College Papers

People their research, which in turn could potentially

People love books on history if not
for the mere fact that we couldn’t experience something first hand, then for
the fact to learn new and exciting things. Books on the resurrection of Jesus
continue to be popular among not only theologians but educated readers seeking
to find the roots to Christianity. Thousands of books have been written on the
resurrection of Jesus one would not think much more could be said. However,
Michael Licona observed that much of the literature on the resurrection of
Jesus failed to use proper historical methods and hermeneutics. While some
errors have been addressed recently by notable writers such as N.T. Wright, and
James D. G. Dunn, Licona explains that something is still missing. He thinks
that one possible reason is the failure to apply a methodology used by historians,
particularly ones who work outside of the Christian faith. Because Licona’s
work focuses on historical methodology using a philosophical view outside of
that of the biblical scholar his work creates a wonderful contribution to the
importance of the resurrection of Jesus. What follows is my summary of the
first three chapters of Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New
Historiographic and a critical look at his work.

Summary

The book is comprised of five
chapters, the first of which discusses methods to be used. The issue of
horizons is addressed in chapter one. Horizons are the worldviews that
historians hold and impact their research, which in turn could potentially
affect how they interpret the relevant data and the conclusions they draw from
this data. He discusses multiple strategies one can take to reduce bias, he
encourages historians to make their personal horizons public. To showcase this
Licona concludes the chapter with his own “confessions” where he elaborates on
his personal worldview and other pertinent background information. In chapter
one besides horizons Licona explores the debate between postmodernist and
realist approaches to history. He settles on the view that postmodern approach
is too extreme, and it “self-refuting” and although they can be helpful “they
have gone too far in their conclusions”.1
Licona spends much of the chapter on methods and outlines the criteria by which
historical hypothesis may be assessed. He speaks of methodological neutrality
where the burden of proof lies with the person making the claim.2
 One should also note that he
models his approach after secular historians working to eliminate any
presuppositions theologians might have. 

Chapter two examines miracles and
their place in historical investigations. Licona discusses the arguments of
several philosophers such as Hume, McCullagh, Meier, Ehrman, Wedderburn, and
Dunn. Each have tried to discredit miracles showing historians cannot establish
the past occurrence of a miracle. He concludes that all have failed to show a
solid argument against miracles. But not all is lost when studding these
philosophers, Licona uses their works to create principles in identification of
miracles. He states that an event is a miracle if: it is “extremely unlikely to
have occurred given the circumstances and/or natural law and 2) occurs in an
environment or context charged with religious significance”.3
 This criterion is not all
inclusive but sets the ground work for what could be very promising principles
in identification of miracles.

Building on the foundation laid in
the first two chapters we find chapter three applying the methodological
findings to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. We see in chapter three Licona
surveys all relevant literature written within the first two centauries
following Jesus’ death. He then ranks each source by its helpfulness. Licona
discusses Paul’s letters and his motivations behind his statements in 1 Cor 15:
3-7 as being of excellent sources.4
While not as excellent but still worthy and helpful sources from 1 Clement,
Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians, the speeches in Acts, the Gospel of
Thomas, and occasional non-Christian sources can be beneficial.

Analysis

Licona’s main intent in this book
is to introduce methods for examining historical evidence and applying these
methods in a non-biased or non-presuppositional views to the resurrection of
Jesus. Licona’s focus in chapter one is sound. He begins with considerations in
the philosophy of history where he explains that bias is a natural part of
life, and that it heavy influences historians when they are studying data. This
leads him onto the subject of horizons, and the necessity of being aware of
them. Licona states that “Horizons and biases do not necessarily prohibit
historians from partial objectivity”.5
Licona does a great job of describing how we become biased in our worldviews
and how this impacts our thinking. But he doesn’t leave it at that, he lays out
methods to overcome these biases give us hope for an objective truth. Having read
some of Dr. Gary Habermas and Licona before it becomes apparent how important
eliminating bias and presuppositions are. If we are to examine history and use
history for miracle clams, then we must do our due diligence when researching a
historical event. Even if you had never read any books on this subject, or were
familiar with proper study of history one could read this book and he or she
would have a good understanding and basic knowledge of how to view history
better. One could even begin to review or study a historical even on their own
using the methods laid out in chapter one.   

Chapter two Licona takes a deep
dive into prior philosophers who have opposed that miracles can be studied as
part of history.  While some believe
miracles are true, they often hold the view that historical tests are not
appropriate or applicable in studying miracle claims. Licona does a sound job
on presenting both the positive and negative values each philosopher and
scholar bring to the table. Additionally, he gives solid evidence that
“historians are not prohibited from investigating the historicity of the
resurrection of Jesus, although historians affirming its historicity cannot
grant resurrection in its full theological sense”.6
 Licona also further elaborates on
the burden of proof, in which he pulls the two chapters together in this sense.
Stating that the burden of proof lying on the person making the claim is a
large enough burden by itself, no further burden is necessary.7
 Licona does an excellent job tying
in the burden of proof to demonstrating that the resurrection can be evaluated
historically.

 
Chapter three we find a plethora of sources in which Licona examines for
usefulness and then rate each one to just how useful it will be in examining
the resurrection historically. While up to this point Licona has written his
book in a somewhat laymen’s style. Chapter three be being to see Greek text.
For someone who is not well versed in this style it could be quite difficult to
get through. While the theologian who has studied hermeneutics will find Licona
does an excellent job of presenting his case. Engaging using the Greek text to
examine passages is one of the core processes in proper hermeneutics. One other
strong point in this chapter is the use of non-Christian sources. Licona has
made it a point to show that we can examine the resurrection using secular
historical methods, but we must remove the theological portion when examining
miracle claims of the resurrection. Overall chapter three gives an abundant number
of sources that continues to build the case for the resurrection to be fully
capable of being examined as historical, and proof of miracle claims.

While having only read the first
three chapters for this assignment one can still get a good picture of what
Licona is attempting to examine. One positive in my opinion is that he starts
each chapter with a story that helps the reader associate the context of the
chapter to something practical. Another key pro to his book is the use of
references biblically and scholarly, it is more than just his personal opinion.
Licona does an excellent job of creating building blocks, on which he builds
the next layer. While there are many positives I cannot find really any
negatives, other than my personal opinion that while Licona did an excellent
job laying the frame work on the non-theological side of the resurrection; in which
he showed that postmodernist and many non-Christian philosophers were
self-defeating and lacked solid foundation. He did not take those opportunities
to show how Christianity is a better fit. While he looked at the subject objectively
and from a pure point of view of identifying if a supernatural event had occurred
he did not fully advance the gospel.        

1
126

2
96

3
163

4
232

5
50

6
198

7
Ibid.