Apologetic Bites: Five Minimal Facts

Apologetic Bites (link from the app) are brief talking points to help equip you to defend the faith when asked some common questions.

So what’s the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection as an historical event? Here’s a summary of the “five minimal facts” – which don’t depend on the New Testament records – from which we can argue for the resurrection. (Summarised from Gary Habermas.)

Five Minimal Facts

Fact #1 – Jesus died by Roman Crucifixion

1) Jesus’ crucifixion was recorded in all four Gospel accounts

2) Jesus’ crucifixion was recorded in non-Christian sources

  1. Josephus, Jewish Historian Antiquities 18, chapter 3
  2. Tacitus, Roman Historian Annals 15.44
  3. Lucian of Samsota, Greek Satirist
  4. Mara Bar-Serapion, Syrian prisoner
  5. The Jewish Talmud

3) Jesus’ death on a cross is one of the most well-attested events of ancient history

“That he [Jesus] was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be.” – Skeptical scholar John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, 145.

Jesus’ death by Roman crucifixion is a historical event.

Fact #2 – Jesus’ appearance to the disciples


1) The disciples believed the risen Jesus appeared to them

2) The disciples’ transformation from frightened, hiding individuals to bold witnesses of the resurrection

The disciples’ belief that Jesus appeared to them post-crucifixion is a fact that needs to be explained. The disciples wrote down their eyewitness testimonies to these appearances in the gospels. Plus, Paul discusses these appearances in 1 Corinthians 15: 3-11 which even critics agree is one of the earliest creedal statements of the early church.

Fact #3 & #4 – Jesus appeared to Paul and James


1) Paul – Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee

2) James – Jesus’ brother

– Both were unbelievers before the resurrection of Jesus

– Both became believers after an experience of the risen Jesus, following Jesus’ crucifixion

– Neither had motive to convert

– James: principle of embarrassment (as a leader of the church, preserving the tradition that he was an extreme sceptic beforehand was embarrassing to believers, and so points to authenticity)

– Paul: earliest N.T. writings, very reliable material

Fact #5 – Jesus’ tomb was empty

1) The Jerusalem Factor

The Jerusalem Factor

Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem. His empty tomb and his resurrection were proclaimed there first. If Jesus’ body had still been in the tomb, why did no one go get the body and drag it through the streets of the city to shut down the Christian movement that so angered the Jewish officials?

2) Enemy attestation

If testimony about an event or person is given by a source who does not sympathize with the person, message or cause that benefits from the affirmation, then there is reason to believe the testimony’s authenticity. The empty tomb can be found either implicitly or explicitly stated in the works of Josephus, Justin Martyr’s “Dialogue with Trypho,” Tertullian’s “On Spectacles,” and in the Jewish Toledoth (a derogatory version of Jesus’ life in Jewish tradition).

3) The testimony of women

It would be an odd invention to have the women as the first witnesses of the empty tomb. In the accounts of the empty tomb, the women are exactly that, the first witnesses, in all four gospel accounts. This report would most likely be damaging to the case for the empty tomb when taken in context of the first century socio-cultural norms. The testimony of a woman was not regarded as highly as the testimony of a man. Habermas and Licona quote a few Jewish writings on this matter:

Sooner let the words of the Law be burnt than delivered to women. (Talmud, Sotah 19a)
But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex…..; since it is probable that they may not speak truth, either out of hope of gain, or fear of punishment. (Joshephus, Antiquities 4.8.15)
Any evidence which a woman [gives] is not valid (to offer), also they are not valid to offer. This is equivalent to saying that one who is Rabbinically accounted a robber is qualified to give the same evidence as a woman. (Talmud, Rosh Hashannah 1.8)

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