Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Empty Tomb only Brought Confusion

Here are the 5 Minimal Facts of Jesus' resurrection.* This means the vast majority of scholars in this field agree to these, whether they are conservative or liberal scholars.
1) Jesus died on a Roman cross.
2) Jesus' disciples had experiences that they interpreted as his resurrection.
3) The enemy of the church, Paul, converted to becoming a follower of Jesus.
4) James, Jesus' brother, went from being a skeptic to a faithful leader in the church.
5) The tomb was empty on Easter morning.

One thing about the empty tomb to realize is that it was not the empty tomb that convinced Jesus' followers that he had risen. The first reaction to seeing the empty tomb on Sunday morning was confusion. In Luke 24, some women go to the tomb to put spices on Jesus' body. When they get there, they find the tomb empty. Verse 4 says, "While they were wondering about this," the angels show up to tell them about the resurrection. Why were they standing there wondering about the empty tomb? Because they did not expect it! 

Mark 16:3 adds the detail that the women were discussing the problem of who was going to move the stone for them so they could anoint the body. They did not expect the tomb to be empty.

In John 20 Mary Magdalene is crying because she is upset that she says someone has taken the body, and Mary doesn't know where the body was taken. Mary did not expect the empty tomb.

It was not the empty tomb that convince the early followers of Jesus of the resurrection. On the contrary, it was when they met Jesus that they were convinced. It was Minimal Fact #2 that caused the disciples to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, not Minimal Fact #5.

The Apostle Paul, for instance, may not have even seen the empty tomb at all. The tomb being empty did not convince him. It was the resurrection appearance of Jesus to him that changed him.

*Adapted from The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, by Habermas & Licona.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Minimal Fact #5 of Jesus' Resurrection:*

The tomb was empty.

There are slightly fewer scholars that accept this "minimal fact." Whereas the first 4 are agreed upon by well over 90% of conservative and liberal Bible scholars, only about 75% of scholars agree to the fact of the empty tomb according to Dr. Gary Habermas, the Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Dept. of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University.

Here's the basic evidence that the tomb was empty on Easter morning:
1) Jerusalem. The crucifixion and death of Jesus happened in Jerusalem. Later, his disciples proclaimed Jesus' resurrection in Jerusalem. That means that if his enemies wanted to put a stop to this, they could have just hiked over to the tomb, gotten his body, and put an end to this new "way." The tomb was empty or Jesus' enemies surely would have squashed this early and often. It is significant that Christianity first sprang up in the very city where the events took place, NOT in some far away city where the empty tomb could not be falsified.

2) Enemy support. This means that there is evidence in Scripture that Jesus' enemies indirectly confirmed that the tomb was empty. Read this from Matthew 28:12-13, "When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’" Instead of leading the way to the tomb to point out a dead body, the priests told the soldiers that they were to say the body was stolen. There would be absolutely no need to make this story up if the body were in the tomb.

3) Women. The first witnesses to the empty tomb recorded in Scripture were women. In the first century AD in Palestine, the status of women was not what it is today. Here's a quotation from Josephus (Antiquities 4.8.15) that gives you a sense of the culture of the time: "But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex...since it is probable that they may not speak truth, either out of hope of gain, or fear of punishment." The testimony of women was not valued. So, if you were going to make up a story about a guy coming back to life, you wouldn't make women the first witnesses to that miracle in that culture. The Gospels probably record women as the first witnesses because...they really were the first witnesses and the authors are just being truthful. The role of women here is a little embarrassing in that culture, so why report it if it isn't true?

So most scholars agree that the tomb was empty. Most scholars also agree that:
1) Jesus died by crucifixion.
2) The disciples really believed that Jesus rose from the dead.
3) The skeptic, Paul, converted and became an apostle.
4) James, the skeptical brother of Jesus, converted and became an apostle.

These are the 5 minimal facts of that the vast majority of conservative and liberal scholars who work in this field agree to. 

Next time I'll discuss how the best explanation for these data.

*Adapted from The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, by Habermas & Licona.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Minimal Fact #4

Minimal Fact #4:*

James, the skeptic and brother of Jesus, converted to become a follower of Jesus.

Most scholars accept this fact because it is documented by several early sources. First, scholars agree that James was originally a skeptic. As the brother of Jesus (Mark 3:21,31;6:3-4; John 7:5), James did not origninally believe in his own brother as the Messiah. But something happened that changed him from skeptic to becoming not only a follower of Jesus, but a leader in the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:12-21; Gal 1:19). What would it take for you to believe that your very own brother was the long-awaited Messiah?

There are no sources that say exactly what it was that convinced James, but Paul records in 1 Corinthians 15:7 that Jesus appeared to James after being raised. Likely it was this post-resurrection appearance that would have contributed to James' conversion. Paul also mentions clearly in Galatians 1:19 that Paul met James in Jerusalem, and that James was both the Lord's brother and an apostle. Luke writes in Acts 15 that James played a leading role in the Jerusalem council that is mentioned there. This means that within just a couple of years after the resurrection, James went from being a skeptic to becoming a believer, an apostle and leader in the church.

Several ancient sources also record James' suffering and martyrdom. Scholars generally accept these sources, which include Josephus, Clement of Alexandria, and Hegesippus. What would it take for a confirmed skeptic like James to go from being an enemy of the church to becoming a leader in the church who was then killed for his convictions? Once again, people die all the time for mistaken beliefs. But nobody dies for what they know to be false. Nobody.

So we know at least that James believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. But he was there. James was Jesus' brother. That's powerful evidence.

Minimal Facts:
1) Jesus died by crucifixion.
2) Jesus' followers believed that Jesus rose from the dead.
3) The skeptic Paul converted to becoming an apostle.
4) James, the brother of Jesus, went from being a skeptic to being an apostle and leader of the church.

Next up: The fifth and final Minimal Fact.

*Adapted from The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, by Habermas & Licona.