A Non-Biblical Historian Accepts the Key "Minimum Facts" Supporting Jesus' Resurrection

In their book, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona argue for the historical reality of Jesus' bodily resurrection using the "minimum facts" approach. Rather than get bogged down in inerrancy and other debates, they focus on the key facts demonstrating Jesus' resurrection. For them, the key facts are:

*Jesus' death by crucifixion.
*Disciples' Beliefs that Jesus Appeared.
*Conversion of Paul.
*Conversion of James.
*Empty Tomb.

William L. Craig, another significant apologist for the historical bodily resurrection of Jesus likewise focuses, in his accessible The Son Rises, on the empty tomb and Jesus' resurrection appearance. Craig gives special emphasis to Jesus' honorable burial by Joseph of Arimathea and Jesus' appearances to James and Paul and their subsequent commitment to the Christian cause.

Craig, Licona, and Habermas argue that these basic facts are generally supported by most of the relevant scholarship. By it's nature, such scholarship comes from New Testament scholars and historians. Although I have no truck with that, and think the quality of the arguments is a more important factor, the suggestion has been made that these scholarly conclusions are merely the product of rather gullible New Testament studies.

Fortunately, a leading Classical Historian and Non-Biblical Scholar has delved into this topic and given us his conclusions. According to Wikipedia, Michael Grant "read classics at Trinity College, Cambridge and was professor of Humanity at Edinburgh University. He was awarded the OBE in 1946, the CBE in 1958, and was vice-chancellor (president) of the Queen's University of Belfast and University of Khartoum. According to his obituary in The Times he was "one of the few classical historians to win respect from [both] academics and a lay readership".[1] Immensely prolific, he wrote and edited more than 50 books of nonfiction and translation, covering topics from Roman coinage and the eruption of Mount Vesuvius to the Gospels and Jesus. He described himself as "one of the very few freelances in the field of ancient history: a rare phenomenon". His translation of Tacitus' Annales was published in 1956."

In Jesus, An Historian's Review of the Gospels, Grant spends time discussing Jesus' reported resurrection. He wrote well before Craig, Licona, and Habermas. Grant is clear that he was applying the same criteria to the Gospels as classical historians apply to other ancient sources. Grant, op. cit., passim (but especially pages 176, 200). His conclusions are -- perhaps surprisingly to some -- supportive of the "minimum facts" to the extent his work overlaps with them.

First, Grant accepts Jesus' death by crucifixion and honorable burial.

After the Crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhderin who did not share its unfavourable opinion of Jesus, sought and obtained permission from Pilate to grant the body private burial, thus rescuing it from the two common burial-grounds reserved for executed criminals. This story is likely to be true since the absence, which it records, of any participation of Jesus' followers was too unfortunate, indeed disgraceful, to have been voluntarily invented by the evangelists at a later date.

Michael Grant, Jesus An Historian's Review of the Gospels, page 174.

Next, Grant argues vigorously for the discovery of Jesus' empty tomb.

Even if the historian chooses to regard the youthful apparition as extra-historical, he cannot justifiably deny the empty tomb. True, this discovery, as so often, is described differently by the various Gospels -- as critical pagans early pointed out. But if we apply the same sort of criteria that we would apply to any other ancient literary sources, then the evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the tom was indeed found empty.

Ibid., page 176. The discovery of the tomb by female followers of Jesus is particularly important to Grant.

[T]he early Church would never have concocted, on its own account, the statement that this most solemn and fateful of all discoveries was made by women, including a woman with an immoral record at that.

Ibid., page 176.

Grant also concludes that some of Jesus' followers believed Jesus had appeared to them after his death.

The resurrection is the subject of some of the greatest pictures ever painted, but there is no actual description of it, and nobody claimed to have seen it happen. Yet those who believed that Jesus had appeared to them on the earth after his death have their alleged experiences recorded in a number of passages of the New Testament. Their testimonies cannot prove them to have been right in supposing that Jesus had risen from the dead. However, these accounts do prove that certain people were utterly convinced that that is what he had done.

Ibid., page 176. Grant also concludes that, "the first Resurrection stories began to be told very early." Ibid., page 177.

Grant spends less time on the specific appearances to James and Paul and their conversions, but he gives "priority" to Paul's account of Jesus' appearances to James and to Paul. Grant also spends more time discussing Paul's belief in Jesus' appearance to him in his book, Saint Paul.

Although Grant may have been reluctant on extending the historical inquiry to a topic like the resurrection, he lends substantial Non-Biblical Historian support for the minimum facts supporting Jesus' resurrection.


Jon said…
Just curious, Layman. Do you accept the overwhelming consensus of biologists, including Christian biologists, that humans and chimpanzees share a common ancestor?
Layman said…

I don't think you are "just curious," I think you are trying to suggest -- in a transparent and rather sophmoric way -- that because I am skeptical of naturalistic evolution -- which I am -- that I am admitting that a consensus of experts does not settle the issue at hand. That is a point I readily admit, which is why I stated in my post that "the quality of the arguments is a more important factor" than the consensus of scholars.

I do not, however, think that expert opinion is therefore irrelevant. For example, I do not think that the strong consensus of biologists in favor of evolution is is an irrelevant point in the creationist vs. evolutionist debates. Evolutionists are quick to refer to the support of most biologists and understandably so. Do you think they should stop making that point?

If you were to read Habermas or Craig you would see that their books do more than say, "most scholars believe X" so it's true. That would take about 5 pages. They also lay out the relevant arguments. But they do point out the support of other scholars because people are obviously interested in that support and it adds some weight to the argument.

Happy Easter.

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