Thursday, March 14, 2013

1 Chron 12:32 report, 111: Gary Habermas on the evidence (and reasoning) that changed a generation of scholarship on Jesus . . . the minimal facts/content approach in the context of early creedal statements in the NT

As a beginning place, let us watch Gary Habermas at a recent conference:

Notice, the pivotal role of the sheer factual nature of the NT record of Jesus' crucifixion, and the impact of its aftermath, which launched the Christian Faith, Church and its global mission. No worldview that cannot stand up to the minimal facts so expressed, is truly viable, no matter how glib, how strident or how confident its adherents.

Let me clip, as a reminder:


>> The method, in a nutshell . . .  is:

The minimal facts method only uses sources which are multiply attested, and agreed to by a majority of scholars (ranging from atheist to conservative). This requires that they have one or more of the following criteria which are relevant to textual criticism:
    1. Multiple sources - If two or more sources attest to the same fact, it is more likely authentic
    2. Enemy attestation - If the writers enemies corroborate a given fact, it is more likely authentic
    3. Principle of embarrassment - If the text embarrasses the writer, it is more likely authentic
    4. Eyewitness testimony - First hand accounts are to be prefered
      Early testimony - an early account is more likely accurate than a later one
Having first established the well attested facts, the approach then argues that the best explanation of these agreed to facts is the resurrection of Jesus Christ . . . . [Source: "Minimal facts" From Apologetics Wiki. Full article: here. (Courtesy, Wayback Machine.)]

Why is that so?

The easiest answer is to simply list the facts that meet the above criteria and are accepted by a majority to an overwhelming majority of recent and current scholarship after centuries of intense debate:

1. Jesus died by crucifixion [--> which implies his historicity!].
2. He was buried.
3. His death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope.
4. The tomb was empty (the most contested).
5. The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus (the most important proof).
6. The disciples were transformed from doubters to bold proclaimers.
7. The resurrection was the central message.
8. They preached the message of Jesus’ resurrection in Jerusalem.
9. The Church was born and grew.
10. Orthodox Jews who believed in Christ made Sunday their primary day of worship.
11. James was converted to the faith when he saw the resurrected Jesus (James was a family skeptic).
12. Paul was converted to the faith (Paul was an outsider skeptic).
[Cf. Habermas' paper here and a broader more popular discussion here. NT Wright's papers here and here give a rich and deep background analysis. Here is a video of a pastoral presentation of a subset of the facts. Habermas presents the case as videos here and here, in two parts. Here is a video of a debate he had with Antony Flew.]
The list of facts is in some respects fairly obvious.

That a Messiah candidate was captured, tried and crucified -- as Gamaliel hinted at -- was effectively the death-knell for most such movements in Israel in the era of Roman control; to have to report such a fate was normally embarrassing and discrediting to the extreme in a shame-honour culture. The Jews of C1 Judaea wanted a victorious Greater David to defeat the Romans and usher in the day of ultimate triumph for Israel, not a crucified suffering servant.  In the cases where a movement continued, the near relatives took up the mantle. That is facts 1 - 3 right there. Facts 10 - 12 are notorious. While some (it looks like about 25% of the survey of scholarship, from what I have seen) reject no 4, in fact it is hard to see a message about a resurrection in C1 that did not imply that the body was living again, as Wright discusses here. Facts 5 - 9 are again, pretty clearly grounded.

So, the challenge is to explain this cluster or important subsets of it, without begging questions and without selective hyperskepticism. The old Deist objections (though sometimes renewed today) have deservedly fallen by the wayside. [Also, cf. ten video shorts on popular myths here.]
 We may briefly compare:

Match to four major credible facts regarding Jesus of Nazareth & his Passion
Overall score/20
Died by crucifixion
(under Pontius Pilate) at
c 30 AD
Was buried, tomb was found empty
Appeared to multiple disciples,
many of whom proclaimed
& suffered for their
Appeared to key
objectors who then became church leaders: James & Paul
Bodily Resurrection
Wrong tomb
Stolen body/fraud
Quran 4:155 -6: "They did not slay him, neither crucified him." 1 1 1 1 4
 "Jesus never existed" 1 1 1 1 4
 "Christianity as we know it was cooked up by Constantine and  others at Nicea, who censored/ distorted the original record" 1 1 1 1 4
"What we have today is 'Paulianity,' not the original teachings of Jesus and his disciples" 2 1 1 2 6
Christianity -- including the resurrection --  is a gradually emerging legend based on a real figure
Complete legend/pagan copycat (Greek, Persian, Egyptian, etc)

