An Examination of “Minimal Fact” Argument for the Resurrection of Christ as Proposed by Gary Habermas

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Michael Haggard
Advanced Topics in Contemporary Apologetics - Course Number: AP 661 IS R2 03 Trinity Theological Seminary

AN EXAMINATION OF “MINIMAL FACT” ARGUMENT FOR
THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST AS PROPOSED BY GARY HABERMAS

Gary Robert Habermas is distinguished Professor of Apologetics and Philosophy as well as department chairman of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University in Virginia.[1] He has devoted a large part of his career to the topic of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and most likely has done more than any other scholar to defend its historicity.[2] In his research on the resurrection, over a two year period, Habermas tracked down more than twelve hundred publications dealing with the resurrection of Christ. Each source was published between 1975 and 2005, with the vast majority of them being written by critical scholars.[3] He found that the last twenty years have produced more than forty different suggestions favoring about a dozen different alternative explanations for the account of the resurrection of Jesus.[4] In his research, he has developed the "Minimal Facts" method of apologetics in defending the bodily, factual resurrection of Christ. Habermas calls his method the “minimal facts" method because in it he uses only those data that satisfy at least two major standards: each event must be either; exceptionally well attested to on multiple grounds; and the event must be recognized as historical by the majority of scholars who study this subject, especially when they oppose the conclusion that is nonetheless warranted.[5] In the end, he posits that the resurrection can be trusted to be true based upon only those few facts that meet these two standards.

The essence of his approach is to use only those facts whose historical reliability enjoys almost universal agreement among scholars. As one example; quoting Reginald Fuller, Habermas points out that Jesus’ disciples belief that they had in fact seen the risen Jesus is one of the indisputable facts of history, and explanations that do not rise to the level of adequately explaining the cause of this rather than just examining it as an event are short of relevance.[6] Using such core facts, he develops the case that the resurrection is a solid historical event because only a bodily resurrection can adequately explain these facts as accepted.[7] He sincerely asks critics to apply the same standard to the Scriptural accounts as they do to other historical "facts" that are generally believed to be true in history. Habermas presents five minimal and well established facts to consider for the resurrection: Jesus died by crucifixion; His disciples believed that His resurrection and appearances were real whether they were or not; Paul’s life was changed radically from dangerous opponent to leading proponent of the resurrection and the Christian faith; the skeptic James was converted because of the belief in the resurrection; and the tomb was empty.[8] With these fact, only a bodily resurrection can logically fit the data.

Habermas understands that nothing can be proven historically with a 100% certainty, but he is certain that the resurrection can be shown to be established as a true historical event with a very high degree of certainty.[9] Since such convincing data for the resurrection can be established utilizing the minimal amount of knowable facts of history, scholars should not invalidate the resurrection by referring to minor discrepancies in the New Testament and concluding that the whole of the reports of the Bible are inaccurate.[10] Contemporary critical scholars do not consider the reliability of the New Testament wholesale even though they conclude it is inaccurate as a whole because of their questions on individual passages. They criticize individual passages, isolating passages from the whole.[11] Habermas argues that rather than focusing on what ‘could not possibly be known’ about the facts of the reports of the New Testament,...
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