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For writers of the New Testament, Jesus’ resurrection was the focal point of their teachings. The apostle Paul was adamant concerning the importance of the resurrection when he wrote: And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins 1 Corinthians 15:17 (NIV). This historical test of truth leaves no room for ambiguity. Christianity stands or falls based on the risen Christ. In fact, the resurrection loses its apologetic value unless it is a physical resurrection of the same body that died.[1]

In view of the common objection that Jesus was raised, we will examine historical data using Dr. Gary Habermas’ minimal facts approach. If we are successful, we will build a strong foundation that shows the resurrection claim is grounded on solid history, and, in turn, will enable us to safely share compelling evidence in defense of our Christian faith.

The skeptic asks challenging questions that demand answers: “What are the best sources in support of the resurrection of the historical Jesus?” “Are there any persuasive facts concerning Jesus’ resurrection for which all scholars agree?” How will you address these questions? It is almost a guarantee that most people will not listen patiently through a ten minute response. It’s imperative when sharing our faith to be able to cogently summarize an argument, and then handle follow-up questions. As the apostle Peter stated: Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have 1 Peter 3:15b (NIV). Given that other religions and worldviews make “one-way-only” claims of their own, where does the Christian begin?

According to Dr. Habermas, minimal facts are represented by three core criteria for evaluating the resurrection claim: (a) it uses only the strongest historical evidence based on universally accepted criteria; (b) it uses only historical evidence conceded by virtually all critical scholarship; and (c) while the Bible is divinely inspired, it treats the Bible as another book of ancient literature, i.e. divine inspiration is not used to advantage.[2] The beauty of the minimal facts approach eliminates the burden of brute memorization of numerous details, yet provides key facts required to build a substantive case for Jesus’ resurrection. The skeptic will need to respond.

Credible historiography, according to Habermas, is dependent upon the historical principles of multiple, independent, early, eye witness testimony. While firsthand testimony is ideal, an “eyewitness of an eyewitness” is also strong historical evidence.[3] Non-Christian authors and embarrassing testimony are also considered highly reliable. In addition, when it comes to history, we can only speak of probability; nothing can be established with 100% certainty. When dealing with historical topics, we follow the weight of the data, much in the same way as the judicial system when solving crimes.

Based on minimal facts criteria and credible historiography summarized above, Habermas cites four virtually undisputed historical facts concerning the resurrection accepted by critical and conservative scholars. At the risk of redundancy, these facts will be referred to using the acronym C.A.P.S.: (C)rucifixion of Christ, (A)ppearances of Christ to the disciples in bodily resurrection, (P)aul, the former church prosecutor, became a church promoter to the point of martyrdom for his belief in the resurrection, and the (S)keptic James, brother of Jesus, became a church leader and martyr for his belief that Christ was raised.[4]

In addition to the four undisputed facts, Habermas espouses solid evidence for the Empty Tomb. Had Jesus’ tomb been occupied, it would have been impossible for Christianity to get started in the same city (Jerusalem) where Jesus was publicly executed. Moreover, the empty tomb was enemy attested by non-Christian sources. In addition, the empty tomb was discovered by women who were not considered to be credible witnesses in first century Palestine. Why would authors knowingly invent data that would hurt the credibility of their story? According to Habermas, the empty tomb is 75-80% undisputed.[5] When the stone was rolled away, the evidence clearly shows that Jesus’ tomb was not occupied. JESUS IS ALIVE. We cannot say the same for Muhammad, Confucius, and Buddha.

Figure 1 summarizes the five substantive facts (above)

As with all valid historical arguments, assertions are meaningless without the historical sources to justify their claims. Based on Dr. Habermas’ and Dr. Licona’s book, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, we will examine in more detail the “central point” of the resurrection argument, the appearances of Christ to the disciples, which is the “A” in C.A.P.S. Nine independent sources are cited that employ four categories of historical data.

For ease of memorization, the categories are represented by the acronym O.P.E.N.: The “O” stands for the category oral tradition in support of the earliest church creeds. The “P” stands for the category Paul’s epistles. The “E” stands for the category evangelist’s gospel accounts. The “N” stands for the category next generation leaders who were eyewitnesses of those claiming to be eyewitnesses of the resurrection.[6] Again, brute memorization is not required. Most of the time, a summary of the four categories of O.P.E.N. without introducing detailed sources is generally a sufficient argument. In fact, this summary would place you well ahead of what the majority of Christians know concerning resurrection apologetics.

Figure 2 incorporates the categories and sources pertinent to the appearances of Christ in bodily resurrection. Additional details are included in the textual source descriptions that follow.

 

For Part 2, please click here.

Posted by Jerry Lawrence with
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Here we are, just a week into a brand new year. The shine probably hasn’t worn off the Christmas gifts just yet and the goals and resolutions we have made are still fresh and in focus. We might be facing the winter blahs, but many of us are still full of enthusiasm at this point.

The new year is a time for taking stock of where we are and looking at how we would like to do better. We often look at our spiritual lives, our physical bodies, our finances, and our families and seek to be intentional about all of those things with renewed fervor. I think God wired us this way, to reflect and remember and then move on with purpose. We are so open to His leadership during this season. I personally love it.

As I was considering all of these things and looking ahead at what 2019 might bring, our body of believers here at FBCW has been on my mind. It occurred to me that in all of my taking stock of things, I have never really evaluated where I am in connection to our church, or where our church is with regard to our community for that matter. My goals and plans, although all very good things, are usually centered on myself, my family, my business. I suppose without even thinking about it, I must have expected our church leaders to be the ones looking at the future for our church body. I know that God places leaders over us to shepherd and guide us, but don’t I bear some responsibility to listen to His direction with regard to service, ministry, and relationships within (inreach) and outside of (outreach) the church?

If the church is the vehicle God uses to reach the world, shouldn’t I be considering how to be intentional within it in 2019? It is so easy to be lulled into spending my time and efforts within my own little bubble and not really looking outside of it. I confess that I tend to be selfish with my time and talents. I have been convicted of late that God places opportunities for connection in my life and if I am not paying attention, it is so easy to see them instead as disruptions to my well ordered plans. 

Isn’t that what Jesus does? He disrupts. My daughter Grace planted that idea in my mind and it has taken root. I see it played out in the lives of the disciples. Jesus disrupted everything about their lives when he showed up and called them to follow Him. Nothing could remain the same. Yet how often do I attempt to fit Him into my carefully planned life instead of being open to disruption? Pastor has challenged us to say “Yes, Sir!” to God. Am I really ready to do that? What if He asks me to do something outside of my comfort zone? What if I have to sacrifice something (time, energy, money, myself) to say yes? Will I? Am I willing to say “Here I am, Lord?” Or am I more like the rich young man of Matthew 19:16-22 who went away sad because he was unwilling to have his life disrupted? (that is my interpretation)

On January 7, 2019, my daughter boarded a plane for New Zealand. She is saying “Yes, sir!” to God’s call in her life to missions there. Her life has been completely disrupted by this calling. In fact, many, INCLUDING MYSELF, have wondered if it was a foolish decision. So many questions about the details, how the Lord would provide and what it would all look like. Yet she has continued with steadfast faith, a constant unwavering belief that this is the path God has called her to and therefore He will provide. Guess what? HE HAS. Please do not misunderstand me, I am not advocating that we all start doing things based on what we feel and toss out wisdom and common sense. What I am saying is that when we seek God’s direction and follow it he will disrupt our complacent ways and use us to bring glory to Himself as His name is spread. What an amazing thing.

So where does this fit in to God’s plans for FBCW in 2019? I don’t know the answer to that. But I know the One who does. I know He is looking for stewards who are available to have the lives disrupted for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of loving others. I know He will have opportunities for all who seek them and are willing to say “Yes Sir!”. I know there are those in our family of believers who need connection. Mentors. Teachers. Friends. I know that there are those who have not yet come to believe, who need love and compassion and people who are willing to look outside their own friends, families, dare I say cliques, and reach out to them. Are we willing to be disrupted?

Here is how I am going to start. I am asking God to show me in 2019 where he wants me to say yes to Him. Is it serving in a ministry? Is it teaching? Is it opening our home for a Bible study or fellowship? Is it mentoring? Discipling? I don’t have the answers to that, yet. But I am starting the year with a willing heart and a prayer that he soften me to be more willing in areas where my flesh resists. As we study the book of Acts this year through Pastor’s sermons, I am also starting out January reading a chapter a day. There are 28 chapters, so you can easily finish the book in a month. I invite you to join me in these things. Perhaps God has been waiting for people willing to be disrupted to do great things in our community and in our church this year!

Posted by Denise Woodliff with

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