Is the Resurrection of Jesus a Real Historical Event? – Fact 1

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Is the Resurrection of Jesus a Real Historical Event?

Last week I laid the groundwork for examining the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.  We’re going to be examining the evidence to help you in determining if it really happened.  I’m going to be presenting what’s known as the Minimal Facts Approach.  This approach was developed by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona. (For my Michigan readers, Gary got his Ph.D. at Michigan State.)

4-5 resurrection investigate

As I shared last week, the Minimal Facts Approach presents only those facts which are so strongly verified historically that they are accepted by nearly every scholar who studies the subject, even the rather skeptical ones.  It is presenting the case with the “lowest common denominator” of agreed-upon facts.  An advantage of this approach is that if you are sharing with someone who says, “I don’t  accept the Bible as the inspired Word of God.”  You can say, “That’s ok, you don’t have to to consider this evidence.  The evidence speaks for itself.”

Starting this week and in the coming weeks I will be presenting five minimal facts, or what Haberman and Licona call 4+1 facts.  This is because the first four are accepted by nearly every scholar and the fifth one is accepted by an impressive majority of scholars, though not by nearly all.  This week we begin with the first.

Fact 1 : Jesus Died By Crucifixion


Crucifixion was a common form of execution used by the Romans to punish members of the lower class, slaves, soldiers, the violently rebellious and traitors.  Crucifixion was an excruciatingly painful way to die.  In the first century BC, Cicero calls it the most horrendous torture.  Tacitus in the 2nd century calls it the “extreme penalty”.

So how historically certain is it that Jesus died by crucifixion?  Jesus’ execution by crucifixion is, of course, recorded in all four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  However a number of non-Christian sources report this as well.

The first century Jewish historian Josephus wrote, “When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified…”

Tacitus reports, “Nero fastened the guilt [of the burning of Rome] and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had it’s origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate.”

Lucian of Samosata, the second century Greek satirist, wrote, “The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day–the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account.”

Mara Bar-Serapion, the Syrian, wrote, “Or [what advantage came to] the Jews by the murder of their Wise King, seeing that from that very time their kingdom was driven away from them.”  While not specifically mentioning crucifixion, he does say that he was executed.

Finally, the Jewish Talmud reports that, “on the eve of the Passover Yeshu [Hebrew for Jesus] was hanged.”  Being hung on a tree was used to describe crucifixion.

So it seems clear that Jesus’ death by crucifixion is a historical fact supported by a good deal of evidence.

The highly critical Jesus Seminar scholar, John Dominic Crossan, who doesn’t accept a lot of what the Bible says about Jesus, however acknowledges,  “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be.”

So that’s the first building block in our case for the resurrection.  Come back next week as we build upon that with Fact 2, Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them.

Source: The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Habermas and Licona

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Posted on by Reasons for Hope 315 in Evidence for the Resurrection

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