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5 Reasons Why I Prefer Maximal Data Over Minimal Facts

Recently, a skeptic has been blowing up my phone with Jetpack notifications by leaving a seemingly unending series of comments on an old 2018 article series titled “The Evidence For The Resurrection Of Jesus”. In this article series, I defend the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus using a Minimal Facts Approach. A Minimal Facts approach only uses historical facts that meet two criteria; (1) They have many different criteria of authenticity-based arguments in their favor, and (2) They are accepted by the majority of scholars, even skeptical ones. For most of my time as an apologist, this was the only argument for the resurrection I would ever give. Cerebral Faith started in 2012, but until 2023, I never made any real effort to defend the historical reliability of the gospels, and consequently, the historical claims the gospels made. But after doing a good amount of study which culminated in my 11-part series “The Case For The Reliability Of The Gospels”, I have come to the conclusion that a Maximal Data Approach is not only 100 times evidentially stronger, but is superior to a Minimal Facts Approach in every way.

As a result, despite the fact that I still think *a* Minimal Facts Approach can work, I am just not interested in defending the resurrection from that angle anymore. I initially thought that Gary (Skeptic’s name) was commenting on this much more recent article series. Imagine my disappointment when I found that he was commenting on this much older series of articles. So why am I so apathetic about this apologetic method? There are 5 reasons

1: It’s A Much Stronger Case, Evidentially

Of most importance is just how strong the case for the “Jesus of History” being the same as the “Jesus of faith” is. As a baby-faced 18-year-old, I cut my teeth on Lee Strobel’s book “The Case For Christ”. In the book, Strobel interviewed numerous New Testament scholars and apologists related to various different historical Jesus and New Testament reliability issues. By the end of it, Strobel called this an “Avalanche Of Evidence”. He wrote “In light of the convincing facts I had learned during my investigation, in the face of this overwhelming avalanche of evidence in the case for Christ, the great irony was this: It would require much more faith for me to maintain my atheism than to trust in Jesus of Nazareth!” [1]Strobel, Lee. Case for Christ Movie Edition: Solving the Biggest Mystery of All Time (p. 287). Zondervan. Kindle Edition. [2]Strobel was not, in fact, an atheist during all of these interviews. The interviews conducted for the book were done after he had become a Christian. Nevertheless, many of the objections he posed … Continue reading

I had a much similar response after my own intellectual journey. I can remember it like it was yesterday. I had just finished reading Brant Pitre’s “The Case For Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence For Christ”. This was the final book in a huge stack of books I had read. I was sitting in a rocking chair on my back porch on a warm spring day. I was going over the arguments in my mind. I was feeling overwhelmed. There was so much to talk about! Even in an 11-part massive blog-book, how would I cover everything!? Moreover, I didn’t want the results of my studies to only be for one article series. I wanted to use this stuff in my apologetic cases, but I was under the impression that a Maximal Data Approach required too much unpacking and that it pretty much required you write a book every time you wanted to make your case. As I’ll say in the next section, this is false, but it is was made me stick to exclusively a Minimal Facts Approach. I had two epiphanies; (1) The Maximal Data Approach can be just as efficient as a Minimal Facts Approach (see the next section), and (2) JESUS IS ALIVE! I had come to the firm conclusion that Jesus of Nazareth did indeed rise from the dead, vindicating his claim to be God. Now, it’s not like I was in serious doubt before (maybe a little?), but my level of certainty skyrocketed in that moment, and I’ve not had the level of OCD scrupulosity I had prior. Whereas I used to constantly ask “What if I’m wrong? What if the resurrection isn’t the best explanation of the facts?” Now, I really was sure! I paced back and forth in my backyard happily exclaiming “Jesus is alive! He is risen! Jesus is alive!” It was indeed an “avalanche of evidence”. What’s more, I was feeling immense evidential force even from just an elevator pitch-friendly version of the argument! Never mind the copious mounts of Undesigned Coincidences, archeological confirmation, extra biblical written confirmation, the cumulative from the criteria of authenticity, etc. which only serve to make a powerful case even more powerful! I have to say, despite the fact that I think a Minimal Facts Approach can still work, I think it only just barely gets the job done and really only leaves one with a minimal amount of certainty. It certainly doesn’t leave one feeling the force of an “Avalanche of evidence” that Strobel felt in the 1980s and what I felt in 2023!

2: The Maximal Data Approach Is Every Bit As Wieldy As The Minimal Facts Approach

In my early days of doing Christian Apologetics, I must confess that I hated having to defend the resurrection. I could defend The Kalam Cosmological Argument ok, I could defend the Fine-Tuning and Moral Arguments ok, but the resurrection? Golly, where would I even start? Should I start with the manuscript evidence that The New Testament has been reliably preserved? Should I start with all the extra biblical writers that mention Jesus and other New Testament figures? Archeological confirmation? All of the above? And if I do go with all of the above, that’s an awful lot of typing/talking. And how much of what I read do I even remember? Also, how much is enough before we can say that the gospels are historically reliable? Then in 2014, I read a book called “The Case For The Resurrection Of Jesus” by Dr. Gary Habermas and Dr. Michael Licona. In this co-authored popular work, I was introduced to The Minimal Facts Approach for the first time. They defended the resurrection from 5 historical facts that were established by the criteria of authenticity and were facts that most scholars (even skeptical ones) granted. Moreover, they made it clear on what you had to defend and what you didn’t have to defend. If The Bible had errors, it wouldn’t affect the argument. If the gospels were generally historically unreliable, it wouldn’t affect the argument. Because, as Dr. William Lane Craig said, the criteria of authenticity “help to establish historical kernals even in the midst of historical chaff”, [3]William Lane Craig, “Q&A: Establishing The Gospels’ Reliability”, so even conceding errors for the sake of the argument, I could still make my case.

I felt like a HUGE weight was lifted off of me! At last, defending the resurrection would no longer be a massive burden! I no longer had to get sidetracked by skeptic’s comically long list of alleged contradictions in the gospels. Gone were the days when skeptics would drag me down various rabbit trails. No longer would I let a skeptic (like a certain Michael on Twitter in 2012) force me to talk about alleged historical errors in Luke’s birth narratives (e.g The census, the Christmas star, Quirinius) when we weren’t even discussing that part of Jesus’ life to begin with! Now, I could actually get somewhere in telling people what I believed and why I believed it. From then on, that was my exclusive approach to defending the resurrection.

Based on my conversation with others in the apologetics community, the problems I had with the Maximal Data Approach (MDA) were the same ones I had. It takes too much time and effort, the skeptic is allowed to control the discussion, and so on. One of the things I came to realize on my back porch that day that my initial concern about efficiency was misguided. I realized that there is indeed a short form of The Maximal Data Approach. After pacing around my backyard, I got on my phone and typed out my discovery in a Facebook status. Here’s what I said

“I was thinking over the Maximalist case for the resurrection of Jesus, and I just came to know that Christianity is true. Not that I didn’t believe it was true before, I did, and on evidential grounds too. But right now, I can say I know it is true. I am as certain that Jesus is alive as I am that I myself am alive. I can honestly say that I have not had this much certainty that Christianity is true since I first experienced God as a teenager.

I’ve also come to an epiphany on just what a Maximalist case does and does not require of me. It really isn’t as inefficient as I thought it was. All of the things that I thought were required of me can really just be supplemental confirmation of the gospels’ credibility, but they don’t all need to be unpacked in one sitting if time does not allow it.

There is some preliminary work before you can mount the trilemma that Lydia McGrew often trots out, but it’s really no more than the preliminary work you need to do in giving The Fine Tuning Argument for God’s existence. You have to get into a little bit of the science of fine-tuning before you can mount the syllogism inferring to design ( I use Dr. Craig’s syllogism in case you didn’t know). I have come to the conclusion that once you have established that the gospels are eyewitness testimony, then it is just a matter of scrutinizing that testimony. There are three options; they were either lying, they were mistaken, or they were telling the truth. All you really need to argue for in the case of preliminary work is the traditional authorship of the gospels. For if the gospels really were written by Matthew, John, and Mark got his information from Peter, then these men were there. They were in the position to know whether or not the things they record actually occurred. And it’s indisputable what their testimony actually is. No one doubts what the gospel of Matthew and John say about the resurrection. All you have to do is open up your Bibles and read them. The question is whether their testimonies are true. And if you can establish that the testimonies are even coming from the people who claim to have witnessed these things, then it is a matter of evaluating the three options; they were lying, they were mistaken, or they were telling the truth.

And at this stage, it is similar to a Minimal Facts Approach where you knock down naturalistic theories. For the skeptic will try to show that the disciples were mistaken by trotting out things like the hallucination theory, that someone moved the body of Jesus; or they went to the wrong tomb. And you can knock these down. You could knock them down using some of the same arguments. you would use in a minimal facts approach, but you can go even farther than that because you have more details to work with. I personally think the hallucination theory fails even on a minimal facts approach, but I will not disagree that it fails even harder on a maximal data approach. Because when you look at the details of their testimony, you just can’t be wrong about that sort of thing! I am not going to have a grief hallucination of my mother appearing before me and eating fish. My mom is not going to show up again several days later and eat some more fish! And she’s not going to show up to 20 different people on multiple occasions! That’s not a hallucination! You can refute the groupthink theory by the same way you would in a minimal facts argument by showing that the Jewish peoples back then were not expecting a dying and rising messiah, so that they would not be primed to experience a postmortem appearance of Jesus. But you can also point out the fact that they were all in hiding for fear of the Jews, and that Thomas not only doubted the testimony of the women, but he doubted the testimony of his fellow male disciples as well! Groupthink Theory fails. And you can refute the option that they were lying by pointing to the evidence for the martyrdom, just like you would normally in refuting the stolen body theory in a minimal facts approach. Peter is not going to make up some tall tales to give to Mark, and then go be crucified upside down for those tall tales. Matthew is not going to make up some tall tales, and then go be decapitated for those tall tales. Liars make bad martyrs. So, if they’re not lying, and they’re not mistaken, the only remaining option is that they’re telling the truth! It’s the only option left. And it’s the option that has the best explanatory power and scope.
You see, I was under the impression that you had to unpack the case for the full reliability of the gospels. You had to show that they were reliably transmitted, that they were written by the people who are traditionally believed to have written them, and that they are proven to be right over and over again by external evidence and internal evidence. So, you have to show all of the places where Josephus corroborates the gospels, and Tacitus, and the archaeological discoveries that show all of the different things that the gospel authors got right. Maybe throw in a dozen undesigned coincidences in to show that they are eyewitness testimonies and are confirmed at numerous points, so then they are trustworthy witnesses, and we can accept what they say about the resurrection at face value.

You can definitely do that if you want to. You can do that if you have time. If you are writing a 10 part blog post series like I am, you can do that. If you have non-Christian friends, who you know you can have multiple conversations over a prolonged period of time, you can do that. But if you only have one conversation in which to make your case, like with a stranger on a bus, or on a plane, or maybe it’s a skeptic who visits your Facebook page or YouTube channel and you don’t know if they’ll ever be back. If that’s the case, then you can make a case for the traditional authorship of the gospels, and then, having established that these details of the resurrection are based on eyewitness testimony, rule out the alternatives to them telling the truth. Really, this should not take any longer than it would take to defend the minimal facts approach. And, it’s epistemologically stronger.

And with regards to defending the traditional authorship of the gospels, you don’t even have to get into all of the evidence that establishes that. You can just point out the manuscript evidence that Brant Pitre does in his book “The Case For Jesus” which shows that there are no anonymous copies of the gospels dating back as far as the second century. And no one disagreed that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It’s not like you have one second century manuscript that ascribes the gospel to Matthew, and then another copy of that same document ascribes it to Peters or Mary, the mother of Jesus. There are no anonymous manuscripts, and they all agree on the authors. From the 2nd century to the 11th century. You can stop there, or you can go further to cite the early church fathers who attest that Matthew wrote Matthew and Luke wrote Luke and so on. After that, you can present your McGrewian syllogism and make your case. But if your interlocutor is still hyper skeptical about the traditional authorship of the gospels, you can unpack more evidence. You can respond to some of their objections as to why, say, Matthew didn’t write Matthew. And you can also provide additional evidence. There’s actually a good bit of internal evidence for the traditional authorship of the gospels. I will be talking about this in one of my upcoming essays on the Cerebral Faith blog. As Lydia McGrew says, you don’t bring all of your pots and pans out when you make dinner. You only bring out what you think you’ll need, and then you can bring more out if necessary. You can unpack more evidence as you go.

Don’t get me wrong. I still think McGrew, Manning, and other Maximalists are wrong in thinking The Minimal Facts approach is a bad argument. But I do think the Maximal Data Approach is both epistemologically stronger and is no less efficient than the Minimal Facts Approach. And I really think it’s up to you which one you want to defend on any given basis. Just as you might make a choice between The Kalam Cosmological Argument and The Argument From Contingency. They’re both good arguments, but one is stronger than the other (in my opinion).

With all this said, I recant my article saying that you can’t use the The Maximal Data Approach in an efficient manner.” [4]Evan Minton, from a Facebook status posted on April 15th 2023, –>

I was wrong in thinking The MDA was too inefficient. Just like with the MFA, there can be a short elevator-pitch friendly version, a version fit for a one hour talk, or a version fit for a magnum opus. This isn’t to say that one should get lazy and only study the case for traditional authorship. We definitey need more than authorship. But I use authorship just to establish that the gospels were written by eyewitnesses which I can then use for the lying, mistaken, truth, Trilemma. Or what I’ve dubbed “The McGrewian Trilemma”.

It’s just a way to get the conversation started. And things like Undesigned Coincidences, archeological support, and so on, can be brought out to strengthen our conviction that they weren’t lying. They were committed to telling us the truth of what happened to Jesus and they are trustworthy witnesses. So yeah, we definitely need to be able to defend more than authorship in conjunction with The McGrewian Trilemma. But that can be a good “One-Minute-Apologist” case for the resurrection. And then these other evidences can be brought out as needed. And if it’s a person I think I can have multiple conversations with, we can get through a lot of historical evidences. The short form I talk about in the quoted Facebook status is either for (1) starting the conversation or (2) for making the case if one doesn’t have much time. It’s basically what David Pallmann did in his opening speech in his resurrection debate with Godless Engineer. I highly recommend watching that debate if you want to see what a conversation friendly version of The Maximal Data Argument really looks like!

There is much more I can say on this, but for the sake of not giving another lengthy blog post, I recommend checking out the following resources; the talk I did at the Defend conference “Making The Maximal Data Argument For Jesus’ Resurrection Attractive” which can be listened to by clicking on this Google Drive link, or if you’d prefer seeing the slides, I also gave this same talk on the YouTube program Faith Unaltered. Click here to watch the video.

3: People Have Focused Too Much On The Significance Of Scholarly Consensus

One of Gary’s comments on my Minimal Facts blog series was on how many scholars really affirmed the Minimal Facts. I was misinterpreted as saying that skeptics like Bart Ehrman and Gerd Ludemann affirmed the empty tomb! I was also told that I couldn’t use The Empty Tomb because only 75% of scholars accepted it. My response was that 75% was still a majority even though it’s not as large of a percentage as those in the 90s. Other skeptics have misinterpreted folks like myself and Licona as making an argument ad populum, that is, to say that things like Jesus’ death by crucifixion and the disciples’ claims to have seen him alive are historical facts because they are affirmed by the majority of scholars! This is a straw man argument. No reputable scholar has ever argued for the truth of one of these minimal facts on the basis that they are affirmed by the majority. Rather, majority scholarly acceptance is a criteria determining which data points we can use in our presentation. At the end of the day, it will be the arguments ushered in favor of these minimal facts that will determine whether we should affirm them or not. It’s the evidence that matters in determining the truth, not a scholarly nose count!

Although this straw man argument to MFA can be dealt with, the MDA just does an end run around it. Percentages of scholarly acceptance don’t matter even in determining what data points we will use to make our case. Whether everyone affirms it or no one does, the skeptic will be forced into dealing with the soundness of the arguments. To put this another way; MFA says that some evidence is inadmissible on the basis that it’s not accepted by the majority of scholars. MDA says no evidence is inadmissable. As long as your arguments are sound, you can use whatever evidence you want. [5]Shoot, bring in The Shroud Of Turin if that tickles your fancy!

4: Dealing With The Ghost Jesus Theory Is A Lot Easier

Ironically enough, I think you have to do way more work in a Minimal Facts Approach than in a Maximal Data Approach. In my book “My Redeemer Lives: Evidence For The Resurrection Of Jesus” which was an expanded and updated version of the blog post series, I spent an entire chapter arguing against what Gary Habermas called “The Jedi Jesus Theory”. This theory is a supernatural explanation favored by Jehovah’s Witnesses saying that the postmortem appearances were the visible spirit of Jesus appearing to his disciples. Jesus was basically a ghost. I do think a Minimal Facts Approach can take down this theory, but in order to do so, I had to exegete the Apostle Paul as affirming a physical resurrection, and then I inferred on the basis that Paul compared his gospel with what the disciples were preaching and said they gave him his stamp of approval (see Galatians 1:18-19 cf. Galatians 2:5-6), and then there’s an argument from cultural context that Jews, Christians, and Pagans (everyone in the ancient world) would have understood an anastasis (Greek for resurrection) in physical, bodily terms, so that the disciples probably took the postmortem appearances they experienced as physical, bodily events.

All of this took one whole chapter to unpack, and even then it’s just a probabilistic conclusion. Gosh, wouldn’t it be great if we had written records by actual disciples of Jesus telling us just what exactly what it was they saw? Oh, wait! We do! They’re the gospels! Matthew, Peter, and John were eyewitnesses and they are the authors of three of the four gospels (Peter having given his testimony to Mark). On MDA, you’re already taking the gospels as eyewitness testimony as part of your case. You can just point to the indisputably physical things Jesus says and does in the accounts for prolonged periods (e.g eating fish) and you’re done.

