In this episode, Kurt is joined by Dr. Gary Habermas to discuss the minimal facts argument for the resurrection of Jesus.
Kurt: Well a good day to you and thanks for joining us here on a short, brief episode of Veracity Hill where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. I’m here in Charlotte, North Carolina at the SES National Conference on Christian Apologetics and just joining me for a little bit is a historian New Testament scholar, Christian philosopher and apologist, Gary Habermas. Gary. Great to have you on our program today.
Gary: Great to be with you.
Kurt: Thanks for squeezing us in here.
Gary: Literally what it is, isn’t it?
Kurt: There are so many people here. It’s great. Everyone’s showing up at the table. They want to talk with you, encourage you, and get your John Hancock on those books.
Gary: I guess.
Kurt: You’ve written a number of books on the historical Jesus and one of the arguments that you bring in in your presentations and your research is what you call the minimal facts argument. It, may in fact be, although we’ve done our podcast for two years that we haven’t had a chance to talk about the minimal facts argument. Could you just briefly lay out what that is?
Gary: Sure. It occurred when I was doing my doctoral dissertation that, let me back up, when I had the topic approved which is the resurrection, the head of my dissertation committee said, who didn’t believe like I did, basically he said, “We don’t mind you using the New Testament, but don’t say something happened because the New Testament said it happened.” You have to be critical. You have to use critical scholars. That’ll be worth it. We don’t have to agree with you, but you have to be able to defend your thesis critically.” That got me thinking, what would it take to make a critically ascertainable dissertation on the topic of the resurrection of Jesus. The argument basically is, I should tell you to I went through over ten years of doubts on this, so I think this is going to help me a lot too. Basically, the argument says I can take the basic data that virtually any New Testament scholar, the only catch is I don’t care how far on the left or right they are. They just have to be scholar. They have to know the territory. They have to be a theologian or a philosopher or a historian or a classicist or a New Testament scholar and they have to know how you get facts, how you tell them, they have to be able to operate in the field of history. Once they did that, I put together, I worked on it for a long time, but I worked on a list of facts and my thesis is you can use a short list of facts. I can go anywhere from 3 to 8 probably over the years, presently I’m using 6, and I’m getting ready to defend them in just a few minutes in a lecture here, but I’ve given a list of over 60 historical evidences critically ascertained for these 6 facts. It’s an average about 10 apiece.
Kurt: So while these supervisors of yours said you have to use critical sources, we can recognize that they have certain biases against the Gospels, for you though, you thought from a functional perspective, what would it take….
Gary: I want to use the right words here. I didn’t concede their point of view, but I worked with it, so that I was producing things, hey, listen. They didn’t make me anything to the dissertation.
Kurt: So, that’s great. You didn’t concede. You wanted to see how to work with their position to bring them over to….
Gary: Yeah. Not so much to “convert” them. I was trying to do a good research dissertation and I guess my one way to do a good dissertation is a one size fits all, something that anybody who knows how to do research would use this because it fits everybody’s criteria. If it fits the left’s, if it fits an atheist New Testament scholar or a Jewish New Testament scholar, the conservatives aren’t going to kick over on the right.
Kurt: Tell us, what are some of these facts that you’ve used. You said 3-8.
Gary: If I were to use 6 and I’ll give them pretty quickly. Jesus died by crucifixion. Just basically, but I just got done writing this. John Dominic Crossan says in his book “Who Killed Jesus?” co-founder of the Jesus Seminar, Crossan says the fact that Jesus died by crucifixion is as well established as any historical fact can possibly be. That’s pretty Bart[NP1] Ehrman gives 15 independent evidences, sources, for the resurrection, for the death of Jesus, within 100 years of the event, and another one is cited, Gerd Ludemann, the atheist, at least I’ve heard him called an atheist, New Testament scholar, who says the death of Jesus by crucifixion is, his word, indisputable. You say, “That’s not an argument. A lot of people die.” Right, but he has to be dead before He rises. It starts there. Secondly, and I’m real picky about the wording here. Jesus’s disciples reported having real experiences that they believed were appearances of the risen Jesus. They interpreted their experiences, they thought there experiences were Jesus. Thirdly, this teaching was taught, this teaching was proclaimed, very, very early. The New Testament consensus today, even on the left, quite a bit over, Bart Ehrman says there’s several sources that proclaim within 1-2 years after the cross, this is Bart Ehrman. If you want to go 5 which would put Paul in Jerusalem interviewing Peter and James, as Paul Barnett, the Australian historian says, “There’s nothing like this in the ancient world of historiography to have sources….”
Kurt: That close to the timing of the event.
Gary: Yeah. And to only be the center of Christianity and only to be if you have this you have everything, basically 1 Corinthians 15. #4. They turned the world upside-down with this message. They say, critics are awaiting for me to say “And they died a martyr’s death.” We can’t prove all of them died, not with early sources, not with the same historiographical principles we talked about, but you can prove they were all willing to die for it. How do you know what’s in their mind? I don’t have to know what’s in their mind. Just look at how often they put themselves in harm’s way. Paul was stoned once, shipwrecked three times and he doesn’t quit. He’s beaten 40-1, three times, any of those he could have died from, and he keeps right on doing it. I’m furthering the Kingdom of God, I want people to come into the kingdom. I wish others could come and I would be lost. There’s a person who puts himself in harm’s way. John tells the story in John 21, he claims that Jesus said to Peter, the time’s going to come when you’re going to be an old man and people are going to take you where you don’t want to go and it’s said Jesus said this to foretell the death He would die for Jesus Christ. I’m not arguing about the martyrdoms, although 3 of the 4 biggest names, Peter, Paul, and James, the brother of Jesus, we have first-century data for their martyrdom, so they put themselves in harm’s way and were very willing to, as Acts 4 says, they went out after they were beaten and they went out rejoicing that they could suffer for His name and they went out Acts 4:33 proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus. It’s the center, that’s an additional fact, I can have that be #7, but it’s a center of faith very early and they were transformed by it. Then two skeptics got separated because they’re different cases. Paul and James the brother of Jesus are both skeptics who came from different backgrounds for different reasons. Paul, of course, basically a PhD in Old Testament, and James, a household member, so they both bring different kinds of skepticism to the table. They both end up as, 2 of the 4, along with Peter and John, the four big names in the early church.
Kurt: So maybe for the disciples though, maybe not Paul and James, someone might posit there was a mass hallucination. You said they perceived to have this experience. Maybe they’re all just fooling themselves.
Gary: Yeah. Then the problem of mass hallucinations from 1 Cor. 15:3-7 which the consensus position is that that goes back, it’s one of those texts from, almost everybody says, there’s exceptions, but almost everybody says it goes 1-2 years after the cross and that early creed lists three group hallucinations, that’s what they say, group hallucinations. I know of a medical doctor and a clinical psychologist who both did lit reviews of how many, not just hearsay, how many known cases of group hallucinations are there in the medical literature and the psych literature. Not a single case. Now even if someone did say to me, “I haven’t closed all the loops, but I’ve got one that looks pretty close.” I’d say, “You know something? You can hardly prove one in history, and there’s three of them back to back to back so you’re going to tell me the only three times this happened, happened to Jesus?” I’m sorry. That’s just to[NP2] resurrection. Especially when all the data say it was resurrection.
Kurt: What sort of feedback do you get against the minimal facts argument?
Gary: Not much. Even critics, I debated one, very well-known New Testament scholar, I won’t give his name right now so as not to reopen the debate, but this has happened many times. You could find it in several places. We started with the data, put it on the table, so what do you think? This guy was an agnostic and very well-known and we put it on the table and the guy goes, “You can have all six. They’re good. They’re probably the strongest facts in the New Testament so fire away. What do you want to say about them?” That’s how we started the dialogue, first ten minutes.
Kurt: Wow. So maybe someone will just say this is just made up. They just made the content up.
Gary: Yeah, but you got the guys willing to die for made-up content and the problem with the made-up content objection is that you have to give the disciples and[NP3] if it’s not the disciples who made it up you’re not answering their experiences, and by the way, if it’s made-up, this isn’t one of my six because there’s a criterion I have that’s not terribly objective, but I think it’s valuable, and that is how many critics are involved? 90-something% allow these six, but the empty tomb is right behind it, about 75, and the empty tomb says something physical happened. If you think the Shroud of Turin is Jesus’s, which is a little behind that maybe, but the Shroud says something physical happened so you can’t just say somebody cooked this thing up and said, “Why don’t we just say He was[NP4] and critics by the way, will almost never go there.”
Kurt: Last question here. What about the claim that we just can’t know what happened to Jesus? Maybe someone who wants to remain agnostic.
Gary: That’s fine. That’s absolutely fine. First of all, all abductive knowledge is probabilistic, it’s the nature of abduction, no matter what it is, and so I just have to find a probable argument. If they’re an unbeliever and they’re going to rest eternity on this, I think they’d want to be better off and say I have an improbable argument. I’m happy with that. Great, but if they walk away, a guy last night came and talked to me, an atheist, and he said “Yeah. I’m prejudiced against this.” He literally said that. He said, “Nothing like this happens.” I said, “Fine. That’s your view. How come all the evidence” I talked to him quite awhile and I said, “How come all the evidence is on my side? You can’t cite any data?” “That’s just my view.” I said, “Look.” Here’s where I had to leave him. “People walked away from Jesus without ever coming to Jesus.” Why do I think they’re going to come to me? Wait a minute. Have you considered this? Have you considered that? If we were good friends we might ask for another coffee, but I can’t be upset when people walk away. They walked away from Jesus. Anybody, by the way, the most prominent question I get is, “Well, if it’s good as you think how come people aren’t being converted because of this?” Let me tell you something, if I introduce you to the sharpest best-looking woman and you’re single and I said you’re the best for you and you agreed, and I said, “Can I be your best man?” and you said, “Dude. I’m not getting married. I’m not getting married at all.” That’s your choice. That’s not evidence. It doesn’t count against Jesus if you don’t feel like getting married.
Kurt: So that feeling of getting married, that ultimately comes down it seems to the will, what people want to do.
Gary: Very much happening. In fact, He called it, the Pharisees are a wicked and adulterous generation not because seeking a sign was evil but because it wouldn’t make any difference for them.
Kurt: Gary. Great. Thank you so much for the interview and that’s been this week’s episode for Veracity Hill. We look forward to seeing you next week back in our studio office in downtown West Chicago. Thanks so much.
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