Factual Doubt | John Ankerberg Show

Factual Doubt

By: Dr. Gary Habermas


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Factual Doubt

Earlier, factual doubt was referred to as the species of uncertainty which is fre­quently concerned with the evidence for Christianity. It is chiefly interested in issues which are related to the truthfulness of the faith and regularly expresses questions pertaining to either philosophical points of interest (such as the existence of God and the problem of pain) or historical acts (like miracles and Scripture). A major characteristic of doubt which is primarily factual is that it is generally satisfied if sufficient data is given in answer to its queries.

In this chapter it will obviously be impossible to argue for the truthfulness of Chris­tian Theism as a whole when a complete volume would be unable to perform the entire task. However, using the facts of the gospel as the indispensable center of the Christian faith, we will begin by simply listing some of the best evidences for these individual beliefs. Informational endnotes will direct the interested reader to more detailed presentations of the basis for each point.

A. A Factual Basis for the Gospel

In 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, Paul provides one of the most widely cited lists of the content of the gospel. After relating to his readers that belief in this gospel is suffi­cient to save a person (verses 1-2), Paul states that Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose again on the third day, in agreement with the teaching of the Scrip­tures (verses 3-4).

From this passage, I think that we can denote at least four facts which compose the gospel.[1] At a minimum, the gospel includes Christ’s atoning death, His burial and His resurrection from the dead (as signified by His appearances).[2] In addition to these three, I believe that the fourth fact is derived from Paul’s use of the title “Christ” here instead of the proper name “Jesus.” Without arguing a complicated topic at this point, I will simply say that Paul’s use of this title has some special significance, as it does other places in his writings.[3] In fact, it would appear from his other work as well that Paul would not affirm that one who accepts the first three facts but who rejects what this title stands for concerning the person of Christ could be said to be a Christian in any orthodox sense.

At any rate, I will now turn to a listing of some of the data in favor of each of these four facts: the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, as well as His deity. For it would appear that, whether my last conclusion on the deity of Christ is accepted or not, it would be difficult to argue that these four facts are not crucial to any orthodox understanding of the Christian faith.

1. The Death of Jesus

  1. The gospels accurately portray numerous details concerning Jesus and are trustworthy sources for a study of His life. As such, the major texts on Jesus’ death provide noteworthy material for this fact,[4] especially in that there is such widespread agreement in these documents concerning the general outline of these events.[5]
  2. The New Testament contains numerous creedal statements, which are oral testimonies (some apparently apostolic in nature) which circulated in the earliest church. Although they appear in written form in the New Testament, they actually predate the books in which they are contained. Some of these creeds are dated from 35-50 A.D. and they frequently report the death of Jesus.[6] This testimony provides early witnesses to these facts.[7]
  3. A large number of non-Christian sources also report various aspects of the life of Jesus. Of the more than twenty such witnesses, dating largely from about 30-130 AD, twelve mention Jesus’ death with some providing several details. Together quite an amount of data is given.[8] It is the most widely-reported fact about Jesus in this non-Christian literature.
  4. Medical science supplies strong evidence concerning the nature of death by crucifixion, which is essentially death by asphyxiation. Contrary to some popular thinking, a person does not just hang on the cross until he bleeds or dehydrates to death. To hang in the low position on the cross (without pushing upwards) for more than a minimal amount of time is to suffer asphyxiation according to virtually all medical researchers. So the authorities could tell when an individual had expired since one could not “play dead” by hanging low on the cross, while changing posi­tions in order to breathe would obviously reveal that death had not yet occurred.[9] Incidentally, the discovery of the skeleton of a first century Jewish victim of crucifixion named Yohanan confirms many of these details.[10]
  5. The spear wound in Jesus’ side is not only a confirmed Roman practice,[11] but is a very strong medical argument for death, since the weapon most likely pierced Jesus’ heart, as indicated by the flow of water. Most physicians who have studied this issue agree that the water most likely proceeded (at least partially) from the pericardium, a sac which surrounds the heart and holds watery fluid. In other words, the spear wound would have killed Jesus if He had not already expired.[12]
  6. Somewhat related to the last point is another gory detail of crucifixion. If the spear had entered Jesus’ lung and if He was still alive, the persons standing around the cross could have distinctly heard a sucking sound caused by the air being inhaled through the blood and other bodily fluids. Again, it would have been obvious to the authorities that Jesus was not dead.[13]
  7. If the Shroud of Turin is the actual burial garment of Jesus, it would prove Jesus’ death on at least two additional counts. The body of the man buried in the shroud is in a state of rigor mortis and at least the chest wound exhibits a post­mortem blood flow.[14] But it should be carefully noted here that even if the Shroud of Turin would ever be proven not to be Jesus’ cloth, nothing in Christianity would change; only the cloth itself would be disproved. And even so, unless it is simply a fake (which it does not appear to be), it would still provide many corroborating details for the nature of crucifixion in general.
8. After all these evidences for Jesus’ literal death by crucifixion, this writer be­lieves that the strongest refutation of the so-called swoon theory was given over 150 years ago by a radical German critic, David Strauss. He pointed out that the great­est problem with any hypothesis which denied Jesus’ death on the cross is that Jesus’ appearances to the disciples would then obviously show that he was weak and sickly, in need of much medical care, as evidenced by his having escaped crucifixion alive but with unhealed wounds. So after such extraordinary events as surviving the cross, not dying in the tomb, moving the stone and walking to where the disciples were, Jesus would only have caused the disciples to want to nurse him back to health. They would have gotten a doctor before proclaiming him risen![15]

