Three Undeniable Facts About Jesus
Don’t be fooled. You can deny anything you want. That, of course, doesn’t change reality. Reality doesn’t care what you accept or deny. You can deny gravity, but you’re still going to hit the ground if you jump from a high point. All of this to say, my title of three “undeniable” facts requires some nuance.
In addition to being able to deny, well, anything, there’s also the unavoidable debate about what constitutes a fact. It all gets pretty messy, doesn’t it? Perhaps we can use a common sense approach. Let’s establish a basic operational principle that you should accept as true things for which there is good evidence. Will that work? Here’s the tricky thing there. How much evidence is enough?
Getting at a fact is a hard thing. As one historian noted, there are no such things as “ready-to-eat-facts.” Getting at facts from the past, recent or distant, adds its own set of challenges. As historian Michael Licona points out, a “fact” is an “essentially contested concept” for which no agreed upon definition exists. Even once we get a fact, we still have to interpret it or fit it into a larger way we understand the world. As a friend of mine likes to say, “there are no un-interpreted facts.”
When we talk about a past event like the resurrection of Jesus, there’s a lot of ambient noise going on in the background. It’s like when you’re running a lot of programs on your computer and simple tasks take a lot longer than you expect, resulting in an pc hourglass or a swirly mac circle thingy. This isn’t for the faint of heart.
As Licona points out in his book The Resurrection of Jesus, we all have a horizon, a worldview or lens, through which we we view claims about the past. I think the best thing we can do is to (1) be aware of our horizon, and (2) seek to honestly consider claims, even if they conflict with our horizon, and (3) follow the evidence.
If there is good supporting evidence for a claim, and if the main arguments against the claim have less supporting evidence, you should at least provisionally hold the claim as possible if not plausible. While this doesn’t afford air-tight certainty, it is a good starting place for an operative method for thinking about factual claims related to Jesus. When the evidence piles up high enough to be recognized by numerous scholars with diverse horizons, then it becomes what Licona describes as “historical bedrock.”
If you reject something that has such status as historical bedrock, you now have the burden of proof to supply more data to prove some alternative claim. It’s irresponsible to merely shrug it off, particularly if it significantly affects other areas of life. Are there details about Jesus’s life that have passed such a test to be considered historical bedrock? Yes. Yes, there are. I’m glad you asked.
There are many Christian apologists who use what’s called “The Minimal Facts Approach.” Some include more or less facts in their presentations. Licona outlines three: (1) Jesus died by crucifixion, (2) the disciples believed they encountered Jesus shortly after the crucifixion, (3) the Apostle Paul believed he had an encounter with Jesus a few years after the crucifixion.
These three realities are highly evidenced and widely accepted among scholars and historians from across the religious spectrum who bring very different horizons to the conversation. This is a part of the historical bedrock. If you deny these three facts, you have the burden of proof to prove some alternative.
What will you do with Jesus? The way you interpret the historical bedrock of the life of Jesus is of great importance. The following video offers a more detailed explanation of the evidence I’ve referenced in this post. One theory that would certainly make sense of the historical bedrock is the claim which gave rise to the largest religious movement in history, namely, the church’s belief that Jesus rose from the dead that first Easter Sunday. Whatever you do with the evidence, to quote Tim Keller, it’s intellectually irresponsible to ignore Jesus.