Some are deconverts; some life-long atheists. Some more familiar with Catholicism; others with Pentecostal movement. A mixed bag generating wide input. Jon asked me to lead the group on the topic regarding Jesus’ Resurrection.
As I was preparing, I first encountered the concern regarding the different levels of knowledge. While I didn’t want to bore those who know the gospels forward and backward, on the other hand there would be no gain to jump in on whether Joseph of Arimethea existed or not, if people didn’t even know who he was. [In fact, after the talk, one fellow did come up to me and say he never knew Jesus was buried in another person’s tomb. My fears were well founded.]
My second consideration was how to present the material in such a way, so a person can understand the controversies involved. There are so many possible rabbit trails; it can be confusing to the listener whether I am presenting the predominant Christian view, a less traditional Christian view, or a skeptical position.
I decided the easiest way to present was to role-play a Christian apologist—present the basic information and Christianity’s position as a Christian apologist would, utilizing a signal. When I held a white-board marker, I was being the Christian apologist; set the marker down, I explained why what I just said may not be necessarily true. I think (I hope) it generally worked.
If you are with me so far, I prepared to plan a case for the resurrection as if arguing on behalf of Christian apologists everywhere. I looked at it like a lawyer—if I represented the Resurrection Account and I was attempting to persuade an impartial (or in this case, generally hostile) audience, what would I use to persuade? What would I not? What evidence would I emphasize; what would I de-emphasize.
Now the best approach (in my opinion) is the minimal facts argument perfected by Dr. Habermas, Dr. Craig and Dr. Licona. It can be presented quickly, has an intuitive flow with it, there is easily accessible data to back up the individual supporting points, and the counter-arguments can often take longer to explain. No sense reinventing the wheel—I would present the case the popular apologists do. There is only one problem--a significant problem--it doesn’t work.
Dr. Licona, in his latest work, The Resurrection of Christ concludes:
The only legitimate reasons for rejecting the resurrection hypothesis are philosophical and theological in nature: if supernaturalism is false or a non-Christian religion is exclusively true. Pg. 608
If that is not clear, I will explain. The world can be broken down into three (3) types of people:
2) Theists who don’t believe in Christianity exclusively; or
3) Theists who believe in Christianity exclusively.
Dr. Licona implies the historical evidence is convincing to the third category—people who are already convinced of resurrection anyway! In other words, one has to be 99% there, before the evidence can take them the remaining 1%. If the only reason to reject the Resurrection is that one doesn’t believe in God, or doesn’t believe Christianity, it follows a necessary requirement TO believe in the resurrection are 1)Belief in God, and 2) Exclusive belief in Christianity.
Simply put—the evidence alone is insufficient.
I prepared this handout to give the basic information and some additional pointers. And then I utilized the minimal facts, more to inform than convince.
As I prepared, I was surprised what points I would abandon (if I was a lawyer arguing the case). Here are a few:
1) Earlier dating of the Gospels compared to late dating is irrelevant.
We often see this battle where the more traditional conservative biblical scholars seem to attempt to get the gospels as early as possible to get them closer to the eyewitnesses, to make them more believable.
But in a historical analysis…so what? Many of our historians of the time are even later than late dating of the Gospels. The example I used was Tacitus and the Roman Fire. The Fire occurred in 64 CE. Tacitus wrote over 50 years later, in 117 CE. No one questions his work because it is “too late.” (Although he is slightly better than the gospels, as he was reviewing some written records.) If Jesus died in 30, and Matthew as written in 80 CE—this puts it roughly in the same time period.
The argument over dating of the Gospels, frankly, loses the forest for the trees. Early or Late date, the timing is equivalent to many historical documents we accept.
2) Any attempt at reconciling the appearances.
Anyone seeing a debate watch the apologists shuck and jive away from doing so. There is a reason—once stated the reconciliations lack the ring of truth in an argument. One has the women splitting up, popping up here, going there, and the disciples running around like wild hooligans to make them align.
Again, I turned to Tacitus. He records where Nero was, and the destruction of the Rome Fire. Which is different than Suetonius. Who are both different than Cassius Dio. Yet does anyone argue whether the Fire occurred because of these varying details? Of course not.
In the same way, treat the Gospels equally. Yes they disagree. Don’t tell anyone this, but they are not all historical in every detail. Sorry. And you may even need to pick one to the exclusion of another. (Gasp!) But attempting to align all accounts is just not believable. No neutral party would accept it.
3) The empty tomb is important. But not for the reason you think.
Many apologists attempt to claim the empty tomb is relevant because the non-believer MUST account for what happened to create the situation of an empty tomb on Sunday morning.
Wrong—the empty tomb is part of the story. The famous analogy is apt: “There must be an Emerald City; where else would the yellow brick road lead to?” See, the yellow brick road is part of Wizard of Oz. Not an independent fact for the story to accommodate.
In the same way, the empty tomb story could easily have developed many years after the resurrection story was in circulation.
I would argue this is an unnecessary irrelevant fact, that it is more likely to be true because it is so unnecessary.
Think about it. Imagine we have a resurrection story. Completely and utterly made up. There you are…say 50 CE…and you have Jesus coming back from the dead. What day do you have him come back?
Paul says Jesus Resurrected on the “third day” (1 Cor. 15:4) according to the scriptures. Not sure exactly what scripture Paul is talking about…
Be that as it may, if you kill him on Friday (day before Sabbath) [Mark 15:42], add three days—out he pops Monday. Simple as pie. Matthew even makes it worse by insisting Jesus was in the tomb 3 days and 3 nights, (Matt. 12:40) causing inerrantists headaches, trying to reconcile.
If you are making it up—why cause all the problems? Seems to me, the simplest solution is have Jesus die on Friday, fester for three days, and come out on Monday, resolving all these issues.
Unless the tomb really was empty on Sunday, and therefore even those proclaiming resurrection “three days” after death were stuck with an inconvenient fact.
As a lawyer, arguing for the Resurrection, the key point I would continually emphasize was the Disciples proclamation. Something happened to cause them to abandon traditional Judaism for this variance. I would emphasize the early statements of Paul regarding Resurrection, the later writing in Acts of speeches utilizing the event, and the gospels themselves recording the appearances.
I would stay away from Joseph of Arimathea, the women, and the soldiers. Those elements of the story are weak. Focus on the initiation of the belief.
Alas, this is a two-way sword. One could equally say, something must have happened to Joseph Smith, or Mohammed or David Kuresh or Sun Myung Moon, or how every other religion started.
Couldn’t they equally be viable?
I was recently asked what I would utilize to argue for the Resurrection. I would use the minimal facts (it glosses over the problems, and covers the necessary points), realizing it was doomed to failure. The only recourse after that would have to be reliance on supernatural intervention—say something like, “The Holy Spirit must give inward witness.”
If Minimal facts (Disciples reporting appearances of Jesus) was insufficient to convince their friend—Thomas—who had more and better opportunity to observe, inspect and investigate than I, why should it convince others who have less?
Finally (because it comes up over and over and over) I would stay away from this rotten argument, “You are predisposed against miracles so you won’t believe it.” Telling someone they don’t believe what I am trying to convince them to believe (as I know they don’t believe it) is not saying much for the strength of my argument.
Of course they don’t believe it!—that is the very reason I am trying to convince them to do so! If they already believe it—I wouldn’t need to convince them by argument, now would I?