When it comes the fate of Jesus and determining if he rose from the dead, a historian employs a two step or stage process to uncover the relevant historical facts surrounding the fate of Jesus and then sifts through the various live explanations to determine the best explanation. It is somewhat a keen to being a detective. A detective gathers the clues (the established historical facts) and then solves the case (provides the best explanation for the historical facts).
ESTABLISHING THE HISTORICAL FACTS
There are four established historical facts or truths concerning the fate of Jesus that are widely accepted by critical scholars today. Here is a quick acronym to remember these four historical truths: BEAT.
B = Burial
E = Empty Tomb
A = Appearances of Christ
T = Transformation of the Disciples
Dr. Craig quickly covers these historical facts in this short video clip:
Analyzing what historical facts or truths exist must be done first before determining the best explanation or one will get ahead of themselves.
Burial – After Jesus died he was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in his tomb.
- the medical JAMA journal published an article titled “On the Physical Death of Jesus” which, no surprise, concluded that Jesus certainly died before he was removed from the cross.
- Roman soldiers are experts at killing and putting them to death.
- recorded in the early sources of 1 Corinthians 15:3-5
- Burial story part of the early source material of Mark, which is the oldest gospel.
- Joseph of Arimatheia not likely to be a invention by the earliest accounts.
- Burial story is simple and not embellished, thus unlikely to be a fabrication.
William Lane Craig examines the Christian claim that Jesus died and was buried:
Empty Tomb – Jesus’ tomb was found empty.
- Found in early source of Paul and Mark
- Narrative is simple and lacks legendary embellishment
Dr. Michael R. Licona of Houston Baptist University and author of The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, Michael R. Licona (IVP Academic, 2010) discusses evidence for the empty tomb:
“The Historicity of the Empty Tomb of Jesus” by William Lane Craig Reasonable Faith
Appearances of Christ – On multiple occasions and under various circumstances different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead.
- This historical fact is NOT stating that the appearances of Christ occurred because he rose from the dead, but that the people (both believers and unbelievers, individuals and groups of people) had some type of experience which they took as Jesus alive from the dead. The fact is not saying that Jesus did rise from the dead, but they had some type of experience. It could have been resurrection, vision, hallucination, or bereavement experience. Whatever the case the experience is historically certain which even skeptics of the resurrection like Gerd Ludemann even accept.
- Appearance narratives are early and from multiple sources:
- appearance to Peter recorded by Luke and Paul
- appearance to the twelve recorded by Luke, John, and Paul
- appearance to to the woman is attested by Matthew and John
- appearance to the 500 in Galilee recorded in Mark, Matthew, and John
Dr. Peter Williams, the Warden of Tyndale House in Cambridge, lists the variety of appearances of Jesus after his death:
Craig on the historicity of the appearances:
Transformation of the Disciples – The disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead despite every predisposition to the contrary.’
Here is what the disciples faced following Jesus’ crucifixion:
- Their leader is dead (political defeat)
- Their leader is a heretic (religious defeat)
- They are not expecting him to rise from the dead, b/c their hiding (eschatological defeat)
Nevertheless, the disciples suddenly came to believe that God raised Jesus from the dead they were willing to die for that belief.
This does not prove that Jesus rose from the dead, only that the disciples believed he did and were sincere in that belief.
Here is Craig again on what happened to the disciples that transformed them into avid witnesses for Christ:
THE BEST EXPLANATION
While there might be several explanations possible, we are looking for the best explanation. The best explanation will meet two conditions: Explanatory Scope and Explanatory Power.
Explanatory Scope: it must explain all the facts, not just one or some or the majority
Explanatory Power: it must explain each fact adequately, not just superficially or in an ad hoc (i.e.-contrived) manner
Some possible explanations for the four historical facts of the burial, the empty tomb, the appearances of Christ, and the transformation of the disciples could be:
1. “Conspiracy” – disciples stole the body
problem – The transformation of the disciples?
2. “Lied” – disciples lied about the resurrection
problem – who would die for a lie they knew was a lie?
3. “Hallucination” – disciples hallucinated the resurrection
problem – The empty tomb?
4. “Wrong Tomb” – women went to the wrong tomb
problem – The tomb of Joseph of Arimathea?
5. “Resuscitation/Swoon” – Jesus survived the crucifixion
problem – The fatal torment?
Notice that each of these explanations (#1-5) lack either explanatory scope or explanatory power, but there is one more explanation:
6. “God Raised Jesus From the Dead”
solution – This explanation admits and explains each fact and each fact adequately. It has both explanatory scope and explanatory power. Therefore, it is the best explanation. Below is a chart detailing what facts explained (with a check mark) and which facts are not explained (empty):
“Jesus’ Resurrection” by William Lane Craig at Reasonablefaith.org
“The Case for Christ’s Resurrection” by Gary Habermas in To Everyone an Answer
“The Resurrection of Jesus” by William Lane Craig at Reasonablefaith.org
Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? William Lane Craig (Impact 360 Institute, 2014)
The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, Michael R. Licona (IVP Academic, 2010)
The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, by Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona (Kregel, 2004)
The Resurrection of God Incarnate, Richard Swinburne (Oxford Univ. Press, 2003)
The Resurrection of the Son of God, N. T. Wright (Fortress Press, 2003)
Here is a clip that uses what has come to be called “the minimal facts approach” originated by Gary Habermas and developed by Michael Licona:
Impact 360 Institute released this slick animated video explaining the facts and the best explanation of those facts:
Dr. Craig on the John Ankerberg Show summaries the four facts and the best explanation of those facts to demonstrate that God is the best explanation for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus: