Minimal Facts 1-4 Explained

In my previous post, I explained what the “Minimal Facts” of the resurrection of Jesus were.  In that post, I listed 12 facts that are widely accepted by even skeptical New Testament Scholars.  Before we look at alternate theories that try and explain the resurrection, lets first examine the facts themselves.  Here are Minimal Facts 1-4 Explained.

Fact 1: Jesus died by Crucifixion

According to skeptical scholar Bart Ehrman, “ The crucifixion of Jesus by the Romans is one of the most secure facts we have about his life.”

We of course have the 4 gospel accounts of the crucifixion.  The authors of Matthew (27:32-44) Mark (15:21–32)Luke (23:26–43) and John (19:16b—27)[1]all record the event.  

Minimal Facts 1-4 Explained

In addition to the Gospel accounts, we also have outside confirmation from the Jewish Historian Flavius Josephus. In his history titled “Antiquities”, he records the following: “…and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross,”[2]  I also list three other outside sources that mention Jesus in this article. 

People did not survive crucifixion either.  In his excellent book, Crushed: A Physician Analyzes the Agony of Jesus, Dr. J. Shan Young details the physical trauma associated with crucifixion.  

Roman soldiers were experts at killing.  They knew when someone was dead, and would take steps to ensure that the executions they were charges with succeeded.  This is why they broke the legs of the thieves crucified next to Jesus (John 19: 32-33). But the soldiers didn’t break the legs of Jesus, instead they pierced his side.  

Fact 2: He was buried, most likely in a private tomb (the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea)

As mentioned in John 19:31, Jesus was crucified on the day of preparation.  Because of this, it was important for the Jewish people to have the bodies off the cross before sunset.  We read that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus prepared the body of Jesus for burial. They then hastily placed him in a pre-exiting tomb in the garden where he was crucified. The burial process was intended to be completed by some of Jesus’ women followers after the Sabbath (Matthew 28:1,Mk 16:1–8; Lk 24:1–12; Jn 20:1–10[3]).

Minimal Facts 1-4 Explained

This account is consistent with what we know of Jewish burial customs of the time.  Also, the two people that prepared Jesus for burial were available to both the Disciples and the Jewish authorities to give the location of the tomb. 

Fact 3: Soon afterwards, the disciples were discouraged, bereaved, and despondent having lost hope.

We read about the Disciples state of mind after the crucifixion of Jesus in John 20:19. That the Disciples were despondent shouldn’t be much of a surprise to us.  The Disciples had just witnessed their friend and leader be betrayed, put on trial and violently killed.  They were in hiding and in fear of being discovered.  

If the Disciples were making up this story, they would have had themselves boldly standing with Jesus, not denying him.  They would be the heroes valiantly waiting at their leader’s grave. They would have overpowered the guards at the tomb and freed their leader to demonstrate their loyalty. 

Minimal Facts 1-4 Explained

None of this happened though.  Instead we are told they fled the garden when he was arrested.  They denied knowing him.  None of them save one stayed by their friend while he died.  And after Jesus was buried by Joseph, Nicodemus and the women, they remained in hiding until Jesus finally revealed himself to them. 

Fact 4: Jesus’ tomb was found empty very soon after his burial.

The Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (Mk 16:1–8; Lk 24:1–12; Jn 20:1–10[4]all attest to the empty tomb.  All agree that a group of women found the tomb empty.  

In Matthew 28:11, we read the account of the guards being instructed to tell the people that the Disciples had stolen the body of Jesus to account for the empty tomb.  This is crucial for two reasons:

Minimal Facts 1-4 Explained
  1. It is a tacit admission that the tomb was indeed empty.  By asking the soldiers to say the body was stolen, the Jewish leadership was inadvertently confirming that the body of Jesus was in fact not in the tomb.
  2. This shows that the location of the tomb was widely known.  The Jewish leadership as well as the Disciples knew the correct location of the tomb.  Therefore, it is highly improbably that the Disciples or the leadership simply went to the wrong tomb and discovered it empty. 


This ends the explanation for the first 4 minimal facts.  We will continue to look at and explain the minimal facts in our next post before we begin to look at alternate explanations for the resurrection of Jesus.  

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[1]The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Mt 27:32). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[2]Josephus, F., & Whiston, W. (1987). The works of Josephus: complete and unabridged(p. 480). Peabody: Hendrickson.

[3]The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Mt 28:1). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[4]The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Mt 28:1). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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