Frank Morrison wrote the book of this title about 100 years ago. The author had set out intending to debunk Christianity, particularly the resurrection. He planned on proving it was untrue. Then he began his research and became convinced that it was true. This is the conclusion that Luke came to after investigating the Life of Christ:
“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye witnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you [most excellent Theophilus] so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught/So that you might recognize the reliability of the accounts you have been taught.” (Luke 1:1-4) Alternative translation by Dr. David Bentley Hart
“The historian does simply not come in to replenish the gaps of memory. He constantly challenges even those memories that have survived intact.” Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi
The #Minimal Facts Argument
The Minimal Facts Argument: an explanation of the events in and around the Death and Resurrection: An idea from Gary Habermas PhD.
The following details are accepted by virtually all historians, sceptic and believer alike:
- That Jesus died by crucifixion—and that very soon afterwards. His followers had real experiences that they thought were actual appearances of the risen Jesus;
- That their lives were transformed as a result, even to the point of being willing to die specifically for their faith in the resurrection message;
- That these things were taught very early, soon after the crucifixion;
- That James, Jesus’ unbelieving brother, became a Christian due to his own experience of the resurrected Christ;
- that the Christian persecutor Paul (formerly Saul of Tarsus) also became a believer after a similar experience.
Four Minimal Facts
FACT 1: Jesus died by crucifixion
- Jesus’ death on the cross is almost undisputed.Jesus’ physical death is authenticated by every serious historian—unbelievers and believers alike.
- Regarding Crucifixion:NT Wright says, that, in the ancient world the word, “crucifixion” was almost like a swear word, it was so horrible and barbaric—and yet Christians made the cross the symbol of their movement from the very beginning. Without the death of Jesus that cultural shift is impossible to explain.
Fact 2: Very soon afterwards, his #followers had real encounters/experiences that they, at least were convinced were actual appearances of the risen Jesus
Why would the gospel writers mention the women—if it were not factual. It would have been very odd for the gospel writers to make women the first witnesses of the empty tomb. John (14:16) clearly identifies Mary Magdalene as the first witness. Luke (24:1-35) mentions Joanna as well as Mary (the mother of James). Mark (16:9) is the first recorded account. NB. Mark’s Gospel was written (most likely by John Mark (see Acts 15:37,38) within thirty-five years of the event.It is most likely the case that John Mark had direct information from the apostle Peter.It would have been, considering the patriarchal nature of first century Jewish culture, very unlikely that any of the gospel writers would have included the women’s testimony if they had not been factual. Female testimony would have been worth far less than that of a man. If the Gospel writers were ‘writing for ‘effect’ rather than ‘for fact’ then it would have made far more sense to place the male disciples as the first arrivals at the empty tomb, Indeed, the fact that women were the first at the scene acts as a piece of corroborating evidence for the historical authenticity of the story.
The 19th & 20th Century) critics came up with the idea that the disciples stole the body (at least, we can conclude, that it’s an admission that the body was missing).However if it were the case that the disciples had stolen the body, then one would have to say that this kind of ‘self-deception’ would have been absolutely unique in the history of mankind. “So they stole the body…and then what?!”
There isn’t time to go into detail here but what is absolutely clear is that, apart from ‘the beloved disciple’ (i.e. John) the other eleven didn’t ‘draw their pensions’. These men were transformed because they were convinced that Jesus had died and that he was ALIVE—in the flesh—though an ‘upgraded’ version. Of course they may have been mistaken. But ‘we’ are convinced that they were not; and so, it seems, were they and those who came after—and those came after those who came after…
Fact 3: People reported seeing the risen Christ
New Testament scholar Gerd Lüdemann writes: “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.’ These experiences were also enough to convince sceptics such as James the brother of Jesus. James who was, most likely, an unbeliever until after the resurrection, was the leader in the Jerusalem Church. The second century Christian writer, Hegesippius tells us that, because of his excessive righteousness, James was known as ‘James the Just—and was the most popular of all the leaders of the Jerusalem Church.”
In addition to the above there is the well attested account Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul quotes a creed of the Church, affirming the resurrection and the witnesses to it. Paul wrote this letter in around AD 55, and was quoting from an already established tradition, which suggests the resurrection experiences were being reported from the very inception of the Christian Church. These were not half-remembered reports far removed from the events. Richard Bauckham refers to Papius (second century) who informs us that the Gospel of Mark was, most likely based on the testimony of the apostle Peter. Mark being the ‘John Mark’ of (Acts 12:25;13:5;13:14;15:37-40). The #strong consensus is that Matthew and Luke used a lot of Mark’s work—along with other sources. With regards to the Gospel of John there are differences of opinion as to the authorship though Bauckham opines that Papius considered John the Elder to be the Beloved Disciple and the author of the fourth gospel (AD 80-90). Scholars have often supposed that the Gospel writers cannot have attached much importance to eyewitness testimony since they do not indicate named eyewitness sources of the traditions they use:
We have also argued that the list of the Twelve, carefully preserved and presented in all three Synoptic Gospels, functions as naming the official body of eyewitnesses who had formulated and promulgated the main corpus of Gospel traditions from which much of the content of these Gospels derives. In the present chapter we have shown that three of the Gospels — those of Mark, Luke, and John—make use of the historiographic principle that the most authoritative eyewitness is one who was present at the events narrated from their beginning to their end and can therefore vouch for the overall shape of the story as well as for specific key events. This principle highlighted the special significance of the Twelve but also of others who were disciples of Jesus for much of the period of his ministry. Accordingly, these three Gospels use the literary device we have called the inclusio of eyewitness testimony. This is a convention also deployed in two later Greek biographies, by Lucian (Second Century Greek-speaking Syrian of Samosata) and Porphyry (Third Century Lebanese philosopher), which may lend further weight to the identification of the inclusio of eye witness testimony in three of the Gospels.
