Gary R. Habermas & Michael R. Licona, “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus”

This is a good book, and an unusual one.  Its core idea is how to present a rather specific apologetic argument.  The first part lays out that argument in some detail, and the remainder focuses principally on responding to various objections.  Woven in throughout are pointers on effective, person-to-person evangelism.

Hence the book’s epigraph:  “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity” (Colossians 4:5).  Then, citing I Peter 3:15) in the introduction, the authors declare, “It is the objective of this book and software to equip you to do just that” (24).  The list of those endorsing the book, by the way, is impressive:  J.P. Moreland, Ben Witherington III, Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell, Norman Geisler, and Ron Tacelli.

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The authors recognize that an effective pitch must often be relatively brief and geared to evidence that nonbelievers will accept.  Thus, they propose a bare-bones “4+1” “minimal facts approach”:  (1) “Jesus’ Death by Crucifixion” (using Christian and non-Christian sources); (2) “Jesus’ Disciples Sincerely Believed He Rose from the Dead and Appeared to Them” (using New Testament and other early Christian sources); (3) “Conversion of the Church Persecutor Paul” (both his conversion and his suffering and martyrdom, again with New Testament and other early Christian  sources); (4) “Conversion of the Skeptic James” (conversion and martyrdom, with New Testament and other early Christian sources, and Josephus); plus “Empty Tomb” (direct New Testament evidence and other indirect evidence and logical argument).  The “minimal facts approach,” in turn, “considers only those data that are so strongly attested historically that they are granted by nearly every scholar who studies the subject, even the rather skeptical ones” (44, emphasis in original).

So the idea is that we have good, solid historical sources, with near-consensus acceptance by historians, for the proposition that Jesus died and lots of people credibly believed first-hand in his divinity and resurrection and were willing to suffer and die for that belief.  And we also have solid evidence, just a bit less broadly accepted (one of the authors (70, emphasis in original) found “roughly 75 percent of scholarship on the subject”), that the tomb in which Jesus had been laid was empty three days later.  It’s interesting, by the way, that the authors consider the post-death appearances by Jesus to be more probative than the empty tomb per se.  (I’ll note that it had always seemed to me that it would be hard to convince anyone of Jesus’ divinity without the New Testament, but this book seems to suggest that it might nonetheless be possible.)

The next two parts of the book, after the 4+1, address some opposing theories (e.g., the Gospels are just a legend, the witnesses were delusional, Jesus was an extraterrestrial, or there has to be a non-supernatural explanation for everything) and other hangups skeptics may have, with a penultimate chapter on good “People Skills” in evangelism.

There is a CD rom/software that comes with the book geared toward effective evangelism (19-20).  Re evangelism, see also pages 150, 190, 209-14 (interesting hypothetical evangelical dialogue), and 214-15 (“Roman Road”). This book has 218 pages of text but 352 pages in total.  There’s a 28-page appendix (“A Detailed Outline of Arguments”) that basically summarizes the book.   The notes and bibliography are also impressive.

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Some additional notes:

  • On the book’s key theme:  “Philosophers Peter Kraft and Ronald K. Tacelli write, ‘We believe Christ’s resurrection can be proved with at least as much certainty as any universally believed and well-documented fact in ancient history'” (254 n.22, quoting their book, Handbook of Christian Apologetics).  Relatedly, “It should be noted that Jewish writings of antiquity never denied the existence, miracles, and execution of Jesus” (257 n.12, citing John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew:  Rethinking the Historical Jesus). There’s a good discussion of ancient miracles at 296-98 n.22, the upshot of which is that they were neither commonly reported nor credulously accepted.
  • The authors importantly and correctly note (300 n.38) that there is a big difference in the evidential value of someone being willing to suffer and die for something that person has himself witnessed versus someone who is relying only on hearsay.   I’ve made the same point myself elsewhere on this blogsite (see here).  Likewise, the authors make the “it just takes one” point (144, emphasis in original) that I’ve made elsewhere on this blogsite  (see here):  “It takes a single justified example [of a miracle] to show that there is more to reality than the physical world.”
  • In concluding the discussion on whether Jesus was an extraterrestrial alien (131, endnotes omitted):

The required constraints for planet-star relationships themselves would eliminate 99.9 percent of all potential planets.  When additional constants are considered, the odds of the existence of a planet capable of sustaining life are 1:10[to the 25th power].  Since the total estimated number of planets in the universe is 10[to the 19th power], it seems that we would not expect life to exist on even one planet, much less any others.

There is good evidence that God exists.  Not only does the resurrection of Jesus provide strong evidence for the existence of God, but new understandings of complexity make recent arguments for an intelligent Designer of the universe very compelling.  Scientific discoveries made during the past thirty-five years [the book was published in 2004] in the fields of molecular biology and astrophysics have increased awareness of the intelligence behind creation.  In addition, many have found compelling the arguments for an eternal first Cause of everything.  Therefore, this interconnected account involving Jesus’ resurrection is better explained as God’s confirmation of his claims to divinity than an alien playing a cosmic joke.

  • I scribbled “good way to look at it” regarding this passage (174, endnotes omitted):

Let us look briefly at two major arguments [intelligent design and first cause/Big Bang]  (other than Jesus’ resurrection) that are advanced by theists in support of the existence of God.  Antony Flew, regarded by many professional philosophers as one of the twentieth century’s most influential atheist philosophers, once stated the following regarding Jesus’ resurrection:  “Certainly given some beliefs about God, the occurrence of the resurrection does become enormously more likely.”  Why?  In Flew’s mind, the philosophy of naturalism … provides the major tension to Jesus’ resurrection.  Naturalism is true if God does not exist and false if he does.  If naturalism is false, then there would be no reason to dismiss Jesus’ resurrection since the evidence for this event is strong .  Therefore, although arguments for God’s existence are not necessary in order to establish Jesus’ resurrection, a strong case for God’s existence does render Jesus’ resurrection more likely, especially since the known facts strongly support it.

  • “[I]t may be that we currently live in the best of all possible worlds where free beings are involved” (173, with this endnote (327 n.3):  “This ‘Free Will Defense’ has been associated with philosopher Alvin Pantinga,” citing the latter’s God, Freedom and Evil).
  • The authors cite and quote a couple of my favorite books, namely Colin Hemer’s book on the historicity of Acts (262 n.29, 297 n.22) and Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ (301 n. 49 & 302 n.55).

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Finally, the whole book appears to be online here: https://pubhtml5.com/uoyb/nqgf/basic/51-100