Evidence for the Resurrection

26 07 2009

Two weeks ago today I was finishing up a class on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ taught by Dr. Gary Habermas, one of the foremost experts on the resurrection in the world. Dr. Habermass was instrumental in the life of Antony Flew, one of the leading atheists of the 20th century in moving him away from atheism. Habermas has debated many of the leading skeptics around the world on the issue of the resurrection of Jesus. One of the things that I appreciate about Dr. Habermas is that he is willing to test his argument with these skeptics to make sure that he is not misrepresenting them or over stating his own arguments. He counts many of these skeptics to be friends even though they which keeps their exchanges from getting acrimonious. He mentioned the number of times he would have Antony Flew over to his house to spend time with his family.

Habermass has developed what he calls the minimal facts approach to arguing for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He presents 12 facts from the gospels that are generally accepted by New Testament scholars from both the conservative and the liberal sides (even scholars who remain skeptical of the resurrection or deity of Jesus Christ). This would include approximately 95% of NT scholars.

The minimal facts that Habermas lays out include the following:

1. Jesus’ death via crucifixion
2. The despair of the disciples
3. The disciples believed that they had seen the risen Jesus
4. The transformation of the disciples such that they were willing to die for their convictions
5. Paul’s conversion after reporting seeing the risen Jesus
6. James’ (the brother of Jesus) conversion after reporting seeing the risen Jesus

In addition to these six which are agreed to be very reliable by NT scholars, Habermas lays out other bits of evidence that are not considered as reliable by skeptical NT scholars, but still held as reliable by a majority of NT scholars.

7. Jesus burial in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea
8. The tomb in which Jesus was laid being found empty
9. The resurrection was the central message of their preaching
10. They preached that message in Jerusalem
11. The birth of the church
12. Sunday worship in remembrance of the resurrection (moved from Saturday, the Sabbath)

Using these minimal facts, and even limiting the discussion to the first six which are generally accepted by even the most skeptical of scholars, one can present a case for the resurrection that stands up to all of the counter arguments. Some of those arguments (followed by the number of the argument for which this counter-argument fails to account) include:

  1. The disciples stole the body (3,4,5,6)
  2. Jesus merely appeared to have died, but revived in the tomb (3,4,5,6,9, as well as other reasons not contained within these arguments)
  3. Hallucination (8, and other reasons not contained within these arguments)
  4. Legend or myth (3,4,5,6,8,11,12, and other reasons not contained within these arguments)
  5. Many other naturalistic explanations are also defeated by these points above.

This is an effective way to present evidence for the resurrection and a presentation that has been made and defended by Dr. Habermas in a number of written and live debates with skeptics. It is worth memorizing these points for those occasions when you are asked why you believe that Jesus rose from the dead.