Evidence for the Historical Jesus -Is the Jesus of History the Jesus of Faith?/Program 5

By: Dr. Gary Habermas; ©2000
12 historical facts that present a solid foundational basis for believing Jesus lived, claimed to be God, died on a cross and rose again.



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: A popular falsehood being promoted by the tiny percentage of liberal scholars in the Jesus Seminar, is that there is very little historical evidence available to provide a strong basis for traditional Christian beliefs about Jesus. But last week Dr. Gary Habermas listed 12 historical facts about Jesus’ life that are accepted by virtually all critical scholars and showed that the Jesus Seminar is wrong. Today we will examine the significance of those facts. My guest, Dr. Gary Habermas, was confronted by these very facts when he was a student at Michigan State working on his Ph.D., and they pulled him across the line from being a skeptic to becoming a Christian. He talks about the persuasiveness of these facts. Listen:
Habermas: Last program we ended with about a half dozen facts that I said, based on this material alone, we can argue that Jesus died and that He appeared after His death.
Just a personal note. The reason I think these facts are so important – at least in my life – is because I spent 10 years as a skeptic. I argued with Christians, actually argued with anybody who claimed to be religious at all. It might be a Jehovah’s Witness; might be a Mormon, but many times it was a Christian. And I kept rejecting their factual bases. I kept saying, “You don’t have data for that. That’s in the gospels. You don’t have data for this, you don’t have data for that.” I had studied religion at state university and I thought that way. And what these four facts say to me is, we can reduce our list, if you want, and Christians have a right to believe the gospels and so on. But for those who reject that, we need just a small basis and fact to show that the naturalistic theories have failed and that Christ has been raised from the dead. And I think that’s what these half dozen facts do.
Basically, here’s what we’re doing. We’re playing the method here the way the critics do, thinking the way they think, and saying, even treating the Bible as no more than an ancient book of literature, I mean, how can it be less than that? It’s ancient. It’s got pages in it and there’s words on the pages. I mean, that’s pretty basic. And treating the Bible as an ancient book of literature you still come up with these core or minimal facts, as I call them. And on this basis alone, we can refute the naturalistic theories and argue that Jesus was raised from the dead.
Ankerberg: Next, we are going to examine some of the 12 facts further. First, did Jesus actually die on a cross? In the Qur’an, Islam claims Jesus did not die on the cross; something else happened. Further, naturalistic scholars claim Jesus did not die on the cross, He just fainted or swooned. Now, the problem with these theories is that the historical facts of Jesus’ death will not allow such interpretations. Dr. Gary Habermas explains why. Listen:
Habermas: Now, the very first fact on this list is that Jesus died. Why do scholars today rarely question the death of Jesus? Why do the founders of the Jesus Seminar, for example, those who’ve written on the subject, why do John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg say that the fact that Jesus died is the surest fact we have in His career? Because the data are so strong.
Now, what are some of those? First of all, death by crucifixion is essentially death by asphyxiation. When you hang on a cross and the weight of your body pulls down on the intercostal pectoral and deltoid muscles around your lungs, you reach a state where, when the weight is dragging down on them, you can inhale, but you are increasingly unable to exhale until you reach a place of almost paralysis and you can’t exhale at all.
Actually in the 1950s an experiment was done in West Germany where male volunteers were asked to be tied to a 2-X-4. These males lost consciousness at a maximum of 12 minutes. Now, on the cross you can push up, if only on the nails or whatever, you can push up. And when you push up you relieve those muscles in your lungs. But when you pull down on them again, because you can’t stay up there for long, you pull down, and when you’re in a low position on a cross, you asphyxiate. The Roman historian did not have to have a degree in medicine. If the person is hanging low on the cross for any amount of time, let’s say 30 minutes, he’s dead.
Second, we’re told that they stabbed Jesus in the chest and blood and water came out. Someone says, “Well, that’s in the gospel of John and we’re not going to give that to you.”
Let me tell you something. In the ancient crucifixion accounts, there are a number of accounts of a coup de grace, a crushing blow, that’s done at the end of crucifixion to end the account. We have an account of a man whose skull was crushed to finish the process; a man who was threatened with a bow and arrow. We have two other cases outside of Jesus in the gospel of John where he was stabbed to make sure he was dead. And of course, we have what’s known as crucifragium in Latin, the breaking of the ankles so the person cannot push back up again. In all these cases, here’s what the executioner is saying: You’re not gettin’ down alive.
So reason number one: If you’re low on the cross, you’re dead. You’ve asphyxiated.
Number two: Deathblow. In the case of Jesus we’re told that it was spear that went into the chest. In the Journal of the American Medical Association just about 15 years ago, we were told that Jesus’ death came from asphyxiation. The researchers said, including a pathologist from Mayo Clinic, they said that the spear entered His heart. How do you know? The water came from the sac surrounding the heart called the pericardium. So Jesus was dead. But if He wasn’t, the deathblow would have done it.
Third reason. Now, this gets a little bit gory and maybe you’re thinking, well, what have you done so far? But the third thing is called “sucking chest.” It’s a very well-known medical phenomenon. If you’re stabbed through the upper thoracic area and it goes through the lung, a living person, if you’re alive, there will be a sucking sound that comes through that hole. And guess what. You don’t have to be a medical doctor to know that if you’re making that sound, you’re alive. I had a student tell me just today that he shot a deer through the chest. And when he walked up to it it was making that noise. And he put his gun up to shoot it again and the noise stopped – the animal died.
So if He was stabbed in the chest and it didn’t go through the heart, we would know because of the sucking chest syndrome.
So these are some of the reasons to believe that crucifixion is lethal. Asphyxiation, heart wound, and if it only went through the chest you would have the sucking chest.
Now, having said these things, none of these are the historical reason, the chief reason, for believing that Jesus did not fake death. In 1935, a German liberal named David Strauss, he wrote a Life of Jesus. And he was so liberal that he was pensioned off from his very liberal university and told to just quit teaching. He was pensioned off for life because of his highly critical view of Jesus. But here’s what he says in that famous writing criticizing those who believe that Jesus didn’t die. By the way, that was the most popular theory up until 1835 – that Jesus didn’t die.
He said: Here’s the problem with the swoon theory. It’s basically self-contradictory. Jesus should have died on the cross. Don’t worry about it. He didn’t.
Should have died in the tomb. Don’t worry about. He didn’t.
Wouldn’t have been able to roll the stone away. That took several men, He’d be rolling the stone uphill out of the little gully in front of the tomb. He was in a weak condition. Don’t worry about it. He rolled the stone away.
Walked, how long? I don’t know; quarter mile, blocks, to where the Disciples are, on feet that were pierced by nails.
And Strauss said, and you think all of these are problems? It’s not the chief problem. Here’s the chief problem with saying Jesus didn’t die. He comes to the door where the Disciples are [and knocks]. And when they come to the door, what’s He going to look like? What’s He looking like? He’s pale. He’s sweating. The side wound has opened up again. He’s hunched over. He’s not even washed His hair. Sweat, blood have caked His hair. He’s limping. And He says, “Fellows, I told you I would rise again from the dead.”
Strauss says, watch what happens here. He’s alive, yes. Raised, no. Here’s what they would do. Peter, give Him your chair. Andrew, go get some water. John, go get a doctor. They’d say, “Thank the Lord, He was healed” or “He’s getting healed” or “He’s alive.” But they wouldn’t say, “Thank the Lord, He’s going to be raised.” And so don’t expect to see Phillip over in the corner saying, as the New Testament says, “Oh boy! Someday I’m going to have a resurrection body just like His.” No thanks. Thanks, I will keep the body I have. Let Jesus keep the body He has.
Now, that’s Strauss’ point. Here’s what “swoon” says, and we often miss this: alive, yes; raised, no. What’s the problem? If the Disciples don’t at least believe He’s raised, you have no cause for the New Testament Church; no cause for really preaching. They have to at least believe He’s been raised. The swoon theory doesn’t give that to you.
Conclusion: Asphyxiation, heart, chest, Strauss’ critique. You’ve got many other problems. What do you do with Paul? What do you do with James? How were they convinced to join the crowd here? The conclusion assuredly is that Jesus died on the cross due to Roman crucifixion.
