A Response to Bill O’Reilly’s Book “Killing Jesus” – Part 2 – Program 3

By: Dr. Gary Habermas and Dr. Darrell Bock; ©2013
Why did the Romans crucify Jesus? Of what did Pilate judge him to be guilty? Why do historians believe the facts show Jesus really claimed to be the Son of God?

12 Historical Facts Concerning the Resurrection of Jesus

(This transcript contains bonus material that will not appear in the on-air version due to time limitations.)


Dr. John Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. We’re talking about Bill O’Reilly’s new book, Killing Jesus. Have you read it yet? I’m sure you’ve heard about it. We’re going to be examining one of the key topics, namely after Jesus was crucified, dead and buried, what happened to His body? Why was His tomb found empty three days later? And I’ve got two of the world’s leading Jesus scholars here with us today. First, Dr. Darrell Bock, one of the leading historical Jesus scholars in our country and one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Gospel of Luke. He’s Senior Research Professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary. And Dr. Gary Habermas, the distinguished Research Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University. He’s authored, co-authored or edited more than 60 books.
Now, Gary, you have taken a very interesting approach to answering this question for skeptics, namely, what happened to the body? And you’re saying that you can start with a list of 12 historical facts that are accepted by virtually all critical scholars, not just Christians, but guys that are atheists, skeptics, the whole shooting match. You’ve got 3,400 sources that you are watching, you are checking, you are seeing what they’re saying. Tell me about the 12 historical facts.
Dr. Gary Habermas: Well, I started off very skeptical myself, so I did this for myself. Can we get a resurrection lowest common denominator?
Ankerberg: Yeah, because you were at Michigan State and you weren’t a Christian and you…
Habermas: I used to argue with Christians. Okay, well, here’s what I did. I took a common list of data that were admitted by scholars. Let’s say there’s 20 or 25. And I thought to myself, well, can I do it with half that? Can I do it with only 12? And then I thought, well, I will arbitrarily—I already arbitrarily cut the list to 12; nobody only gives you 12—I’ll go down to five or six to show that with a minimal number of facts—and I chose ones that are multiply evidenced by several,… you know, coming in like this, many evidences on each fact; and secondly, the vast majority of scholars accepts every one. So I think you could use those five and get to the resurrection.
Ankerberg: Alright, but let me give the list of 12 and then I’ll let you pare it down. And you say with just the five you can prove that Jesus actually rose from the dead. So let’s try it out.
  • First of all, the first fact: Jesus died by crucifixion.
  • Second: He was buried.
  • Third: His death caused the disciples to despair and to lose hope.
  • Fourth: His tomb was found empty on the third day.
  • Fifth: The disciples had experiences that they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus.
  • Sixth: Because of these experiences, the disciples were transformed from doubters into bold proclaimers of His death and resurrection.
  • Seventh: The message was the center of preaching in the early church.
  • Eighth: This message was especially proclaimed in the environs of Jerusalem where Jesus had just died and was buried.
  • Ninth: As a result of this preaching the church came into existence.
  • Ten: Sunday became the primary day of worship.
  • Eleventh: Jesus’ own brother James, who had been a skeptic, was converted to the faith because he believed that he had seen the risen Jesus.
  • And twelfth: A few years later Paul was converted by an experience which he likewise believed to be the appearance of the risen Jesus to himself.
Now, those are the 12 that you’re saying all, virtually all, critical scholars accept. And you’re going to cut that in half. What are the ones you’ve chosen?
Habermas: Yeah, I drop out ones like, for example, the empty tomb. I can tell you about two thirds or three quarters of scholars accept. That doesn’t meet my criteria. So when I get down to five, I want an acceptance in the 90’s of scholarship. I do the second one first. That one’s not as,… that criterion is not as important that everybody agrees. But why do they agree? They agree because there is so much evidence at each of these points. And I go anywhere from four to seven that I pick out of the 12. And I emphasize death by crucifixion; the disciples had experiences that they thought were appearances of the risen Jesus; their lives were transformed as a result; you have James; you have Paul; and that this is proclaimed very, very early in the church. If I only had to use a half dozen, those are the ones I would go after. And I argue that they are sufficient to both indicate that the resurrection is the, you say proof, I would say best explanation, for what we know is true. And secondly, you can answer the major naturalistic theories with that data.
