The following is submitted by guest writer Isaac McKown

Thanks to the quality work of scholars such as Gary Habermas, Michael Licona, NT Wright, etc., one of the most popular apologetics arguments lending credence to the truth claims of Christianity is the so-called “minimal facts” approach (MFA) to the resurrection.

The basic argument is that there are a certain set of facts surrounding the death of Jesus which can be arrived at by applying to the Bible criteria used by historians for reconstructing any historical event. These facts are accepted by the majority of New Testament scholars today, irrespective of their personal religious beliefs. Different scholars will use different sets of facts in their presentations, but here are some examples of these facts:

1.) Jesus was killed by crucifixion

2.) Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea

3.)  His tomb was found empty the Sunday morning after his crucifixion

4.) Both devoted followers and enemies had experiences of Jesus alive after his death

Again, the majority of New Testament scholars and historians accept facts such as these. The argument then goes on to ask the question, what is the best explanation of these facts? If successful, the defender of the argument will show that the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead is the best explanation of these facts over and above other proffered explanations such as the disciples stole the body, the followers of Jesus were hallucinating, etc.
If you understand the basic approach, you can see there are two ways to attack this apologetics argument. You can either attack one of the minimal facts and say that the historical criteria used do not establish the fact as well as the defender of the argument claims, or you could grant the minimal facts and argue that the resurrection is not the most plausible explanation of those facts. To undermine the resurrection’s plausibility, skeptics will normally argue that one of the other explanations (e.g. hallucination) is better or launch an argument against the appropriateness of using miracles as an explanation in historical reconstruction of past events. Though such a response presupposes naturalism as the default framework for explaining historical events, from that assumption many are quick to reject the plausibility of the resurrection.

As we approach Easter this Sunday, I think this argument is a good one to reflect upon for the skeptic and the Christian alike. The truth of Christianity hinges on the truth or falsity of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:17, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless.” Last year around this time I gave a talk where I outlined the minimal facts argument in support of the truth of the resurrection for my church in more detail than I will here. For those interested, you can listen to the audio of that presentation at this following link.

We recently decided to tackle this argument in one of our Ratio Christi meetings as well. One of our students put together a presentation for one of his college classes on this topic and did a practice run on us. We had some fun interaction with the atheists in our group on the merits of the argument. For anyone interested in that exchange, it was a live-streamed event that can be viewed here.

There was one particular kind of objection brought up in that meeting that is actually going to be the main topic for this series of blog posts. I want to devote time to it because it is one of the most common objections to the MFA arguments for the resurrection of Jesus that I receive from skeptics and fellow Christians alike. I am going to state a rather simple version which I think accurately expresses the misgivings of the objector.

Objection – You cannot use sources from the Bible to establish the minimal facts

Let’s unpack why this objection is so popular. There are criteria historians use to establish the probabilities of certain reconstruction of past events. Here are some examples of these criteria

1.) Is the fact found in sources close in time to the events in question? (earlier sources are more likely to be reliable than later sources)

2.) Is the fact found in multiple sources which are independent of each other? (it’s more likely that two independent sources report the same thing because it happened than it is that they both independently made up the same story and details)

3.) Is the fact in anyway embarrassing to the writer or the movement the writing was for? (embarrassing facts are less likely to be the result of made up stories and so more likely to be historical)

These are not the only criteria historians use to establish the probability of a historical occurrence, but they are three of the main ones used in making a case for the resurrection. The MFA proponent may go on from here to say something like “Jesus burial is attested in the very old information handed on by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians” and “The burial story is part of very old source material used by Mark in writing his Gospel.”  This is where it gets interesting.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” you can hear the skeptic say, “you can’t use sources from the Bible to make your argument. You cannot say that these sources are “independent” of each other, they’re all in the Bible!” These as well as other objections are raised in an effort to show that the minimal facts cannot be established using historical criteria like the apologist wants because most of the sources used are biblical sources.

Remember I am not mounting a full defense of the MFA for the resurrection. Rather, I want to answer some of the objections skeptics give to discount the biblical writings from being usable sources for historical inquiry. Some of the reasons we will look at include

• They are biased

• They are contradictory

• They are not independent of each other

• They are not corroborated by non-religious sources

Read more:

About the writer: Isaac Mckown graduated summa cum laude from Marshall University with  BS in Molecular Biology and a MA in Teaching. He is the former President of Ratio Christi at Marshall, teaches apologetics at his home church, First Baptist of Kenova, and is a high school science teacher. Contact Isaac at