptics would object. However, the primary force of the argument is that the listed facts included within it are accepted by skeptics along with Christians alike in a majority of cases. So, while I agree with your sentiment for gathering as many details as possible, the argument is based off of what can be concluded by the facts that are generally indisputable and accepted by a majority of New Testament scholarship. That’s what makes it a powerful argument.
2) The apparent death theory is a highly implausible naturalistic explanation that is highly dismissed among New Testament scholars. I would encourage you to read my article on objections that I included above for a more detailed explanation as to why its highly implausible.
Hopefully this explanation sufficiently addresses your concerns.
God bless my friend,
Thanks for printing my post. This is, of course, your site and I am simply an interloper trying to express some concerns. I have read both your response and your article addressing arguments against the MFA to the Resurrection.
I think you might have misunderstood my first point. There are significant historical “facts” that are indisputable which when considreed as a body of evidence create a strong argument against the proposition that one Jesus was resurrected from the dead. I infer from your response that you have never considered these or are simply unfamiliar with them. You must be willing to entertain them as “evidence” before the court before deciding the matter, or so it seems to me. You can’t reasonably expect the jury to reach a conclusion without first hearing all the testimony and the “facts”. In my opinion most apologists have done this very thing. Most, in fact, are unaware or unknowing to the historical “facts” that argue against the proposition.
2–I think you and others overstate the case concerning the crucifixion of Jesus and the events that are a part or were a part of the process. As a result you engage in what appears to be an extended form ofeisegesis that is done to promote an already arrived at position. Contrary to the picture painted by Mel Gibson and others we simply do not know the severity of the punishment that Jesus received prior to the cross. There is nothing wrong with admitting that we simply do not know something. To paint the picture, however, that is painted by many apolgists depicting Jesus as a man virtually on death’s dorrstep is to fudge with what we actually know. I believe this is done because you not only want it to be the case, you need it to be the case, that is, a near-death Jesus prior to the cross. If you read Luke 23:26-31 you hardly get the p icture of a man on the verge of death. Just a thought.
3–You write with regard to biased testimony, “These types of skeptics are placing faith in the idea that the New Testament writings were only trying to promote their own agenda and convince those to believe in their cause. Upon closer boservation, this is certainly not the case. In fact, this is quite the opposite.” I think the writer of John’s Gospel would disagree with you on this point. In John 20:30=31 he writes, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.”
With this type of bias it seems possible that the writer of this gospel could say and write almost anything. Could this be the reason why we have so many stories in this gospel that appear only in this gospel and in no others? Just a thought.
Thank you for responding.
I did properly understand the point that you were making, however I think you may be overlooking the value of my response. While I understand that parties differ on the historicity of certain elements of the crucifixion/resurrection account, the MFA argument is, by nature, using the generally accepted facts and establishes a plausible conclusion based upon the solid facts. Obviously, if there was only one or two facts within the entire argument, then the argument would be extremely weakened and wouldn’t have the explanatory scope that the argument currently has with quite a lot of facts to establish a possible conclusion in favor of the resurrection. Clearly you place a lot of value on evidence in a court of law, as do I, but this type of evidence would be the type of evidence that would lead a jury believe that the resurrection happened beyond a reasonable doubt. I would encourage you to read, ‘Cold Case Christian’ by J Warner Wallace who discusses the investigation of the resurrection in these types of terms.
Regarding the method of crucifixion and the likelihood that anyone would have survived the flogging and the crucifixion. There has not been one documented source that has ever lead anyone to believe that anyone has lived through such an execution. If we’re basing our investigation on evidence, what would be the most plausible conclusion based on what we know concerning the method the Romans used for crucifixion? Clearly, it is a reasonable conclusion to believe that anyone sentenced to crucifixion died by crucifixion. Not only that, if the Roman guard assigned to the execution failed to accomplish his task of executing the criminal, they would then be subject to the same punishment. The Romans were very proficient in the art of execution and it would be unwise to press the issue that somehow Jesus remained alive despite what we currently know as fact about crucifixion.
