You are currently viewing The Minimal Facts Argument Is NOT Too Minimal – A Response To Erik Manning

The Minimal Facts Argument Is NOT Too Minimal – A Response To Erik Manning

Follower of this ministry will know that I am a proponent of The Minimal Facts Argument for The Resurrection of Jesus. I’ve studied this argument extensively since 2014; practically wearing out Habermas’ and Licona’s co-authored book “The Case For The Resurrection Of Jesus” because I kept studying it until I could get a perfect 100% score on the quiz that came with the interactive CD. I’ve gone on to read Michael Licona’s “The Resurrection Of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach” and I’ve watched Gary Habermas’ Credo Course on this argument a few times as well. I’ve put the argument under the most rigorous scrutiny by reading skeptical critiques of the argument, and by using the argument against skeptics over the course of the past 8 years. I’ve written on The Minimal Facts Argument myself, and my own written material can be found in articles such as called “The Minimal Facts Case For Jesus’ Resurrection PART 1” and “The Minimal Facts Case For Jesus’ Resurrection PART 2” just to name two.

There are two methods of arguing for the resurrection using historical evidence; (1) The Reliability Approach, and (2) The Minimal Facts Approach. The former argues that the gospels are historically reliable, eyewitness accounts and, therefore, can be trusted to tell us things about Jesus. Therefore, we can cite it for historical facts on which to justifiably infer the resurrection. Indeed, if you bring in enough evidence, I would be so bold as to say you could argue that if they got so many things correct (even tiny details no one would care about), then you can probably infer they got the big details right (like the resurrection of Jesus would be). The latter only uses data points that are well evidenced and which the vast majority of scholars agree, even skeptical scholars. A Minimal Facts Approach doesn’t even presuppose gospel reliability, much less inerrancy, which neither approach presupposes. The Minimal Facts Proponent uses the criteria of authenticity to the gospels to extract nuggets of historical information.

In the past 2 or 3 years, I’ve noticed increasing hostility towards this method of evidentially justifying Jesus’ resurrection…not from skeptics (that’s always been a thing), but from Christian Apologists! For the vast majority of time I’ve been studying and defending the argument, I’ve pretty much seen the two ways of getting to the resurrection via evidence as two equally viable ways at arriving at the same conclusion, much like how both The Kalam Cosmological Argument and The Argument From Contingency both conclude that a spaceless, timeless, immaterial, powerful, uncreated being brought our universe into existence. [1]and like these two arguments, I think the Argument From Contingency is stronger because you don’t even need to argue that the universe began to exist. All you need to do is show that the … Continue reading. Dr. Lydia McGrew and Erik Manning seem to be the two leading the charge in the crusade against The Minimal Facts Argument.

In two previous articles, I responded to blog posts written by Dr. McGrew. In this article, I’ll be responding to Erik Manning’s YouTube video “The Minimal Facts Argument For The Resurrection Is Too Minimal”.

Not Getting Far With Skeptics?

Manning’s video starts out with an anecdote of how he was first introduced to The Minimal Facts approach and actually used to be a fan of it. Manning mentions how he has read Habermas’ and Licona’s co-authored book “The Case For The Resurrection Of Jesus”, that he has read the more scholarly work “The Resurrection Of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach” penned by Licona alone, and how he has watched tons of debates between Habermas and skeptics. [2]Erik Manning, “The Minimal Facts Argument For The Resurrection Is Too Minimal”,, Timestamp – 0:42-0:52

Manning then says from 0:52-1:00 that “I eagerly shared the minimal facts whenever the opportunity came up. I often found that I didn’t get very far with my skeptical friends, and I would just end up frustrated.” I found this interesting because my experience was the exact opposite. My introduction to historical arguments for Christianity (and apologetics in general) was through Lee Strobel’s “The Case For Christ”. This book presents the case for Christ using what has now been called a “Maximalist” case. Strobel’s book makes the case for the reliability of the gospels and uses that to convince his audience that Jesus claimed to be God, died on the cross, and rose from the dead. This book was the one that kept me from apostatizing due to intellectual doubts when I was a teenager. Excited that I could do more than just preach the simple gospel and share my personal testimony, I was energized! I was eager to share my faith with unbelievers. However, I quickly discovered that in conversational settings, making a case for the reliability of the gospels was tough. It wasn’t that I didn’t know my stuff per se, but that there was a LOT of data that needed to be unpacked. Sometimes I didn’t know where to start. Should I try to establish the textual purity of The New Testment manuscripts? Should I presuppose their textual purity and just argue for authorship? Maybe I should concede anonymous authorship for the sake of the argument, but appeal to a variety of external and internal pieces of evidence which show the gospels are historically accurate. “So Josephus and Tacitus corroborate Jesus’ crucifixion. Thallus mentioned the darkness when Jesus was crucified.” More often than not, I found myself losing my audience because they didn’t want to read or listen (depending on whether this on social media or in person) a 15 page essay on why we can trust the gospels. “Ok, we can trust the gospels. Now, with that out of the way, let’s examine the details of their testimony concerning the events surrounding that first easter morning.” I said as I turned to see my atheist friend snoring away. And even if they could stay awake, I often found that we would go down rabbit trails. Sometimes we would be discussing alleged historical inaccuracies that didn’t even have ANYTHING to do with the resurrection accounts!

I will never forget arguing for the resurrection on the premise of NT reliability with this one person on Twitter. We both used this third party feature called Twitlonger which circumvented Twitter’s 140 character limit. After I presented a lengthy argument for the reliability of the gospels and my case for the resurrection of Jesus based on their reliable testimony, this skeptic came back with half a dozen alleged historical errors…AND THEY WERE IN THE BIRTH NARRATIVES! I ended up having to respond to the Qurinius Census problem, the astrophyiscal viability of The Christmas Star, the argument that if Herod had really killed lots of babies in Bethlehem, more than just Matthew would have reported it, etc. I responded to all of these, but after this response, my interlocutor quit replying.

With The Minimal Facts approach; things were different. I used the criteria of authenticity on The New Testament documents to establish the core facts needing to be explained; Jesus’ death by crucifixion, His Empty Tomb, The Postmortem Appearances To The Disciples, The Postmortem Appearances To Paul, The Postmortem Appearance To James. Sometimes extra biblical documents and archeology was brought in when relevant (e.g Josephus, Tacitus, Mara Bar Sarapion all mention Jesus’ death by crucifixion, and so was part of the multiple attestation argument), but sometimes I just stuck with applying the criteria of authenticity to the gospels and epistles (e.g all 4 gospels mention women as the first discoverers of the empty tomb, women were considered unreliable witnesses, ergo it would not have been made up. Ergo the criterion of embarrassment establishes the historicity of the empty tomb). Did I end up making lots of atheists, agnostics, muslims, etc. into Christians? No. I only made a tiny handful of converts. But that’s the way it is with ANY apologetic argument. In fact, in my case, it doesn’t really matter what I do. The majority of unbelievers I witness to remain unmoved. If I appeal to their intellect, their emotions, pragmatism (Pascal’s Wager), it doesn’t matter. I highly doubt that even if I used Manning’s preferred method that my turnout would be any different. I’ve come to grips with the fact that I’m a sower, not a reaper. In fact, there’s one deist-turned-agnostic-turned-deist that I’ve been working on for 4 years! And I have a massive repertoire of arguments; The Argument From Contingency, The Kalam Cosmological Argument, The Fine-Tuning Argument, The Local Fine-Tuning Argument, The Moral Argument, The Ontological Argument, The Argument From Beauty, The FreeThinking Argument Against Naturalism, and yes, The Maximal and Minimal Facts Arguments for The Resurrection Of Jesus. And should I have the chance to pursue a philosophy degree; there’s a new argument for God’s existence I’m sitting on that I’ve never seen in the literature, that I’d like to make the subject of my thesis.

As Greg Koukl has said; “First, not all Christians are good closers. Yes, some are effective at getting the decision. For those with that gift, harvesting takes a little effort. Nothing fancy is required; the simple Gospel does the trick. Yeah I am convinced that most Christians — Including me- are not harvesters. Instead, we are ordinary gardeners, tending the field so others can bring in the crop in due season.

