There is a good deal of historical evidence surrounding the resurrection of Jesus. In fact, there are mountains of evidence, but today we are going to look at a special subset of that evidence called the Minimal Facts. The Minimal Facts approach consists of only those facts that are strongly evidenced and agreed to by most scholars…including the skeptical ones.
Minimal Fact #1:
Jesus died by crucifixion. Nearly 100% of scholars agree with this fact. All four Gospel accounts report that he was crucified. It is also reported by several non-Christian sources, such as Tacitus, a Roman historian who wrote around AD 100; Lucian, a 2nd Century Greek satirist; and Josephus, a 1st Century Jewish historian.
Minimal Fact #2:
Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose from the dead and appeared to them. About 98% of the scholars, including the skeptical ones, agree with this minimal fact. We have nine early and independent sources to substantiate it, and we know that they believed what they claimed (Paul’s letters in 1 Corinthians, 2 Galatians). We have seven ancient sources that attest to their willingness to suffer and die for that claim. The ancient sources that show that the disciples were willing to suffer for their belief include Acts, which is primarily a travel log written by Luke who was a companion to the Apostle Paul on his missionary journeys. Clement of Rome, Polycarp, and Ignatius were Apostolic Fathers – they knew and interacted with some of the Apostles themselves. Tertullian, Origen, and Dionysius of Corinth belong to the group referred to as the Early Church Fathers. This is the next generation of Christian leadership following the Apostolic Fathers.
Minimal Fact #3:
The church persecutor Paul converted to Christianity because he had an encounter with what he believed was the risen Christ. Here again, there is nearly 100% agreement among the scholarly community. Paul experienced an immediate change from a persecutor of the Church to one of its most aggressive advocates. He said the change was because the risen Jesus had appeared to him, and he willingly suffered and died for that belief. His persecution of the Church is well known and not disputed. We have numerous ancient sources that attest to his willingness to suffer and die for this belief – Paul himself in his undisputed letters, Luke in Acts, Clement of Rome (who also knew Paul), Polycarp, Tertullian, Dinoysius of Corinth, and Origen.
Minimal Fact #4:
James, a half-brother of Jesus per Christian tradition, was decidedly not a follower of Jesus until after the Resurrection. Here we have about 90% concurrence in the scholarly community. This is a little lower than the other three MFs probably because there just isn’t the volume of historical data for this fact as there is for the first three…but what we do have demonstrates that James went from being a skeptic to the leader of the fledgling church in Jerusalem and was martyred as a Christian. We know that James was a brother of Jesus, at least a half-brother given Jesus’ unusual birth. His name appears in the two lists of Jesus’ brothers found in Matthew 13:55-56 and in Mark 6:3 along with unnamed sisters. The Apostle Paul knew James and identified him as the Lord’s brother in Galatians 1:19. James’ unbelief is also recorded in two of Jesus’ biographies. We have several ancient sources that testify to James’ eventual conversion (1 Corinthians 15:7, Galatians 2:2-9, Acts 15:12-21). We also have James’ martyrdom as a believer in Christ as reported by the first-century Jewish historian Josephus in his Antiquities, by Hegesippus a second century church historian, and by Clement of Alexandria, a 2nd and 3rd century Greek theologian.
Finally, we have the “plus one” minimal fact:
the empty tomb. Remember that the empty tomb was found to be held by 3⁄4 of the scholars, including the critical ones. In their investigation into the minimal facts, Habermas counted 23 arguments for the empty tomb, three of which are “The Jerusalem Factor,” enemy attestation, and embarrassing testimony.
Next week, literally hundreds of millions of people are going to gather together to celebrate the defining event of Christianity. If true, the Resurrection of Jesus is the most important event in history. Will you believe?