Every apologist should be able to give a basic argument for the resurrection of Jesus.

One of my favorite arguments for the resurrection is the “Minimal Facts Approach” by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona. This argument is based on five historical facts surrounding the resurrection that are attested by the majority of scholars who study the subject.

The facts are:

  1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
  2. Jesus’ disciples believed that He rose and appeared to them.
  3. The church persecutor Paul was suddenly changed.
  4. The skeptic James, brother of Jesus, was suddenly changed.
  5. The tomb was empty.

Habermas and Licona then give several subpoints to defend each of the facts. When these minimal facts are granted, they argue that the best explanation is that Jesus rose from the dead.

Resurrection Simplified

Their argument is very short and simple, but can it be simplified even more? Professor and lawyer John Warwick Montgomery argues that the resurrection can be argued with only two points!

First, he defines a resurrection as simply “death followed by life.” He says,

“If Jesus was dead at point A, and alive again at point B, then resurrection has occurred…”

Usually someone is alive at point A and dead at point B. Jesus, however, died at point A and was alive again at point B.

Montgomery goes on to say that when we think of the categories of life and death, we can place a person in one category or the other based on obvious criteria. For example, if a man is eating fish, then he is alive, but if he was brutally scourged and crucified, then he is dead. Using similar criteria, we can investigate to see if Jesus really died and if He really lived after his death.

Based on this, one can argue for the resurrection with just the first two minimal facts:

  1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
  2. Jesus’ disciples believed that He rose and appeared to them.

The Resurrection in Everyday Conversations

If you are having a casual conversation with a friend, you may not be in a position to give out all five minimal facts and discuss each one. The first two facts alone are enough to start a conversation and give your friend something to chew on. Additionally, if you are going to defend the resurrection in everyday conversations, you are probably not going to be able to memorize long quotes by first century writers or modern scholars to support all five facts.

On the the other hand, you will probably have access to a Bible. Let’s look at a simple way to demonstrate these two facts using two passages in Scripture.

  1. Jesus Died by Crucifixion (Mark 15).

Mark’s Gospel is generally agreed to be the earliest Gospel (60-70 AD), which is around 30-40 years after Jesus’ death. Some scholars believe that Mark used a pre-Markan source for at least part of his passion narrative. Some scholars even date this pre-Markan source to the late 30’s.

Even if you deny the use of this pre-Markan source, Mark’s passion narrative is still our best historical resource for the events surrounding Jesus’ death because it’s our earliest source. Mark mentions many details about the passion event:

-Jesus was Scourged (15:15)

-Jesus was Further Beaten (15:17-19)

-Jesus Needed Help Carrying the Cross (15:21)

-Jesus was Crucified (15:24-25)

-Jesus Suffered Intense Agony (15:34)

-The Centurion Confirmed Jesus’ Death to Pilate (15:44-45)

-Jesus was Laid in a Tomb by Joseph of Arimathea (15:45-46)

-Women Followers of Jesus Knew the Location of Jesus’ Tomb (15:47)

There is a lot in this one chapter, so you probably wouldn’t have time to go through all of these points. We can minimize the list down to these three:

-Jesus was Crucified (15:24-25)

-The Centurion Confirmed Jesus’ Death to Pilate (15:44-45)

-Jesus was Laid in a Tomb by Joseph of Arimathea (15:45-46)

Even with only these three points, Mark’s Gospel gives us clear evidence that Jesus died by crucifixion.

  1. Jesus’ Disciples Believed That He Rose and Appeared to Them (1 Cor. 15:3b-5).

Of course, Jesus’ story doesn’t end with His death. His disciples later claimed to have experienced the risen Jesus after the crucifixion. What is the best evidence that we have for this?

Enter the Apostle Paul. Paul’s letters were written from the late 40’s to the 60’s, only a few decades after Jesus’ death. Some of Paul’s letters contain early creedal formulas that predate his writings! Possibly the earliest creed is in 1 Corinthians 15:3b-5. Here Paul says that he delivered the same tradition to the Corinthians that was first delivered to him:

“…that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,

that he was buried,

that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and

that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”

The creed says that Jesus was buried (presumably in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb), that he was resurrected on the third day, that he appeared to Peter (Cephas), and that he appeared to the twelve. The appearance to Peter is also attested in Luke 24:34 and the appearance to the twelve is also attested in Luke 24:36-43 and John 20:19-20.