But even worse, the early, eyewitness testimony proclaimed a glorified resurrec­tion body, which would most obviously be at great odds with the bruised, beaten, bloody, pale, limping body of Jesus! And at this point, contemporary studies even strengthen Strauss’ critique, for it is agreed even by virtually all critical scholars that the facts indicated that the earliest disciples unquestionably believed that they had seen the glorified body of the risen Jesus.[16] The fact of this belief is incompatible with seeing the crucified and revived (but seriously ill) body of Jesus.

Thus we conclude that the manuscript, historical and medical facts combine to firmly establish the fact of Jesus’ death on the cross, due to the rigors of crucifixion. It is no wonder that this event is admitted by virtually all scholars, liberal or conserva­tive.

2. The Burial of Jesus

  1. All four gospels record Jesus’ burial and, again, there is much agreement on the general details. The trustworthiness of these accounts provides good source material corroborating this fact.[17]
  2. The creed in 1 Cor. 15:3-4 records Jesus’ burial and, in all likelihood, dates from the 30s A.D. As such there is very early testimony which reveals that the burial was not a belief which was added decades after the occurrence itself, but actually predates the writing of the New Testament.[18]
  3. There are also some extra-biblical sources which may help confirm the burial of Jesus.[19] Of perhaps the most interest here is an archaeological discovery known as the Nazareth Decree which, oddly enough, does not even specifically mention Jesus. Identifying itself as the “Ordinance of Caesar” and most probably dating from the reign of Emperor Claudius (41-54 A.D.), this marble slab mentions Jewish burial practices including the rolling of stones in front of tombs and the sealing of these sepulchers. The most interesting issue is why a Roman emperor would be troubled enough by occurrences in Palestine in order for him to decree that anyone guilty of robbing tombs would be punished by death, especially when the normal punishment for this crime was a fine. At any rate, whether this is an actual reference to Jesus’ burial or not, useful information is thereby gained,[20] although this is admittedly not a primary evidence for His interment.
  4. If the Shroud of Turin is the actual garment of Jesus, then an incredible amount of material is thus gleaned, for this cloth would then be his burial covering. As such, the shroud would be very valuable in providing information regarding the way the body was wrapped, as well as details gathered from the body image on the cloth. And, of course, the obvious fact would be that, if verified, it would provide actual empirical evidence for Jesus’ burial itself.[21]
  5. Paradoxically, one of the strongest evidences in favor of the burial of Jesus consists of the strong arguments for the empty tomb, for some of the same facts which indicate that Jesus’ body was missing also show that He had been interred in the tomb beforehand. The evidences for the empty tomb, strictly speaking, belong in the next category of arguments for Jesus’ resurrection.[22] But several of these, such as the pre-gospel traditions, the proclamation of the resurrection in Jerusalem, and the Jewish polemic which actually admitted the empty tomb also require the historic­ity of the burial.

It is for reasons such as these that even most critical exegetes accept the histori­cal nature of the empty tomb,[23] thereby including the facticity of at least some ele­ments of the burial, as well. Dunn notes that while the reports of the vacated tomb are doubted by some, scholarship as a whole has done more to substantiate than to disprove it. Whatever we make of it, here, we may say with confidence, is a piece of good historical information.[24]

Dunn points out further that it is extremely difficult to deny the historicity of the empty tomb.[25] Certain portions of this data, conversely, also argue strongly for Jesus’ burial.

6. Lastly, the burial of Jesus is quite a natural event. Consequently, of all of the facts included in the gospel, this one (in one sense) requires the least amount of evidence. Consequently, relatively few critics dispute the fact. Thus, while the point to be made here is not an actual evidence for Jesus’ burial, it is still a consideration in its favor. Simply stated, a burial is the normal result of a death. As such, the facts which confirm Jesus’ death would seem to lead naturally to His burial. Additionally, the evidence which we have strongly favors such an event.

3. The Resurrection of Jesus

  1. The trustworthiness of the New Testament (and of the gospels, in particular) provides support for the literal and bodily resurrection of Jesus. Although critics frequently question several portions of the gospel narratives,[26] these passages can be defended successfully. The general unanimity of the New Testament witness and the reliability of these texts produce a strong case for Jesus’ resurrection.[27]
  2. The pre-New Testament creeds also strongly support the teaching of Jesus’ resurrection. Not only is this event reported in this literature,[28] but it is utilized as evidence for other central Christian doctrines.[29]

One creedal passage in particular, 1 Cor. 15:3ff., provides a very powerful argu­ment for Jesus’ resurrection. Most critics who have investigated this subject date this tradition from the 30s A.D. and, further, think that Paul received it from the apostles themselves, probably Peter and James.[30] As such, this text provides crucially early and eyewitness testimony for Jesus’ resurrection appearances.[31]

3. Numerous extra-biblical sources from about 30-180 AD either teach or imply the facticity of Jesus’ resurrection. At least ten total sources are concerned with the topic of what happened to Jesus after His death, with each of these actually men­tioning either the resurrection or Jesus’ exaltation to heaven.[32] Yet, to be quite hon­est, there are questions about several of these sources which keep this from being a strong evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. But the data is still useful in a study of this subject.[33]
4. A much more important argument in favor of Jesus’ resurrection concerns the failure of the various alternative theories which have purported to explain this event in completely natural terms. Not only have each of these theories been refuted by the known data,[34] but the critics themselves have generally rejected each of them. While Nineteenth Century older German liberals critiqued these theories individually, Twentieth Century critical scholars have usually repudiated them as a whole.[35] While the absence of alternative theories by itself does not necessarily prove Jesus’ resurrection, that critics have generally even dismissed these naturalistic attempts because of their inability to account for the known facts is a strong indication of the problems facing such skeptical approaches.
5. But not only have critical attempts to explain the resurrection failed, there are very important evidences in favor of the facticity of this event. Factors such as the eyewitness testimony which has not been explained naturally, the changed lives of disciples who were willing to die specifically for their belief in the resurrection, the early date of the proclamation, the empty tomb and the testimonies of two former skeptical unbelievers (Paul and James, the brother of Jesus) are examples of the powerful arguments for the literal resurrection.[36]
6. If the Shroud of Turin is Jesus’ burial cloth, there may even be some evidence present which indicates that He was raised from the dead. There is no bodily de­composition on the linen, meaning that the body was not in the cloth for very long. Additionally, the chief pathologist who investigated the shroud has testified that the condition of the blood stains indicates that the body was not unwrapped. Lastly, it is our view that the evidence indicates the cause of the image on the material to be a scorch from a dead body. So the absence of a body which was possibly not un­wrapped and a scorch from that dead body could provide empirical, repeatable evidence for Jesus’ resurrection.[37]
7. I think that the strongest argument for the resurrection of Jesus is a case which can be based on the minimal historical facts alone. In other words, I think that even if one utilizes only those facts which are known to be historical and which are recognized as such by skeptical scholars, there is still enough data to show that Jesus literally rose from the dead. This reveals that the resurrection can be established by the information known to be historical by both skeptics and believers alike.[38]

There is simply an incredible amount of evidence for Jesus’ literal resurrection from the dead. As the major event in the Christian faith which involves the supernatu­ral working of God, the believer is on solid factual grounds with this occurrence, the corroboration of which can be approached and documented from any of several angles. On a practical note, when so many events are reported in Scripture, it is by the grace of God that it is this center of faith (1 Cor. 15:12-20) which has received this degree of confirmation. As such, there is much relevance here for the subject of factual doubt, as we will perceive below.

4. The Deity of Jesus Christ

  1. We will not further belabor the subject of the trustworthiness of the New Testa­ment but will just state here that if the gospel texts are accurate, Jesus unquestion­ably claimed to be deity. This is evident from numerous passages in all four gos­pels.[39]
  2. Jesus’ pronouncements and His actions reveal that He spoke and acted as God. His claims to deity are perhaps best seen in the self-designations “Son” in the context of speaking of God the Father, “Son of Man,” His references to God as “Abba,” and His answer to the high priest when asked if He was the Christ, the Son of God.[40] Further, His activities such as His proclamations that persons would be judged specifically by how they responded to His message of salvation and His claim to have the authority to forgive sin (which was judged by the Jewish scribes who were present to be a prerogative of God alone) are also important indicators of His own convictions in this area.[41] Together, His claims and His actions are strong arguments that Jesus taught that He was, indeed, deity.[42]
  3. In one of the strongest arguments for the deity of Christ, Royce Gruenler points out that, utilizing only a minimalistic list of Jesus’ evidenced sayings as assembled (and accepted) by radical New Testament critics themselves (and which contain none of the explicit Christological utterances which the gospels attribute to Jesus) one can still prove that Jesus was conscious of His own deity. In other words, even in the critically ascertainable synoptic gospel passages which “liberal” critics almost unanimously believe to preserve the authentic words of Jesus, we still find that He claimed divine authority. Thus, there is no necessary reason to distinguish the Jesus of the minimal authentic sayings from the Jesus who makes the lofty claims found in all four gospels. Jesus claimed divine prerogatives in both cases.[43]
  4. While it is frequently claimed that the earliest church did not believe that Jesus was deity, a study of some of the early creeds reveal that this is not the case. They ascribe titles to Jesus such as “Christ” (or Messiah), “Son” and “Lord.” And lest some challenge the meanings of these titles by claiming that these terms do not infer deity but some lesser role for Jesus, some of the contexts (such as Phil. 2:6- 11) reveal exactly the opposite.[44] The early church proclaimed Jesus as deity even to the point of being “pre-existent” and “equal with God.”[45]
  5. Numerous extra-biblical sources, although certainly later than the creedal sources just discussed, also plainly refer to Jesus as deity. At least three non-Christian writings call Jesus divine, while four others relate that early Christians believed this about Jesus.[46] The earliest non-New Testament Christian writers clearly refer to Jesus as deity, including specifically calling Him God on numerous occasions.[47]
  6. Since Jesus proclaimed Himself as deity, as revealed by both His teachings and His actions, and since the earliest church also held that He was deity, the ques­tion of verifying the teachings of Jesus is crucially important. It may be argued that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was the chief sign (miracle) which confirmed the truthfulness of His claims.[48]

