The doctrine of the resurrection lies at the very heart of our theology, our apologetic, and our Christian hope that one day we too will be raised in the likeness of Jesus. There is much at stake in attempting to demonstrate that this event actually happened in history. Dr. Gary Habermas has given us quite the argument for the resurrection using only those minimal facts that the majority of scholars, both liberal and conservative, agree upon. Here's the very bare bones of his argument:

What are the Facts?

   Though there are as many as twelve pertinent facts concerning the resurrection that are agreed upon by almost all scholars, only six minimal historical facts must be accepted in order for this argument to succeed.[1] These facts are gleaned from early church creeds, the Gospel accounts, as well as from sources outside of the Bible.[2] The first fact is that Jesus died by Roman crucifixion.[3] The  account in 1 Corinthians 15 affirms this. This passage is exceptionally early and is traceable to early eyewitness accounts in Jerusalem.[4] The Gospel accounts are consistent with medical studies of crucifixion victims, who most likely died from cardiac arrest resulting from hypovolemic shock.[5]

   The next two facts are: 1) The disciples had experiences with a figure who they believed was the actual risen Jesus. 2)They  were thoroughly transformed by this experience, even being willing to die for their beliefs in this regard. These are affirmed first by the creedal confession in 1 Corinthians as well as the Gospel accounts.[6] As would be expected, the disciples were greatly discouraged once their Messiah had been killed; consequently, they even feared for their own lives. However, biblical and even extra-biblical records (resources outside of the Bible) confirm that after the encounter, they spent their lives proclaiming the Gospel message., a message that is inextricably linked to the resurrection.[7]

However, biblical and even extra-biblical records (resources outside of the Bible) confirm that after the encounter, they spent their lives proclaiming the Gospel message., a message that is inextricably linked to the resurrection.

   The forth fact is that the apostolic proclamation of the resurrection began very early. First and foremost, this fact may be seen in Paul's early writings and in the Gospel accounts. However, not only do Matthew and Mark affirm the resurrection as central to the Christian message, but so too John, Clement, and Ignatius.[8] That Jesus is risen from the dead is no less pervasive than claims that He is the exalted Lord in early Christian sources. It is only in 19th century liberal theology that these teachings regarding the resurrection have been de-emphasized.[9]

   The final two facts are that both James and Saul became Christians after experiences that they believed were with the risen Jesus.[10] The Gospel accounts as well as the book of Acts attest to these.  However, more persuasively perhaps, is that James was martyred for his faith in Christ by the Sanhedrin sometime after 60 AD (according to the early Jewish historian Josephus).[11] Saul’s having become a believer after having seen Christ is not contested by critical scholars. His part in writing the Pauline epistles as well as in starting a number of churches is testament to his genuine conversion.[12]

Utilizing the Facts

A literal resurrection of the man Jesus Christ is the best explanation of these historical facts. Essentially, the argument states that:

  1. Jesus died at the time of His crucifixion, prior to the commissioning of the disciples and conversion of Paul.
  2. The facts demonstrate that only His being seen alive could result in the actions of the disciples.
  3. Therefore, the resurrection very likely occurred.

   The first premise has already been met. Obviously, the death of Jesus has already been addressed as the first minimal fact. However, it is pertinent to note that the way in which He was executed ensures death as well as severe bodily harm prior to death. This was a gruesome death that was confirmed by the Roman soldier’s stabbing Jesus’ side.

   The second premise is supported first by James’ conversion and eventual martyrdom. James’ unbelief prior to this belief is widely accepted as it is multiply attested, but the main thrust of this point stems from James’ identity as the brother of Jesus. This is an instance where a close family member of Jesus, who did not believe prior to this experience, became an apostolic leader in the church, declaring his own brothers deity! This was not simply a perpetuation of a teaching that benefited James or his family. Rather, his declaration and affirmation of the resurrection and deity of Jesus occurred in a cultural context that was hostile to this message. There is no reason for James to have done these things unless he in fact believed he saw the risen Jesus.[13]

Why would these people affirm the resurrection in this way if they did not indeed believe it occurred?

   This second premise is also supported by the fact that Saul was converted on the road to Damascus. Saul was a rabbi, a Pharisee, and a respected Jewish leader that studied under the famed rabbi Gamaliel. He was the individual that was responsible for executing Christian believers. Yet, he left this position for a life of poverty and persecution that resulted in suffering even to the point of death. Again, there is no better explanation for this event than that he believed zealously in the Christian message that he himself claimed was verified by the resurrection that he observed.[14]

   Finally, premise 2 is supported by the fact that all of the disciples were transformed and that the early church was willing to proclaim that Jesus had risen from the dead. The belief that Jesus rose from the dead was not isolated to two individuals. Rather, all of the disciples proclaimed the Gospel, were jailed, and most even died a martyr’s death. Moreover, this was a belief that, because of early church proclamation, was shared by thousands within a lifetime of Jesus’ death in the very city Jesus lived. Why would these people affirm the resurrection in this way if they did not indeed believe it occurred?[15]

[1] Gary R. Habermas, The Risen Jesus & Future Hope (Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003), 26-27.

[2] Some may object to the use of these sources. Many critical scholars question the reliability of the Gospel accounts and the Pauline record of early church creeds on the basis of the hundreds of thousands of textual variants amongst early Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. However, as Kosmoszewski points out, most of these variants are merely spelling differences and nonsensical errors. Moreover, only about one percent of these are meaningful and viable, and none of those affect foundational doctrine. Thus, the reliability of at least the basic facts will be assumed here. J. Ed Kosmoszewski and M. James Sawyer and Daniel B. Wallace, Reinventing Jesus: How Contemporary Skeptics Miss the Real Jesus and Mislead the Popular Culture, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publishing, 2006), 56, 60-61.

[3] Habermas, Risen Jesus, 19.

[4]Gary R. Habermas, “Experiences of the Risen Jesus: The Foundational Historical Issue in the Early Proclamation of the Resurrection,” Dialogue: A Journal of Theology45 3 (2006): 289-296.

[5] The Gospels record a Roman soldier’s stabbing the heart of Christ and seeing both blood and a water-like fluid, a description consistent with a victim of a Roman crucifixion. Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1998), 262-269.

[6] Habermas, Risen Jesus, 27.

[7] That the disciples believed that had seen the risen Jesus can be seen in the writings of Ignatius, ten years the Gospel of John, and in the writings of Justin Martyr and Tertullian.  Gary R. Habermas and Anthony Flew, Resurrected: an atheist and theist dialogue (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2005), 13, 26-27. That the disciples continued to carry on the Christian message as a result is demonstrated by the entire New Testament, especially the book of Acts as well as ancient non-Christian sources. Habermas, Risen Jesus, 27.

[8] Habermas, Risen Jesus, 28.

[9] Craig S. Keener, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2009), 344-345.

[10] Habermas, Risen Jesus, 27.

[11] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 1994), 379-380.

[12] In fact, according to many scholars, Paul is thought to be the chief authority on the resurrection because of his writings. Strobel, Case for Christ, 312-314.

[13] Habermas, Experiences, 4-5.

[14] Craig, Reasonable Faith, 380-381.

[15] Josh Mcdowell, The New Evidence that Demands A Verdict (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishing, 1999), 253-254.

Photo on Flickr