Most scholars accepts the basic facts of the resurrection

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Depiction of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus in a 6th century illuminated manuscript
For more information, see the Atheist Debates video on Minimal facts apologetics approach.

Gary Habermas, William Lane Craig and other apologists like making an argument that most scholars accepts the basic facts of the resurrection of Jesus. This is sometimes called the minimal facts approach. The minimal facts usually include: the crucifixion of Jesus, the burial of Jesus, the empty tomb, the apparent post-crucifixion sightings of Jesus, the conversion of Paul the Apostle, the renewed zeal of the disciples, and the early church preaching about the resurrection. This facts are then used to make a christological argument.

Even this basic list of claims is controversial, which undermines our confidence in the argument because it relies on an appeal to majority of Biblical scholars (appeal to authority). However, systemic biases in academia can mean that the majority can be wrong, including the significant number of Biblical scholars being Christians, or typically raised in a Christian influenced culture. The minority view, particularly when it is of significant size, cannot be dismissed by an appeal to majority. A significant minority of historians believe that Jesus didn't even exist or was a myth.[1] For this reason, even if we accept the rest of the argument, we cannot say the apologists' conclusion is certain.

The argument also incorrectly applies the minimal facts approach, which is one of selecting a less ambitious theory to explain the known facts. Apologists instead cherry pick the facts to explain, which is not a valid historical method.

Example arguments[edit]

"So I would favor taking a number of historical facts that are recognized and accepted by virtually all scholars, building up these data and showing how we can make our case, based on these few facts alone, rather than holding out for all of the New Testament."

Gary Habermas[2]

"Habermas has compiled a list of more than 2,200 sources in French, German, and English in which experts have written on the resurrection from 1975 to the present. He has identified minimal facts that are strongly evidenced and which are regarded as historical by a large majority of scholars, including skeptics. We try to come up with the best historical explanation to account for these facts. This is called the Minimal Facts Approach."

— Michael R. Licona

"[...]the majority of New Testament critics investigating the gospels in this way accept the central facts undergirding the resurrection of Jesus. I want to emphasize that I am not talking about evangelical or conservative scholars only, but about the broad spectrum of New Testament critics who teach at secular universities and non-evangelical seminaries. Amazing as it may seem, most of them have come to regard as historical the basic facts which support the resurrection of Jesus. [...] Now the question is: what is the best explanation of these four facts? Most sholars [sic] probably remain agnostic about this question. But the Christian can maintain that the hypothesis that best explains these facts is "God raised Jesus from the dead.""

William Lane Craig[3]

This is an argument from authority, which in this case is not necessarily a fallacy.

Counter arguments[edit]

The main argument against this claim is to go back to the evidence: the Bible is not a reliable historical source. We might also examine the biases among this scholars in coming to this conclusion, since we are told to rely on them as an authority.

"[Historians arguing for a historical Jesus] have routinely overstated what the evidence can actually prove, conflating conjectures with demonstrable facts almost a often as mythicists do, and they lack anything like a coherent methodology[...][4]"

Unreliability of the Bible[edit]

We can question if the belief of those people was justified or just based on rumors. Just because some Biblical figures were convinced, does not mean they were correct in their belief.[1]

Another problem with the minimal facts is that they are weak evidence for supernatural causes. A reasonable historical explanation for these facts would not conclude supernatural causation without very good evidence. Approaching a historical problem with a preconceived narrative, such as religious dogma, is not a good historical approach because of confirmation bias. Apologists have not even demonstrated that a supernatural explanation is even possible, let along plausible. [1] Most historians do not accept a supernatural event took place, which rather undermines the apologists' appeal to majority. In fact, given the overall lack of reliable evidence, we can conclude that no explanation can be accepted which also has a reasonable level of confidence. Exactly what occurred may be lost forever.

The "facts" might require multiple historical explanations and not a single cause. For example, some fact, some myth and some fabrication.[1]

Various other objections are raised such as Jesus didn't really die, the disciples lied or stole the body, vision hypothesis, lost body hypothesis, etc. Apologists attempt to address these points too (such as "would someone die for what they knew was a lie?"). Even if they do rebut all known natural explanations, that does not itself justify a supernatural explanation. Appealing to the supernatural without direct evidence that it exists is an argument from ignorance.[1]

"our only sources of potential evidence, the New Testament Easter traditions, fall far short of providing the kind of information necessary for establishing the resurrection hypothesis.[5]"
"In fact, when we compare [the evidence of the resurrection to that of Caesar crossed the Rubicon], we see that in four of the five proofs of an event's historicity, the resurrection has no evidence at all, and in the one proof that it does have, it has not the best, but the very worst kind of evidence--a handful of biased, uncritical, unscholarly, unknown, second-hand witnesses.[6]"

Cherry picking the evidence[edit]

The argument simply cherry picks facts that are convenient for apologetics and ignores the hard to explain "facts" and contradictions in the rest of the Bible. Simply limiting our view to the most accepted facts is not a valid historical method when other evidence of moderate confidence also is relevant to understanding history. Facts that do not support Christianity are arbitrarily excluded from consideration. Cherry picking facts that fit a narrative is the main method used by conspiracy theorists. The fact selection is largely based on confirmation bias of the apologist. [1]

"I only use data on which both of us agree. If you're not a Christian and you say 'I don't think we can know how many women were at the tomb' or 'I don't think we can know how many angels were at the tomb', I say 'ok, don't tell me what we don't know, tell me what we do know' because my method is to use common data.[7]"

Since the Gospels are similar to other mythical accounts in style and reported miracles, we can seriously question the reliability of the authors. The whole basis for the "minimal facts" could be fictional or mythical. However, the minimal facts approach excludes any evidence that might undermine their reliability.[1]

In fact, apologists abandoning the rest of the Bible in this context shows they know it has weak supporting evidence.

