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Minimal facts method

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The minimal facts method is a historical apologetic that makes the case for the supernatural resurrection of Jesus Christ. The minimal facts method is also called the minimal facts approach and was pioneered in the 1970's by the philosopher, historian and prominent Christian apologist Gary R. Habermas. It is considered within specifically historical apologetics as a scholarly approach to establish specific reliability in the Bible showing the central doctrine of Christianity as historical fact.[1]

Previous Methods

Over the last few centuries, there have been many different methods for accepting and rejecting various pieces of information about the historical Jesus Christ. Specifically starting around the 17th Century modern biblical scholarship started to form into what it is today.

Fictitious Lives of Jesus

During the 1700s, several secular scholars speculated about various things that the gospels are silent about. Karl Barhdt invented the theory that during Jesus' teenage and young adult years, he joined a group called the Essenes. This group helped him stage miracles and his death. Karl Venturini invented a similar theory, speculating that Joseph and Nicodemus noticed, when putting Jesus' body in the tomb, that Jesus was still alive, so the Essene group moved him out of the tomb later. Other scholars such as Gfrorere (1831-1838), Hennell (1838) and Salvator (1838) suggested the Essenes were involved in aspects of Jesus' ministry. None of these theories attracted attention and could add very little to serious historical studies.

Classical Period

During the 1900s, not as many people invented things about Jesus' life, but they ignored his deity and miracles. He was generally viewed as a moral man. During that time, Heinrich Paulus wrote that he accepted some of the gospels as historical, but also supplied naturalistic explanations for his miracles.

Anti-Historical Jesus

The anti-historical Jesus period started in 1918 when Barth's Epistle to Romans was published. Barth wrote that the historicity of Jesus didn't matter and that we should just have faith. Other scholars, such as David Strauss and Rudolf Bultmann, argued something completely different while also not emphasizing the historicity of Jesus; they came up with the idea that the gospels were purely mythological documents, with no historical basis. Rudolf Bultmann has a significant effect on some circles of scholarship for the first half of the twentieth-century.

R. Bultmann and K. Barth vigorously attacked the older liberal scholars who made an accurately reconstructed account of the life and personality of Jesus the very heart of the Christian message. For both Bultmann and Barth not the historical Jesus but the proclaimed Christ of the kerygma is central.[2]

New Quest for the Historical Jesus

In 1964, Ernst Kasemann argued that the Christian commitment at the time of Jesus requires the presence of at least some historical content. Gunther Borkaman disagreed and said that the Christian faith does not require historical basis, but he also conceded that we can still know some things about the life of Jesus. James Robinson came up with a new approach, saying that while the Christian faith does not require historical basis, the core teachings do. He claimed that we can only know that material in Jesus' life is authentic if it is not derived from primitive Christian teachings or Judaism. Other scholars criticized this, saying that since Jesus inspired the majority of Christian teachings, we cannot eliminate all of them.

Third Quest for the Historical Jesus

In modern times, scholars have put emphasis on anchoring Jesus in his own time. Many scholars have discussed the influences in the land of Palestine and there has also been much debate about recent archaeological findings, such as the Shroud of Turin. There are also some scholars that still favor a mythological approach to the gospels, such as the scholars from the Jesus Seminar.

The so-called Third Quest of the historical Jesus has been marked by a variety of portraits. Jesus has been depicted as a rabbi, a sage, a prophet, a philosopher (perhaps even a Cynic), a holy man and a Messiah. What lies behind these discrepancies is a lack of consensus about context and differing assessments of source materials.[3]

The many faces of Jesus created during the so-called third quest is characterized this way in The Historical Reliability of the Gospels;

Albert Schweitzer exposed the weakness of almost all these works: Jesus was being recreated in the image of their authors at the expense of objective scholarship.

...
Unfortunately Schweitzer fell into the same trap as he reinterpreted the gospels in view of his own commitment to ‘thoroughgoing eschatology’- the belief that Jesus thought that he would see the end of the age in his lifetime but died mistaken.’[4]

Facts and Method

The earliest primary sources come from 1 Corinthians 15 and Galatians 1 and 2. These books of the biblical canon are granted by a majority of critical scholars in the relevant fields and across the religious spectrum as written by Paul.[5] Within 1 Corinthians specifically it contains what is referred to as an Apostle creed (1 Cor. 15:3-8). Written by Paul approximately 55 AD or +25 years after the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ which can be assigned the date of 30 AD. This is considered by scholars to be one of the smallest chronological gaps from the writings of a historical event to the actual event itself when compared to other ancient literature. Rarely is the development of doctrine able to be traced so close to the actual day of formulation. Scholars (liberal and conservative) generally admit that Paul received the creed around 35 AD, just +5 or five years after 30 AD. There is also widespread agreement that the actual formation of the teachings about the creed go back even earlier formulated within as little as a year to a few months after the resurrection.[6]

The Pauline resurrection appearances creed outlined in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 describes Jesus' resurrection appearances. Listing Cephas and the twelve, including Peter and James, Jesus also appeared to groups of people and lastly Paul.

1Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. 1Corinthians 15:1-8 (NASB)

A critical exegesis of these verses show some important elements;

  • Paul is writing from material that he received prior. This is understood by his declaration of "...what I also received" in verse 1.
  • The style of the text is that of a creed because of the repetition of "... and that ..." followed by appearances from verse 4 to 7. These special formulations of phrases highlight the structure of a creed. This is thought to have happened in 35 AD.

Further biblical context demonstrates how Paul received what he wrote in the epistle to the Corinth church. According to Galatians 1 Paul goes to Arabia first before consulting with even the "apostles" (verse 17b). Then three years later, Paul writes, his trip to Jerusalem commenced and then being formally introduced with Cephas but only one other apostle, namely James. It is within this meeting in Jerusalem Paul is introduced the creed explained in 1 Corinthians 15.

18Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. 19But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord's brother. Galatians 1:18-19 (NASB)

Proper historiography of the resurrection of Christ is critical in forming a valid hypothesis. The chief (if not the only) historical data that can be utilized from exegesis according to the minimal facts method are those that pass two critical tests:

  1. The multiple attestation or multiple evidences criteria. Each historical fact or data must be multiply attested to by normal means, such as authenticity for example, preferably from more than one angle.
  2. Consensus of scholarship criteria. The majority of critical biblical and specifically New Testament scholars (Atheist, Agnostic, Christian and Jew) concede the probability of the particular historical saying or event being considered.[7]

Through exegesis and two tests historical facts are determined surrounding the resurrection of Christ. Gary Habermas has concluded that six core historical facts emerge after applying this rigorous academic methodology.

  1. Jesus died by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate.
  2. Jesus' tomb was empty.
  3. Jesus' disciples believed what they saw was the risen Jesus.
  4. The skeptic and persecutor of Christians, Paul, was converted to Christianity.
  5. The skeptic James was converted to Christianity.
  6. Early Christian belief and proclamation of the resurrection of Christ showing its centrality to Christianity.[8]

Fact (2) regarding the empty tomb, is accepted by approximately 75% of scholars. The minimal facts satisfy the multiple attestation criteria fully, and the consensus criteria ranges from 75% to as high as 95% agreement. The list may also be presented in a different form, that is usually;

  1. Jesus died by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate.
  2. Jesus' disciples believed what they saw was the risen Jesus.
  3. The skeptic and persecutor of Christians, Paul, was converted to Christianity.

In either presentation of the minimal facts they are considered historical bedrock which a strong resurrection hypothesis can be built upon. During this conclusive process the hypothesis articulated (what can be called historiography) must comply with the elements of a historical method of investigating past events better and fuller than other competing hypotheses.

Alternative hypotheses

Main Article: Natural theories

There are natural theories that critics attempt to correspond to the historical data forming a hypothesis. Knowing how natural or supernatural hypotheses account for the data is essential when forming coherent Christian apologetics. Critics claim that there is no way to posit a miracle event in history. Alternative explanations however are shown lacking not accounting for a historical method like the traditional resurrection hypothesis does. Because natural theories do not satisfy components of a historical method to varying degrees depending on the theory Christians conclude the supernatural resurrection hypothesis as the most coherent conclusion that fully accounts for the historical bedrock.

List of Scholars

Gary Habermas has compiled a list of scholars so that he has very accurate statistics. His list contains scholars who have written papers in English, French and German from 1975 to the present day. It is currently over 500 pages long and contains over 1400 texts on the death burial and resurrection of Jesus contained within over 100 subtopics. Due to the large amount of recent studies coming out, Gary Habermas has not published his list yet. He wants to be as complete as possible, so he has only released a summary of the statistics in an article.[9]

Gary Habermas' list is not limited to only Christian scholars. He says;

I have a large number of people from the atheist, the agnostics [and] the highly skeptical communities. The communities who would basically say anything from 'You can't say [that] Jesus was raised from the dead' all the way over to 'He was not and could not be raised from the dead'.[10]

Gary Habermas defines a scholar as someone who has a terminal degree, who has published peer reviewed work and preferably has a university post or teaches on the subject. He does make occasional exceptions if the scholar "proves" himself. For example, Richard Carrier or Robert Price, both atheists, were included in the list before they had PhDs because of their large amount of knowledge on the subject and publications. Gary Habermas says;

In other words, I'm not trying to block anyone out because they are 'too radical'.[10]

References

  1. A historical fact is what historians consider knowable history; they do not necessarily mean it to be a logical proof.
  2. Graham Stanton, Jesus of Nazareth in New Testament Preaching (Cambridge University Press 1974), pg. 2
  3. Craig A. Evans, The Cambridge Companion to Jesus (Cambridge University Press 2003), pg. 11
  4. Craig L. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (IVP Academic, 2nd Edition 2007), pg. 8
  5. Undisputed Pauline Epistles By Wikipedia
  6. Unbleivable Radio interview Gay Habermas, Part 3
  7. A Short Life of Gary R. Habermas - Academic Pursuits
  8. Recent Perspectives on the Reliability of the Gospels - The Minimal Facts Method By Gary Habermas. Christian Research Journal / vol. 28, no. 1, 2005
  9. Resurrection Research from 1975 to the Present: What are Critical Scholars Saying? By Gary Habermas. Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, 3.2 (2005), pp. 135-153
  10. 10.0 10.1 [1]Gary Habermas on The Infidel Guy show. They discuss the definition of a scholar

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