In constructing a case for Jesus’ resurrection, it’s important to distinguish between the evidence and the best explanation of that evidence. This distinction is crucial because in this case the evidence is relatively uncontroversial; it’s agreed to by most scholars. On the other hand, the explanation of that evidence is controversial. My conclusion, that the resurrection is the best explanation, certainly is at the heart of the controversy.
However, first I would like to make my case by stating 5 historical facts accepted by the majority of scholars; both liberal and conservative scholars. To establish the facts I will use as many relevant resources as I can. I will use the Bible, the writings of Roman historians, and some of the writings of the early church fathers. I will give the greatest historical weight to reports that are early, eyewitnesses, enemy, embarrassing, and corroborated by others.
When I say embarrassing I mean if the account was fictional, the writers would have never included such an event. An example of embarrassment is to make a fool out of Peter, the brave leader of the disciples. In the Gospels we read that under pressure and fearing for his life, during the trial of Jesus just before he was crucified, Peter denied knowing who Jesus was; in fact he did it 3 times. Peter, the powerful disciple of Jesus, is shown to be a coward at the time of Jesus’ arrest and greatest need. Peter later redeems himself, lives a courageous life, and eventually is crucified upside down for his belief in Jesus. However, the Bible doesn’t pull any punches in showing at the trial of Jesus, Peter was a coward! There are many embarrassing moments in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts so many so, that historians say this is evidence for the historical accuracy of the Bible or at least these books.
Some have accused the Biblical writers of being biased in their reporting. The truth is all writers have some sort of bias when they write. What skeptics are really saying, when them make this accusation, is anyone who is biased cannot write an accurate historical account. Does that mean a holocaust survivor cannot write an accurate account of the mistreatment of the Jews? The answer of course is NO! What has to happen is the writer has to minimize their bias because he or she cannot eliminate them. To guard against biased accounts, two things need to happen; first, the facts must have strong historical evidence to support them and second, the vast majority of today’s scholars on the subject, including skeptical ones, need to accept them as historical facts.
A Dr. Gary Habermas compiled a list of more than 2,200 sources in French, German, and English in which experts have written on the resurrection from 1975 to now. He has identified minimal facts that are strongly evidenced and which are regarded as historical by the large majority of scholars, including skeptics.
Here are the 5 minimal facts from the writings of Dr. Gary Habermas:
- Fact #1: Jesus was killed by crucifixion
- Fact #2: Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them
- Fact #3: The conversion of the church persecutor Paul
- Fact #4: The conversion of the skeptic James, Jesus’ half-brother
- Fact # 5: Jesus’ tomb was empty
We will look at each fact and examine why the majority of scholars accept them. Remember, first we need to look at the evidence. Given most scholars accept these facts there won’t be much controversy here. Then secondly, we will examine the explanations for the evidence and try to see which is the best. Here is where we will have some major disagreements.
 Strobel, Lee, “The Case for the Real Jesus,” Zondervan, 2007 p. 112