Some Christians, aware of their difficulty in harvesting, get discouraged and never get into the field at all. If this describes you, then you need to know it’s okay to sow, even if you don’t reap. in fact, there’d be no harvest at all without you. Ironically, I think harvesting comes easily for some because many ordinary gardeners preceded them – planting, watering, and weeding, cultivating healthy growth until the fruit was ripe.” [3]Greg Koukl, “Tactics: A Game Plan For Discussing Your Christian Convictions”, Zondervan 2009, pages 38-39

Nevertheless, although my harvesting rate with The Minimal Facts was low, it wasn’t non-existent like it was the reliability method. And, moreover, I at least got lots of skeptics to consider Christianity intellectually credible even if they weren’t convinced enough to commit. I’ve gotten atheists who thought Christianity was inherently irrational to realize that, while he still disagrees, the case is strong enough that it makes sense why people believe it. For some skeptics, that’s a lot of progress right there!

The Minimal Facts Approach Cannot Get You To A Physical Resurrection

From 1:00 – 2:38 in the video’s time stamp, Erik Manning briefly explains what The Minimal Facts is and what the data points are. Nothing he has said here by way of representing the argument is a straw man. Although, I notice that the Empty Tomb and the appearance to James are noticably absent. No doubt, I will return to the issue of Jesus’ vacant tomb later. Manning then says;

“There is one big problem; what does the creed tell us about the nature of the appearances? Well, not very much. The gospels give us a walking, talking Jesus who eats with people and invites him to touch him, especially in Luke and John. The majority of scholars do not acknowledge these kinds of appearances. Rather, they explicitly deny them and label these stories as late embellishments. So yes, it’s sort of true that these academics who are counted in Habermas’ survey may acknowledge resurrection appearances, but 90% + don’t acknowledge their physical nature like we see in the gospels. We need to be real careful not to equivocate here. So, for example in Mike Licona’s big book on the resurrection he writes ‘Historians may conclude that subsequent to Jesus’ execution, a number of his followers had experiences, in individual and group settings, that convinced them Jesus had risen from the dead and had appeared to them in some manner.’ Now notice how carefully that’s worded; ‘In some manner’. As philosopher Lydia McGrew points out, we could say that The Minimal Facts are compatible with experiences that could be extremely limited in nature.” [4]Erik Manning, “The Minimal Facts Argument For The Resurrection Is Too Minimal”,, Timestamp – 2:48-3:57

After this, Erik Manning says that what could have happened, inferring based on the data we have in a Minimal Facts approach, is that the disciples could have seen a floating Jesus who appears and then disappears. And a Jesus who just appears out of thin air, says “all is well” and then sits for 2 minutes before disappearing again is compatible with The Minimal Facts.

I could quote more, but I think you get what his main objection is. It’s the same critique I responded to in my blog post “Saving The Minimal Facts From Lydia McGrew (PART 1)”; namely that there’s not enough details in the 1 Corinthians 15 creed alone to conclude anything other than that the disciples saw Jesus in some way. And we can explain this in many ways; bodily resurrection isn’t the only explanation, but hallucinations, or even Jesus appearing as a ghost in the way Obi Wan appeared to Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. How can we conclude that Jesus was physically raised without appealing to the gospels?

First, I have argued with Erik about this in Facebook comments. This objection is not new to me, and when Erik sees this, my responses probably won’t be new to him. We’ve been around the block on this before. Here’s the thing; we get multiple group appearances from 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 along with a few individual appearances. Jesus appeared to Cephas, then the twelve, then 500 individuals, then to James, then all of the disciples, and finally Paul. There are least 3 independent group appearances here. And I don’t get this idea that we don’t or can’t use the gospels in a minimal facts method, but in my writings I do appeal to the group appearances in the synoptics and John to corroborate the early creed. This way I can make a multiple attestation argument. The appearances are early, come from eyewitness testimony (which is at least derived from the testimony of Paul’s interactions with the apostles, and Clement and Ignatius’ reports of what the disciple’ taught) but it’s also multiply attested. It’s multiply attested even without the gospels as you have Paul’s, Clement’s, and Polycarp’s testimony that the disciples were preaching the risen Jesus. And the fact that Polycarp and Ireneaus personally knew the disciples and told us what they believed is multiply attested by Tertullian and Ireneus. See the infograph below.

The details of this can be read at blog “The Evidence For Jesus’ Resurrection Part 5: Fact (3) – The Postmortem Appearances To The Disciples”. With regards to appealing to the disciples (which as a “minimalist” I’m allegedly not supposed to do), I simply cite that these sources report physical resurrections as well, and that they do so independently. There doesn’t seem to be any reason to think they took their material on Paul’s creed (unless you presuppose apostolic authorship from Matthew and John, which I do affirm but don’t grant for the sake of argument).

The major point here is that, regardless of how much time the appearance of the postmortem appearance lingered, multiple group appearances on multiple different occasions is improbable to the point of being impossible. In fact, a psychologist whom Lee Strobel interviewed in preparation for his book “The Case For Christ” said that this many people having a hallucination at exactly the same time would “be a bigger miracle that the resurrection itself!” [5]Strobel, Lee. 1997. God’s Outrageous Claims: Discover What They Mean for You. p. 215, Zondervan

In their book “The Case For The Resurrection Of Jesus” [6]Gary Habermas, Michael Licona, “The Case For The Resurrection Of Jesus”, pages 105-106, Kregel Gary Habermas and Mike Licona tell of Navy Seals who were enduring through Hell week. At one point, the seals reported starting having hallucinations one night while they were paddling in a raft at night. They all hallucinated at the same time, but they did not have the same hallucination. They all had different hallucinations. One of them said he saw an octopus come out of the water and wave at him. Another said he saw a train coming towards them on the water. Another said he saw a wall that they would crash into if they persisted in paddling. When the octopus, the train, and the wall were pointed out to the rest of the group, no one saw any of the things except the one who pointed the thing out. They were all hallucinating, but they were having different hallucinations. So, even if on the off chance that all of the disciples, Paul, and James were in the frame of mind to hallucinate, it’s still unlikely that they’d have the same hallucination. Like the Navy Seals, they’d likely all have different hallucinations, perhaps only one of them being Jesus.

Moreover, even if the impossible did occur, and the minds of all these different groups of people produced hallucinations of Jesus, that would still leave the empty tomb unaccounted for. What happened to Jesus’ body? Why is it gone? Remember when I said I would return to the issue of Jesus’ empty tomb? Well, here’s where I’m returning to it. Michael Licona has increasingly restricted The Minimal Facts approach over the years. I don’t know why, but it’s almost like he’s trying to flex and see how much he can prove with so little. I’ve seen presentations where he’s defending the resurrection using only 1 minimal fact. Yes, you read that right; ONE minimal fact. That fact would be the postmortem appearances to the disciples. I, however, always include the empty tomb in my resurrection presentations. I also almost always defend Jesus’ crucifixion as lots of the non-Christians I’m witnessing to are usually Christ Mythicists (which make up the vast majority of atheists online). But if I know my interlocutor and I know he grants the crucifixion (as virutally 100% of scholars do), I will argue at minimum for the empty tomb and the postmortem appearances to the disciples. While Licona never uses The Empty Tomb, I always do. For one thing, there’s lots and lots of arguments for it being a historical fact (see my blog post ““The Evidence For Jesus’ Resurrection – Part 4: Fact (2) The Empty Tomb”). Secondly, all subjective and objection vision theories stumble over this fact. Multiple group Hallucinations on multiple different occasions are fantastically improbable in and of themselves, but even if we granted them, the hallucination theory would have to be rejected on the grounds of inadequate explanatory scope. Any good theory must be able to explain all of the facts, not just one or two. Indeed, if I can manage it timewise, I’ll include my usual 5; because of my interlocutor is appealing to bereavement hallucinations, then Paul is a gigantic thorn in their flesh! Because he was a persecutor of the early Christian movement. He hated Christians and he hated Christ! Ergo, whatever Paul saw, it wasn’t something caused by grief over Jesus’ death!