In regards to John’s Gospel, you’re trying to discredit John’s gospel by stating that there were certain events that were left out. Is that the best way to approach a historical investigation? Given that quote you provided, it wouldn’t explain why there are more details about certain things in John versus the other Gospels. To remain on track with the MFA, we are trying to conclude based on the solid facts that generally everyone accepts, what would be the most reasonable and plausible conclusion? In this case, we find that this particular scripture that you quoted wouldn’t have much affect on the given facts at hand that are generally accepted among all scholars.
To conclude, you haven’t provide a legitimate objection to the MFA other than stating that there is a possibility Jesus could have still been alive after the crucifixion. However, even if that were so, he certainly wouldn’t have appeared as if he was in his resurrection body. He would have appeared as if he just barely lived through a crucifixion and would be in desperate need of medical care. You claim that the MFA overlooks other facts that could be in contrast to the ultimate conclusion the MFA is trying to support. That’s why it’s called ‘minimal facts’ because we are selecting facts that everyone, both skeptics and Christians, can agree upon and then we see whether these facts actually support our conclusion. We do this so that we won’t be accused of special pleading for the historicity of the Bible. In this case, we approach the resurrection as historians rather than taking the Bible as the inerrant word of God for the sake of investigating the merits of God’s Word.
Hope that helps my Friend. God Bless!
Hope you are well on this D-Day, truly one of the most historically influential days in World History. Certainly a time to reflect on “going to the beach” and what that means to most of us versus what it meant to a generation of young men who went to the beach as a response to the call of duty, honor, and service. My dad was one of those. Anyway, hope this day finds you well.
I will make this short. It could be much longer, as we have only scratched the surface of this most fascinating topic. My short comment will deal with Point #1 dealing with all the “facts”.
I believe I have done a poor job in expressing my concerns with the Minimal Facts Approach as presented by Habermas, Craig, Licona, yourself, and others. Therefore, I will try again and will attempt to be more precise.
My concerns deal with the selective nature of this approach as an apologetic tool to help prove an already arrived at position. In other words, the few facts presented in this approach are not the only Minimal Facts that all scholars, both believers and non-believers, can or would agree on. The list is presented as if it is a complete list with no other Minimal Facts that might be offered. However, this is not the case. There are additional Minimal Facts that can be presented and these facts when considered as a body of facts give a compelling argument against the hypothesis that one Jesus was resurrected from the dead. I think it somewhat telling that perhaps you cannot think of any or are simply unfamiliar with them. You would not be the only apologist for whom this is true. The exclusion of these additional Minimal Facts, I believe, speaks to the blinder-like argument that is the result of such aclusionary approach. It also reveals a certain bias that causes one to be exclusionary. This is especially true because it gives the impression that there are no Minimal Facts that argue against the proposition. This is my concern.
I could certainly go into greater detail concerning you first Minimal Fact regarding the death of Jesus and the Romans being skilled executionars, but I will restrain from doing so.
Hope this clarifies, somewhat, point 1 concerning the limited nature of your MFA.
Thank you for your response.
I completely appreciate the desire to have a holistic approach towards an objective historical investigation. It sounds like we both desire to gain an understanding of the truth. In this case, you’re making the claim that there are other facts that I’m not considering that would invalidated the hypothesis of the resurrection. However, you haven’t presented me with any evidence that would be generally accepted as fact among a majority of New Testament scholarship. While I am aware of what many skeptics of the resurrection believe and what alleged facts that they find appealing, I find that their naturalistic explanations fail to hold as much historical weight as the resurrection hypothesis considering the facts that are laid out within the MFA. Perhaps if you’d like to present some “facts” that I’m failing to consider, I’d be more than welcome to review anything that you have to present on this matter.
I’m interested in your opinion regarding your endorsement of the apparent death theory. Respectfully, I’m surprised that anyone finds this approach appealing given the current knowledge that we have on the subject. However, I’d be interested in hearing your rationale regarding your opposition to my stance on this matter.
