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Historical Methods to Analyze Resurrection


Historians weigh hypotheses by applying specific criteria & pick the hypothesis that best fits the data within that criteria.

The inference to the best explanation (P. Lipton) is best understood as passing the following criterion. The first two of the following are considered the most important and must be first satisfied prior to assessing the criteria that follow.

Criteria for analyzing a hypothesis

  1. Explanatory – will it explain a wide range (or all) of the data? A theory

    is stronger if it does not leave any___________.

  2. Explanatory – does the hypothesis give an understanding of the

    events occurred or data exists?

  3. Plausibility – if this hypothesis is true, plausibility assesses whether it is

    problematic with other accepted hypotheses. Does it integrate with other accepted

    hypotheses regarding events that occur around this hypothesis?

  4. Ad Hoc – Is the hypothesis credible? An ‘ad hoc’ theory requires other for which there is no evidence or no credible basis in order to be true.

  5. Disconfirmed by accepted beliefs – Consider whether background information available at the time make a hypothesis more or less acceptable.

  6. Outstripped by other rival hypotheses – we shouldn’t multiply causes beyond necessity.

Criteria for Analyzing a Historical Account /Testimony (used to judge facts)

1. ________________– unlikely that the same story made up independently

several times.

2. ________________– or awkwardness; a story, which causes either the hero, the author or the author’s allies to lose face, is probably not invented (fiction). Especially true for ancient historical accounts.

3. _____________________– if an event is unparalleled in pre-Jewish culture or not found in the early church, the event or saying is more likely to be accurately accounted.

4. _______________________– consider if the fact or testimony naturally leads to ultimate ends or situations that are generally accepted as true. The Crucifixion is one such fact that all facts must agree with. Even our most ardent academic adversaries ____________ the  ___________  _____________!

5. _____________________– consider how well a saying or fact cohere with the other criterion.

For the purposes of this talk, assume that Mark in priority to Luke & Matthew. Also, consider the Gospels as ordinary ancient documents from which we can recover certain historical facts.

The Crucifixion is attested by

1. Multiple Independent Attestation: Paul

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John

Note: One verse in the Koran states that the Crucifixion did not happen – this occurrence undermines the entire Koran because of how well accepted Jesus’s Crucifixion is historical.

2. Principle of Embarrassment

Jesus dying by one of the most shameful, horrific executions at the time – both to a gentile (Romans) and the Jews – “cursed is he who hangs on a tree.”

3. Dissimilarity

The Crucifixion became a symbol of belief, central to the beliefs of the early Christians and Jesus’ death on the cross an event they celebrated. This is completely contrary to the way in which Hebrews at that time remembered their Rabbi’s or leaders. Disciples of a teacher would annual meet at the grave of their departed Rabbi and celebrate their life. Jesus’s disciples regular met at dinner and celebrated his death! There is no cultural precedent for the actions of the disciples.

Multiple Independent Attestation

Objection John Dominic Crossan, The Jesus Seminar, claims that the apocryphal Gospel of Peter uses an unavailable source document called “the cross” document which also was used by all the Gospel writers and therefore there are no multiple, independent attestations to the Resurrection.

Answer: There is no complete version of the Gospel of Peter, which is at best was written around 100 AD. Second, none of the early church fathers recommend or discuss the Gospel of Peter. Crossan’s entire attempt undermines the independent attestation available through the four canonic Gospels. But it is more reasonable that the Gospel of Peter borrowed from all four of the Gospels, in wide circulation, then the other way around. Why would the Gospel writers pick and chose limited from this one source?

Two independent sources are considered significant enough to state an event occurred.

Most ancient history doesn’t have even two independent sources.

Principle of Embarrassment
Objection –The Gospel writers added material to make their accounts seem more believable.
Answer: The Gospel writers did not know in advance the criteria of textual criticism – developed more than a millennium later to add purposefully embarrassing fictitious events to their narratives to lend to its future acceptance.

Three facts that are accepted and will be used to make the case that Jesus bodily rose from the dead:

[A] Discovery of the empty tomb

[B] Multiple witnesses

[C] The disciples believed that Jesus had been physically resurrected. (NT Wright)