Evidence for the Historical Jesus -Is the Jesus of History the Jesus of Faith?/Program 4

By: Dr. Gary Habermas; ©2000
Is There Strong Historical Basis for Believing Jesus Rose From the Dead?



Dr. John Ankerberg: The search for the historical Jesus is a hot topic in both popular and academic circles today and has drawn a lot of attention from national magazines, such as Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report. Further, the media has given an undue amount of attention to the outlandish statements of the Jesus Seminar, a self-selected liberal group representing a very small percentage of New Testament scholarship. Today we will address the questions surrounding the debate over the historical Jesus and show there are a significant number of historical facts about Jesus in secular and non-New Testament sources which prove that the Jesus of history is the same Jesus of the Christian faith.

My guest is world-class philosopher Dr. Gary Habermas, author of the book, The Historical Jesus. He received his Ph.D. from Michigan State University, and a second doctorate from Emmanuel College in Oxford, England. Dr. Habermas is chairman of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University and has written more than 100 articles on the life of Jesus which have appeared in scholarly journals. Join us for this edition of The John Ankerberg Show and learn why Jesus is one of the most historically verified lives of ancient times.

Ankerberg: Welcome. Today we’re going to examine three things. First, how has modern scholarship changed its ideas about Jesus as it has examined His life? Is there still a strong historical basis for believing Jesus claimed to be God and rose from the dead? Second, we’re going to talk about the main question that is in the background of all historical study about Jesus, namely, what about the miracles found in the New Testament? Can a twentieth century historian conclude that they really happened? Then third, we’re going to look at 12 historical facts that are accepted by virtually all critical scholars today that present a solid foundational basis for believing Jesus lived, claimed to be God, died on a cross and rose again.
But first, how has modern scholarship changed its ideas about Jesus as they have examined His life? Dr. Gary Habermas explains:
Habermas: Primarily New Testament scholars speak today of three periods in which the investigation of the Historical Jesus flourished. [1.] The classical period. Now, there are some prototypes. You can go back to English deism; you can go to German rationalism like Reimarus. But the prototypical, the heyday of “Lives of Jesus,” were during the liberal period, what’s called “Old Liberalism,” “German Liberalism.” Really, oftentimes it’s the philosophical side of German idealism coming out into theology. And what happens for over a hundred years is that everybody has a “life of Jesus.” In fact, a lot of these books are just called Life of Jesus. And the liberal presupposition, the most – just to give a general overview here – is, we can basically use the gospels as historical, minus two big “no-no’s.” One is, dogmatic theology – don’t say Jesus was the Son of God, rose from the dead. We don’t like miracles. We don’t like dogmatic theology and this confirmation kind of argument. And they didn’t like to talk about the supernatural. So they want the gospels, what they would just call, “Give me just the history. Take the theology out, dogmatic theology. Take the miracles out. What’s left? That’s Historical Jesus.
Now, for a little over a hundred years that was what was called “The Quest for Historical Jesus.” Albert Schweitzer’s famous book just after the turn of the century lined all those early liberals up, say, like David Strauss. Now, David Strauss was a forerunner to Rudolf Bultmann.
[2.] After “The First Quest,” you have what some people call a “no-Quest period.” Rudolf Bultmann, Karl Barth. And they did not think we should be going after the Historical Jesus because faith is sufficient. Faith is not based on history. Apologetics is anathema. So, you’ve got a classical liberal period – German Liberalism, “Life of Jesus”; followed by a “no-Quest period” – that’s the reigns of Barth and Bultmann. Barth comes on the scene 1916, 1918 with his famous Epistles to the Romans there right at the close of World War I. Bultmann becomes a big commodity, a hot commodity about 1940 and just a little after that with his essay, New Testament and Mythology. And up until about 1960 it’s not terribly popular to do any more Historical Jesus studies.
But in the 1950s, Ernst Kasemann, Gunther Bornkamm, James Robinson – students of Bultmann – said, “Now, wait a minute. We’re going a little too far here.” And in a couple of 1950s very important publications, like Gunther Bornkamm’s Jesus of Nazareth, they said, “Our mentor, Rudolf Bultmann, is going a little too far. Faith is not based on history,” they argued. “That’s true. But we do need a Historical Jesus or at least in part or we are doomed to let Him slip into the pages of legend. So we can say some things about the Historical Jesus.” But like their mentor, Bultmann, they didn’t think faith was based on history. That’s “The Second Quest for the Historical Jesus,” or what was called at the time, “The New Quest.” That was a short-lived movement.
