Evidence for the Historical Jesus -Is the Jesus of History the Jesus of Faith?/Program 6

By: Dr. Gary Habermas; ©2000
One of the most controversial facts of Jesus’ life–His appearing to His disciples.



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. In the last few weeks Dr. Gary Habermas has been presenting and documenting 12 historical facts that virtually all critical scholars today believe about Jesus. He has gone even further and stated that if you accept just four of these acknowledged facts, they will provide you with a solid, historical foundation for believing in the traditional view of Jesus. Today we will examine one of the most controversial facts of Jesus’ life: His appearing to His Disciples. This evidence confronted Dr. Habermas when he was a skeptic working on his Ph.D. at Michigan State University and led him to become a Christian. Listen:
Habermas: Last week I made the comment that I spent 10 years as a skeptic and I would argue with Christians and I would try to reduce their list. I would say, “You can’t know this” and “You can’t know this” and you can’t know this.” But certain facts stopped me cold. I ended up doing my Ph.D. dissertation at Michigan State University and it was on the resurrection of Christ. Michigan State University is not known as “Orthodox U.” They have some professors there that weren’t crazy about what I was saying, but they said, “It’s okay. Just don’t say it happened because the Bible said it happened.” I didn’t want to say that anyway because that wasn’t my opinion. So I came down to facts that evidenced the greatest event of all, the fact that Jesus appeared.
Now, how do we get there? To start with the appearances, let me start with a portion of that story that virtually everyone will admit. Reginald Fuller says, “This is the indisputable fact in the New Testament: the Disciples at least believe they saw the risen Jesus.”
Why is that true? Because whenever somebody willingly gives their life for something, a cause – it can be an ardent Communist; it can somebody who jumps on a grenade; it can be kamikaze pilots in World War II; it can be Muslim suicide truck drivers; it can be Jim Jones’ followers; David Koresh’s followers, or even the comet people who believe they are being taken away and they take the poison and lie down and die. What’s the key to each of these? We don’t understand a lot of these actions, but here’s what we say: They at least believed what they died for. Nothing else explains it. They believed the UFO was coming. They believed there was a UFO behind the comet. They believed their country was worth dying for. They believed their philosophy, perhaps Communism, was worth dying for. And it’s true of the Disciples. The only explanation is that they believed Jesus was raised from the dead. Rudolf Bultmann, in his seminal 1940 essay, New Testament and Mythology, said, and a secular historian can only say this: “The earliest followers believed they saw the risen Jesus.” And I’m saying, if you have that fact, you’ve got the key one. Everything else flows from there to the appearances of Jesus.
Ankerberg: Next, you’re probably saying, “I agree it’s an indisputable fact that the Disciples believed they saw Jesus, but how do you get from ‘they thought they saw Jesus’ to ‘they actually saw Him?’” As a skeptic, Dr. Habermas had to wrestle with this question himself. Here’s what he discovered.
Habermas: Now, as I said, I imagine a lot of people are listening are saying, “I’ll grant you that the Disciples believed they saw Jesus. How do you get from ‘thought they saw’ to ‘they saw’?”
And let me say in a nutshell, and let me give you an illustration of where I’m going, the fact that they thought they saw the risen Jesus is important for two reasons. Those half dozen facts I asked for and evidenced before, those facts tell me, number one, naturalistic theories don’t work. They believed they saw the risen Jesus. But some people say they saw hallucinations. We saw, using only those half dozen facts, hallucinations don’t work. So, on the one hand they thought they saw the risen Jesus. People make up “what ifs” scenarios. They don’t work. Naturalistic theories fail. But the reason, the second reason that they believed they saw Jesus turns into they saw Jesus was because those same half dozen facts that everybody admits includes a lot of good evidences that they really saw Him, like: their life was changed; it was a central proclamation; how do you get Paul onboard? how do you get James onboard? Every one of them agreed it was something they saw.
