Skip to content
March 20, 2014 / BTM

The Resurrection of Jesus: Which Explanation Fits the Minimal Facts?

mag glass2Yesterday I presented a ‘Minimal Facts’ Bible Study on the case for Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.  The ‘Minimal Facts’ present data concerning Jesus’ death and the events immediately surrounding it that are so strongly attested historically that they are granted by nearly every scholar who studies the subject, even the rather skeptical ones.

Today we’re going to investigate some of the most significant explanations for these facts to determine which is the best.  In order to be the best explanation, it must have the best explanatory power for all of the data (all of the Minimal Facts).  In keeping with good detective skills, it is often the most simple and straightforward explanation that is the correct one (no backflips to make the explanation fits the facts).

This is a follow up on the Minimal Facts Bible Study presented yesterday.  You’ll need to refer to your notes from Part 1 to complete it.

Minimal Facts Bible Study Part 2

The controversy over Jesus’ alleged resurrection is not about the facts themselves.  The Minimal Facts are almost universally accepted by scholars in the field who can properly attest to them.  Rather, the controversy is in the explanation of the facts.

Look at the list of Minimal Facts you discovered through yesterday’s Bible Study.

1. What could explain the change in the disciples (Q4)?

2. What would cause a skeptic (James) and enemy (Paul) to end up being martyred for belief in something that they were once hostile to?

3. Here is a list of some of the more popular explanations for the Minimal Facts.  (For an exhaustive list, see The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus.  I highly recommend this book.).

a) Jesus wasn’t really dead (He survived the crucifixion).

b) Jesus’ disciples moved the body and lied about the resurrection.

c) The Jews, Romans or somebody else moved the body and lied about it.

d) The early church hallucinated the resurrection appearances (swoon theory).

e) The resurrection account was embellished over time.

f) Being willing to die for one’s belief does not prove that it is true (the disciples were deluded).

g) Jesus had a twin brother who posed as Jesus after Jesus died (the resurrection was faked).

h) Jesus rose bodily from the dead and appeared to the disciples.

Referring to the list of Minimal Facts, assess each of these explanations to see which provides the best explanation for all of the facts.

The answers follow below.  If needed, use the first answer to help you get a feel for how to use the Minimal Facts to assess the various explanations of the resurrection.

1) Jesus wasn’t really dead (He survived the crucifixion).

  • Crucifixion is brutal and lethal.  It is reasonable to conclude that it is impossible to fake your own crucifixion.  It would be very unlikely that Jesus could be speared in the side and still pretend to be dead.
  • This doesn’t explain the early belief in the resurrection, since a half-dead Jesus would not inspire a belief in the resurrection.  It would make the disciples want to rush Jesus to a doctor.
  • A half-dead Jesus would not have been able to get out of the tomb (remember the stone across the tomb entrance).
  • Doesn’t account for the appearance to James and Paul, and their dramatic change and martyrdom.
  • Also, this is a minimal fact that everyone agrees on (i.e. that Jesus died)

2) Jesus’ disciples moved the body and lied about the resurrection.

  • Even if the disciples stole the body, it can only call into question the cause of the empty tomb.
  • It doesn’t explain why the early church was willing to be persecuted (people don’t die for a lie – the disciples were in a position to know if Jesus actually rose from the dead).
  • Doesn’t account for the appearance to James and Paul, and their dramatic change and martyrdom.
  • Jesus’ disciples weren’t expecting a bodily resurrection, so they wouldn’t have thought of stealing the body.

3) The Jews, Romans or somebody else moved the body and lied about it.

  • The Jews/Romans had no interest in helping a rival or trouble-making sect.
  • The Jews/Romans would have produced the stolen body to end the growth of Christianity and the resurrection claims.
  • Doesn’t account for the appearance to James and Paul, and their dramatic change and martyrdom.
  • There is no evidence to support the claim that someone else (or Jews/Romans) moved the body.

4) The early church hallucinated the resurrection appearances (swoon theory).

  • Group hallucinations are impossible.
  • There were too many independent appearances (indoors/outdoors, friends/foes, men/women, etc).
  • It doesn’t explain the empty tomb.
  • It doesn’t explain the theological change in the disciples’ expectations of the resurrection.
  • Seeing a ghost or a hallucination does not imply a bodily resurrection.
  • Doesn’t account for the appearance to James and Paul, and their dramatic change and martyrdom.

5) The resurrection account was embellished over time.

  • We have early eyewitness accounts of the Biblical text; there was no room (no time) for embellishments.
  • Doesn’t account for the appearance to Paul, and Paul’s dramatic change and martyrdom.
  • Paul and James came to believe apart from the testimony of the disciples (or of anyone else).
  • We have extra-Biblical accounts which confirm the gospel accounts.

6) Being willing to die for one’s belief does not prove that they are true (you could be deluded).

  • It was not just the disciples belief, they claimed to be eyewitness and therefore were in a position to definitely know whether it was true or not (as opposed to someone now dying for their faith who is not in the same position to know whether it is true or not).
  • The fact that the disciples were willing to die for their belief at least proves that the disciples were not lying.
  • Doesn’t account for the appearance to James and Paul, and their dramatic change and martyrdom.

7) Jesus had a twin brother.

  • There is no evidence to support this.
  • Does not explain James or Paul’s dramatic change and martyrdom.

Now Go And Use It!

It’s easy for people to claim an alternate explanation of the Minimal Facts about Jesus’ death and resurrection, but why should we believe them?  They have to give us evidence to support their proposed view and it has to fit all of the Minimal Facts better than any competing explanation.

One or our intents with this Minimal Facts Bible Study is to give you a tool that you and your kids can use to support the resurrection:  these 5 Minimal Facts are agreed to by almost everyone (even hostile scholars); and the most plausible explanation of these facts is that Jesus was resurrected from the dead.  I’ll share a version I created for younger children in the near future.

Let me know if you use this and if it is helpful.

Photo credit: Microsoft

Advertisements

3 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Keith / Apr 12 2015 4:15 pm

    The only point that could be argued as not necessarily true is the one concerning that people do not die for a lie. I cite as evidence suicide bombers and the Jim Jones People’s Temple cult. Granted, they are dying with a wholly separate purpose, but they are dying willingly for their beliefs. To be clear, I am not aligning jihadists with Christian martyrs, just offering refutation to the “die for a lie” point as a universal truth for argumentation.

    • BTM / Apr 14 2015 3:17 pm

      Hi Kieth,

      I understand your point and I think many people hold it. The biggest difference is that the disciples were in a position to know the TRUTH about what they were dying for, where as the kinds of individuals you speak of are dying for what they BELIEVE to be true. They were in a unique position that I, for instance, am not in if I decide to die for the truth of Christianity. They were eyewitnesses to the events, I was not. I hope this makes sense. Thanks so much for the comment!

Trackbacks

  1. The Resurrection of Jesus: Which Explanation Fits the Minimal Facts? | JohnnyAngel Advocacy Group

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: