Not too long ago, I finished listening to an extremely interesting lecture by Dr. Gary Habermas called "The Ressurection of Jesus". (You can download the audio version of this for free at CredoCourses.com). In this (13 hour, 30 part) lecture series, Habermas goes into great detail about the depth and breadth of the scholarly material, both for and against, surrounding the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. What was really fascinating to me was his "minimal facts" line of argument.
The minimal facts method is outlined in detail on Habermas' website, but the gist of the idea is he approaches the New Testament as the skeptical scholar does by assuming it is only a book of history. Then he lays out a minimal set of established historical facts that the vast majority of scholars (both Christian and critical/atheists) agree on (i.e.: a consensus view). Then he shows that the most reasonable conclusion, based on these minimal facts, is that Jesus really was raised from the dead.
A couple of important points about the minimal facts approach:
- These minimal facts are what credentialed scholars say. They are not based on popular opinion, Internet atheist websites/forums, or the so-called "mythical Jesus" beliefs that abound on the Internet.
- The minimal facts are not agreed upon by 100 percent of scholars, but Habermas says the list (which ranges from as few as four to six to as many as a dozen) is agreed upon by a high percentage. The shorter list has "near-unanimous agreement."
So what are these minimal facts? The shortlist that I gleaned from the lecture is as follows:
- Jesus was crucified and died on a Roman cross.
- Very soon after his death, his followers has real experiences that they believed were the risen Jesus.
- Their claims resulted in a radical change in their religious beliefs, which were taught very soon after Jesus' death, and for which these witnesses were willing to die.
- Two skeptics, James (the brother of James) and Paul (formerly Saul who was a Jewish rabbi who persecuted Christians) both converted to Christianity.
So if we follow the evidence where it leads, I think these minimal facts support the conclusion that Jesus of Nazareth really was raised from the dead.