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The Necessity of a Historical Resurrection

Michael Licona is an associate professor of theology at Houston Baptist University and the president of Risen Jesus, Inc. He is a frequent speaker on university campuses, churches, Christian groups, retreats, debates, and has appeared as a guest on dozens of radio and television programs. He is best known for his research regarding the resurrection of Jesus and his work on the subject, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (InterVarsity Press, 2010). The editorial staff at Credo Magazine recently reached out to Dr. Licona to discuss the resurrection, how best to understand history, and the epistemic justification of miracles for a modern audience.

How does one’s presuppositions or worldview affect one’s view of history?

One will be especially averse to concluding that miracles occur if one does not think God exists or acts in our world, if he does. And that can compromise the integrity of one’s historical work. Similarly, those of us who are followers of Jesus will be inclined to trust the New Testament accounts, because we view the New Testament as divinely inspired. However, if we are not careful, the integrity of our work as Christian historians may be compromised, since we may be too quick to conclude a particular act or logion of Jesus is authentic and it will be our theological convictions rather than careful historical work that unduly influences our conclusions.

Considering the nature of miracles, is it even possible to establish proof for a historical resurrection?

I think we need to define what we mean by “proof.” Since we cannot get into a time machine, return to the past, and verify our conclusions, “proof” in an absolute sense is not possible. So, we use, or should use, strictly controlled historical method. Even then, the results of properly executed method do not guarantee correct results. And just as with the various disciplines of science, there are occasions when newly discovered material changes previously held conclusions. So, historical method is not perfect. But, when executed properly, it’s generally reliable. And it’s a lot more reliable than other methods, such as tarot cards and magic eight balls! That said, historians are seeking probability. We compare hypotheses and prefer the one that accounts for the data better than all others. That hypothesis is then said to describe what probably occurred.

Now I want to be clear here. Christians are not required to doubt as a result of historical method being incapable of giving us absolute certainty. We distinguish between trusting Scripture as God’s Word and the degree to which historians can establish something, like the resurrection of Jesus, using the tools available to them.

It has often been said, but is it true that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence?

I do not think extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Lets say I am lecturing in front of a class of 20 students. Some terrorists looking for me enter the classroom and behead me in front of my students. An hour later when the students are talking outside with police officers, I walk out of the classroom with my head attached, a nasty scar on my neck and announce to everyone that God has raised me from the dead to confirm once again that Jesus is his Son. Now THAT would certainly be an extraordinary event! If you were one of the 20 students, would you believe the event had occurred? Of course! You had witnessed it with your own eyes. But that’s not extraordinary evidence. In fact, it’s the same ordinary evidence as watching a ball game. So, extraordinary claims do not require extraordinary evidence to justify belief. However, a person may require additional evidence before being persuaded. For example, an atheist who is genuinely seeking truth may ask for evidence that God exists prior to granting a historical case for Jesus’s resurrection.

Read more at Credo Mag

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