Paul visited Peter and James a few years after his conversion (Gal. 1:18-19) and many scholars think that Paul received the creed during this time. This means that the creed probably goes back to within 5 years of Jesus crucifixion! Therefore we have good historical evidence for Jesus’ appearances to Peter and to the Twelve.

As a result, William Lane Craig concludes:

“Given the early date of Paul’s information as well as his personal acquaintance with the people involved, these appearances cannot be dismissed as mere legends.”

Two Facts=One Resurrection

In closing, a practical argument for Jesus’ resurrection can be made by presenting these two facts from Scripture. I pray that you can use this simplified version to defend the resurrection in everyday conversations.

Here is the argument in its simplest form:

  1. Jesus Died by Crucifixion (Mark 15).

a. Jesus was crucified (15:24-25).

b. The centurion confirmed Jesus’ death to Pilate (15:44-45).

c. Jesus was laid in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea (15:45-46).

  1. Jesus’ Disciples Believed That He Rose and Appeared to Them (1 Cor. 15:3b-5).

a. Paul cites a creed dated within 5 years of Jesus’ crucifixion.

b. Jesus appeared to Peter.

c. Jesus appeared to the Twelve.

We therefore agree with Paul that “in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (1 Cor. 15:20).


Sources:

Craig, William Lane. “Is There Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus? The Craig-Ehrman Debate | Reasonable Faith.” ReasonableFaith.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.

Montgomery, John Warwick. “The Jury Returns: A Juridical Defense of Christianity.” N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Since some will likely disregard any argument that begins and ends with the Bible if they don’t yet recognize it as the Word of God, I like to throw some historically confirmed info in the mix (and since the Bible is, among other things, a history book, it all lines up).

    For example: we can historically confirm the birth of Christianity and it’s growth line up with the timeline of Jesus’ death and resurrection. But if Jesus didn’t rise, here’s some questions that history makes hard to answer:
    -how could this faith not only survive, but spread like wildfire in Jerusalem, where every logical expectation would be for it to be stomped out? After all, Jerusalem is where Jesus was publicly crucified, so unless He rose, its odd that so many people who witnessed his death would buy into a faith that claims he did. In addition, Roman occupied Jerusalem was not a good place to start a faith like Christianity, because you have the Romans on one side, who would want to quell any faith that was contrary to theirs, and who wouldn’t appreciate a faith centered around the guy they just allowed the brutal torture and crucifixion of. On the other side are the Jewish leaders, who tried vehemently to crush this burgeoning faith even while Jesus was engaged in his earthly ministry. They weren’t exactly friendly then, and wouldn’t be friendly to Jesus being worshipped after his death. Of course, the Bible confirms all of this. So here’s the question: how could such a faith survive if it’s founders didn’t truly know and believe Jesus had risen? The opposition is too strong otherwise. Which leads us to point 2.
    -Countless followers of Jesus went on to be tortured and martyred for their faith, including the apostles. I don’t know about you, but if I’m teaching something I know I made up and it isn’t true, if people start beating me and then are about to execute me, I’d probably be all to eager to confess I lied just to get out of it. But none of Jesus’ disciples did recant. Why would they be willing to go through ostricization, suffering, and even death, for a lie? If they didn’t really see Jesus alive, if they just scurried away with the body and lied to people that he had risen, why die for it? At some point they’d have to realize the charade wasn’t worth what it was costing them. (And for those who entertain the ‘they stole the corpse and lied that he’d risen’ idea, explain to me how they moved a giant stone from the tomb door without waking the Roman guards, who’s very lives hung on guarding the tomb effectively. And the disciples were poor enough they couldn’t pay them off, even if bribes would have worked (can’t spend it when you’re executed for dereliction of duty, after all).
    Bottom line, nobody would die for something they knew was a lie they made up, let alone numerous some bodies.

    So essentially:
    -Christianity survived and grew starting in a locale where it should have died fast (if indeed it were false), and
    -Countless Christians gave all they had for this faith (money, social standing, comfort, health, even their lives), and they wouldn’t have gone through that for something they knew was a lie.

    Add to that that so many witnesses saw the risen Son of God, and that their accounts and indeed the whole of the Bible, written over centuries by a myriad of diverse and unconnected authors, agree with each other’s stories, and it’s pretty hard to ignore the validity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment! Yes, I agree that so much could be said and so much evidence could be presented for the Resurrection. The goal of the post was to give two simple points so that conversations could be started and then hopefully progress into the things that you mentioned. Good stuff my friend!

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