Ankerberg: Now, I also asked Dr. Habermas to say a word about Hugh Schonfeld’s book, The Passover Plot, which claims Jesus was given drugs while on the cross and just appeared to die. Here’s Dr. Habermas’ response:
Habermas: Now, what happens when we apply this to a book like the 1965 bestseller, The Passover Plot? The author suggested that Jesus did not die on the cross. By the way, a lot of people don’t remember this, but he said, “This is only a suggestion. I’m not saying this really happened.”
But he said, “What if Jesus didn’t die on the cross?” Well, he runs up against asphyxiation. He runs up against heart. He runs up against chest. He runs up against Strauss’ critique. And so the swoon theory in The Passover Plot was largely ignored by critics. In fact, it got put on a lot of lists by scholars that, you know, “Don’t take this as our work,” because the point is, you can’t rule out this material in that manner.
In fact, let me tell you this. After David Strauss’ critique in 1835, Albert Schweitzer’s famous book on The Quest of the Historical Jesus, he lists no scholars who hold the swoon theory after 1840. Historically speaking, Strauss’ critique alone, if you pardon the pun, Strauss’ critique alone killed the swoon theory.
Ankerberg: Dr. Gary Habermas is laying out 12 historical facts that are accepted by virtually all critical scholars today. The importance of these 12 facts is that they form a solid historical foundation for traditional Christian beliefs about Jesus, they repudiate the Jesus Seminar, and shoot down all naturalistic explanations which have attempted to explain away Jesus’ resurrection. The next fact we’re going to look at is that Jesus was buried. Why is that so important? Listen:
Habermas: Now, for the believer for whom the death and resurrection of Jesus are crucially important, as Paul says “of first importance,” where do we go next?
Jesus died on the cross, as, by the way, even the Talmud tells us. And then we’re told, “He is buried.” Now, this is not questioned by a lot of people. It’s a pretty normal event: people who die are buried. But what is there to say in favor of the burial accounts as we learn of them in the New Testament?
First of all, although today critics are not so inclined to take the gospels as they are to take Paul, let’s just make the comment that all four gospels are agreed that the tomb where Jesus was buried was empty. Alright?
The critic responds, “I don’t like the gospels.” But let’s point out, number two, just because the critic doesn’t like the gospels, that does not explain the gospels away. What you need, number two, is evidence that He was buried somewhere else. And that’s the key. Evidence that He was buried somewhere else. There are no takers really. Why? There’s no early evidence that He was buried anywhere else. And you can say, “Maybe this, maybe that,” but let’s ask the unbeliever the same question, same type of data the Christian is asked for. Where’s your data to say that He wasn’t buried just like the gospels said?
Number three. A lot of folks have made the point that Joseph and Nicodemus, their names are difficult to explain in those burial stories unless they were the guys that did the burial. Why bring these names out of obscurity if they weren’t really the people? It makes sense of somebody who believes they are telling the right story.
Continuing, we have a few early texts. Now, we’ve mentioned these before: creeds. 1 Corinthians 15, remember, the triple hoti – and, and, and – argument. Paul says, “He died for our sins according to the scriptures, and He was buried, and He was raised, and He appeared.” [1 Cor. 15:3-5] Now, follow that sequence in this very early, non-Pauline, pre-Pauline text. If somebody is dead, buried, raised, and appeared, the strong implication is, the One that went down is the One that came up. You’ve got Paul saying there was a burial, but he’s going to go further than that. We’ll save that for a comment on the empty tomb. But the 1 Corinthians 15 passage says “buried” and there again you’ve that early evidence.
Another good argument is Acts 13:29. Why? Because some critical scholars are willing to grant that, as I said earlier, Acts 13 contains another of those little creedal passages, the abbreviated theology. And there in Acts 13:29 in this passage we’re told that He was buried.
So there are two textual, two early textual arguments. You’ve got the gospels. No evidence against Joseph and Nicodemus, you’ve got 1 Corinthians 15, Acts 13, and, lastly, Jerusalem was the last place you want to proclaim the burial if He has not been buried there. Because that’s the only place in the world it could be refuted. They can grab the body and say, “No. He’s not here, He’s over here.” Jerusalem is the last place to make that claim. So there’s a half dozen arguments to believe that what the gospels say about the burial and what Paul says at a very early date about burial is indeed true.