Thank you for taking the time to write a response to me.
The list of addtional Minimal Facts not included in the Christian Apologetic known as the Minimal Facts Approach is quite extensive. The reason they are not included in the MFA is that when considered as a body of evidence they argue quite impressively against the proposition that one Jesus was raised from the dead. Since you asked, I will give you one of these facts that is both indisputable from the New Testament documents and one that would be agreed on by all New Testament scholars whether believers or non-believers. By the way, I am familiar with Wallace’s work and I will not here go into my disagreements with him and the mistakes, I feel, he makes.
MINIMAL FACT #1 NOT INCLUDED IN THE M.F.A.
1–By the time that the disciples began to preach the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, there was no body to be found either of a living Jesus to prove the claim or a dead body to disprove it.
As to there being no living Jesus to prove the claim, the Christian response was that his body was miraculously taken up into the clouds where he now sits at the right hand of God. What we have, as a result, is a piling on of miracles. We know that dead bodies do not rise from the grave. The Christian claim is that the body of Jesus did rise from the grave. We also know that living bodies do not get taken up into the clouds as a matter of course. The Christian claim, however, is precisely the opposite, when it comes to the living, resurrected body of Jesus. So when asked for the body of the risen Jesus to step forward, there is no resurrected body to be presented as proof. Instead we have only the claim to another miracle. Again, from the documents at our disposal this is a Minimal Fact.
Anyway, I hope this begins to lay out the facts to which I refer. When taken as a whole, this “fact” and others not here presented can reasonably lead one to conclude that the resurrection of Jesus did not happen as conventionally believed.
I have gladly offered to engage any Christian apologist in a public debate concerning the Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection and no one has taken me up on the offer. This includes MIchael Licona with whom I have carried on a correspondence of some length. This I regret, as the topic is cert ainly worth pursuing at every level.
Hope this helps somewhat. I would gladly pursue a further investigation of the believed death of Jesus on the cross. Perhaps for something in the future.
I appreciate your response. Often, skeptics litter their responses with ridicule and disrespect. For that, I thank you that you’ve maintained respectful in your dialogue.
Now, onto your fact. I must be humble and admit, I’m presently not equipped to shine any more light on this matter than Mike Licona, Gary Habermas, N.T. Wright, William Lane Craig, Josh McDowell or Dan Wallace already have. The simple fact is that their doctoral work in this area vastly exceeds my knowledge in this field and they would be much more capable of defending New Testament critiques than myself. If you’re dissatisfied with the responses provided to you by Mike Licona, who has dedicated 20+ years of his life to this field and is an extraordinarily brilliant scholar regarding the resurrection, I’m afraid that nothing that I can say would satisfy you because I reference many of the scholars above in my research.
However, I will provide one observation of your fact. I don’t find that it’s inconsistent with the MFA at all. It actually reinforces the fact that Jesus body was not found in the tomb. If Jews/Romans had found a decomposed corpse that even slightly mirrored the body of Jesus, they would have displayed it publicly and put an end to the ministry of the early Christian church. Also, Christians do not claim that a body can be raised from the dead naturally. As you noted, only a supernatural intervention would be the cause of such an event occurring. Since we have strong evidence to believe that God exists in this universe, why would we absolutely rule out the possibility of miracles? To approach a historical investigation with the predetermination that miracle claims will not be accepted as valid explanations is to limit yourself unnecessarily. Why not be completely objective as possible in any investigation without devoting oneself to solely naturalistic explanations?
All in all, I don’t find the fact you presented as controversial to the Christian position. Regardless of where you find yourself in your quest towards truth, I wish you well my Friend.
I, too, have enjoyed the exchange. Please note, that I am not questioning the possibility of miracles within Time and Space as we know them. I am simply questioning this particular claim to a miracle as suggested by the Resurrection of one Jesus.
