5 / 06
Image of birds flying. Image of birds flying.

#98 Evidence of Jesus’ Resurrection

March 02, 2009

You're Resurrection Debates always hinges on at least 3 historical facts. Well, when I start a debate/discussion in this manner, the immediate objection is with the use of those words. The objection is that these are not historical facts.

So my question is: what do you mean by the words "historical fact"? I can't find any explanation in your books which I have... or in any of your debates... or on the Open Forum of this website. I might have overlooked them, but I can't see it.

What I've surmised so far, is that in your eyes, a "historical fact" is that which is generally accepted by most of the scholars in that field. Like a general or majority consensus among Biblical scholars.

If that is how you define "historical fact", what reference can I point to which shows that this an acceptable definition used by scholars? Is it in a dictionary... an encyclopedia... on Wikipedia?

I find your debates remarkabaly powerful, but a major key (in my eyes anyway) seems to be those "historical facts" upon which you've built your case in your debates.

THANK YOU SO MUCH for any response and help you can give me. One day I hope to meet you.

God Bless You.


Flag of United States. United States

Photo of Dr. Craig.

Dr. craig’s response


Evidence of the resurrection

I’ve been surprised at how many people have stumbled at those words, Francis, especially since I mean nothing technical by the expression. So it’s good to have a chance to clarify my meaning.

If you’ll take a look at the fifth chapter of Reasonable Faith on “The Problem of Historical Knowledge,” you’ll find that I do discuss there the notion of a historical fact. You’ll see that I disagree with Carl Becker’s claim that historical facts are the historian’s statements about events. So I don’t take a historical fact to be “that which is generally accepted by most of the scholars in that field.” I write, “Rather a historical fact is either the historical event itself or a piece of accurate information about that event” (p. 231).

So Lincoln’s assassination, for example, is a historical fact, that is, an event which really happened. Alternatively, the proposition Lincoln was assassinated is a historical fact, that is, an accurate piece of information about some event. Nothing mysterious here!

Evidence of the resurrection – What counts as historical fact?

What exactly counts as historical evidence of the resurrection? When I say, for example, “There are three historical facts which must be explained by any adequate historical hypothesis about Jesus’ fate,” I mean that any adequate account of what happened to Jesus must provide an explanation of three events (typically, the discovery of his empty tomb, his post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection).

Sometimes I’ll call these “established” facts to draw attention to the fact that these events enjoy the affirmation of the wide majority of New Testament scholarship today. Perhaps that is what causes many people to stumble. They naturally think that there is no evidence for these supposed events and that they are therefore merely objects of faith. Indeed, it came as something of a shock to me when in the course of my doctoral work on the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection I realized that there was not merely a good case to be made that these events really occurred, that is to say, that they are facts, but that the majority of New Testament scholars who have written on this subject agree that they are facts!

I know that this seems startling, even incredible, but it’s true. This is not merely my impression of the literature. In a bibliographical survey of over 2,200 publications on the resurrection in English, French, and German since 1975, Gary Habermas found that 75% of scholars accept the historicity of the discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb and that there is near universal agreement on the post-mortem appearances.[1] These can therefore be counted as good evidence of the resurrection.

Evidence of the resurrection – The strength of the historical evidence

Since New Testament critics do not simply confess these facts but rather acknowledge them on the strength of the historical evidence (which I detail in my published work), I think it is fair to speak of them as established facts about Jesus that need to be explained. That doesn’t mean that they are certain or indubitable (though N. T. Wright at the end of his voluminous study on Jesus’ resurrection opines that the empty tomb and post-mortem appearances of Jesus have a historical probability so high as to be “virtually certain,” like the death of Augustus Caesar in A.D. 14 or the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70![2]), but merely that they have a degree of credibility comparable to other commonly accepted facts of ancient history.

So if your friends maintain that these are not historical facts, you should ask them what source of information they have that leads them to disagree with over 75% of the trained scholars who have studied this question. How did they come by such insight? How would they refute the evidence of the resurrection which has led so many scholars to the contrary conclusion? I’d be interested to learn what they say.

  • [1]

    1 Gary Habermas, “Experience of the Risen Jesus: The Foundational Historical Issue in the Early Proclamation of the Resurrection,” Dialog 45 (2006): 292.


  • [2]

    2 N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003), p. 710.

- William Lane Craig