Now, let me tell you a little story that might help to drive this home. What does Christianity have that none of these other religions have? Jim Jones’ followers believed he was the messiah. They were wrong. David Koresh, likewise. Hale-Bopp comet people, they believed the UFO was coming for them. Anybody can be wrong about beliefs. Let me tell you something that was different about the Disciples. They didn’t just say Jesus was the Messiah and He was raised from the dead. Their central claim was, “We saw Him.” Paul said, “If Christ has not been raised from the dead,” after just giving a list of the appearances (1 Corinthians 15),” then our faith is vain.” [1 Cor. 15:14]
Now, I liken this to a common experience, say, shopping at Kroger. If we went to Kroger and I saw you last night, I might remember a conversation we had and said, “Remember, we were talking about the spinach?” Now, what if a bunch of our buddies happened to be there and we kept running into each other throughout the store and at one time, two of us saw you; one time, just me; another time, there are five of us. And let’s just say for a parallel here, on one occasion eleven or twelve saw you in Kroger’s. Now, that would be pretty hard for you to claim, “Ah, you didn’t see me in Kroger last night,” especially if I have the guys around me who said, “Oh, come on! We saw you in Kroger last night; Saw you singly, in twos and threes, and we saw you in a group.”
The Disciples were not only claiming, “I believe His claims that He is the Son of God. I believe God vindicated Him by raising Him. I believe He was raised.” Some of these claims don’t sound a lot different on the surface than what other people have believed. But the Disciples added something else: “I saw you. I touched you.” It was a mundane experience. “When you appeared, I was shocked. But once you appeared,” the gospels say He ate. He walked. He cooked a shore lunch. I mean, He’s doing normal things. And that’s the Kroger experience.
Now, what would happen if I saw you in Kroger and we saw you singly and in pairs and five and ten, and Paul said, “One time 500.” Well, that’s not going to work at Kroger, but the point is, when you see somebody there, you’re sure when you see in groups. But what if I was at your funeral last week? What if I was at your funeral last week and tonight I saw you in Kroger, and all my buddies saw you in Kroger, too? How much evidence would it take to convince somebody that we saw you? The more the merrier. Two heads are better than one. We have all kinds of sayings for this. But the point is, I could be convinced of two things: I saw a body in the casket. I even reached over and touched you and you were dead. I saw you at Kroger, and I don’t know how to explain this, but it’s a pretty mundane event: I saw you picking up food. I saw you walking, I saw you talking.
My point is, the Disciples didn’t just say, “I believe Jesus,” they said, “We saw Jesus.” And somehow, we have to do justice to that “We saw you” point. And like Lewis says, it’s the resurrection that is miraculous. The walking and talking and shore lunch and so on, those are normal events once you’ve been raised. And Kroger is a normal event. I saw you last week; I see you in Kroger today. You know what? I’ll remember that for the rest of my life. And every time I doubt, I’ll go to my buddies and they say, “Hey, we’re there with you. We saw you there.” And I think that is what we’re dealing with. Yes, the Disciples believed. They believed Jesus was raised. They believed He is the Messiah. But besides that, they’ve got a punch here that nobody else has: “I saw you at Kroger” and “We saw you in a group.” If my faith is based on seeing you at Kroger, I think it’s pretty firm. And that’s one reason the Disciples were so excited and so convinced that, “Seeing is believing.”
Ankerberg: Now, 250 years ago in his famous essay on miracles, David Hume said people don’t accept miracles because “the preponderance of evidence outweighs such events.” That is, we’ve all had a lot of experience that has led us to the conclusion that people who die don’t come back to life again. But what new evidence could make us change our minds? Was this new exceptional evidence given to Jesus’ Disciples? Dr. Gary Habermas says yes. Listen:
Habermas: A moment ago I used this Kroger illustration to say, you know, I could be really convinced of something mundane like I saw you at Kroger. You know, a friend of mine uses this example, turns it around a little bit, and it’s something like this. What if last week I was at a man’s funeral, and this week his son says to me, “I saw Dad last night.”
Here’s my first comment, “Yeah, right!” Alright, now he might convince me, “Hey, listen, I’m serious.”
And so now it dawns on me, notice the move here, he really believes this. Just like the Disciples. He really believes this. And I’m thinking, this could be more complicated. He could have seen a hallucination, but I can tick off reasons why this isn’t a hallucination.
And finally, let’s say, right while we’re talking, there’s his dad. And let’s say, there are checks and balances that I can argue, too, that something is going on. Now, here’s my point. David Hume argued about 250 years ago that in general, laws of nature show us that, for example, dead men don’t rise. I’m suggesting that in certain circumstances, we might know that miracles have occurred. Or in this case, we might see an argument that his man was raised from the dead. How would I know that? By a preponderance, by a piling on of evidences. My friend saw him. Hallucinations don’t work. Saw them together.
