Insights through Illusion for Daily Living

Minimal Facts Approach?

Bare Minimum

That idea sounds kind of strange when using it as an argument to convince someone of something. However when you unpack the idea and understand what the minimal facts approach is, it changes how we can relate to unbelievers. If you are going to have a debate with someone, or even try to share Christ with someone, you need to stand on some sort of common ground. If you are trying to quote scripture after scripture to someone who doesn’t believe the New Testament is even credible, then you are going to lose your breath doing so. But if you can find some sort of common ground that the two of you agree on, then you can build a foundation from there into a conversation that lets you present your case in a way that will be paid attention to.

The Minimal Facts Approach.

Think of it like a common denominator in math. When adding and subtracting fractions, you have to find the common denominator before you start working, you break it down to it’s simplest form. That is what is done with the Resurrection of Jesus using what’s known as the minimal facts approach. Depending on who is presenting these facts, there are generally 3 to 4 facts that are agreed upon by virtually ALL credible New Testament scholars. That includes ones who are very skeptical, and even atheistic in their worldview, yet they still agree that Jesus was:

-Crucified in the First Century by Pontius Pilate

-Left an Empty Tomb

-His Disciples had experiences of an appearance of what they thought was from Jesus, that changed them

-Paul and James both “enemies” of Christianity had experiences that changed them.

These facts are all agreed upon by virtually all New Testament scholars, given the background historical information from sources in antiquity, not just the New Testament. These are facts that can be used as common ground for people who doubt the credibility of the New Testament Documents, because these are clearly seen with or without them. Josephus and other ancient historians write about Jesus’ crucifixion under Pilate, Paul’s writings clearly show that he had an experience that changed him. The disciples willing to die for a very un-Jewish notion of a resurrected Jesus before the general resurrection all show that they had some kind of experience.

These facts provide the groundwork for a very convincing case that the best explanation for these facts in that God raised Jesus from the dead.

Tomorrow, I will quickly look at 1 Corinthians 15 and it’s impact as a very early source.

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11 responses

  1. Along with almost everything that seems to be building throughout this area, a significant percentage of perspectives happen to be somewhat radical. Nonetheless, I appologize, but I can not give credence to your entire idea, all be it radical none the less. It looks to everyone that your comments are not entirely validated and in reality you are yourself not really thoroughly confident of your argument. In any case I did enjoy reading through it.

    June 22, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    • Hey, thanks for reading and commenting, but I’ve got to be honest with you. The vagueness of your reply made me feel almost like it could be said about any blog ever aka spam. You are speaking for everyone? How can that be? What problems do you have with the actual argument as opposed to just general statements, and what evidence do you have for those claims? The radical view would be the opposing view not this one.

      Yet again this feels like spam though.

      June 22, 2013 at 2:53 pm

  2. thom waters

    Two quick thoughts about your presentation.

    First: An empty tomb means nothing. It seems to have led you to a faulty syllogistic argument that goes something like this:

    A: An empty tomb means that the body of the person who had been there has been resurrected.

    B: The tomb of Jesus was found to be empty.

    Therefore: The body of Jesus was resurrected.

    The wrongness of your major premise is self-evident leading, of course, to a faulty conclusion.

    Second: To say that his disciples experienced appearances or claimed to having seen such appearances is to simply overstate the situation. We have a few stories about appearances, but we actually have nothing with regard to what most of the disciples were claiming. It does appear that perhaps one or two of the disciples were actually claiming to have seen the resurrected Jesus, but we have nothing from the majority of these men. We don’t know what Andrew, Simon the Zealot, Nathaniel, Judas Thaddeus, and the others were actually claiming. That they are lumped together in stories about appearances is simply heresay, and says nothing as to what these others were actually claiming.

    What you have actually is a large story that seems to have portions of truth within it. It is the truth portion of any effective falsehood that makes the falsehood more persuasive.

    I could say more, but I will end here.

    thanks.

    June 29, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    • Hey Thom, thanks so much for taking the time to respond. I love some good dialogue now and then ha ha.

      To your first point. This is a misunderstanding and misstating of the argument. The premise is not as you state. It’s all four of these facts together (along with others) that have to be accounted for. You and I could come up with hundreds of mutually exclusive possibilities that explain one or two of the facts, but using Occam’s razor we have ask what is the best explanation for all of these facts together.

      As to point 2.
      We see quite a bit in just the book of Acts alone, as well as books by Paul, Peter, James, and to count the Gospels John and Matthew. We also have the writings of the church fathers.

      The thing is though this is what survived and flourished, and to be fair I don’t think someone can just ignore what we do have for an argument from silence.

      June 29, 2013 at 10:26 pm

  3. thom waters

    Bryan,

    I understand the importance of considering all of these “facts” as a body of evidence, but there are three observations that need to be made:

    1–If you accept the account in John 20:1-9, the very first believers in the Resurrection came to believe solely on the basis of the empty tomb. The entire story begins with this discovery. There is no apologetic called the Minimal Facts Approach. It must be stated, therefore, that the story actually does begin with this wrong syllogistic argument. The story, if you will, is off to a shaky start. As a result, everything that follows must be looked at with a very skeptical eye in my opinion.