After viewing the factual basis for the death,[49] burial, resurrection and deity of Jesus Christ, we have found that the evidence for each portion of the gospel mes­sage is extremely strong. As such, we have a firm foundation on which to address the issue of how we might make use of these facts in the treatment of doubt.

B. Applying Facts to Factual Doubt

1. Simple and Compound Doubt

We began this chapter with the assertion that uncertainty which is factual in nature (or even primarily factual) is generally satisfied by the relevant evidence or other data. In other words, this sort of state is treated chiefly by a study of the appro­priate grounds for faith.

Guinness expresses the issue this way:

Faith does not feed on thin air but on facts. Its instinct is to root itself in truth, to earth itself in reality, and it is this which distinguishes faith from fantasy, the object of faith from a figment of imagination . . . . This is always the way. This type of doubt is silenced by facts, answered by truth and reassured by understanding…. Truth is the only sufficient answer faith can give doubt, for it is the truth of the matter, the facts of the case which give faith its solid foundation.[50]

Likewise, Board states the problem similarly:

Deep questions require deep study…. Christianity has something to do with fact and truth…. So doubts of error are met by knowledge and study.[51]

We have concurred with this prognosis throughout this chapter. It has been our purpose to present a long list of evidences in favor of the death, burial, resurrection and deity of Jesus Christ. Although it was not possible to develop any of these points, informational footnotes have suggested some additional sources in order to facilitate just the sort of study which can be the primary correction to this type of uncertainty.

Persons who have come to me with factual doubts are often distinguished by their questions involving the truthfulness of Christianity (in whole or in part), the lack of observable emotional patterns and a seeming desire to accept a good answer. As such, the proper data should at least theoretically be a sufficient cure.

A simple and somewhat humorous illustration of this occurred in my own family.

My oldest son, Robbie, has always been a very inquisitive child, frequently refusing to take easy answers at face value. Once, after he asked me how one can know that Jesus was really raised from the dead, we got into a simple discussion about history in general and how one can know, for instance, that George Washington ever existed. Just a short time later, during Easter season, Robbie’s Sunday School teacher asked the entire class the same question about the resurrection, to which my son replied, “How do you know that George Washington ever lived?” After a moment of reflection, the teacher understood the connection and she responded, “Oh yes, you’re Habermas’ son, aren’t you?” At any rate, Robbie’s factual doubts had been solved by the data and he was convinced enough to share the answer with others.

At the same time, the counselor or teacher who does an insufficient job dealing with a question ought not necessarily assume that the person’s doubt is of a differ­ent nature. Thus if an individual questions the deity of Christ, it will probably not help to tell him to “just believe,” concluding, if he doesn’t, that it must be a volitional issue. Guinness states the problem well:

If someone is doubting the resurrection, it is irrelevant to assure him of Christ’s promise never to leave him — Christ never was with him if he has not risen…. If there is “no reason why” for faith, the time may come when there is “no reason why not” for doubt. And the best remedy for this doubt is to know the sure and sufficient reasons God has given us, to know why we can know God is there, to know why we can trust his revelation as true, to know why we can be sure of his love and his goodness, and to stand firm in our understanding of these truths.[52]

On the other hand, uncertainty is frequently not a simple issue but a compound one. More than factual doubt is quite often present. Perhaps what was once a more simple factual uncertainty has progressed to emotional levels due to a person’s not being able to deal with it adequately. A more complicated case would be one in which factual and emotional doubt leads to a volitional quandary because of the unsettled nature of the other issues.

In one such case, an outstanding young Christian intellectual was studying for his doctorate at a major northeastern university. There he found himself alone and without much fellowship with other believers. And even though he had studied Chris­tian philosophy and apologetics, what started as a few intellectual questions smol­dered until an emotional flame followed. This young student interpreted his emotions as a rejection of Christianity and acted accordingly. Over a period of a few months, he read several anti-Christian authors, further confirming his change in beliefs.

