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Facts for Jesus Accepted by Scholars and Sceptics Alike!

31 October 2012, 07:07

In the book “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus” written by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, it was written how Gary Habermas created what is called the ‘minimal facts approach’ to the resurrection. This approach helps keep any biases in check, because under this approach, they only consider facts which meet two criteria. First, there must be very strong historical evidence supporting them. And secondly, the evidence must be so strong that the vast majority of today's scholars on the subject – including sceptical ones- accept them as historical facts.

This is not to say that just because lots of scholars accept these facts that you should too, but more to say that this evidence is so strong that even sceptical scholars are convinced by it.

Habermas has compiled a list of more than 2,200 sources in German, English and French in which experts have written on the resurrection from 1975 until present time. He has identified minimal facts that are strongly evidenced and which are regarded as historical by the large majority of scholars, including sceptics.

5 of the Minimal Facts

1.       Jesus was killed by crucifixion.

Both Gerd Lude,ann, who’s an atheist New Testament critic and Bart Ehram, who’s agnostic, say that the crucifixion is an indisputable fact.

All four Gospels record it, and that is looking at The Bible as a set of ancient documents that can be subjected to historical scrutiny like all other historical documents from antiquity and not from the basis of it being the inerrant word of God.

Beyond the four Gospels there are a number of non-Christian sources that confirm the resurrection. Historians like Tacitus, Josephus(Jewish historian), Lucian of Samosata (a Greek satirist)and Mara Bar-Serapion(A pagan).

To deny the crucifixion of Jesus and His death on the cross would be totake a marginal position that would get you laughed out of the academic world.

2.       The Disciples Believed Jesus Rose and Appeared to Them

The fact that the disciples were so radically changed from the scared group of people into a group of people willing to be martyred and persecuted for what they believed. Something dramatic must have happened. Jesus was reported to be seen by more than 500 people after His crucifixion. We have the four gospels which are widely accepted even by sceptical historians to have been written in the first century. Liberals agree that the four biographies were written within 35 to 65 years after the crucifixion.

Our two best sources on Alexandra the great weren’t written until at least 400 years after his life and as for Caesar Augustus, who was Rome’s greatest emperor there are five main sources regarding his adulthood that historians use: a very brief funeral inscription, a source written between 50 and 100 years after his death and 3 sources written between 100 and 200 years after he died.

3.       Saul’s Conversion

Saul of Tarsus. Enemy of the Church and a man committed to persecuting the faithful.

He tells us himself that he was converted to a follower of Jesus because he personally encountered the risen Jesus. So friend and foe alike say that they saw the resurrected Jesus, which is very significant indeed. Saul became Paul.

There are also 6 ancient sources not including Paul, such as Luke, Clement of Rome Polycarp, Tertullian, Dionysius of Corinth, and Origen all reporting that Paul was willing to suffer and even die for his belief in the resurrected Jesus. Liars do not make very good martyrs.

You may say that many people convert to other religions all the time, so what is special about Paul? Yes, many people convert after hearing from others about that religion, yet that is not the case with Paul. He says no one converted him but that his personal encounter with the risen Jesus was the reason for his conversion. His conversion is based in primary evidence. That’s the difference! Some try to explain the visions of Jesus as hallucinations caused by grief, yet Saul would not have been grieved over Jesus’ death and Saul was the most unlikely candidate for conversion. He was out to kill all Christians because he believed they were following a fake Messiah… Until Jesus met him on the road...

The explanation for Saul’s radical transformation, I think, is that he is telling the truth. He really did meet the risen Jesus!  

4.       The Conversion of James, Jesus’ Sceptical half-brother.

Yes, the Gospels tell us that Jesus had at least 4 half-brothers – James, Joseph, Judas and Simon – as well as half-sisters whose names are not mentioned.

It was mention by Hegesippus, in the 2ndcentury, that James was a pious Jew who strictly abided by the Jewish law and there is good evidence that James was not a follower of Jesus during Jesus’ lifetime. John and Mark both reported that none of Jesus’ brothers believed in Him. Licona says he considers the scepticism of Jesus’ brother as being authentic because of the principle of embarrassment.

Licona says:  “People aren’t going to invent a story that’s going to be embarrassing or potentially discrediting to them, and it would be particularly humiliating for a first century rabbi not to have his own family as his followers.”

James ultimately becomes a believer after Jesus’ death, and it is because he too has an encounter with the resurrected Jesus. 1 Corinthians 15 is where the account can be found. So there is another sceptic turned believer who was so convinced of Jesus’ resurrection that he later died as a martyr. James was so convinced that he even became the leader of the Jerusalem church which is recorded in Acts and Galatians.

5.       Jesus’ Tomb Was Empty.

Now this fact doesn’t enjoy the universal consensus among scholars as the first four do but there is still strong evidence in its favour.

Habermas says that about 75 percent of scholars on the subject regard it as historical fact. Licona says that there are three strands of evidence. 1st of these is The Jerusalem factor- Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem, and His resurrection proclaimed in the same city. It would have been impossible for Christianity to take off in Jerusalem if Jesus’ body was still in the tomb. The Roman or Jewish leaders of the day could have easily gone to the tomb and proved such a claim to be false, and that never happened. Instead you find enemy attestation, which is the second point. The sceptics were saying that the tomb was empty and that the body had been stolen from the tomb. This is an implicit admission that the tomb was in fact empty and enemy attestation is strong evidence in the eyes of historians.

The accusation of the disciples stealing the body makes no sense, because why would they have been willing to die for what they knew was a lie. Thirdly we have the testimony of women.  Women were the first to find the empty tomb, and in both Roman and Jewish culture at that time, women were lowly esteemed and their testimony was considered questionable. The point is that, if they were wanting to concoct a story in an effort to fool the people, they’d never have jeopardised their credibility by saying that women found the empty tomb. That kind of testimony could actually have hurt their cause and not helped it.

William Ward of Oxford University said: “All the strictly historical evidence we have is in favour of the empty tomb, and those scholars who reject it ought to recognize that they do so on some other ground than that of scientific history.”

Ok, so that was just 5 of the minimal facts. And we have compelling testimony to Jesus, His crucifixion and His resurrection and the empty tomb.

There are many more historical facts regarding Jesus and the events in the Bible that are accepted by scholars of history, even the sceptics.

I hope you enjoyed it.

God Bless.

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