In fact, I have been told that I don’t actually use the minimal facts. Caleb Jackson, author of “Undead: A Historical Investigation Into The Most Famous Miracle In History” told me that he dubs my approach “The Moderate Facts Approach”, and he has said that this is the approach William Lane Craig uses. This is because despite occasionally using it in the past, Habermas and Licona deny that The Empty Tomb is a minimal fact. [7]“The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus: The Role of Methodology as a Crucial Component in Establishing Historicity” by Gary Habermas, Liberty University Posted August 2, … Continue reading And thus, I go beyond the boundaries of the approach. I go back and forth as to whether I agree with Jackson on that, but in any case, I don’t think that it really matters if I’m actually not using The Minimal Facts proper and that I’m really using a more liberal version of the method, a version that isn’t afraid to occasionally go beyond scholarly consensus and include data points only when needed. This is because William Lane Craig is taken to task by Lydia McGrew and other Maximalists like Manning for using even his method, despite the fact that he denied using such an approach in an episode of The Reasonable Faith Podcast [8]See The Reasonable Faith Podcast, “Objection To The Minimal Facts”, May 6th 2018 —

So even if this were a different approach than either The Minimal Facts Approach or The Maximal Defense Approach, I highly doubt that that fact would circumvent the objections to mine and Dr. Craig’s approaches entirely. McGrew and Manning want us to be stuck defending the reliability of the gospels in every conversation, no matter how impractical it may be. I highly doubt a compromise is possible.

But with that rabbit trail aside, I think I have conclusively shown that a Minimal Facts Approach CAN rule out hallucination theories. 1 Corinthians 15 itself includes two group hallucinations to the disciples. While the appearance to the 500 is debated, I honestly rarely even point to that. As I have said in a joking manner when discussing hallcuination theories before; if you have 12 men all smoking LSD, what are the odds that they’re all going to see a dragon? Even a dragon that floats in the air for a moment then vanishes, even a dragon that just pops into view for a few seconds, says “All is well” and disppears, even a dragon who is only visible for 15 seconds? And seeing it on more than one occasion? If they do, they better contact National Geographic! That kind of thing just doesn’t happen.

Yes, Manning is correct in saying that we don’t know the nature of the appearances from the creed alone. But as I have told him in a Facebook argument, the physicality of the appearances is an inference from the minimal facts. It’s not a premise. Subjective and Objective vision theories are alternate explanations of the facts that must be refuted. Because, you see, The Minimal Facts is a two step method. First, you establish the facts that need to be explained, Second, you rule out naturalistic theories, and by process of elimination, you can establish the physical resurrection as the best explanation of all 5 data. How well you’re able to pull this off will – in agreement with McGrew and Manning – depend on what facts you admit into your case. But the way *I* defend the resurrection, I don’t think getting to a physical resurrection is a problem. Unlike Licona, I don’t decree the empty tomb to be inadmissable. And unlike what McGrew, Manning, and the McGrewpies will tell you; I do appeal to the gospels.

Manning seems to acknowledge at least part of this response in his video, yet he just dismisses it and says “Well, not all scholars grant that the appearances were in groups.” First of all, he doesn’t back his claim up with any cited sources. He just asserts it. Secondly – and Caleb Jackson will probably comment below “and that’s why you’re not a minimalist” after I write this – but I don’t really care what the scholarly consensus is on this. The evidence from the creed gives us group appearances whether the consensus will grant it or not! Indeed, if you want to join together 1 Corinthians 15, with the synoptic gospels, and John, you can make a multiple attestation argument for group appearances. And you don’t need to defend the reliability of the latter to do so, you just need to show they’re independent enough from the creed. I think this can be done. I mean, for one thing, the creed doesn’t mention the appearance to Mary, so literary dependence of Matthew on Paul or John on Paul is unlikely.

I will say this; just reading what skeptical scholars have to say about the appearances certainly gives you the idea that they occurred in groups.

As the agnostic historian, Bart Ehrman said “We can say with complete certainty that some of his disciples at some later time insisted that he soon appeared to them. . . . Historians, of course, have no difficulty whatsoever speaking about the belief in Jesus’ resurrection, since it is a matter of public record” [9]Bart Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (New York: Oxford University, 1999), 230-231.

The atheist historian Gerd Ludemann put it this way: “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which he appeared to them as the risen Christ.” [10]Gerd Lüdemann, What Really Happened to Jesus?, trans. John Bowden (Louisville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), p. 80.