During this time, when he had the opportunity, he told several of his Christian friends that he was now an agnostic and that he had, indeed, repudiated his faith. Later, when this budding skeptic’s former pastor had heard about the problem and then drove over to speak to him, the pastor discovered that volitional doubt was likewise operational — this graduate student both acted cold and had no intention (or apparent desire) to choose to believe otherwise.

This was an example of doubt that had started fairly simply but had later blossomed into a compound case involving factual, emotional and volitional factors. But the pastor rightly surmised in this case that, unless the factual objections were removed first, emotional healing and the response of the will would probably not occur. So, the pastor took several trips to see the student and, acting correctly, attempted to chip away at the intellectual problems. Over a period of a few more months, the pastor was successful in showing his former member that, on strictly factual grounds, Christianity was true.

When no further factual objections of any importance remained, the pastor then concentrated on the rebellious will of the student, suggesting repentance. While at first the advice was resisted, the student finally did repent, returning to a prosperous Christian belief and life. Some time later, things were still getting better with the fruits of true Christian commitment being evident. Here and in other situations of either salvation or such repentance, I must conclude that without the work of the Holy Spirit, the ultimate result would never have occurred.

2. Dealing with Factual Doubt

Our previous discussion points out the importance of identifying what type of doubt is present in an individual. And while the last illustration may show that such is sometimes a complicated matter, there are several indications which reveal that it is not as difficult as one may think. One need not untangle every last thread; disclosing the chief type and working with it can usually cause the situation to unravel signifi­cantly so that other aspects can also be treated. Additionally, love and concern can be shown to the person, which in itself often helps. Lastly, the helper is not “on his own” and need not feel that the burden is on him. We can each only do our best; changing lives is the Holy Spirit’s domain. Believers need to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s working through them. Other believers can also be very helpful, as can personal study.

Having said all of this, how do we actually deal with factual doubt? I will suggest three steps, all of which follow from our preceding discussion.[53]

First, we need to learn the factual basis for the Christian faith. This is not to say that all Christians must become sophisticated apologists, but it does mean that we can at least have a good grasp of the factual basis for the gospel, as the center of the faith. And this is doubly crucial for the one who is either suffering factual doubt or who is helping another through it.

Of course, such a suggestion might take some study. Board states that, in work­ing on this type of uncertainty, there “is no place for sloth.”[54] Guinness asserts that “of all the families of doubt this is probably the one best helped by reading.”[55] Be this as it may, having a sound factual basis for faith is the best remedy for factual doubt, as shown earlier in this section. And while an outlined case for the grounding for the gospel has already been supplied in this chapter, other relevant material and topics are also important here. But knowing why we believe the things we do is an excel­lent starting point.

Second, we cannot be content merely to know the basis for the Christian faith,and the gospel in particular, but we must constantly review and rehearse these facts.

Thus, we must remind ourselves of this data.

After speaking of the subject of doubt, C.S. Lewis mentions this last point in his characteristic way:

… make sure that, if you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day. That is why daily prayers and religious reading and church-going are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed.[56]

Lewis makes the worthwhile assertion here that such activity should occur daily, as well. To wait for the time that we experience doubt in order to “apply the facts” is not as affective. Besides, daily practice and review should act as a kind of doubt prevention. It is also recommended that such rehearsal might occur (in addition to Lewis’ emphasis on prayer, reading and worship) in a daily period of meditation (see the later treatment of this subject).

Third, the factual basis for Christianity must be firmly held by faith. For me, this was always the toughest step, for I didn’t think that faith was even relevant in this context, let alone knowing how to do it.

This point requires more attention than we can give it here. And since it is a matter of volition, as well, it is treated in more depth in that chapter. Suffice it to say at this juncture that faith is not a “weak sister.” To quote Lewis, “Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your rea­son has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.”[57]

One additional (and perhaps intriguing) assertion needs to be made on this subject and that is that faith needs to shift from factual propositions of the gospel to the Christ of the gospel. This needs to be treated later, as well, but the point is that it is not the impersonal relationship of a believer with the historical facts that is needed, but a personal, living relationship with the Jesus of the facts.

Perhaps two final notes of application are needed here. First, with factual doubts, the chief issue is the truth of the factual basis for Christianity. And since the gospel is true, we should stress that this is the case whether one chooses to believe it or not. And there is a certain sense in which it must be said to the one doubting that other concerns are less relevant at this point. Did Jesus Christ die for our sins? Was Jesus Christ buried afterwards? Did Jesus Christ rise from the dead? Is Jesus Christ deity? We must stay on track here; to be sidetracked by pseudoproblems is perhaps to lose the battle. How we feel about the data or if there is the “slightest chance” that it is false[58] are red herrings.

With regard to serious factual objections, each must be faced on its own grounds. The endnotes in this chapter should provide some useful sources. But briefly, the viewpoint from which the challenge comes may need to be identified, since it very possibly has a bearing on the answer. Then the explicit issue needs to be addressed. But once again, the major subject in both factual uncertainty and with factual objections is still the facts: what are they? The evidence proves each of the facts in the gospel, so this sort of uncertainty ought to subside as we continually apply this knowledge.

