Full text of Gary Habermas’ talk titled ‘The Historical Evidence for Jesus’ Resurrection That Even Skeptics Believe’ which explores the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
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Gary Habermas – Christian apologist
A lot of things have happened in resurrection studies in the last 30 years. When I went to graduate school, middle ages, it was 1970s. If you talked about, I’ll pick a topic, if you talk about the empty tomb, there’d be a lot of snickering and nobody but evangelicals who’d published in that area would accept it.
If you talked about resurrection appearances of Jesus — Rudolf Bultmann died in 1976. He probably dominated, he and Karl Barth dominated a century of theology. Bultmann was a skeptic and people were still in his shadow when I was in grad school. And if you mentioned appearances, everybody would have laughed, seriously.
Today, the majority of New Testament scholars, theologians, historians, and philosophers who publish in the area believe in the empty tomb, almost two-thirds. And where in the 70s, if you talked about bodily appearances of Jesus, they’d say, yeah that’s nice, go back to your church and talk about it, but don’t do it on a university campus.
Today, bodily resurrection is the predominant view in the academy. Something has happened in 30-40 years. What’s going on? What caused the switch? Well, a lot of things, as we know, views change. But I was telling Keith coming in today that some of the latest folks who publish under the self-defined title of agnostic, skeptic, and they’re friends with the skeptical community. They’re often cited by skeptics. These are ‘their fellows.’
Here’s one, a prominent New Testament scholar, called himself a skeptic, and he says, ‘Yeah I don’t know what I do with this stuff.’ He says, ‘But one thing I’m sure of, the risen Jesus appeared to his followers after his death.’ Is that where skepticism is? How many skeptics have moved over from here? I mean on a grading scale from like A to F, you know, we’ll have the believers be the A’s and the skeptics be the D’s and F’s. What’s happened to move the D’s to C’s and C pluses and B minuses? You know, what’s going on?
Raymond Brown, shortly before his death, probably the most prominent New Testament scholar in America, said that the majority of contemporary theologians in all the state universities and everywhere else, the majority of theologians are conservative today. Again, what’s going on?
What I’m going to do is share some data with you. Let me introduce my METHODOLOGY here at the outset.
When I was at Michigan State, I did my dissertation on the Resurrection. Now, I was 24 when I started doing this, and I was really wet behind the ears, as they say. And I just kind of walked in where angels grew to tread. And I had my committee here, and there was a Jewish agnostic member of the history department on my committee, a philosopher on my committee, the chair of this particular program was on my committee, and a Greek Orthodox priest with two doctor’s degrees, and an agnostic that the dean assigns to your committee from a totally different area, in his words, to make sure four friends aren’t giving another friend a PhD.
So I had a mixed committee of people who were open to the Resurrection, and who wasn’t? Those who weren’t. And when the committee was over, they approved the topic. And then as I was walking away, the chair from the religion department said to me, ‘We don’t care if you do this topic, I mean we’re a classically liberal campus, so you can do anything you can evidence, but don’t try telling us the Resurrection happened because the Bible says so. Don’t try that.’
I hope you couldn’t see me, but I sort of felt like, like that. And then I said to him, as I said, wet behind the ears, I said to him, ‘How long does this thing have to be again?’ And he said, at least 200 pages. He said, maybe we’ll take 180, but we can’t, we can’t bend on that.
Well, it turned out to be 350 pages long. And I developed a method to get around his objection: Don’t tell us it happened because the Bible said so. And I’ve since come to call this the minimal facts method. By the way, my website is Gary Habermas.com. You can find lectures on this, on the method, and all over. Nothing’s for sale there. Anything you can use, you’re welcome to it.
And what I did was try to work in an area that says this. This little New Testament: If this book is inspired word of God, like a lot of Christians claim, well then Jesus was raised from the dead. If this book is not inspired, but it’s reliable, Jesus had been raised from the dead. But what if the skeptics are right, and it’s neither? It’s neither inspired nor reliable. And it’s a book of ancient literature, on the level with Homer or Plato.
I love Tom Wright, who makes the comment, ‘If you had lived a couple hundred years before Christ, Homer would have been your Old Testament, and Plato would have been your New Testament.’
Alright, so let’s say this is another book from that genre of Homer and Plato, and it’s not inspired. It’s not even reliable. My argument is: Jesus is still raised from the dead. We have enough data, in an unreliable book, if it is, to argue that Jesus was raised from the dead. Well, okay, great, go for it, but how do you pull that off?
Okay, what I’m going to do, in this lecture, is talk about the data that moved the F’s and the D pluses over to C plus and B minus. I’m going to talk about what has happened in the last 30 years, to make people, just to pick one thing, how we’ve gotten from the empty tomb was a joke, to the empty tomb is highly reliable.
What makes a historian like Michael Grant say that by normal historical methods, the tomb was empty? By normal historical methods, not employing any religious chicanery. What makes people say that the appearances of Jesus, that they’re a joke, or He appeared in some non-bodily way, to He appeared in a bodily way? What gets most scholars over here today?
There are even a number of skeptics, I mean, all-out skeptics, who don’t, they’re probably atheists, they don’t believe in God, they don’t believe in resurrections, but they believe the earliest Christian community taught bodily resurrection of Jesus. You couldn’t even get that out of people in the 70s.
Alright, so what I’m going to do, is I’m going to introduce a couple passages, tell you why skeptics are happy with these passages, and go from there and use some of the data. Now one of the most misunderstood things about contemporary scholarship, what did my professor mean when he said, that’s great, do your dissertation, but don’t tell us it happened because the Bible said it happened.
But if I were talking to him, or if he were to publish something on the resurrection, he would use the New Testament. Okay, with my grad students, there are very few things that are more difficult to get across than this difference. They think Christians, they think non-Christians think, the Bible’s a prejudice book, don’t use a period. And that’s not what skeptics think. If you don’t use the text, they will use the text. Why? They have different presuppositions, but they will only use passages that are well received on critical grounds for critical reasons. Their historical, the same way we do history, New Testament scholars will employ those reasons and apply them to the text. And they’ll say, the book as a whole is this or that, but these passages are reliable.
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