April 2020 – “The Resurrection is not merely important to the historic Christian faith; without it, there would be no Christianity,” said the late Dr. Adrian Rogers. “It is the singular doctrine that elevates Christianity above all other world religions.”
That “singular doctrine” on which the truth of Christianity rests has compelled one contemporary scholar to devote most of his life to studying and defending its veracity.
Dr. Gary Habermas (photo, right), professor of apologetics and philosophy at Liberty University, spoke with AFA Journal about the topic that is central to the Christian faith.
AFA Journal: Why did you begin to study the Resurrection so intensely?
Dr. Gary Habermas: I started because of my own severe doubts. I tell people in interviews that I would like to be altruistic and say I am a really caring person, and I did it to help other people with their doubts, but that’s not the way it started.
Sure, if someone along the way asked me to help him know the Resurrection is true, I would try to help, but to be frank, I was doing it for myself. I’m at the stage now, after overcoming the doubts, that I can help others. But initially I was totally engrossed in it for myself, so that tells you how serious the doubts were for me personally.
AFAJ: Why do you think so many people doubt or reject the Resurrection?
GH: I could give you multiple reasons, but I would say there are three really common ones. Number one, many people just have factual doubts.
Secondly, people have doubts for emotional reasons. Now in reality, according to the stats, those who think they have factual doubts are really quite frequently doubting for emotional reasons. For example, I may present to a doubter overwhelming, factual evidence for the Resurrection – enough to calm their doubts, at least temporarily.
They may call back three days later and say, “I know you gave me the facts, but I’m dealing with these doubts again.” I’ll ask, “Can you refute the facts I gave you a few days ago?” Most often they say, “No, I can’t, but my eternity is based on this, so I just want to be sure. So what if we are wrong?” So that’s a situation where the person may well be dealing with emotional doubts. There is no problem with the facts, but it often tends toward emotional elements.
AFAJ: You said there’s a third common doubt; what is it?
GH: Let me give you an example for the third common reason. Let’s say I introduced my best friend, who is single, to a wonderful female friend of mine. I may convince my friend that she’s the neatest gal in the world, and I think they need to be together. My friend may say, “I believe you, I just don’t want to get married.”
Many people fall into that category. They don’t have a complaint about the person of Jesus. They just don’t want to be married to him – they don’t want the relationship.
Those are three common reasons people doubt or reject the Resurrection – factual doubts, emotional doubts, and the fact that some simply don’t want anything to do with Christianity.
AFAJ: You developed a “minimal facts” argument in favor of the Resurrection of Jesus. Can you tell us about that?
GH: I developed it years ago while writing my Ph.D. dissertation. I wondered how I could provide evidence the Resurrection occurred if I was talking to someone who didn’t trust or wasn’t sure he could trust the Bible. In other words, how could I convince someone of the Resurrection without quoting a verse as being authoritative and just ending the discussion?
So I began to compile a list of historical and biblical data that were widely accepted, even by critical scholars. To my surprise, with the Scripture and data, the other party admitted I had overwhelming evidence to show the probability of Jesus’s Resurrection.
In fact, of the many minimal facts, the ones I typically use are virtually undeniable because most of them are confirmed by 10 or more historical considerations each. When dealing with events that occurred in the first century, that’s a remarkable foundation.
AFAJ: What qualifies a minimal fact to make your list?
GH: Over the years, I’ve refined the method and now have two basic criteria for the facts I’ll use. For one, each fact must be confirmed by a number of strong and independent arguments. Secondly, in the relevant field of study, the vast majority of critical scholars, whether liberal, skeptical, agnostic, or even atheist, must recognize the occurrence’s historical nature.
The number of facts I’ll use varies depending on the audience. There is no real significance to how many I use; some grant me more, some grant me less. They just have to be evidenced by multiple sources and almost unanimously agreed to, and generally that’s six facts.
The half-dozen I most often use are these:
1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
2. Soon afterward, his followers had real experiences they believed were actual appearances of the risen Jesus.
3. Their lives were transformed as a result, even to the point of being willing to die for their faith in the Resurrection message.
4. These things were taught very early, soon after the Crucifixion.
5. James, Jesus’s unbelieving brother, became a Christian due to his own experience he believed he’d had with the resurrected Christ.
6. Paul became a believer after a similar experience.
So, I take these facts and give my interpretation of them and show that Jesus was raised from the dead. Usually, in a relatively short conversation, others will see that the same facts they allow, when properly interpreted, actually refute the non-Resurrection option they’re choosing.
AFAJ: In our previous interview (AFA Journal, 10/19) you said, “If the deity, death, and Resurrection are true, then Christianity is true. Period. To me, that’s a liberating thought.” Could you expand on what you mean by that?
GH: Often times Christians begin to “what-if” everything because they are allowing their emotions to control them, and they don’t know how to stop it. They think they’ve got to prove creation was six days, or prove that God had a just motive to command genocide in the land of Canaan, or prove that their eschatology is true. They think they have to prove that the Bible is inspired and inerrant.
We don’t have to avoid those topics, and we do have answers, but it dawned on me not too many years ago that if Jesus is the Son of God, and He died on the cross for our sins and was resurrected, then Christianity is true. And that puts people much at rest, because while those other questions can be answered, they don’t have to be answered with the same degree of evidence with which you answer the Resurrection.
It’s 1 Corinthians 15:12-20. With the Resurrection we have everything, without the Resurrection we have nothing.
More insights from Gary Habermas
Dr. Gary Habermas has done years of extensive research on the Resurrection including Did the Resurrection Happen? Find more of his books, free e-books, articles, audio and video debates, lectures, and interviews at garyhabermas.com.