Credible Evidence for the Resurrection from a Credible Eyewitness

Excerpted from our series “The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection Even the Skeptics Believe” with Dr. Gary Habermas

Dr. John Ankerberg: Talk about the minimal facts about the resurrection we find in the New Testament. Where do you start?

Dr. Gary Habermas: Well, if I’m going to count them, I’m going to say (1) Jesus died by crucifixion—we’re going this way—(2) the disciples immediately had experiences that they believe were appearances of the risen Jesus; (3) they turned the world upside down, from here all the way down to John, they’re out there putting their lives on the line, being willing to die, sacrificing family, jobs, everything to preach. And then you have two skeptics: (4) A brother, James, who became the pastor of the largest church in the ancient world in Jerusalem; and (5) Paul who, on the way to Damascus, believed he,… he had an experience that he thought was an appearance of the risen Jesus. Those five. 

Now, the empty tomb doesn’t quite reach the level of acceptance I’m looking for, it’s pretty close. But if you throw empty tomb in here, there’s actually more historical arguments favoring the empty tomb—I have a list of over 20 of them—there’s more arguments for the empty tomb than there are for maybe any of the other ones. So I think the foundation is starting to look pretty good here.

Ankerberg: And you say you’re going to use two sources out of the New Testament that will prove your argument, and the skeptics will agree with this.

Habermas: Right. Because if you ask a critic, a critical scholar, “Who’s your favorite author,” it would be a real eyebrow raiser if anybody says anyone other than the apostle Paul.

Ankerberg: Why is he the darling of the skeptics?

Habermas: He’s the darling of the skeptics, here’s a couple of reasons. They don’t think we know the authors of the Gospels. That’s a whole other subject. But they say, first of all, we know who he is; we know his background; we know where he came from. We know that there are 13 books in the New Testament that bear his name, and seven of them, minimum, are authentic. 

What does authentic mean? Well, they’ll grant that Paul’s books are authentic in this sense: Were they inspired? No. Well, who was he? He’s a scholar. If you can believe the book of Acts he studied under Gamaliel, the best-known Jewish teacher. I think in terms of, Paul was probably a PhD in Old Testament. And we know he was sharp. And he’s the designate to go around and kind of stamp out Christianity, and, you know, doing a good job at it. 

But he’s honest. He could be wrong—this is the critics’ view—he could be wrong, but he’s not going to lie to you. He’s not going to mislead. And so we can trust what he says because it came from his heart. And so, he’s the person,… And of the 13 books that bear his name, seven of them are unanimously accepted. Now these seven, one interesting thing is they’re always the same seven. Bart Ehrman, the best-known New Testament skeptic, calls these “the undisputed Pauline epistles.” We’ve got undisputed heavyweight champion. Nobody’s going argue with you. Undisputed Pauline epistles. Use them. 

So back to my dissertation, if I wanted to use these seven books—Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippines, 1 Thessalonians and Philemon—if I want to use the text, use them. Doesn’t mean they’re inspired, but they mean they’re great sources. You go for it. And if you don’t use the sources with these guys, Bart Ehrman, Rudolf Bultmann, they will cite them back to you to prove a point. So it’s a good common ground to start with Paul’s material. And the two I would like to use would be 1 Corinthians 15 and the end of Galatians 1, beginning of Galatians 2; those two texts, which are two of the accepted seven undisputed epistles. 

So I’m going to show you how powerful just these two texts are. First of all, they’re Paul. So you’re with the top guy, top books, everybody recognizes them. We have Jesus dying in 30 AD; 1 Corinthians is written about 55—actually now the date’s starting to come back—it might be 53. That is only 23 years after the fact. 

Now in Galatians 1, Paul is going after Christians. And when he meets Jesus on the road to Damascus, the scholars place it either two or three years after the event. He said, “Three years later I went up to Jerusalem.” So you just let Paul do the math—he wouldn’t mislead—he comes to Jesus at two or three years; three years later—so we’re at plus five or plus six—he goes up to Jerusalem and spends 15 days with Peter, James the brother of Jesus, and Paul. That’s a huge meeting. Bart Ehrman says of that meeting, he says, “Paul spent 15 days with Peter and James.” Pause. “I’d like to spend 15 days.” And then Bart Ehrman asks this really incredible question, “Where do we get closer to the eyewitness testimony than right here?”

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