Ankerberg: Alright, take a breath. He’s got, number one, Jesus actually died. And you wanted to say something the last program and we didn’t get it in. Why is it that it’s a sure thing that Jesus actually died on that cross?
Dr. Darrell Bock: I think it’s important to remember that when Jesus goes up on the cross He doesn’t go up as a pristine body. He’s been scourged. The scourging involves a whip with either bone pellets or shards of glass, or whatever, something that cuts the skin. It’s designed to cause you to bleed. The reason you bleed is so that you will die more quickly on the cross. They want it to be a particularly gruesome experience. It’s so gruesome Roman citizens were not permitted to be crucified. So the idea that Jesus could go up on the cross, hang there for several hours, and survive, that might be a miracle greater than the resurrection itself.
Ankerberg: Gary, keep on going.
Habermas: Well, after that I would say the next most important thing on the list, if you take the short list, is that the disciples were utterly convinced. They kind of snapped out of their despair at that weekend; and they had experiences which they believed were appearances of the risen Jesus. Virtually no scholar running today is going to deny that. The disciples had experiences, real experiences, that they believed were appearances of the risen Jesus. And their lives did an 180 degree [turn].
Now, I’ll say something real briefly. People say, “Well, in our world today we’ve got all kinds of people who’ll die for all kinds of things that’s not true; people die for wrong things all the time.” They die for things that are wrong, but that they believe are right. Whenever someone dies for something we generally say if they were willing to die for it they were convinced it was right. And that’s what we’re trying to get out of this. They had experiences that they believed were appearances of the risen Jesus, and it turned their lives around, because they believed they were right.
But the problem is, if you’re a critic, it’s reported very, very early. There’s an empty tomb to kind of back it up a little bit. But these experiences are very, very early. Their lives were changed. You have some skeptics involved, James and Paul and others.
But naturalistic theories are so poor at explaining the data that most critics today do not want to be pinned down. You’d think that’s the easiest thing in the world. “Well, then you tell me what happened. Pick a naturalistic theory.” And I’ve had guys in dialogue go, “Oh, no, no, no. I know your method.” Well, what’s my method? “You want me to pick a naturalistic theory then you’re going to get me in a corner.” I’m going to say, “Look, if the data are good enough to get you in the corner, no matter what theory you choose, who’s that for? Is that a fact on my side or a fact on your side? You’re the naturalist, so pick something.” And then they’ll just go, “No, no, no.” And the crowd starts laughing. And you go, alright, people are starting to see what the data are here.
Ankerberg: What was the next one that really came to you?
Habermas: It’s proclaimed very, very early; because even eyewitnesses at 40 years is not the best in the world. These are eyewitnesses immediately on top of the facts, with the skeptics that I mentioned a moment ago, James and Paul. I think of Reginald Fuller, a prominent New Testament scholar, who said, “Even if the New Testament did not say Jesus appeared to James, I have to assume He did, because otherwise I can’t explain, one, the man’s conversion; and two, his being subsequently being elevated to the pastor of the largest church in the ancient world.” So, somehow we have to explain these life changes.
Ankerberg: Yeah, I think, Darrell, that this is very important. What Gary’s bringing up is that you have early accounts. And people that are the critics of the standard Christian position, they usually want to take these documents and push them as far back as possible so that you can have a lot of hearsay taking place.
Bock: As far away from the events as possible.
