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The minimal facts approach is a powerful method of offering evidence that the resurrection was a historical event. Instead of assuming that the New Testament is divinely inspired, it only allows well attested evidence that the majority of scholars accept, and then works from this base. That way, if someone attacks the sources you are using, you know that they are out of step, not only with conservative scholars, but also sceptical scholars. This method was introduced by Gary Habermas and Mike Licona [1]. Habermas has compiled a list of some 2,200 sources (both sceptical and conservative), and identified a list of 12 facts which are considered historical by the large majority of experts, even skeptical scholars.

Historical method Edit

The minimal facts method only uses sources which are multiply attested, and agreed to by a majority of scholars (ranging from atheist to conservative). This requires that they have one or more of the following criteria which are relevant to textual criticism:

  1. Multiple sources - If two or more sources attest to the same fact, it is more likely authentic
  2. Enemy attestation - If the writers enemies corroborate a given fact, it is more likely authentic
  3. Principle of embarrassment - If the text embarrasses the writer, it is more likely authentic
  4. Eyewitness testimony - First hand accounts are to be prefered
  5. Early testimony - an early account is more likely accurate than a later one

Having first established the well attested facts, the approach then argues that the best explanation of these agreed to facts is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Different methods Edit

Using this method you cannot bring in facts which do not fit the criteria. Some examples of facts that you could use are-

Gary Habermas uses up to 12 minimal facts including:

  1. Jesus death by crucifixion
  2. An early belief in resurrection
  3. The resurrection appearances experienced by disciples
  4. Paul’s appearance and change of heart
  5. James’s (Jesus’ brother) change of heart
  6. The empty tomb

The following is a list of events used by William Lane Craig in his debate with Bart Ehrman[3]:

  1. Jesus’ burial
  2. The discovery of his empty tomb
  3. Jesus post-mortem appearances
  4. The origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection.

NT Wright focusses on the remarkable changes in the beliefs and practises of first century Jews in Jerusalem [4]:

  1. The empty tomb
  2. The appearances to various people
  3. 7 changes in Jewish doctrine and practise.

For the purpose of this article we will consider the four facts put forward by William Lane Craig.

Jesus died by Roman crucifixion Edit

Jesus burial is attested by multiple, early sources. Jesus death is multiply attested from at least five sources:

  • In all four of the gospels (<bible>Mark 15</bible>, <bible>Luke 23</bible>, <bible>Matthew 27</bible>, <bible>John 19</bible>)
  • In Paul's letters, such as <bible>1 Corinthians 15</bible>
  • In extra biblical sources like the Gospel of Peter, chapter 4

This material has an early dating. Rudolph Pesch finds that the resurrection accounts form part of the base material for Mark, the earliest gospel, and dates this material to within 7 years of Jesus death. Paul recites an extremely early creed, dating within six years of Jesus death.

Joseph of Arimathea is unlikely to be a Christian invention. Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the Jewish Sahendrin, and a member of the council which condemned Jesus. Considering the hostility that the early church felt towards the Jewish leaders, whom they considered to have put Jesus to death, it is unlikey that they would simply invent a story which shows their enemies in a good light.

The death of Jesus by cruxifiction is widely accepted by even a majority of biblical scholars. As sceptical scholar John Dominic Crossan writes:

That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be.
John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography

The empty tomb Edit

The empty tomb is also attested by multiple independant sources. These include:

  • The Gospel of Matthew (<bible>Matthew 28</bible>)
  • The Gospel of Mark (<bible>Mark 16</bible>)
  • The Gospel of Luke (<bible>Luke 24</bible>)
  • The Gospel of John (<bible>John 20</bible>)
  • Acts (see <bible>Acts 2:29</bible> or <bible>Acts 13:36</bible>)
  • It is implied by the letters of Paul (<bible>1 Corinthians 15</bible>)

Again, the source material dates within six years of the death of Jesus, and therefore we have multiple, early attestations of the empty tomb.

In addition to having multiple sources, there are three key pieces[5] of evidence that a critic has to explain:

  1. If the tomb was not empty, it is very difficult to explain how Christianity spread in Jerusalem, where it took root. If the tomb was not empty, it would have been a comparatively easy thing for the enemies of Christianity to simply produce Jesus' body.
  2. The enemies of Christianity did not disagree that the tomb was found empty, but offered (differing) explanations for why that was. For example, in <bible>Matthew 28:12-13</bible>, as well as for two centuries afterwards (as recorded by Justin Martyr[2] and Tertullian[3]) the explanation the Jewish authorities offered was that the disciples stole the body - not that the tomb was not empty.
  3. That the tomb was discovered by women indicates that it is authentic. Jewish society was patriarchal, and women's testimony was not valued in court. If this account was simply made up, then the male followers of Jesus would have been the ones to discover the tomb, because in the society that it was written in, that would lend more credibility to the story and not an awkward fact.

As skeptical historian Michael Grant says "The historian... cannot justifiably deny the empty tomb", because using standard historical criteria, "the evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the tomb was indeed found empty."[4]

Resurrection appearances Edit

Several different people fervently believed that Jesus had appeared to them. Paul indicates there are many eyewitnesses (who were known to the people at the time) of these facts. In <bible>1 Corinthians 15</bible> he writes,

"He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also"
Paul in 1 Corinthians 15

Given the early dating of this passage, combined with the personal experience Paul had with all these people, it is difficult to dismiss this passage.

The resurrection appearances are multiply attested. Among others:

  • Appearance to Peter by Luke (<bible>Luke 24</bible>), Paul (<bible>1 Corinthians 15</bible>)
  • Appearance to the twelve by Luke (<bible>Luke 24</bible>), Paul (<bible>1 Corinthians 15</bible>) and John (<bible>John 20-21</bible>)
  • Appearance to the women by Matthew (<bible>Matthew 28</bible>) and John (<bible>John 20</bible>)

Sceptical historian 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.
Gerd Lüdemann[5]

The origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection. Edit

The disciples came to believe in Jesus' resurrection despite the fact that it was not something that they were expecting. Many examples are given in N. T. Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God[6]. The sceptic has to explain how this belief came about, and how it could make such powerful changes in the the disciples lives.

  • For a potential messiah to be put to a shameful Roman crucifixion was a shameful thing.
  • The Jewish belief at the time was that the resurrection of the dead would only occur at the end of history.
  • The disciples faced persecution and even death for their beliefs.

As scholar Luke Johnson writes:

Some sort of powerful, transformative experience is required to generate the sort of movement earliest Christianity was.
Luke Johnson[7]

Best explanation Edit

Once you have presented the facts, the argument proceeds by showing that God raised Jesus from the dead is the best explanation of the facts. To do that, simply show that this explanation is consistent with all the facts presented above. Often the person will choose to present an alternative hypothesis. Carefully examine it to see if it fits with all the available facts.


  1. Habermas, Gary. Mike Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, Kregel Publications, 2004
  2. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 108 [1]
  3. Tertullian, On Spectacles, 30, [2]
  4. Michael Grant, Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1992), p. 176.
  5. Gerd Lüdemann, What Really Happened to Jesus?, trans. John Bowden (Louisville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), p. 8.
  6. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003)
  7. Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1996), p. 136.

Ligações externas Edit

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