Second, if a person continues to balk and defend his doubt, then other types of uncertainty may be the issue. Initially we should be willing to check if we have done the best we can in presenting the factual basis for Christianity. But beyond that, we should be alert for other signs. Questions about the very possibility of being mis­taken, especially in the absence of any new facts, probably identifies emotional doubt. On the other hand, the unwillingness to exercise further faith may indicate volitional concerns. And we turn to these other species of uncertainty in subsequent chapters.

C. Conclusion

The gospel is the absolute center of the Christian faith. It is also the portion of Christianity which is most readily verified by the evidence. The atoning death, burial, resurrection and deity of Jesus Christ are established on extremely strong grounds. I think that it is even a further indication of God’s grace that the evidence is so abun­dant at this crucial juncture rather than at less important points.

Applying such facts to factual uncertainty can be tricky especially because of the compound doubts which are frequently present. But learning the factual basis, continually reviewing it and holding on to it by faith should cure factual doubt. Prac­tice is imperative.

Christians must regularly remind themselves that the chief concern here is the truthfulness of the faith. Factual doubts and objections should be handled in much the same way: what does the evidence indicate? If the factual uncertainty is not solved at this point, we should examine both the job we did in studying and commu­nicating that basis and the likelihood that there is more to the doubt than just that factual element itself.