I’m afraid that you might have missed the import of Fact #1. In the same way that the detractors could have dispelled the claim to resurrection by presenting a dead body of Jesus, those promoting the claim had the same opportunity to press the claim even further by presenting the risen body of Jesus. This they could not do, however, because there was no living, resurrected body to be found. It becomes, if you will, a convenient disappearance of this most miraculously raised dead person. I am somewhat stumped by your position that you feel this in some way further promotes your posiiton.
I will not here burden you further with additional “facts” of a Minimal Fact nature that can lead one to reasonably conclude that the resurrection story of Jesus might not have, in fact, taken place as conventionally believed. Taken as a whole body of “facts” they do present a case that allows one to reasonably conclude a contrary position
It is a fascinating study to be sure and it does beg the question as to why these additional “facts” are omitted from the MFA to the Resurrection. The answer is quite simply of course. Like the prosecuting attorney, why present “facts” or ev idence that doesn’t support your case or position. Let the defense do that, if they can.
Sorry about the delay on the response. It’s been busy on my end. I’ll keep my response brief. As I’ve said before, the strength of the argument is the fact that vital facts of the resurrection can be agreed upon by skeptics and Christians alike. Using these facts, we can reasonably conclude that the resurrection was more likely than not. If there are facts that would contradict the truth value of the facts used in the MFA, they need to be presented and the MFA needs to be reevaluated. Until then, the MFA will continue to be the strongest argument for the resurrection in my opinion.
Thanks for the dialogue Sir.
magnificent post, very informative. I wonder why
the opposite experts of this sector do not realize this.
You must proceed your writing. I am confident, you have a great
readers’ base already!
I truly value and appreciate your compliment! God bless you!
To very quickly summarize my position. Focus creates blindness. The MFA so focuses simply on those agreed upon “facts” that support the hypothesis that Jesus was raised from the dead that it omits or doesn’t recognize those agreed upon “facts” that reasonably argue against the proposition. It does so at the risk of making a wrong finding because all the evidence or “facts” were not considered.
An impressive share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a colleague who has been doing a little
research on this. And he in fact bought me breakfast due to
the fact that I found it for him… lol. So let me reword this….
Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending time to discuss
this issue here on your site.
You’re very welcome! It’s such a blessing to hear that this article was put to good use! Thank you for your comment! It made my morning!
God bless brother!
Alan – Worldview of Jesus
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Jesus’ resurrection after his death is the ultimate and defining proof of Jesus’ divinity. Just about everyone knows the story, which is summarized in the Apostles’ Creed. Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day he arose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
There is only one way for Jesus to prove that he rose from the dead. He had to appear to people. Therefore, several different places in the Bible describe Jesus’ appearances after his death:
•Matthew chapter 28
•Mark chapter 16
•Luke chapter 24
•John Chapter 20 and 21
1 Corinthians 15:3-6 provides a nice summary of those passages, as written by Paul:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. As you can see in this passage, Jesus appeared to hundreds of people a number of different times.
Being like Paul: When we look at these Bible passages, there is a question that comes to mind — why did Jesus stop making these appearances? Why isn’t Jesus appearing today? It really is odd. Obviously Paul benefitted from a personal meeting with the resurrected Christ. Because of the personal visit, Paul could see for himself the truth of the resurrection, and he could ask Jesus questions. So… Why doesn’t Jesus appear to everyone and prove that he is resurrected, just like he appeared to Paul? There is nothing to stop Jesus from materializing in your kitchen tonight to have a personal chat with you. And if you think about it, Jesus really does need to appear to each of us. If Paul needed a personal visit from Jesus to know that Jesus was resurrected, then why wouldn’t you? It is an important question for the following reasons:
•We are told by the Bible that Jesus appeared to hundreds of people.
•We therefore know that it is OK for Jesus to appear to people — it does not take away their free will, for example.
•We know that it would be easy for Jesus to appear to everyone all through history, since Jesus is all-powerful and timeless.
•We know that, if Jesus did reappear to everyone, it would be incredibly helpful. We could all know, personally, that Jesus is resurrected and that Jesus is God. If Paul (and all the other people in the Bible) needed a personal visit to know that Jesus was resurrected, then why not you and me?