Now, what if we tell some of our buddies and ten of them see him? I’m saying, David Hume’s general point, dead men don’t rise, is overridden in a particular circumstance. Why? Because we have irrefutable evidence that this man was dead a week ago, and today I have evidence that I cannot explain away, singly and in groups, that he is alive. Facts add up until sometimes we have to throw out hypotheses that say these things are incredible.
And here’s what I would say. Well, they generally are, but this time, I think something is going on. I think I saw him. And I think that’s what’s going on with the Disciples and Jesus.
Now, going back to those half dozen facts. What do we have here that indicates that Jesus was raised? He’s dead. He’s asphyxiated. As Strauss said, coming back wouldn’t convince anybody of a resurrection anyway. Alright?
Secondly, we have people who are saying, “I saw the risen Jesus.”
Third, their life is transformed, not because of His teachings or some general euphoric whatever, but because they saw Him. Paul said of Christ, if He has not been raised, our faith is vain.
Fourth, you’ve got a person named Paul. He’s on his way to kill Christians. He’s not in the mood to see resurrected Jesuses around and here, boom! Jesus is in front of him. Strikes him down. He’s blind, according to the Book of Acts. Paul says himself in 1 Corinthians twice, “I saw the risen Jesus.”
What do you do with James, the insider, the family skeptic? And he meets the risen Jesus.
In each of these points, what I’m saying is, the probabilities begin to go up. And the general rule, Dead men don’t rise, is looking less and less likely in this instance only because it’s being outweighed by the facts.
We live based on probabilities all the time anyway. At this point you have to make a decision: Is it really true? Is this evidence? Can I conclusion not just that it probably happened, but can you reach a point where the evidence says, “Wow! He was raised”? I think you can. And what I’m suggesting is, that’s exactly what happened to the Disciples when they had evidence upon evidence, what Luke calls “many infallible proofs” in Acts 1:3.
Ankerberg: Next, a very important question for you personally. If you believe the historical facts about Jesus, does that make you a Christian? No. Well, then, what is faith? How does one become a Christian? Dr. Habermas answers these questions. Listen:
Habermas: Now, you know, at just about this time I can picture an objection from the other side. Christians are saying, “Whoa! This evidence is starting to look so good, what about faith? I mean, facts don’t get us into the Kingdom of God.” But faith is not a leap into nothingness. In the New Testament, without exception, faith is based on trustworthy data. Paul says, back to 1 Corinthians 15, I came and I preached to you the message, at least three things. Always present in the New Testament definition of the gospel: “deity of Christ, death, resurrection.” Paul said, “If you believe these things, you’re saved. You have eternal life.”
In Christianity there’s always content. We call that the gospel data: deity, death, resurrection of Jesus. But how do you get from gospel data to salvation? There’s something missing. Facts plus faith equals salvation. But that’s not accurate enough. In the New Testament, it’s not facts in which we place our faith. I love history, but New Testament faith is not placed in history, it’s placed in the Jesus of history. Or if you prefer, to get real exact here, Jesus of the gospel facts (deity, death, resurrection) plus faith = salvation.
Faith goes in the person of Jesus. You know, it’s sort of like marriage. I could be convinced that a woman is the best possible person for me. She’s good here, she’s good here, she’s good here. Everything. But you know, what? If I don’t say “I do,” we’re not married. I think that’s the New Testament picture. It’s an analogy but a decent New Testament picture of what faith in Jesus Christ is. We could be convinced that Jesus did this and He did this and He did this, and, oh yeah, He died for my sins, He was buried, He rose again from the dead. He’s even the Son of God. But in the New Testament, if I don’t say “I do,” if I don’t say “I trust Him,” if I don’t commit myself to Him, I’m not a Christian. And that I think is the key here as we’re coming down to what this means. The Jesus of the gospel facts, plus faith, equals salvation. And I think that’s Paul’s argument in the first few verses of 1 Corinthians 15.
Ankerberg: Gary Habermas said facts plus faith equals salvation. Let me ask you, have you transferred your trust from yourself to Jesus for your salvation? The historical facts about Jesus are the foundation for anyone’s faith commitment to Him. But the facts alone won’t save you. Only the Jesus of the facts will save you. Each one who has ever become a Christian has realized via the facts that Jesus is real. But then they’ve experientially come to Him in prayer and told Him that they are sinners and transferred all of their trust to Him. The Bible says all men and women are separated from God because we have broken His moral laws; we have sinned against Him.
Second, the Bible says when Jesus was on the cross, our sins were placed on Him and He died in our place. He took the punishment we deserve and could never repay and paid it in full. It’s His gift to us. Now if you will come to Jesus and admit you are a sinner, and ask Him to forgive you, He will do just that. You only need to say a prayer to Him and entrust yourself into His hands. He will make you a Christian; He will forgive your sins and give you the gift of eternal life.
The Bible says, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” [Acts 2:21] You say, “Don’t I have to work for it? Don’t I have to go to church first?” No. Eternal life is a gift. Paul says, “The wages of our sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” [Rom. 6:23] The Bible says God wants you to have His gift, the gift of eternal life, and there’s nothing you can do to earn it. That’s why it is a gift. And God will give you that gift the moment you place your trust in Jesus. All who have placed their trust in Jesus love Him. It’s out of our love for Jesus after we are saved that we want to serve Him, but we don’t serve Him to get saved.
Now let me see if I can illustrate faith. Picture yourself on a two-story building. A fire starts on the first floor and you rush up to the roof. There’s no way to escape. The fire trucks come and the firemen get out and bring a net. They look up at you and they say, “Jump.” You look down at the firemen and the net, and you say, “I can’t. I’m afraid.” The firemen say, “Don’t you trust us? Don’t you have faith?” You say, “Yeah, but it’s two stories up.” And they say, “Well, what choice do you have?” And you see the smoke and the flames coming up around you.
Now, just understanding the facts that those firemen can save you, will you be safe? No. Understanding facts won’t save you. It’s only when you step off of that building and you entrust yourself to those firemen and the net down below that you get saved. Some of you know the facts about Jesus, but you haven’t entrusted yourself to Him. You need to do that now.
But also, it’s not the amount of faith that saves you. Let’s say that you jumped off the building because you had faith and now you get about halfway down, and you notice the firemen don’t have a net, they’re just holding hands. What good is your faith then? Will faith save you if you have placed it in the wrong object, namely, a group of firemen that can’t save you? It’s not your faith that saves you. You better make sure that you’ve got real firemen and a real net down there first.
In terms of salvation, it’s not your faith that saves you but a real Jesus, who really did rise from the dead, the One who said He was God and can forgive your sins and give you eternal life. He’s the One you must place your faith in. Faith is really sticking your hand out to Jesus and saying, “I have nothing. Please give me your gift of eternal life.” He promises He will.
Right now, would you pray and by faith, place yourself into Jesus’ hands and trust Him to give you eternal life? You might say, “God, I know I’m a sinner. I know my sin has earned for me eternal separation from you. I believe Jesus died in my place when He died on the cross. I accept His death as the full payment for my sin. I accept Him as my Savior. Thank you for saving me, in Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.” If you prayed that prayer, the Bible says, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Others of you may be saying, “I just can’t do that yet.” If you delay trusting Christ for yourself, Dr. Habermas has this final word for you. Listen:
Habermas: Now, if you’re sitting there wondering, “Look, I don’t know. I’m a Hindu. I’m a Buddhist. I’m an agnostic. I’m an atheist.” Sure, you can walk away and not believe in Jesus, but you know what? I don’t think you can walk away and say there’s no data. I don’t think you can walk away and say there’s no facts. I really wonder if you want to try to shorten that list of six facts because we can argue to each one of them independently.
But do you know where all this is going? Paul says that it’s because of the resurrection that death has no sting. It’s because of the resurrection that the grave has no victory. Because of the resurrection of Jesus we have a shot at eternal life. But we need to say, as Paul said, “I do” to Jesus. It’s all in whether we make that commitment. You know, you may believe someone is right to you. If you don’t say “I do,” you’re not married. If you don’t say “I do” to Jesus, what do you have? You still haven’t accepted His teachings. “O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?” [1 Cor. 15:55] I leave you with the words of Jesus: “Because I live, ye shall live also.” [John 14:19]


Leave a Comment