Ankerberg: Yeah, it’s like saying, you know, something at a party, and it goes around the circle. They’re saying, well, Jesus, He did His thing here, and then it was passed on to this person and this person, and year after year after year. Till it was finally a 100 years later; this guy said it. And this guy, what he wrote is completely different from what Jesus did over here. Now, if you have eyewitnesses, if you have early accounts, if you’ve got sources that go back to the time of Jesus, then all of that goes away. Now, I mean, I look at people that, for example, John A.T. Robinson that actually started the “Death of God” movement. When he was challenged to look at the documents he said they were all written, you know, by 70 AD. Well, whether you believe that or not, that means within 40 years of Jesus’ crucifixion they were all on the newsstands.
Bock: Yeah, and it isn’t 40 years. If you work your way back to the theology of the early church, what they’re preaching and what we know, we can get literally right up against the events themselves. And the key figure here is one of the figures in Gary’s core facts, Paul. Paul is converted sometime within a couple of years of the time of Jesus’ death. He’s been an opponent. He knows what all the debate is. He knows the Jewish side of the argument; he knows the Christian side of the argument. He knows whether the empty tomb is really there. He knows what they’re preaching. He knows the whole shooting match. He knows what the Christians are claiming: that Jesus is the Messiah and the promised Son of God. He knows all that.
And in the midst of all that, the moment Jesus appears to him he realized, that’s a resurrection. If that’s a resurrection, then maybe what those guys were saying is true. And he buys in. Now, that conversation that leads to his conversion within a couple of years has been taking place before we get to that conversion. So we’re literally right up against the events themselves in the place where it’s happening, in the debate where it’s happening. And so there is no gap, you know; that gap has just shrunk. There is no telephone game or Chinese whispers game, whatever you call it. The facts run up right against the events themselves.
Habermas: You know, Bart Ehrman says two things in his recent book that are just amazing. Now, he’s probably, for those who don’t know, probably the best-known skeptic of this country. And he says over and over again, “Don’t yell at me. I’m not even a believer.” He says that. And yet, he has one chapter in his book, Did Jesus Exist?, he’s got two arguments that really make a difference. And one of the two is Paul went up to Jerusalem to talk to Peter and James to ascertain the truth of all this. And two of his lines that I just love. One of them says this. He says: “Paul spent 15 days with Peter and James,” pause; “I’d like to spend 15 days with James and Peter.” That’s pretty cool. And then he says this: “Where do we get closer to eyewitness testimony than this?”
Ankerberg: Yeah.
Habermas: That’s Bart Ehrman.
Ankerberg: Yeah. I think that’s terrific.
Habermas: Where do we get closer?
Ankerberg: Alright, we’re going to take a break. When we come back I want to slow this down for some of you, and I want to take this passage that we keep referring to in 1 Corinthians 15, the first three or four verses. I’m going to have Gary quote them, and then we’re going to tell you why this is significant to critical scholars. So stick with us; we’ll be right back.

Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back. And we’re talking with Dr. Darrell Bock and Dr. Gary Habermas. We’re critiquing Bill O’Reilly’s new book, Killing Jesus, that you’ve probably heard about. And Gary has pared down 12 historical facts that all critical scholars accept, down to five or six, and we’re talking about those. And we keep on mentioning a passage about what Paul wrote to the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 15. I want to put this on the slate for you to see right now. And, Darrell, I’m going to ask you to read those verses; then, Gary, I’m going to ask you to comment. Why is this considered by critical scholars to be early material? Why did the Jewish scholar Joachim Jeremias say that this is good stuff, and it takes us right back to the living Jesus, okay?
Bock: 1 Corinthians 15:3-8: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance. That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Peter and then to the Twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”
And it strikes me in reading this that when we think about the story of Jesus we’re not talking about the story of killing Jesus; we’re talking about the story of the living Jesus. This is a Jesus who is alive and His death is not the end of the story.
Ankerberg: Absolutely. Gary, why did Joachim Jeremias say that this good Jewish tradition and it’s early?
Habermas: Well, first of all, I’ll preface it by saying, arguably—it’d be a good question—but arguably there may be no stronger conclusion from New Testament scholarship than that 1 Corinthians 15:3ff is an early pre-Pauline creed. It’s just assumed by virtually everyone, and very few people give the reasons. But if you did, here’s what you’d look at. First of all, Paul is taken, in his authentic Pauline epistles, to be authoritative, a good scholar, he’s honest, etc. And the big reason is Paul himself says, “I gave you what I was given.” That simply: “I gave you what I was given.” We have Paul’s word for the fact that he got this from somebody else.
Now, in the original text—and Jeremias, by the way, thought that the original text was Aramaic. That’s been disputed, but that’s one reason—but in the original Greek it’s believed that there are two stanzas. And it doesn’t rhyme like English poetry does because English, you know, English didn’t write this. But in the Greek it reads like this: da-ta da-ta da-ta da, da-ta da-ta da-ta da. And there’s two stanza’s that are divided up with these appearances, and Paul says he got it from somebody else. He’s using non-Pauline terms. He’s using and, hoti—and that, and that, and that—which is the Aramaic way of passing on tradition. As a matter of fact, Josephus tells us that that’s how Pharisees were schooled, by passing on traditions. So this “and that” tradition moves along. And so that’s three or four. That’s about half the reasons. But scholars believe that this is pre-Pauline.
Now pre-Pauline means pre-conversion of Paul. If Paul comes to Christ about one to three years after the cross, depending on who it is you’re talking about, and if you put the cross at 30 AD, Paul comes about 32, right away you don’t have to do any more reasoning. If this is pre-Pauline it’s 30-32 AD. Or if you think the crucifixion’s 33, it’s 33-35 AD. But when Paul goes to Jerusalem in Galatians 1 and he spends 15 days with Peter and James, and if they’re confirming this message at that time, the majority of scholars, consensus view according to Bauckham, is that Paul got this material in Jerusalem when he visits at about 35 AD.
Now, you can out skeptic the skeptics here. And let’s just say for the sake of argument Paul didn’t get this creed. Okay, right there. Let’s just say that comes a little bit later. But Paul’s still talking about the nature of the gospel. That’s what the whole book of Galatian,… that’s the only thing the book of Galatians is about.
Ankerberg: And what does he say? What does he actually say in that?
Habermas: In Galatians 1?
Ankerberg: No, in 1 Corinthians 15, those verses. What does he actually convey that he received?
Habermas: Well, Paul says he got the message, and he passed it on to the Corinthians when he came, that Christ died for our sins according to Scriptures, was buried. He says He died and was buried according to the Scriptures. He said He was raised and appeared. So sometimes people say there’s four things here: died, buried, arose, appeared. And that this is according to Scripture he repeats twice. And then he gives a list of appearances, three to individuals, Peter, James and Paul, and three groups,…
Ankerberg: Jesus appeared to Peter, James and Paul.
Habermas: …and the three groups: all the apostles; the 12 is the first group; and the 500. So that’s all there and that it can be traced back to 35. But 35 was when Paul received it. If 35 was when Paul got it, the guys who gave it to him, Peter and James presumably, they have it before he has it. It takes a while to standardize these da-ta da-ta da-ta da type sayings, and we get back, actually the events are much before that. James D. G. Dunn, as prominent a Jesus scholar as there is in the right now, Dunn says that this stuff had to become standardized within six months after the cross. Six months. Larry Hurtado, Richard Bauckham, they both say it had to be present when the earliest Christian preaching started, the content of this. And then you have, I think that what breaks the camel’s back here is Bart Ehrman saying that we can get this material back to one to two years after the cross. You have to get it before Paul’s conversion. So this is early eyewitness material.
Ankerberg: Yeah, so they didn’t make this up. They basically, they got it, it goes right back to Jesus and what happened at that time. And you’ve got the eyewitnesses reporting in; and the people knew all of this stuff. It was tradition being passed on down.
Habermas: If you think they’re wrong, try to come up with a naturalistic theory that answers this. And like I said, most critics, a lot of critics I’d say, they think you’re trying to trap them when you say pick a naturalistic theory.