‘Jesus and the Eyewitness: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony’ Richard Bauckham
Fact 4: The phenomenal growth of the Church
In his latest, 2018, book Bart Ehrman argues that the emergence of Christianity as the victor over pagan religions in the ancient world was “the single greatest cultural transformation our world has ever seen”. And, consequently, there are few historical questions more important (and interesting) than how and why that happened. After all, argues Ehrman, ‘how did a small band of uneducated Galilean disciples lead a religious revolution that eventually conquered the world? How does a religion go from a handful of people to 30 million people in just 300 years?’
Central to Ehrman’s argument is that, contrary to the received wisdom of historians, the Roman Emperor Constantine’s conversion wasn’t the decisive factor in the triumph of Christianity. According to Ehrman a much more important conversion happened centuries earlier: the apostle Paul. Ehrman argues that Paul was foundational to the eventual triumph of Christianity because he advocated for a “salvation that was not tied to explicit Jewish identity”. This, he argues, opened the doors wide to the conversion of the Gentile pagan world. Indeed, Ehrman devotes a whole chapter to the question of what pagan “religions” were like. Although they were all different, he suggests they shared the following characteristics, each of which is nearly the opposite of Christianity:
- they worshiped many gods instead of one
- they were more concerned with ritual acts than with doctrine or ethics
- they focused on this life instead of the afterlife
- they were local instead of global
- they operated on the basis of custom instead of books *
* A Bookish Religion” stresses the importance and dissemination of written texts (particularly in the codex form – the forerunner of books as opposed to scrolls).
So how did early Christians go about converting people out of this pagan background? According to Ehrman: it’s because Christianity was both missionary and exclusive. Ehrman states:One reason Christianity grows is that it is the only religion like this: the others are not missionary and they are not exclusive. These two features make Christianity unlike anything else on offer.NB: The missionary commitment of early Christians was relatively unheard of in other religious systems. The reason isn’t difficult to find: other religions didn’t think people were “lost” if they didn’t commit to their particular deity. Indeed, pagan religions didn’t see themselves in competition with other religions. If people chose to worship a particular god, nothing prevented them from also worshiping another god. So pagans lacked a motive to try to “convert” someone to their own religion. The combination of Christianity’s missionary heart and exclusive worship led to its eventual triumph.
Christianity, on the other hand, affirmed:
- that only Jesus is the true God
- that without him people face eternal judgment
Thus, Christians were motivated out of love for their fellow man to reach out to the world around them. And when people converted, they were told they had to give up their pagan past entirely and now give full and exclusive devotion to Christ. So, Ehrman argues, the combination of Christianity’s missionary heart and exclusive worship led to its eventual triumph. Ha! J
Pagans and the Miraculous:
Are these the only reasons for Christianity’s success? of course not. BUT Ehrman is, of course, referring to events that were driven by the ideals of mankind/quirks of history rather than the will of an #interventionist god. He is looking at the evidence from an historian’s perspective. He is definitely not looking for evidences of God’s intervention. But that’s OK because—whether or not people believe that there is any evidence for the super natural—history itself proves the point—i.e. the minimal facts are evidences. The #minimalfacts are unequivocal. Whatever caused these ‘phenomenon’ to occur—it is either ‘natural causation’ or otherwise…
In chapter five of his book Ehrman argues against some other suggestions that other experts in the field have made. In particular, he disagrees with the idea that Christian care for the poor and sick may have played a role in its success. Ehrman argues that Christians would’ve died in greater numbers due to their exposure to illness. Of course the Christian faith is not just about survival—at least not in this life–but it is most likely one of the reasons unbelievers were attracted to the Christian movement.
“Surely the distinctive moral/ethical behavior of Christians—a feature not emphasized by their pagan counterparts—would have played a role in setting Christianity apart as a compelling option.” Dr Michael Kruger, 2018
Derek J. White Easter 2018 (notes from a talk given at St Mary’s Church Ferndown,Dorset,UK
NB. Opinions used in this paper include those by: Justin Brierley (Premier Radio) Dr Richard Bauckham (Jesus and the Eyewitness: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony) Dr Michael J. Kruger (Review of ‘How Christianity Defeated Paganism, Bart Ehrman) March 18) Dr Gary Habermas (various) and N.T. Wright.
Apologies for any ommissons
Derek J. White