If you’ve ever looked for an effective, yet easy to remember argument that you can use to move your theist friend from theism to Christian, or your atheist friend to a place of skepticism of his unbelief, the minimal facts approach to the resurrection of Jesus may be the one you want. Lots of people are interested in speaking into the lives of their skeptical friends. The problem is that most lay people have jobs, families, and lives that demand their time. It’s just not possible for everyone to become experts in each philosophical and scientific apologetic. People need a go to argument that is effective. Gary Habermas has given one, the minimal facts approach to the resurrection.
There are a certain number of claims that scholars agree upon. These claims about the person of Jesus of Nazareth are accepted as minimally true. This is the basis of Gary Habermas’ minimal facts approach to the argument for the resurrection of Jesus. Gary Habermas is one of the worlds leading scholars on the resurrection and is a professor of philosophy and apologetics at Liberty University, has a PhD from the University of Michigan State University in History and Philosophy of Religion and an MA in Philosophy of Religion from the University of Detroit. He has authored several books. Let’s examine his argument.
The foundation is built upon a several year study that Habermas undertook in which he read and documented those historical claims that were accepted as true by relevant scholars. Now, I know we need to define some of those terms, and Habermas does that for us.
By the word scholar, Habermas used the works of people who are academic scholars in relevant fields to historical studies. These scholars are not mathematicians or astrophysicists they were historians and scholars of ancient literature. Furthermore, there were no religious qualifications added to the criteria. Skeptics, agnostics, atheists, various religious, and Christian scholars were accepted. Habermas did not seek scholars who would only verify his theory. The works used by Habermas were French, English, and German. That’s a pretty broad scope and very fair.
So, what about these truths or historical facts? Habermas sought what he calls “minimal” facts. By the word minimal he means those basic claims about Jesus and his disciples that find unanimous agreement within the historical academic scholarship such as; Jesus died on a Roman cross, his disciples ran or were afraid for their own lives, and the empty tomb.
This argument takes a very matter of fact, easily understandable, and in your face approach. “Here are the facts, deal with them!” Or “we all agree that these are historically verified, draw your own conclusion”. I like it. I believe it’s an easy to learn, easy to repeat argument and if taken to task on the sources, the layperson can merely use the skeptic’s own “guns” against him. With little more than a short memory or a cheat card in your wallet, you can put this argument in your repertories and use it at will.
Furthermore, with this resurrection argument, you can force people to deal with the person of Christ and skip much of the academic stuff involved with the Cosmological or Teleological arguments or the philosophical stumps in the Moral argument and Ontological argument. This is simply because of the presuppositions that are dealt with intrinsically with a resurrection argument. If a person who claims to be God and predicts his death and resurrection is able to produce, then God’s existence, miracles, purpose, design, etc. become mere presuppositions in one step. That sounds easy. Getting people to admit it is another thing.
So, let’s look at these facts. These are the “minimal” facts that scholars agree upon:
- Jesus died by crucifixion.
- He was buried.
- His death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope.
- The tomb was empty. (Most contested)
- The disciples had experiences, which they believed were the literal appearances of the risen Jesus.
- The disciples were transformed from doubters to bold proclaimers.
- The resurrection was the central message.
- The preached the message of Jesus’ resurrection in Jerusalem.
- The Church was born and grew.
- Orthodox Jews who believed in Christ made Sunday their primary day of worship.
- James was converted to the faith when he saw the resurrected Jesus.
- Paul was converted to the faith.
As you can see, what these “minimal” facts lack in number, they more than make up for in tenacity. But in case you don’t immediately see the significance of these facts, we’ll put them to use in an argument for Jesus’ resurrection in the next article.