Granted, I realize that scholars like Dale Allison will try to explain the physicality of the resurrection appearances in the gospels as legendary development, but I really don’t think that works under the premise that the gospels were written by the apostles. And it falls even harder if you affirm both the traditional authorship and early dating. Then you have the eyewitnesses recording an impact even within 20-30 years of the event! I would only find legendary development plausible if we assumed that the gospels were third or fourth hand sources, as is the case under the premise of anonymous authorship. I go into more of this in Part 9 of my Gospel Reliability blog-book.

5: I Can Be A Positive Influence In Getting More Apologists To Use The MDA

The MFA has come to completely dominate the apologetics landscape. Prior to the 2010s, the MDA was much more in vogue and defended in the writings of New Testament scholars like Craig Blomberg and by popular apologists such as Lee Strobel and Josh McDowell. Although it was not called The Maximal Data Approach back then. [6]This name was likely coined by Dr. Lydia McGrew to make it a clear counterpart to The Minimal Facts Approach. I personally am not fond of the name, as it implies you have to be exhaustive in your … Continue reading However, buy a book on Christian Apologetics today and see if you can find anything other than a version of The Minimal Facts Approach presented when it comes to the subject of Jesus’ Resurection. I’d be willing to bet that unless it’s an old book or something written by the McGrews, you won’t find it. J. Warner Wallace’s “Cold Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigate The Claims Of The Gospels (Updated and Expanded Edition)” comes close, but it’s a new edition of an old book! Same with Lee Strobel’s “The Case For Christ (Movie Edition)”. It’s also a new edition of an old book!

This is a shame! Even if one’s preferred method were MFA, one should defend MDA at least some of the times. If we don’t, we run the risk of giving skeptics the impression that we won’t defend the reliability of the gospels because we can’t, and we can’t because the gospels truly are unreliable.

If I switch from MFA to MDA, perhaps more apologists will see that using this (much more powerful) argument really isn’t that big of a deal. You are not being asked to write a dissertation whenever you want to do historical apologetics. If people can see how it’s effectively used in conversation settings, they can emulate me. One of my long term goals is to some day write a popular level book which would basically be a manual for how to use The Maximal Data Argument in conversation-friendly ways. There is a lot of material giving you the evidence for the reliability of the gospels, but there isn’t a whole lot out there showing you how to use what you’ve learned in the field. I would like to fill that void. Showing one how it’s done was something Habermas’ and Licona’s “The Case For The Resurrection Of Jesus” did supremely well. It is my prediction that this will go much farther in getting people to use MDA than just constantly bashing the MFA ad nauseum.


I am not one of those ornery McGrewpies who just wants to stir up trouble and take your treasured resurrection argument away from you. I still stand by what I said in my 2 part response to Lydia McGrew here and here. If you like your minimal facts, you can keep your minimal facts. All I really would ask of you is that you consider adding the MDA to your apologetics toolkit. This would not be dissimilar to how Dr. William Lane Craig defends both The Contingency Argument and The Kalam Cosmological Argument, two different versions of the cosmological argument! Obviously, Craig favors the Kalam, but he can, has, and will defend the Contingency Argument as well. However, as for myself, I think the MDA is so superior to the MFA, that I personally am not interested in defending the MFA at all anymore. There is no dialectical advantage in defending MFA instead of MDA, except in very exceptional cases in which you’re debating with a non-Christian New Testament scholar.

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1 Strobel, Lee. Case for Christ Movie Edition: Solving the Biggest Mystery of All Time (p. 287). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
2 Strobel was not, in fact, an atheist during all of these interviews. The interviews conducted for the book were done after he had become a Christian. Nevertheless, many of the objections he posed were objections to Christianity that he had as a skeptic. I initially thought he was an atheist when he flew in to interview all these guys, but that was because I wasn’t reading closely enough. If I had paid attention, I would have learned that Strobel was only recreating his intellectual journey by playing devil’s advocate.
3 William Lane Craig, “Q&A: Establishing The Gospels’ Reliability”,
4 Evan Minton, from a Facebook status posted on April 15th 2023, –>
5 Shoot, bring in The Shroud Of Turin if that tickles your fancy!
6 This name was likely coined by Dr. Lydia McGrew to make it a clear counterpart to The Minimal Facts Approach. I personally am not fond of the name, as it implies you have to be exhaustive in your argumentation and only further waters the impression that The Minimal Facts Approach should be preferred. If I could give it a name, I would call it “The Gospel Eyewitness Approach”.

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