•Yet, we all know that Jesus has not appeared to anyone in 2,000 years.
THINK folks! Which is more likely: A dead man walked out of his grave 2,000 years ago, ate a broiled fish lunch with his fishing buddies and then 40 days later levitated into outer space, or, this entire story of a Resurrection is a legend: a legend based on false sightings and/or visions and hallucinations, of well-intentioned but uneducated, illiterate, hope-shattered, superstitious Galilean peasants, desperately trying to keep alive their only source of hope in their miserable, first century existence?
I appreciate you taking the time to respond to this article.
As far as some of the objections you laid out towards the end of your response, I wrote an article that I dedicated specifically towards these types of critiques. I would encourage you to read it.
As far as Jesus not showing up in our kitchen for a chat, I would say that God has given us everything we need to have reasonable faith in Jesus as an objective divine reality. Natural and special revelation are excessively adequate for those who genuinely seek the truth. In other words, Jesus doesn’t have to materialize in our living rooms and tell us all individually about his divine existence in order for us to have a good justification for belief in His divinity. The merits of Christianity can withstand intense scrutiny as I’ve evidenced in this article and throughout my blog.
Again, thanks for taking the time to read my article and respond.
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“a corpse does not naturally rise from the dead without divine intervention”
This statement, critical to your argument, is specious. Cargo cults are founded on fallacies such as this. To make the leap from beyond current understanding to positing supernatural interference, while historically common, does nothing but entrench stone age belief systems. I invite you to attempt the far more courageous leap from the stone age, with its divine comforts, to the modern age, with its tools of examination, investigation, and understanding. It can be quite unsettling but I think you will find it ultimately far more satisfying.
I appreciate your comment. I must openly admit, I enjoyed your curious use of the word “specious” to describe my reasoning. The quote “a corpse does not naturally rise from the dead with divine intervention” is absolutely true. Unless there are documented instances where dead bodies arise naturally, your critique is a poor one. In fact, I think you’re barking up the wrong tree if you’re attempting to discredit my article using that approach. If that is your mission, it may be better for you to make a reasonable argument emphasizing the legitimacy of the historical facts. If you could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that my facts are illegitimate, then you needn’t fuss with whether or not a corpse can rise without divine assistance. You can cut straight to the point and discredit my facts. However, my historical facts are indeed reliable, even among a majority of non-believing New Testament scholars. Now, if you wish to pursue a substantive critique of the argument I’ve outlined, I think you might it unsettling but ultimately far more satisfying.
“Unless there are documented instances where dead bodies arise naturally, your critique is a poor one.”
History is littered with cases of people declared dead who subsequently rose from the dead. Even into the modern era physicians have been sufficiently troubled by this to develop protocols to attempt to reduce its incidence. While it may well be the case that Jesus of Nazareth arose and walked from his tomb he was not the first and certainly far from the last to perform this “miracle”. In the face of a plausible, and historically rather common, explanation why invoke the divine? That fishermen two millennia ago would view this as supernatural shouldn’t surprise anyone. That anyone would today is rather disheartening.
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Resurrection of Jesus = myth. All the usual apologists’ claims of the minimal “facts”, are pure conjecture and not fact at all. Utter nonsense. You may as well take the supernatural tales from Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey literally as well and try to defend those. Blockheads.
The popularity of an argument is not indicative of whether the argument is true. Ironically, your claim of conjecture is conjecture itself. I’m inferring to the best possible explanation based upon historical facts. Facts that are largely agreed upon by believer and skeptic alike within the Biblical scholarship community. This is not in dispute.
Next, there are only 643 transcripts of Homer’s writings. Of those writings, the first one didn’t enter the historical record until five-hundred years after the original transcript. By historical comparison, there are nearly 6,000 New Testament transcripts in the historical record with the first writings found before the end of the first century. Any “blockhead” would reasonably conclude that the writings of Homer and the New Testament aren’t comparable as far as their historicity is concerned.
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