"[...] at the end of the day, [apologists] are not constructing a valid syllogism. They are constructing a conspiracy theory. Habermas, Licona and Craig have tried this approach; they are not stupid. And they are not merely beginning with a conclusion and fitting facts to it. They are beginning with a conclusion and fitting a method to it, such that it will support their forgone conclusion.[1]"

Minimal facts prove rather little[edit]

Main Article: Christological argument

If we hypothetically accept the argument, it still does not prove Jesus was divine or the rest of the Bible is correct. While a remarkable set of events, by themselves they don't lead to the conclusion apologists are seeking. Without other supporting evidence, the Christological argument is very weak.

Selected scholars as a reliable authority[edit]

"Most scholars accept"[edit]

The apologists claim that most scholars accept a set of propositions. Where is their evidence of that claim? Did they methodically survey academics? What was the criteria for being included in their survey?

The most prominent apologist answer to this is probably Gary Habermas in papers like What are Critical Scholars Saying? (2005).

"Since 1975, more than 1400 scholarly publications on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus have appeared. Over the last five years, I have tracked these texts, which were written in German, French, and English. Well over 100 subtopics are addressed in the literature, almost all of which I have examined in detail. [...] Most of the critical scholars are theologians or New Testament scholars, while a number of philosophers and historians, among other fields, are also included.[8]"

There is the first problem: biasing the survey to include those heavily involved in New Testament studies, rather than classical historians generally. Habermas is cherry picking those more likely to agree with his point of view. Those scholars that have realized that the Bible is not a reliable source are not as motivated to research this field. Therefore Bible scholars self select themselves based on belief.

Secondly, the study counted publications rather than scholars who accept the position. Habermas does not correct for publication bias. It could be a few scholars are producing the bulk of the publications.[9]

The argument claims that the minimal facts are accepted by 75% of skeptical scholars, but this threshold is completely arbitrary.[1] Also, 25% is a significant minority disagreeing with the alleged fact and they cannot be automatically discounted.[9]

"An important factor in this imbalance has been the fact that, traditionally, the great majority working in the field of New Testament research have been religious apologists, theologians, scholars who are products of divinity schools and university religion departments, not historians per se. To suggest that a certain amount of negative bias may be operating among that majority where the debate over an historical Jesus has been concerned, is simply to state the obvious.[10]"

Their jobs depend on accepting orthodoxy[edit]

David Fitzgerald pointed out that many scholars' jobs depend on accepting the conventional view of the resurrection. Many have to sign agreements not to question orthodoxy.[11][12]

Only scholars with Christian connections reach this conclusion[edit]

Only scholars that are Christian or are surrounded by Christian culture come to this conclusion. Therefore, it is culturally specific.

Apologists accept claims of miracles in Christian texts at face value but ignore the same claim in non-Christians contexts. They also accept religions texts by a small group as credible without any independent sources to corroborate them. For these reasons, this argument is not particularly reliable because their historical methods depend on special pleading.

Romans would not have allowed burial[edit]

Jesus was crucified by the Romans for being a potential rebel leader at a time they were concerned about unrest in the region. Being an enemy of the state, it is highly unlikely the Romans would have released the body of Jesus to burial.

However, Flavius Josephus claims:

"[the Idumeaens] proceeded to that degree of impiety, as to cast away their dead bodies without burial, although the Jews used to take so much care of the burial of men, that they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun.[13]"

Bart Ehrman argues that Josephus is talking about (at most) the release of bodies of common criminals during peacetime, not about enemies of the state (such as Jesus) or crucifixions during war time.[14][15]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 [1]
  2. [2]
  3. [3]
  4. Richard Carrier, On the Historicity of Jesus, 2014
  5. Robert Greg Cavin, "Is There Sufficient Historical Evidence to Establish the Resurrection of Jesus?" In Price, Robert M.; Lowder, Jeffrey Jay, eds. (2005). The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave. Amherst: Prometheus Books. p. 36. ISBN 1-59102-286-X.
  6. Richard Carrier, [4]
  7. [5]
  8. [6]
  9. 9.0 9.1 Richard Carrier, [7]
  10. Earl Doherty, The Jesus Puzzle: Was There No Historical Jesus?, April 1999
  11. [8]
  12. David Fitzgerald, Jesus: Mything in Action, 2017
  13. [9]
  14. [10]
  15. [11]