Read Part 4


  1. It should be noted that the word “gospel” in this discussion is used more narrowly of those facts which, in an orthodox sense, it is necessary for one to believe in order to be a Christian. To be more proper, the “gospel” is being used here of the facts which one must believe concerning Christ, for faith is placed in Him, not in the facts themselves. And I realize that any listing of the facts in the gospel will be open to some question and dialogue. So I will claim at this point simply that I think those listed here are the minimum number of beliefs which comprise the gospel as enunciated by many orthodox scholars.
  2. A very interesting point is made by those who think that the resurrection appearances should also be included as a distinct element in the gospel specifically as listed by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:3-5. The argument here is largely based on the “kai . . . kai . . . kai” sequence of verses 4-5 and asserts that, just as the burial and the resurrection of Christ are listed, the third kai also includes the appearances. A possible response is that, since no human being witnessed the actual resurrec­tion itself (as far as is known), the fact that Jesus was indeed raised (v. 4) is the conclusion drawn from the facts that He had actually died (v.3) and then later appeared (v. 5), thereby meaning that the resurrection and appearances are construed as a whole. But the practical point to be made here is that, either way this question is solved, a defense of the resurrection is virtually always done in terms of the appearances anyway and the endnotes here will attest the same.
  3. See the sources in endnote 41 below for the relevance of the title “Christ” and other related issues.
  4. For a defense of various aspects of the trustworthiness of the gospels, including questions of authorship and eyewitness testimony (from both several viewpoints and on different difficulty levels), see: William F. Albright, Archeology and the Religion of Israel (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1942); Paul Althaus, “Fact and Faith in the Kerygma,” in Jesus of Nazareth: Saviour and Lord, edited by Carl F.H. Henry (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1966); Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1987); F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1960); John Drane, Introducing the New Testament (San Francisco: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1986); Norman L. Geisler, Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1976), Chapter 16; Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduc­tion (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1971); Archibald M. Hunter, Bible and Gospel (Philadel­phia: The Westminster Press, 1969), Chapter 3; Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict (San Bernadino: Here’s Life Publishers, Chapter 4; John Warwick Montgomery, History and Christianity (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1964, 1965), Chapters 1-2; John A.T. Robinson, Can We Trust the New Testament? (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1977); A.N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963; Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978); Bastiaan Van Elderen, “The Teaching of Jesus and the Gospel Records,” in Jesus of Nazareth: Saviour and Lord, edited by Carl F.H. Henry, op.cit.
  5. For defenses of the further point of the inspiration of the New Testament as well, see: Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982); W. Arndt, Does the Bible Contradict Itself? (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1955); Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1968); R. Laird Harris, Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publish­ing House, 1957); Robert P. Lightner, The Saviour and the Scriptures (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1966); Clark H. Pinnock, Biblical Revelation: The Foundation of Christian Theology (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971); Ronald H. Nash, The Word of God and the Mind of Man (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982); B.B. Warfield, The Inspira­tion and Authority of the Bible (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1948); John W. Wenham, Christ and the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984).
  6. See Phil. 2:8; 1 Pet. 3:18; cf. Rom. 4:25 for examples of early creeds which report the death of Jesus. Additionally, 1 Cor. 15:3 and 11:26 are especially central in such a discussion.
  7. See Gary R. Habermas, Ancient Evidence for the Life of Jesus: Historical Records of His Death and Resurrection (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984), especially Chapter V.
  8. For these twelve sources and a discussion of their value, see Habermas, Ibid., Chapters IV, VII.
  9. For some of the many medical doctors who have studied death by crucifixion, see, for example, Pierre Barbet, A Doctor at Calvary (New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1953); Robert Bucklin, “The Legal and Medical Aspects of the Trial and Death of Christ,” Medicine, Science and the Law, January, 1970; William D. Edwards, Wesley J. Gabel and Floyd E. Hosmer, “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ” in Journal of the American Medical Association, volume 255, number 11, March 21, 1986; C. Truman Davis, “The Crucifixion of Jesus: The Passion of Christ from a Medical Point of View” Arizona Medicine, March, 1965.
  10. See Habermas, Ancient Evidence, pp. 153-155. For a technical treatment of this archaeological find, see Nicu Haas, “Anthropological Observations on the Skeletal Remains from Giv’at ha­Mivtar,” Israel Exploration Journal, volume 20, numbers 1-2.
  11. For a Roman statement, see Quintillian, Declamationes maiores 6,9. For another example, compare John Foxe, Foxe’s Christian Martyrs of the World (Chicago: Moody Press, n.d.), p. 96. The regularity of this practice is difficult to determine.
  12. Each of the medical doctors in endnote number 9 agrees with this general description, as ex­amples of those who hold this position.
  13. Frederick T. Zugibe, The Cross and the Shroud: A Medical Examiner Investigates the Crucifixion (Cresskill: McDonagh and Company, 1981), p. 165.
  14. Kenneth E. Stevenson and Gary R. Habermas, Verdict on the Shroud: Evidence for the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Ann Arbor: Servant Books, 1981; Wayne: Dell Publishing Com­pany, 1982), see especially Chapter Ten.
  15. Strauss’ famous critique appears in his work A New Life of Jesus, two volumes (Edinburgh: Williams and Norgate, 1879), volume I, pp. 408-412. Another critic, Albert Schweitzer, found Strauss’ criticisms to be the “death-blow” to such rationalistic hypotheses like the old view that Jesus did not die. See Albert Schweitzer, The Quest for the Historical Jesus, translated by W. Montgomery (New York: MacMillian Publishing Company, 1968), pp. 56-57.
  16. For two examples, Reginald Fuller calls this early belief by Jesus’ disciples “one of the indisput­able facts of history.” James D.G. Dunn states that it “is almost impossible to dispute” the historical fact of this conviction by the earliest Christians. See Reginald H. Fuller, The Founda­tions of New Testament Christology (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1965), p. 142; James D.G. Dunn, The Evidence for Jesus (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1985), p. 75.
  17. It should be noted that the word “gospel” in this discussion is used more narrowly of those facts which, in an orthodox sense, it is necessary for one to believe in order to be a Christian. To be more proper, the “gospel” is being used here of the facts which one must believe concerning Christ, for faith is placed in Him, not in the facts themselves. And I realize that any listing of the facts in the gospel will be open to some question and dialogue. So I will claim at this point simply that I think those listed here are the minimum number of beliefs which comprise the gospel as enunciated by many orthodox scholars.
