Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Disciples Believed

So, I'm sharing the 'minimal facts' argument taken from Habermas and Licona's The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. The first historical fact, discussed in the last post, is that Jesus was executed by Roman crucifixion. Here's the second fact:

Jesus' close followers--his disciples--claimed and believed that he rose bodily from the dead and appeared to them.

Again, this is a fact of history, one that enjoys multiple independent sources of attestation and that, as a result, is accepted by virtually all scholars who study the issue. Habermas and Licona identify nine independent sources attesting to the statement that the disciples claimed from the very beginning that Jesus rose from the dead. These sources fall into three categories--the testimony of Paul, the testimony of oral tradition, and the testimony of written documents.

But not only is it historical fact that the disciples claimed resurrection--it is also historical fact that they believed it, that they truly thought that Jesus had appeared to them following his crucifixion. Habermas and Licona identify seven independent sources that attest to the willingness of the disciples to suffer persecution and even martyrdom rather than deny the resurrection. Habermas conducted a study of more than 1,400 sources published since 1975 about the resurrection, and concluded
perhaps no fact is more widely recognized than that early Christian believers had real experiences that they thought were appearances of the risen Jesus. A critic may claim that what they saw were hallucinations or visions, but he does not deny that they actually experienced something.
As just one example, the atheist New Testament scholar Gerd Ludemann writes,
It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus' death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.
So we now have two historical facts upon which our argument builds: 1) Jesus died by Roman crucifixion, and 2) His disciples believed that he rose from the dead and appeared to them.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Jesus was Crucified

So in the run-up to Easter, I'm sharing the "minimal-facts" argument for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. It comes from Gary Habermas, and the version I'm using this week comes from the book he coauthored with Michael Licona titled The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. It does not depend upon proving the reliability of the Bible, but instead uses only historical facts, events that virtually all scholars agree occurred.* Here's how Habermas and Licona put it:
This approach considers only those data that are so strongly attested historically that they are granted by nearly every scholar who studies the subject, even the rather skeptical ones... Most facts we use meet two criteria: They are well evidenced and nearly every scholar accepts them.
Seems reasonable, eh? So here's the first fact:

Jesus of Nazareth died by Roman crucifixion.

This historical event enjoys plenty of attestation, so much so that John Dominic Crossan, who has made a name for himself by denying the claims of Christianity, can write
That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be.
The crucifixion of Jesus is, of course, recorded in all four gospels. Non-biblical sources that confirm this as an historical event include the Jewish historian Josephus, the Greek Lucian, and Mara Bar-Serapion.

The Talmud includes the statement that "on the eve of Passover Yeshu was hanged" (a Jewish way of referring to crucifixion). And while the Talmud was written long enough after the fact as to rely upon other earlier sources, no early Jewish source denies Jesus' existence, his working of miracles, or his death by crucifixion.

The Roman historian Tacitus renders it this way:
Nero fastened the guilt [for Rome's burning] 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 Pilatus.
So the first historical event that goes into this argument is that Jesus died by crucifixion. Interestingly, the centrality of this event to all of human history is attested to by the language we use. When we seek to describe something as of central importance, we use words like "crucial" and "crux," which, as you might guess, take their etymology from the same word as "crucifixion," that is, the Latin word for torture. The life and death of Jesus of Nazareth are so central and important that the Western world sets its calendars by them. And so to say that the crucufixion--the atoning death of Jesus on a Roman cross--is the crux of all human history (or the most crucial event in history) is, in a very real way, to be guilty of redundancy.

In the next post, I'll share the second historical fact in the "minimal facts" argument.

* Complete unanimity is not a reasonable goal in historical research; you can find folks today who seriously insist that things like the Holocaust or mankind walking on the moon never actually happened.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Argument for the Resurrection

I spend a good deal of time chatting with Christians and Christian apologists who are scientists or science-minded. I'm talking astronomers, physicists, geologists, and biologists who recognize that all of the most significant scientific discoveries of the last 100 years support the Christian understanding of the world in which we live. But some of these folks spend so much of their time making a case for the truth of Christianity from science that they are less well-versed on some of the other--historical and philosophical--arguments for Christianity. For example, one of my science apologist friends recently asked,
Doesn't any argument for the historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus depend upon the reliability of the Bible?
It is true, of course, that a very compelling argument can be made that way. It's a somewhat long argument, relying upon the internal cohesion of Scripture, fulfillment of prophecy in Scripture, the historical accuracy of the Bible, the amazing scientific credibility of early books of the Bible (written thousands of years ago, validated by the latest modern science), and such. Once it can be established that the Bible is reliable, the argument can then be made that the Resurrection occurred.

But my friend was wrong--there are compelling arguments for the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth that do not depend upon first demonstrating that the Bible is reliable (much less inerrant). My favorite is known as the 'minimal facts' argument, and is put forth by Gary Habermas (in his book The Risen Jesus and Future Hope and in another he wrote with Mike Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus).

As a run-up to Easter, I'll share the 'minimal facts' argument here in a series of posts.