    2–It is not my intent to make an argument from silence. I am simply pointing out that in the interest of correctness your Fact #2 should more appropriately read, “Some of his disciples were claiming that they had seen the risen Jesus.” This seems to be more in keeping with what the documents tell us. Stories about appearances to groups written by unknown authors do not change this. They are still simply stories about so-called appearances to groups of people that tell us nothing about what people were actually claiming. Fact #2 the way it is presented now reveals more bias and belief than actual “fact”.

    3–The real weakness to the Minimal Facts Approach is to be found in the attempt it makes to suggest that the only “facts” that are both extremely well-supported by the evidence and accepted by the vast majority of scholars are those that argue “for” the hypothesis that one Jesus was resurrected from the dead. Focus often creates blindness, and this approach only focuses on these “facts” at the expense of those “facts” that reasonably argue against the proposition. Because of bias and tendenz this approach is not considering all of the “facts” and , as a result, is quite misleading. However, this should come as no surprise given the intent of those presenting their “case”. It is a much more honest approach to consider all of the “facts” and evidence.

    thanks

    June 30, 2013 at 6:16 pm

    • Accepting the account according to John is a great idea, but I would go with the earliest sources that we have. The earliest would be 1 Corinthians 15, which is dated between 18 months and 5 years of the resurrection. In this account alone we see that the appearances are a part of the earliest narrative. You are still mistaking this as some sort of syllogistic argument. If I died and was buried, and then my tomb was found empty, noone would think resurrection, but the difference is that-taking the same Gospel account-Jesus predicted this would happen.

      Also looking at Matthew we can see that the earliest Jewish polemic was that the tomb was in fact empty, that the disciples stole it. We know what Paul, Peter, and James were claiming without issue, so again to disprove this by pointing to what we don’t have is an argument from silence. So to say that anyone who has a background in something who writes in favor of it is biased? What about Paul surely he wasn’t biased, and James.

      Also I think the point is being missed that these points are agreed on not by just Christian scholars. These are the conclusions that Gerd Ludemann, John Crossan, and others who are the most atheistic of NT scholars. I don’t see how that suddenly makes it a biased case.

      I haven’t heard you present the facts that reasonably argue against the proposition. Again we have to come to the conclusion that makes the best sense of all of the evidence.

      June 30, 2013 at 6:34 pm

  4. thom waters

    The larger point to remember here and one that seems to be undeniable is that the Empty Tomb is the jumping-off point for this story of resurrection. Everything else comes after that. And, if your story or belief is that someone was resurrected from the dead you better have something more than an empty tomb to prove the claim. What better proof than to say that this resurrected person made an appearance? This is exactly what we find in the documents. Did these appearances actually take place and who and how many persons are claiming to be witnesses to such appearances?

    I’m happy to spend time in I Corinthians 15:3-8, especially as it attests to an early “belief”. But what do we find here, or, even better, what do we not find? Among other things it appears that Paul intends this to be a chronological listing of these so-called appearances. However, we immediately note that there are no appearances to the women. This might be the case for several reasons. It might be that Paul is not familiar with them. It might be that they never took place. It might be for reasons of embarassment, which seems unlikely because that would logically lead one to accept that the so-called appearance to the 500 ( quite an even number) happened because this large group was all men. In Luke’s Gospel we also find no mention of any appearance to women, and, as we know, Luke, if he did in fact author this work, was a traveling companion of Paul’s. It seems possible that the so-called appearances to the women like some others were latter fabrications meant to embellish the story. Difficult to say. Certainly, however, a possibility. At any rate what we find in this story of resurrection is exactly the sort of thing that we might or should expect, if you want people to believe the tale. Hard to have much of a story without sightings or appearances of the raised person. Another intriguing aspect of Paul’s account in I Cor. 15 is his decided position that he is the last person to whom this risen Jesus will appear. How does he know this? Why does he come to this position? It is worthy of further discussion.

    One of the dangers inherent to Belief is that it can warp objectivity. Eager to defend a position believers, and I include apologists especially, will do so many times at the expense of objectivity. This can impede any genuine search for answers. This is particularly true if belief has been arrived at without considering all the “facts” or evidence. Unfortunately, this is often the case with Belief. If a jury reached a decision after hearing only the Prosecution’s presentation of the “facts” we would quickly judge their verdict to be suspect.

