People love books on history if notfor the mere fact that we couldn’t experience something first hand, then forthe fact to learn new and exciting things. Books on the resurrection of Jesuscontinue to be popular among not only theologians but educated readers seekingto find the roots to Christianity.
Thousands of books have been written on theresurrection of Jesus one would not think much more could be said. However,Michael Licona observed that much of the literature on the resurrection ofJesus failed to use proper historical methods and hermeneutics. While someerrors have been addressed recently by notable writers such as N.T. Wright, andJames D. G. Dunn, Licona explains that something is still missing. He thinksthat one possible reason is the failure to apply a methodology used by historians,particularly ones who work outside of the Christian faith.
Because Licona’swork focuses on historical methodology using a philosophical view outside ofthat of the biblical scholar his work creates a wonderful contribution to theimportance of the resurrection of Jesus. What follows is my summary of thefirst three chapters of Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A NewHistoriographic and a critical look at his work. SummaryThe book is comprised of fivechapters, the first of which discusses methods to be used. The issue ofhorizons is addressed in chapter one.
Horizons are the worldviews thathistorians hold and impact their research, which in turn could potentiallyaffect how they interpret the relevant data and the conclusions they draw fromthis data. He discusses multiple strategies one can take to reduce bias, heencourages historians to make their personal horizons public. To showcase thisLicona concludes the chapter with his own “confessions” where he elaborates onhis personal worldview and other pertinent background information. In chapterone besides horizons Licona explores the debate between postmodernist andrealist approaches to history. He settles on the view that postmodern approachis too extreme, and it “self-refuting” and although they can be helpful “theyhave gone too far in their conclusions”.1Licona spends much of the chapter on methods and outlines the criteria by whichhistorical hypothesis may be assessed. He speaks of methodological neutralitywhere the burden of proof lies with the person making the claim.2 One should also note that hemodels his approach after secular historians working to eliminate anypresuppositions theologians might have.
Chapter two examines miracles andtheir place in historical investigations. Licona discusses the arguments ofseveral philosophers such as Hume, McCullagh, Meier, Ehrman, Wedderburn, andDunn. Each have tried to discredit miracles showing historians cannot establishthe past occurrence of a miracle. He concludes that all have failed to show asolid argument against miracles. But not all is lost when studding thesephilosophers, Licona uses their works to create principles in identification ofmiracles. He states that an event is a miracle if: it is “extremely unlikely tohave occurred given the circumstances and/or natural law and 2) occurs in anenvironment or context charged with religious significance”.3 This criterion is not allinclusive but sets the ground work for what could be very promising principlesin identification of miracles.
Building on the foundation laid inthe first two chapters we find chapter three applying the methodologicalfindings to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. We see in chapter three Liconasurveys all relevant literature written within the first two centauriesfollowing Jesus’ death. He then ranks each source by its helpfulness. Liconadiscusses Paul’s letters and his motivations behind his statements in 1 Cor 15:3-7 as being of excellent sources.4While not as excellent but still worthy and helpful sources from 1 Clement,Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians, the speeches in Acts, the Gospel ofThomas, and occasional non-Christian sources can be beneficial. Analysis Licona’s main intent in this bookis to introduce methods for examining historical evidence and applying thesemethods in a non-biased or non-presuppositional views to the resurrection ofJesus.
Licona’s focus in chapter one is sound. He begins with considerations inthe philosophy of history where he explains that bias is a natural part oflife, and that it heavy influences historians when they are studying data. Thisleads him onto the subject of horizons, and the necessity of being aware ofthem. Licona states that “Horizons and biases do not necessarily prohibithistorians from partial objectivity”.5Licona does a great job of describing how we become biased in our worldviewsand how this impacts our thinking. But he doesn’t leave it at that, he lays outmethods to overcome these biases give us hope for an objective truth. Having readsome of Dr.
Gary Habermas and Licona before it becomes apparent how importanteliminating bias and presuppositions are. If we are to examine history and usehistory for miracle clams, then we must do our due diligence when researching ahistorical event. Even if you had never read any books on this subject, or werefamiliar with proper study of history one could read this book and he or shewould have a good understanding and basic knowledge of how to view historybetter. One could even begin to review or study a historical even on their ownusing the methods laid out in chapter one. Chapter two Licona takes a deepdive into prior philosophers who have opposed that miracles can be studied aspart of history.
While some believemiracles are true, they often hold the view that historical tests are notappropriate or applicable in studying miracle claims. Licona does a sound jobon presenting both the positive and negative values each philosopher andscholar bring to the table. Additionally, he gives solid evidence that”historians are not prohibited from investigating the historicity of theresurrection of Jesus, although historians affirming its historicity cannotgrant resurrection in its full theological sense”.6 Licona also further elaborates onthe 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 alarge enough burden by itself, no further burden is necessary.
7 Licona does an excellent job tyingin the burden of proof to demonstrating that the resurrection can be evaluatedhistorically. Chapter three we find a plethora of sources in which Licona examines forusefulness and then rate each one to just how useful it will be in examiningthe resurrection historically. While up to this point Licona has written hisbook 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 toget through. While the theologian who has studied hermeneutics will find Liconadoes an excellent job of presenting his case. Engaging using the Greek text toexamine passages is one of the core processes in proper hermeneutics.
One otherstrong point in this chapter is the use of non-Christian sources. Licona hasmade it a point to show that we can examine the resurrection using secularhistorical methods, but we must remove the theological portion when examiningmiracle claims of the resurrection. Overall chapter three gives an abundant numberof sources that continues to build the case for the resurrection to be fullycapable of being examined as historical, and proof of miracle claims.While having only read the firstthree chapters for this assignment one can still get a good picture of whatLicona is attempting to examine. One positive in my opinion is that he startseach chapter with a story that helps the reader associate the context of thechapter to something practical.
Another key pro to his book is the use ofreferences biblically and scholarly, it is more than just his personal opinion.Licona does an excellent job of creating building blocks, on which he buildsthe next layer. While there are many positives I cannot find really anynegatives, other than my personal opinion that while Licona did an excellentjob laying the frame work on the non-theological side of the resurrection; in whichhe showed that postmodernist and many non-Christian philosophers wereself-defeating and lacked solid foundation. He did not take those opportunitiesto show how Christianity is a better fit.
While he looked at the subject objectivelyand from a pure point of view of identifying if a supernatural event had occurredhe did not fully advance the gospel. 11262963163423255061987Ibid.