Bock: Well, in fact, 1 Corinthians 15 is about that very problem. Because the whole point of 1 Corinthians 15 is, what if the resurrection didn’t happen? He says we’re still in our sins and we’re the most pitiful of all people. So the very premise that Paul is defending in that statement is Jesus’ death for sin and His burial is like His resurrection—they’re all historical events we’re supposed to take serious; because, if this doesn’t happen, the Christian faith is done. So when O’Reilly says that the resurrection is the root of the Christian faith he’s talking about the historical root. This is the historical root out of which all the theology comes.
Ankerberg: Gary, why should a person who’s listening to you right now, that is not a Christian, believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior? When you were at Michigan State you were not a Christian. You wrote your PhD thesis on this topic, and you became a Christian. What happened? And give me the reasons why somebody should believe it today.
Habermas: The resurrection of Jesus is a game changer. It’s one of those epochal events. Without it you can reject a lot of things as lies, misbelief. But if there’s a resurrection,… Right away critics pull away from this; because if Jesus was raised from the dead, that seems to say, without any additional argument—we can give the argument, but without almost any additional argument—it seems to say if a miracle is a pointer, if it’s a sign, and He’s raised, that seems to say He’s who we thought He was. Because dead men don’t rise.
Now, if you unpack that for just a moment, if He’s a man, only a man and He dies, He’s not raising Himself. So who’s raising Him? Well, if He’s being acted upon, if His dead body is being acted upon by the God of the universe, guess what? God doesn’t act on Him to say, “And here’s the best heretic we’ve ever known in history.” God only raises Him from the dead to confirm His message. And that’s strictly Jewish. You know, you affirm messages. God doesn’t affirm wrong messages; He affirms right messages. And if Jesus was raised by the God of the universe, that immediately puts God’s imprimatur, God’s blessing, God’s seal of approval.
As Peter, by the way, preaches the first Christian sermon at Pentecost, he says He’s been shown to be a messenger by His death and resurrection, in Acts 2. Right away the resurrection say God’s stamp of approval. Approved. Approved. So right away we have data for the belief in Jesus. So, I mean, that’s a little bit heady for what most people…. But the people are saying, “Why should I do this?” Well, I guess the real simple question is: do you want eternal life? Because here’s the one who was there who says you can share it. And you can have your own ideas about what eternal life is or isn’t, but if you bypass the only person who’s been there, that’s not a real smart move if we’re trying to figure out, you know, how do I live forever.
Ankerberg: Okay, bring it to yourself.
Habermas: For myself in 1995 my wife of 23 years had the flu. And it really was the flu, but it didn’t go away. And we had to make a couple of trips to the hospital and make sure it’s not going into her lungs; she’s not getting pneumonia. And on one of these checks someone said, “This stuff isn’t looking real well.” And the local doctors couldn’t tell us what was going on, so they sent us up to the University of Virginia, which in our neck of the woods, that’s the research hospital.
And this is important to me; it’s a biographical note. We went up the day after Easter 1995. Two days after Easter I found out my wife was terminally ill. So here’s the resurrection juxtaposed with the worse thing I could ever possibly hear in my life. She’s my best friend. You know, I told my closest friends later, the worst possible thing has come upon me. God’s good, but the worst possible thing has come upon me.
And I was told that day, two days after Easter, that she was terminally ill: Stage 4 stomach cancer. We got home the first week in May, 1995, and just about the first week, August 9, same year, we buried my wife. With stomach cancer.
And I realized, while her daily progression…. I mean, she was of very small stature anyway, but watching her lose half her body weight. And this is the person I love. And it was so incredibly hard. Four children; they’re all home, the youngest is only 9. My wife was only 43. They’re asking the same questions: Why mom, why this, why now? And I had to go through this and answer some of these things for myself.