[3.] What is being called now “The Third Quest for the Historical Jesus.” There are some forerunners in the 1970s, but in the 80s and 90s, we’re seeing an outpouring of books from every theological persuasion – far left, moderate, middle, right – and these books tell you what we can know about Jesus. Now, this is the most fragmented of the three periods. It takes us right up until the present. But this is what all the books from The Third Quest basically have in common. There’s a general agreement that Jesus is a very Jewish fellow and we want to look at Jesus against His Jewish background. Jewish anthropology is very important. Jewish sociology is very important. And they want to put Jesus as a man of His time back into the Jewish calendar, not the Gnostic calendar of Rudolf Bultmann.
But those are basically the three Quests: the nineteenth century, 100 years of “Lives of Jesus”; “The New Quest,” just a couple of decades; and now we’re into a couple of decades of “The Third Quest” and it’s going strong. This is arguably, the Historical Jesus, is arguably the hottest topic in theology today.
Ankerberg: Now, what about the miracles found in the New Testament? Is it possible for a twentieth century historian to come to the conclusion that Jesus really did perform miracles and really did rise from the dead? On this topic Dr. Habermas is an acknowledged expert who has debated the well-known philosopher Antony Flew on this topic, and written scores of scholarly articles. Listen:
Habermas: Now, this brings us to the question of miracles. The First Quest, put on the shelf. The Second Quest, really wasn’t interested. “The Third Quest,” the question of the miracles of Jesus at the present time are really a hot issue.
And miracles are divided into three categories: exorcisms, healing miracles, and nature miracles. And critics are fairly open to the fact that some things are really going on here. I mean, Jesus at least thought He healed people, and people at least thought He healed them. He really thought He cast out demons and those who thought they had demons really believed the demons left. I mean, they really work with the historical scenario here.
But what about the supernaturalness of the miracle? This is still on the outs with a lot of scholars. They don’t think this is a time when we can talk about God acting in history. But one of the things you want to say right off the bat here is that the assumption that says at the outset, “Come on! We’re modern. We can’t believe in miracles,” that’s not a way to approach something. This is an inductive world. This is a scientific world. We look at things according to the preponderance of facts. And if we look at data and it looks like something has occurred that may be miraculous, you’ve got to put the miraculous question on the back burner and at first just ask the historical question: What happened with the miracles? What happened with the resurrection? We don’t have to decide right now if God raised Jesus, but I think the way to start is to say, “What happened in time and space? Was there a man named Jesus? Did He die on a cross? And did His Disciples see Him again?”
Let’s not ask right now, “Is this an event caused by God?” What can historians say? They don’t have the tools, they will tell you, to talk about miracles.
But they do have the tools to say this man walked and talked in first century Palestine. Secondly, they have the tools to say He died on the cross, a victim of Roman crucifixion. They have the tools to say people believed they saw Him afterwards.
On the one hand I want to say miracles cannot be ruled out a priori. But on the other hand, I want to say, “Let’s first talk about what is good history and then we’ll ask the question, “Could any of these be miraculous.”
I think what I’m getting here is that historians do not have a choice but to take a line of facts in the direction that the data point us. If history says Jesus is thus and so, we have to be open to looking at that.
Now, what I meant there about the resurrection goes something like this: I want to know if a man named Jesus of Nazareth walked and talked on the earth about 25, 27, 28 AD. Okay, historians come in and say, “Oh, yes. Virtually nobody thinks that He didn’t live.” Rudolf Bultmann, by the way, said, “We are now at the mercy of those who doubt or deny that Jesus lived, walked, talked in history.”
So, the historian steps in and says, “Yep, I’ve got data for that. How about, He died?” Well, that’s not problem. Most people die. And historians say, “Let’s follow that path. Yep, it takes us to the cross. The Romans hung Jesus, they put Him on the cross, He died, and we can take that in history.”
Now, when you get to the resurrection, people start getting a little nervous here. But here’s the point I’m saying, let’s not ask the question, “Did God intervene and pull Him out of the tomb?” Let’s ask a much easier question, “Did Jesus of Nazareth, who walked and talked in Palestine, who was believed to have been crucified on the cross, did anybody claim to have seen Him alive after the cross? Did people walk and talk and touch Him?”
You know, C. S. Lewis says the miraculous part of an event is the initial aspect where it enters history. But after that, everything else is very normal.