Why Pareidolia Is A Bad Explanation – Even On A Minimal Facts Approach

Manning said \\“They can easily suggest a combination of suggestion and pareidolia. This is a phenomenon in which a person sees something unusual and points it out to others. These other people, upon knowing what to look for, will consciously or unconsciously convince themselves to notice the apparition, and will, in turn, point it out to others. There are plenty of things we know that are like this involving large groups of people, like some reports of Marian apparitions. “\\ [11]Erik Manning, “The Minimal Facts Argument For The Resurrection Is Too Minimal”,, Timestamp – 5:48 – 6:08

But this is a terrible theory. Manning agrees that it’s a bad theory, but thinks it cannot be ruled out on a Minimal Facts Approach. In fact, he says that as an ex-defender of The Minimal Facts Approach, he would have difficulty ruling this theory all the time in his conversations with skeptics. Yet, it’s difficult to see why. Was Manning using the extremely restricted version of the Minimal Facts approach that prohibits the empty tomb? Was he trying to build a case on only the appearances to the disciples and Paul? Or is it, as my friend Caleb maintains, that I’m not really using the Minimal Facts, but a slightly more liberal version of it?

Do we need to historically establish “a ‘Touch me and see’ kind of Jesus” as Manning says?

In order for Pareidolia to work, the ones afflicted with it have to be under some expectation that they’re going to see what they’re going to see. There are four reasons why the groupthink theory (or Pareidolia Theory) is untenable, and you don’t even need the gospels to be reliable to make these following 4 points.

1: Jesus died. Jews weren’t expecting a dying messiah, but a messiah who would be a conquering warrior king, one who would throw off the yoke of Rome. [12]The Jews of the first century got their prophecies mixed up. Jesus will indeed get rid of all the evil in the world, He will overthrow Israel’s oppressors, but He’ll do this in His second coming. … Continue reading

2: According to the Old Testament (which Jews call the “Tanakh”), anyone hung on a tree was under God’s curse. This is mentioned in Deuteronomy 21:23. Since Roman crosses were made out of wood, they were technically trees, so people would often times speak of the crucified as “being hung on a tree”. And since this was in the minds of Jews, the way in which Jesus died would have only served to convince the disciples that Caiaphas and the others were right in condemning Jesus as a blasphemer and a heretic.

3: While Jews were divided on whether there would even be a resurrection (the commonly known debate between Pharisees and Saducees), the ones who did affirm resurrection thought it would occur at the eschaton. Jews (the ones who believed in resurrection anyway) believed that all people would rise from the dead at the end of the world, but they never expected any isolated person to get out of their grave right smack dab in the middle of human history. Second Temple literature abounds on this topic.

4: And if that weren’t enough, consider that some of the people who experienced a sighting of Jesus were skeptics…such as James the half-brother of Jesus. We know based on the historical evidence cited in a previous blog post that I wrote that James did not believe in Jesus during Jesus’ lifetime. Saul Of Tarsus was killing Christians because he considered them to be the worst of heretics! He experienced a sighting of Jesus risen from the dead, and he became The Apostle Paul. These former skeptics were not in any way living in anticipation of Jesus’ return.

As you can see, the disciples were not in the expectation that Jesus would rise from the dead. In fact, they had every predisposition to the contrary. And yet, they all believed they saw Jesus alive after His death! Also, you can see that I made these points without presupposing the reliability of the gospels. But if I were forced to make a gospel argument, it still wouldn’t depend on its reliability. In Luke 24:10-11, Mary comes and tells the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead. Luke records skepticism on their part and says that her words “seemed like idol nonsense to them.” This doesn’t seem like it would be made up as it paints the disciples in a bad position; making them skeptical of the resurrection while a woman of all people [13]Women were second class citizens in first century Israel. Josephus wrote: “But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex, nor let servants be … Continue reading is the one who both sees the risen Jesus and believes in him. By the criterion of embarrassment, I think this is probably historical, and not a later invention by the Lukan author. And since it’s a historical fact, we can conclude that the disciples were not in the frame of mind to experience Pareidolia. If they were, they would have believed Mary immediately and such belief would have lead to further appearances! Manning may object that my appeal to Luke 24 is going beyond scholarly consensus. Fine. Maybe I’m not the minimalist I thought I was. But what I am demonstrating is that I can make arguments while doing an end-run around the reliability of the gospels. And that’s really what I want to dismantle here; the idea that the gospels MUST be shown to be reliable in order to Jesus’ bodily resurrection to be established, not whether I need to go beyond scholarly consensus. However, even within scholarly consensus, Points 1-4 don’t seem to be hotly debated among scholars. So Luke 24 aside, I still think Pareidolia fails. Even if they thought they saw Jesus in this way, they probably would have dismissed it.