  18. See Habermas, Ancient Evidence, pp. 124-127.
  19. For a discussion of these, see Ibid., pp. 99-100, 110, 147.
  20. For further information, see Ibid., pp. 155-156; cf. Paul L. Meier, First Easter (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1973), pp. 119-120.
  21. For an example of such information, see Bonnie LaVoie, Gilbert LaVoie, Daniel Klutstein and John Regan, “In Accordance with Jewish Burial Custom, The Body of Jesus was not Washed,” Shroud Spectrum International, volume I, number 3 (June, 1982), pp. 8-17.
  22. For good arguments for the empty tomb, see William Lane Craig, “The Empty Tomb of Jesus” in Gospel Perspectives: Studies of History and Tradition in the Four Gospels, edited by R.T. France and David Wenham, volume II (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1981); Edward Lynn Bode, The First Easter Morning, Analecta Biblica 45 (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1970); Robert H. Stein, “Was the Tomb Really Empty?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, volume 20, number 1 (March, 1977).
  23. Craig, Ibid., p. 194.
  24. Dunn, p. 69.
  25. Ibid., p.75.
  26. In addition, it will be said below that the elements which are most crucial for a resurrection apologetic can be established on historical grounds apart from any belief in the inspiration or even the general trustworthiness of the New Testament.
  27. On the issue of the trustworthiness of the resurrection passages in particular (in addition to endnote number 4) several specialized works deal with both the more basic and the more advanced concerns. In the former category, see John Wenham, Easter Enigma: Are the Resur­rection Accounts in Conflict? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984) and Josh McDowell, The Resurrection Factor (San Bernardino: Here’s Life Publishers, Inc., 1981). Of a more advanced and technical nature, see Grant R. Osborne, The Resurrection Narratives: A Redactional Study (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984) and Murray J. Harris, Raised Immortal: Resurrection and Immortality in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983).
  28. Lk. 24:34; 2 Tim. 2:8; cf. 1 Tim 3:15-16; Phil. 2:8-11.
  29. Rom. 1:3,4; 10:9-10.
  30. Dunn dates it as early as 32 or 33 A.D. (see pp. 69-70). Cf. Harris, pp. 9-14 and Osborne, pp. 221-233.
  31. For a survey of the reasoning behind these conclusions and the positions of various scholars, see Habermas, Ancient Evidence, pp. 124-127.
  32. These include six non-Christian and four Christian sources.
  33. For a listing of these ten sources, see Habermas, Ancient Evidence, Chapters IV, VI, VII. For a critical evaluation of them, see especially pages 112-115, 149-150, 161.
  34. While such a feat could take a book-length manuscript itself, the interested reader might consult what is still a classic treatment of the subject, James Orr’s The Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1965, from the 1908 edition). Cf. Gary R. Habermas, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Rational Inquiry (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International, 1976), pp. 114-171.
  35. For a brief summary of some of the critical attacks on these alternative theories themselves, see Gary Habermas and Antony Flew, Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? The Resurrection Debate, edited by Terry L. Miethe (San Francisco: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1987), pp. 20-21, includ­ing endnotes.
  36. For a brief listing of these and other evidences for the resurrection, see Habermas, Ancient Evidence, pp. 127-129.
  37. For our conclusion on this issue, see Stevenson and Habermas, Verdict on the Shroud, Chapter Eleven.
  38. For this argument in more detailed form, see Habermas, Ancient Evidence, pp. 124-132.
  39. Besides the synoptic references in the next two endnotes (40 and 41) see John 4:25-26; 5:17-18; 10:27-33; 14:6. In addition to the sources in endnote number 4 above, see those in number 42, as well.
  40. For examples, see Matt. 11:27; Mk. 2:10-11; 10:45; 13:32; 14:36; 14:61-63.
  41. For examples, see Matt. 19:28-29; Mk. 2:1-12; 8:34-38; Lk. 12:8-9.
  42. There is much discussion on these issues in contemporary theology and, sadly, evangelicals have frequently failed to address many of the chief queries posed by critics. But this does not mean that the issues have not been answered. For an excellent treatment of the subject which not only answers many of the key questions but challenges the typical critical assessments, see Royce Gordon Gruenler, New Approaches to Jesus and the Gospels: A Phenomenological and Exegetical Study of Synoptic Christology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1982). For other important and noteworthy studies on these topics, see I. Howard Marshall, The Origins of New Testament Christology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1976); Donald Guthrie, New Testa­ment Theology (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1976); George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974). Compare also Martin Hengel, The Son of God: The Origin of Christology and the History of Jewish-Hellenistic Religion, translated by John Bowden (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976) and C.F.D. Moule, The Origin of Christology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977).
  43. See Gruenler, Ibid., pp. 15, 29, 31 and, especially, Chapters 2-3. Gruenler adds that even in the Gospel of John, Jesus makes no explicit claims which are not appropriate based on what is known about His implicit claims derived from the minimalistic data discussed above.
  44. See especially 1 Cor. 11:23; 15:3; Rom. 1:3,4 and Phil. 2:6-11. Cf. Acts 8:37; 1 Cor. 12:3; Heb. 4:14; 1 Jn. 4:15.
  45. Oscar Cullmann, The Christology of the New Testament, translated by Shirley C. Guthrie and Charles M. Hall, revised edition (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1963), p. 235; cf. pp. 55, 57, 321. Cf. Hengel, pp. 57-83; Joachim Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, translated by Norman Perrin (London: SCM Press, LTD., 1966), p. 101 for instance.
  46. See Habermas, Ancient Evidence, p. 109 for a listing of these sources.
  47. See the clear testimonies of Clement of Rome, Corinthians, 36, 59; Ignatius, Ephesians 5, 7, 15, 18, 19, 20; Magnesians 6, 7, 8; Romans, Introduction, 3, 8; Philadelphians 7; Smyrneans 1, 4; To Polycarp 8; Polycarp, Philippians 12. Of the three authors here, only Clement of Rome does not specifically call Jesus God. It is noteworthy that several New Testament texts also refer to Jesus as God (see Jn. 1:1; 1:18; 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8; 2 Pet. 1:1; cf. Phil. 2:6; Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:3) although there is some question concerning the grammar, syntax or text in a few of these instances.
  48. See Gary R. Habermas, The Resurrection of Jesus: An Apologetic (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980; Lanham: University Press of America, 1984), especially Chapters 1-3.
  49. In 1 Cor. 15:3 Paul states that it is not just the death of Jesus which plays such an important part in the gospel, but His atoning death (i.e. that Jesus died for our sins). For a defense of the atonement, see Habermas, Ibid., pp. 108-112.
  50. Guinness, pp. 115-116.
  51. Board, pp. 7,9.
  52. Guinness, p. 117.
Dr. Gary Habermas

Dr. Gary Habermas

Dr. Gary Habermas

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