For example, if Jesus multiplied loaves and fish for 5,000-plus people, once He did the miracle, the multiplication. Everybody ate, everybody was full, everybody got tired; that’s what happens after you eat. Then you get, you know, there’s some biological things going on here. That’s what happens; that’s what food does. The miracle is the multiplication, not the eating and all this.
With the resurrection accounts, we want to ask a simple question. Was there a man named Jesus, did He die on the cross, and did people claim to see Him afterwards? If so, why? Those are certainly claims that historians can get their fingers on. We have data there.
Ankerberg: Now, during these programs you have heard Dr. Habermas constantly refer to historical facts about Jesus that are accepted by virtually all critical scholars. What are they? I asked him to tell you what these 12 facts are and then why all scholars accept them as true. Listen:
Habermas: Now, the question here, obviously, is, what kind of data do we have? What are these “facts” that I keep referring to? Because some people are going to be screaming, now, saying, “There are no facts!”
Okay. What is our audience? Evangelicals are going to look at the New Testament text and say, “Facts are all over the place. Every time I read and find one, that’s a fact because I believe Scriptures are inspired.” Others will say, “No. It’s only a book of ancient literature.”
Now you have to ask the question, which are believable facts and which are not. Most scholars will give you a list of facts surrounding the events that Christians call the gospel: the trial, the death, the burial, the resurrection of Jesus. I think there are at least 12 facts, at least 12. I mean, the vast majority of scholars will give you more than these, but there are at least 12 facts that critical scholars admit. Virtually every scholar will admit virtually every one of these.
1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
2. He was buried. Nothing strange about these things. Most people die. Most people are buried.
3. His death caused the Disciples to despair and lose hope, believing His life had ended. What would you say if your best friend died and very suddenly?
4. Now, I admit this one is not as widely held, but many scholars believe that the tomb in which Jesus was buried was discovered to be empty just a few days later.
5. The Disciples had experiences – and I’ll say this the way that even the critics will be able to accept it, I think – the Disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus. They thought Jesus appeared to them.
6. Because of these experiences, they [the Disciples] were transformed from doubters. They were afraid of their own shadow, so to speak, and certainly afraid to identify themselves with Jesus, into bold proclaimers of His death and resurrection.
7. This message was the center of preaching in the early Church. Remember what Paul said: “Of first importance”: death, burial, resurrection of Jesus.
8. This message was especially proclaimed in the environs of Jerusalem where Jesus had died and was buried just shortly before.
9. As a result of this preaching, the Church was born and it grew.
10. Sunday became the primary day of worship. And that’s significant for Jewish believers.
11. James, who had been a skeptic, was converted to the faith when he also “believed” that he saw the resurrected Jesus.
12. A few years later, Paul was converted by an experience which he likewise “believed” to be the appearance of the risen Jesus.
What I’m saying is that with the exception of the empty tomb, virtually all critical scholars accept this list as historical, and most of them will even grant the empty tomb. And if you want to check some of the writings I’ve done on this, The Historical Jesus and some of the books by others, you can find lists of critical scholars who accept all of these things.
Now, you might say, “Now, wait a minute. Twelve, that’s not bad, but can we cut this list down? Can we get some more skeptics involved by being even more picky in what we take?
Alright, I’ll arbitrarily reduce this list to say four, five, six – somewhere in there. And if I were to reduce this list, I would say something like the following: 1) Jesus died due to crucifixion. 2) The Disciples had experiences that they believed were the appearance of the risen Jesus. 3) Their lives were transformed because of that. And later, 4) a man named Saul of Tarsus believed that he was converted to Jesus by an appearance, a personal appearance of the risen Jesus to him.
These are four tough facts that virtually anybody is going to give you. And I think that we can build a case for that central proclamation of the death and resurrection of Jesus based on just these four facts alone.
Ankerberg: Now, these are just 12 facts that are accepted by all critical scholars. Some skeptics will concede 20 or more. But Dr. Habermas believes you only need four to six of these facts to establish a strong historical basis for saying Jesus lived, died on a cross, and rose again from the dead. Listen as he explains:
Habermas: Now, we just got done listing four facts which I think are going to be admitted by the vast majority of critical scholars, folks in the middle and on the left hand side of the scale. We might add a couple of others in here: 5) the resurrection is the center of early Christian preaching; 6) what do you do with a fellow like James, the brother of Jesus. a skeptic who comes to Christ? The fact that the resurrection of Christ was proclaimed very early, as we said a few weeks ago in an earlier broadcast. What do you do with these facts?
Now, here’s my point. Some critics are going to give you a longer list. Some skeptics might give you 20. And I said, I don’t need 20. I only need 12. And for those who think, “Can you do it with any less than 12?” I’m saying I’ve got four, five, six, seven, somewhere right in there. And it’s an arbitrary number. Why? Because nobody, virtually nobody, gives you only those facts. But I’m saying I’m arbitrarily reducing the list to 12, and then to four, five, six. And here’s my contention. With these data and the data that modify these facts that are admitted by all, we have enough of a basis to say that Jesus died and that He was raised again from the dead. You can sort of take home the whole pie with just these facts.
Ankerberg: Now, here’s the bottom line for all the information we’ve given you today. If you just take four to six of these accepted historical facts about Jesus’ life, they will knock out and refute all of the naturalistic theories that have been proposed to explain away the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The facts show Jesus is God. Instead of running from Jesus, you should run to Him for forgiveness and eternal life. Dr. Habermas explains:
Habermas: With just these four, five, six, seven facts, just a small portion of what most critics will grant, this is what I’m saying occurs. With just those facts, I have the major refutations there of the naturalistic theories, the stories that say, “Well, what if Jesus wasn’t raised? What if what really happened was ____ (fill in the blank).” I’m saying that with just these approximately half dozen facts, you can refute all those major alternative hypotheses and at the same time have the very best evidences for the resurrection contained right in this list. And really, this list is shorter than almost any list of facts produced by critics. I mean, I’m really asking for less facts here than almost anybody would give me. And these facts, by the way, have two prerequisites. It’s not only that they are admitted by virtually all critical scholars; but second, they are individually attested by other data. So for the person who comes along and says, “I’m not going to give you any of your four. I’m just going to be belligerent with you. I’m not going to give you anything,” then with that person you build from the ground up. You start with zero and you tell him the evidence for one, two, three, four, five, six. You give him the evidence for each one of these. But the conclusion is, these facts alone give the major refutations of the naturalistic theories; and secondly, they provide the major evidences for the resurrection of Jesus.
Let me take a case in point here. Let’s pick not just some straw man and take some weakling theory, let’s take the hottest naturalistic theory in the nineteenth century. The hypothesis says that Jesus died, alright. But He didn’t really rise from the dead. The Disciples saw hallucinations. We know hallucinations are out there. That’s it right here, they saw hallucinations.
Looking only at this list, notice, number one, the Disciples had experiences that they believed to be appearances of the risen Jesus. Paul said these experiences occurred in groups. Hallucinations are not contagious. They don’t occur in groups.
Second, hallucinations are fairly rare. When you’re talking about groups of people, you’ve got hardheaded Peter, softhearted Mary, softhearted John. My point is, you’ve got different people, different times, different places. Paul says individual here, individual there; 500 out there. He appears at different places and it’s not likely – and I’m being very conservative there – that all these people would be just in the right frame of mind to see hallucinations.
Further, they were transformed. Hallucinations don’t transform. In fact, I know of a man who has done some research personally with hallucinations and what the people said was, “I changed my mind when my friend said, a.) These things don’t happen; and b.) We didn’t see them.” Guess what? That would apply to the resurrection above all. Dead men don’t rise. And we didn’t see Him. Unless they did. So the transformations show that they really believed what they taught.
And what about the Apostle Paul? He wouldn’t be in the right frame of mind to see a hallucination. I mean, the man was walking to Damascus, he says, to carry out threats against believers. Now, does that man want to see the resurrected Jesus?
And then you’ve got James, Jesus’ brother, an insider. What would you think if your brother were getting this kind of attention around the world? And James says, “I don’t believe.” He’s a skeptic. And critics usually admit that. But is James in the right frame of mind to see hallucinations? I don’t think so.
These are some of the problems, maybe a half dozen right there, that come from just that list, a short list of facts that we already gave.
Let’s try an illustration of what I’m talking about here. Let’s say we’re surrounded by a group of people and over on this side are the conservatives. They give me all the facts in the New Testament. Obviously Jesus was raised.
You get to the next group. They give you most of them. Jesus was raised.
You go over further and further over until you get to the left, and over here are people who say, “I’ll give you 10 or 12.”
I’m saying I’ll work with those 12. Or I’ll work with only four.
But for the person who says, “I’m going to give you zero facts,” you work up to each one of them. You give the data for each one. And the conclusion is, these facts alone refute the naturalistic theories on the one hand and provide the best evidences for the resurrection.

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