    I purposely gave no listing of any “facts” which when considered as a body of evidence might lead one to reasonably conclude that the proposition that Jesus was raised from the dead might not be true. Are you unfamiliar with any of these? Are you telling me that you can’t think of any? Have you not looked for any? These are “facts”, just like the MFA, that are both well-supported by the evidence and accepted by the vast majority of scholars. Like the Minimal Facts Approach no one “fact” by itself creates the total argument. They must be considered as a body. By the way, you are not alone in your unfamiliarity with these. Most Christian apologists are unfamiliar with them and have never considered them, largely because they do not fit into their narrative or defense. Why should the Prosecution present the case for the Defense? Even more to the point, the Prosecution doesn’t present them because they have never considered them or been exposed to this part of the case. I will leave you with one such “fact” that you are welcomed to consider and respond to in any event.

    Fact 1–By the time that some of the disciples began to preach that Jesus was raised from the dead there was no body of either the living, resurrected Jesus to prove the claim or of a dead Jesus to discredit it. Most interesting is not the failure of any person to produce the dead body, but rather the inability of those promoting the claim to offer as “proof” the actual risen Jesus. And what was the explanation for this sudden disappearance of this miraculously risen Jesus? It was another miracle. His physically resurrected body had now de-materialized and had been taken up to heaven. At the very least this seems to be a somewhat convenient disappearance. Especially is this so because it demands the belief in another miracle, that we just simply have to belief with absolutely no evidence. Anyway, the fact is still the same. There was no body either of a living, risen Jesus to support the claim or a dead body to discredit it.

    July 1, 2013 at 4:33 pm

    • First I’d like to address this issue of Paul’s listing of appearances. Let’s grant the point for a minute that Paul was the last person that had an appearance of the risen Jesus as the NT describes. All throughout the different sources we have, we see this. Through Acts as well as Paul’s writings. However that being said, if reading this “Last of all to me” line as a chronological admission is to commit hermeneutical suicide when it comes to reading Paul’s writings. This is an admission not of chronology, but of placement. Paul is showing his own acknowledgement of position of humility. This is quite evident when reading his other writings.

      To the point of the women and the round numbers. It’s a very common tradition in virtually all ancient sources (and was accepted as perfectly okay) to round off numbers. Looking at it from a 21st century perspective and throwing stones of “inaccuracy” is purely anachronistic.

      As far as early sources and women, in fact our next to earliest, and quite possibly earliest source tells of the appearances to the women. This is found in the early source material Mark uses in the crucifixion narrative in Mark 15-16.

      Your paragraph on the inherent dangers of believe can easily be turned right around on a nonbeliever who comes to the table with that assertion a priori by adding three letters to it. Non.

      I am not unaware of “facts” supporting the opposite case, but merely don’t find them very credible, and that they lead to other problems. For instance the fact you provide leads to another very troubling line of questioning, where was the body? We can come up with hundreds of different claims of where the body went, but at that point we are doing something worse than being intellectually honest with sources and evidence we do have.

      Thanks again man, I have really enjoyed your discussion.

      July 1, 2013 at 5:36 pm

  5. thom waters

    Your welcome. I, too, have enjoyed the exchange. One quick last word.

    Fact #1 that I have listed is not about “credibility”. It is simply a stated “fact” to which you apparently agree. There was no body of any kind to be found by the time that some of the disciples began preaching this resurrection. I suspect that you accept the explanation offered by the documents as to what happened to this physically, resurrected body. Is this correct? I find it interesting that the proponents of the pro-resurrection Minimal Facts Approach go to great length to establish the credibility of the Resurrection Hypothesis through this stated committment to historical methodology establishing “proof” if you will. However, when it comes to the story of Jesus being taken up into the clouds, it is a story that is simply believed and accepted almost without question. Just another miracle that we’ll accept because we find it in the Bible. Seems an effort to play both sides of the fence.

    And, by the way, I have no position that I am defending. I am simply in search of answers and considering all of the evidence and facts before us. This is what we would expect of any jury in search of answers. Since I haven’t presented all of the defense “facts” that argue against the Resurrection Hypothesis, I’m wondering which of these “facts” are the ones that you find not credible. After all, a “fact” is simply a “fact” and has nothing to do with credibility, unless the “fact” can be demonstrated to be not a “fact” at all. You might find the conclusion not to your liking or not credible, but to say that a “fact” is not credible can only be done if you can demonstrate the “fact” not to be true. You say that you have considered these other “facts” and found them not to be credible. I wonder which ones you are talking about.

    Anyway, good luck to you.

    July 1, 2013 at 6:12 pm

  6. thom waters

    Bryan,

    I see that we carried on an exchange of some detail a short time ago. Hope you are well.

    Anyway, I was wondering if you know of anyone who might be interested in a public debate concerning the “minimal facts” approach to the Resurrection. I have been unable to find anyone so inclined. Michael Licona, with whom I have carried on a somewhat lengthy correspondence, has declined my invitation.

    Any names that come to mind?

    thanks.

    October 27, 2013 at 10:28 pm

    • Hey man absolutely. Hope you are doing great. Hmm, I know some NT scholars, but I don’t know if they do debates. Guys like J. Warner Wallace, Frank Turek. I’m at a loss right now, but there is a start for sure.

      Take care man!

      October 28, 2013 at 2:44 am

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