(I have given my scores above, based on reasoning that should be fairly obvious. As an exercise you may want to come up with your own scores on a 5 - 1 scale: 5 = v. good/ 4 = good/ 3 = fair/ 2 = poor/ 1 = v. poor, with explanations. Try out blends of the common skeptical theories to see how they would fare.)
 Laying a priori anti-supernaturalism aside as a patent case of worldview level question-begging closed mindedness, the above table shows that there are two serious candidates today, the resurrection as historically understood, or some version of a collective vision/hallucination that led to a sincere (but plainly mistaken) movement.

The latter of course runs into  the problem that such collective visions are not psychologically plausible as the cultural expectations of a resurrection would have been of a general one in the context of the obvious military triumph of Israel. Nor, does it explain the apparently missing body. Moreover, we know separately, that the culturally accepted alternative would have been individual prophetic visions of the exalted that on being shared would comfort the grieving that the departed rested with God. So, an ahead of time individual breakthrough resurrection -- even, one that may be accompanied by some straws in the wind of what is to come in fulness at the end -- is not part of the mental furniture of expectations in C1 Judaism.  Where, hallucinations and culturally induced visions are going to be rooted in such pre-existing mental "furniture."  

Where, also -- tellingly -- the women who bought spices and went to the tomb that morning plainly expected to find it occupied by a dead prophet, one unjustly judicially murdered as so many others had been.  (And if you doubt the account that reports how these women became the first to discover the tomb and to see the risen Messiah, consider how dismissive C1 Jews were to the testimony of "hysterical" -- that very word in English is rooted in the Greek for womb, hustera (reflecting a very old prejudice . . . ) -- women. Such an embarrassing point would only be admitted if the reporter was seeking to tell the full truth as best as he could, regardless of how poorly it would come across to his audience; a C1 audience, not a C21 one.)

The Easter event cuts across all reasonable cultural expectations, and obviously forced a much closer -- transforming -- look at messianic prophetic passages such as Isa 52 - 53 which plainly led to an aha moment.

Moreover, the visions suggestion also runs into the problem of the empty tomb; hence the skeptical resistance to that otherwise quite reasonable fact. 

(Remember, the NT record is that the women disciples who went to the tomb that first Easter Sunday morning to complete the burial rituals that had been hastily begun just before the Sabbath, on finding the grave open and the body missing at first thought the authorities had taken the body. These primary documents subsequently record the Sanhedrin's official talking point as that the disciples stole the body while the guards slept. Oops. The point of agreement is obvious: the body was missing, and neither group seemed to be responsible for it. [Cf below for more.])

You may think that this sort of balance of evidence should be well known and that educated, responsible and reasonable people would at minimum be willing to accept it as well-grounded that Jesus of Nazareth was a significant Galilean Jew and teacher who had clashes with the Jerusalem authorities which cost him his life. Whereupon, his followers then proclaimed to one and all across the eastern littoral of the Mediterranean and beyond over the next several decades, that Jesus was the prophesied Jewish Messiah, and that though shamefully (though unjustly) crucified -- blatantly true by the criterion of admitting an utterly embarrassing claim -- he was risen from death as Lord and eschatological Judge; until Nero would find it convenient to divert suspicion by falsely accusing Christians of setting fire to Rome in 64 AD.

But, sadly, that is not the case. 

What is driving that?

A glance at the table above will show that once we see the well-grounded facts in context, there is no contest on what best explains them. So, the issue is that one way or another, the credibility of these facts is being impugned and dismissed. Some do so by accepting an anti-supernaturalist prejudice [we KNOW miracles are impossible], often anchored in "Science sez." Others find some conspiracy theory or another, or imagine that a legend was copied from pagans and/or embellished on the far more modest "real" Jesus the Carpenter turned wandering amateur preacher, or the like.>>

So, coming out the starting gates, if you dismiss this weight and balance of evidence, you are already on the wrong foot. And, as we shall explore, that obtains for BOTH Islamic argument and the radical secularist skepticism of our day.

It is time, then, for a fresh, sober look at the evidence in light of its evident quality. END