Ankerberg: The next fact we want to look at is the empty tomb. This, too, is a fact of history and it leads to the question: What happened to Jesus’ body? Dr. Habermas explains:
Habermas: Okay. Let’s move on to the next step. He died. He was buried. What happened in that tomb? Well, the Christian story says He was raised, but in between burial and raising we’re told the tomb was vacated. Jesus’ leaving left it alone. Is there any reason to believe that? Again, one of the first points we want to say is, all four gospels record the empty tomb. And here come the critics: “I told you, I don’t like the gospels!”
What do we have to back up those early gospel stories of the empty tomb? Let me give you three big evidences right off the bat:
Number one, the earliest witnesses to the empty tomb are women. Why is that important? Because if you’re making up a story, remember our Monday morning quarterbacking scenario, if you’re making up a story, putting the words back into the mouths of the earliest Christians sometime later, don’t use women for your first witnesses. Why? In the first century they were not allowed to testify in a court of law. They were not believed to be able to tell the truth. We’re actually told that. They couldn’t testify. So why do you take people who can’t go on the witness stand? It would be like making your chief witnesses little children. Why do you say, “There they are. The tomb’s empty. The women saw Him” unless, in fact, the women found the empty tomb first? Okay?
Second reason: The Jews believed the tomb was empty. Now, there’s a fact in history, there’s a method in history, rather, that says when your critic admits something, most likely it’s correct. If you can’t stand somebody and you say he’s this and that and this and that and this and that, but he is a brave person, chances are, he’s a brave person. And the Jews said the tomb is empty. Now, they thought the Disciples stole the body and nobody, virtually no reputable scholar, has held that theory for over 200 years because liars don’t make martyrs; you can’t explain the Disciples’ transformation and their honest belief. If they stole the body and lied, you have no explanation for James; you have no explanation for Paul. So that explanation does not make a lot of sense. But what are you left with? If the Disciples stole the body, according to the Jews, but that theory doesn’t really work, what you have is an empty tomb. What it seems like is that the Jewish leaders are making something up to…making an explanation to explain a fact: the body is gone.
Third argument. You have that early text I gave you a moment ago, 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. And Paul’s sequence, again, is: died for our sins, buried, raised, appeared. Now, when the same person dies, buried, raised, and appears, guess what? The body is not there. What’s gone down has come up. And there is a strong implication, in 1 Corinthians 15 you have an overt statement of the burial and you have a strong implication of the next step, the empty tomb.
We get those from other things in here, as I said. Again, Jerusalem; just like the burial, Jerusalem is the last place to proclaim the empty tomb because people could say, “Ah, boys, the tomb’s not empty,” and they could take you right back there.
Acts 13:29, another early creedal passage, says He was buried and the tomb was empty. So here’s another half dozen arguments but especially I like the women, I like the Jewish admittance of the empty tomb, and I like Paul’s creed in 1 Corinthians 15. That’s three real tough arguments that say, “You know what the gospels said, they have the ring of truth regarding the empty tomb.”
Ankerberg: Now, we’ve look at three historical facts about Jesus today: that He did die from crucifixion; He was buried, and His tomb was empty. Next week we will examine the fact that all of Jesus’ Disciples believed Jesus had appeared to them after they had seen Him crucified and buried. What explains this fact? Group hallucinations, visions? Or that Jesus really appeared? We’ll answer those questions next week. But now Dr. Habermas summarizes what we’ve seen today and its importance to you:
Habermas: Where are we going with all this? First, I said, the critics will give you probably a couple dozen facts. I’ve said, “That’s okay. I only want twelve.” For those who think twelve is too many, and believe me, that’s very few of the published authors who deal with this, I’ll just give you four. And I said that basis alone shows us that the One who died was the One who was raised. And in between these two events we have a burial and an empty tomb. I gave about a half dozen reasons to believe both.
The thing we haven’t said anything about yet is the appearances, and this is the chief evidence, by far. And the reason is, the critical community is willing to admit that the Disciples really thought they saw the risen Jesus, and this is the best evidence for the resurrection of all of them.

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