But I think what was most important to me was realizing that if Jesus is alive, not just in 30 AD, but in 1995—as Darrell said a few moments ago, He’s alive today—well, then resurrection is a timeless message. In fact, it’s exactly the message I want. And I still to this day don’t know why my wife died. But I pictured the Lord; I used to go out and sit on my front porch with a baby monitor next to me because she was sleeping. And I pictured God talking to me and asking me, “What kind of a world is this?” And I’m saying “Well, it’s a world where You raised Your Son from the dead.” I said, “But I really want to know why Debbie’s dying up there. You know, why is she dying?”
And I think what I pictured Him saying to me was, “You know something? I know what you’re talking about. I watched My Son die.” And I went “Oh!” Yeah, I’ve spent my whole life studying this. Yeah, I know He did. He said “Now, Gary, I’m not going to tell you why your wife died, but you know I answered His prayer.” And I’m thinking—I don’t want to let this show on my face—but I don’t call dying by crucifixion an answer to your prayer. And the Lord said, “Yeah, I raised Him on Sunday morning.” And then I thought, wow! “Are You telling me my wife has to die? You’re telling me she’s going to die and that’s how she gets her prayer answered?”
And to this day I don’t know why she died, but Scripture says twice in Hebrews, Hebrews says, “The Son of God learned obedience by the things He suffered.” So I just started asking, “Why not me? Why shouldn’t I learn obedience by my suffering?” And earlier, Hebrews 2, we’re told that Jesus was completed through His suffering. Now, I would think, you know, am I going to learn faster than Jesus does, or do I not have to be completed by my suffering, but He had to be? I mean, who do I think I am?
And so I realized that suffering is really a part of life. It’s part of the gospel. It’s an indispensable part of the gospel. And I don’t know why the Lord took her, but I cannot think of any doctrine that would be closer to my heart than to say someday we’ll be with our loved ones, which is what Paul says many times, John says, Peter, Jesus, many times.
I’ll end with this. While my wife was dying I got a lot of cards, but the one that really moved me, I could not talk about it for a year after she died. But this card said, “What kind of a blessing will it be when you get to heaven and you get to walk hand-in-hand with your wife?” And I thought I was going to die when I read that card. It was just,… And I thought, if my faith does that for me, I have reasons to beat,… you know. What’s that going to do? And if that’s what God’s given me, I can wait. I don’t know why she’s died, but I do know there’s a heaven. I do know there’s an eternity. I can wait; because I’m sure God knows the answer. And if He would give it to me, I’d know the answer in one minute if He chose to give it. So it’s about trusting the Lord in everyday life. That’s what it amounts to, because Jesus is living. So that’s the point. The resurrection says He’s alive today, not just that He was alive back then.
Ankerberg: Darrell?
Bock: Well, I think what you’re hearing about is why Jesus has made a difference for so many people across so many centuries; not just Gary, but literally thousands of people, different kinds of cultures, different languages, different ethnicities. Because He is alive. He lives, not just at the side of heaven, but He sends His Spirit to reconnect us with the living God, to produce the reconciliation that is at the core of the gospel. The good news is that you can be reconnected to the living God and that you, being made in God’s image, can be reconnected to that image in fullness through what Jesus Christ has done. It’s a pretty good offer. It’s worth taking seriously. It’s worth embracing, because it changes lives. The one who killed Jesus didn’t stop Him, because that Jesus is alive.
Ankerberg: That’s why I think Christianity is spreading across the world even in our day: because it’s true. And, folks, I hope that this information will either bring you to the point where you say, “Jesus I want You to be my Savior, to forgive my sins. I want to be in relationship with You. Come into my life and change me,” and experience it for yourself.
And, guys, I want to just close by saying thank you for coming and giving this tremendous information. I think people here and across the world are going to say this is great, great stuff. They have learned a lot. I have learned a lot just in rereading all the books. And so I thank you for all the hours and hours of time that you’ve put into writing these books and researching these projects.
And, folks, I hope you’ll stay tuned right now. We’re going to tell you how you can get all of this information that you’ve been hearing, all of the different programs that we’ve done. Stay tuned and we’ll show you right now.


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