I would like for Erik Manning to see how I have dealt with the Pareidolia explanation and prove to me what’s wrong with it. Nothing I said presupposed the gospels were reliable, not even the criterion argument from Luke 24! As William Lane Craig has said; “Notice that these ‘criteria’ do not presuppose the general reliability of the Gospels. Rather they focus on a particular saying or event and give evidence for thinking that specific element of Jesus’ life to be historical, regardless of the general reliability of the document in which the particular saying or event is reported. These same “criteria” are thus applicable to reports of Jesus found in the apocryphal Gospels, or rabbinical writings, or even the Qur’an. Of course, if the Gospels can be shown to be generally reliable documents, so much the better! But the ‘criteria’ do not depend on any such presupposition. They serve to help spot historical kernels even in the midst of historical chaff. Thus we need not concern ourselves with defending the Gospels’ every claim attributed to Jesus in the gospels; the question will be whether we can establish enough about Jesus to make faith in him reasonable.” [14]William Lane Craig, “Q&A: Establishing The Gospels’ Reliability”, 

Erik Manning maintains that the gospels MUST be historically reliable in order to rule out Pareidolia? And yet, have I not shown that Pareidolia is a bad explanation of the minimal facts without presupposing the reliability of the gospels? In order for Manning’s argument to hold, he’ll have to poke holes in my above response to the Pareidolia theory, then show that only a “‘Touch me and see’ kind of Jesus” is the only way to rule such a theory out.

Yes, I Think We Must Defend The Reliability Of The Gospels Sometimes

Near the end of his video, Manning says \\”But the minimal facts apologist has already conceded for the sake of argument that the Gospels don’t need to be reliable to make their case. This gives the false impression to both believers and nonbelievers that they’re dubious sources. And that’s extremely problematic!”\\

Amidst all the disagreement in this interaction, this is one thing I agree on. Currently, I am studying the case for the reliability of the gospels in prepration for a blog post series on this subject. So far, I’ve read “The Historical Reliability Of The Gospels” by Craig Blomberg, “The Historical Reliability Of John’s Gospel: Issues And Commentary” by Craig Blomberg, “Excavating The Evidence For Jesus: The Archeology, The History Of Christ, and The Gospels” by Titus Kennedy, and I’m about to read “Hidden In Plain View; Undesigned Coincidences In The Gospels And Acts” by Lydia McGrew. After that, I’ll read Michael Licona’s Gospel Differences book followed by McGrew’s “The Mirror and The Mask” and “The Eye Of The Beholder.” I’ve got a pretty tall “Study Stack”. Why am I going to such lengths to prep to defend the resurrection by means of reliability? I’m sure many of you are wondering that. There are a couple of reasons;

1: Manning just said it in the above quote. If Apologists like me ONLY stick to The Minimal Facts Approach and never defend the resurrection by means of gospel reliability, this will give the impression that we think that the gospels aren’t historically reliable, when in fact we do. Even if The Minimal Facts continues to be our primary method, when skeptics see us at least occasionally go to bat for the reliability of The New Testament documents, we can avoid giving this false impression Manning is rightly worried about.

2: Imagine if Lydia McGrew and Erik Manning weren’t Christians. What if they were atheists or some other form of non-Christian? Obviously they don’t think The Minimal Facts Argument is a good argument. In this alternative reality, if I couldn’t convince them of the resurrection via my preferred method, I would go into a reliability or Maximalist approach. In the actual world, this is the evidential method that convinces them. What if there are other McGrews and Mannings out there who, unlike McGrew and Manning, aren’t Christians? As someone with a passionate evangelistic heart, I don’t want them to be barred from the kingdom simply because they don’t find my favorite argument convincing.


There is no reason why you can’t argue for the resurrection of Jesus using a Minimal Facts Approach. Erik Manning is free to continue only using the Maximalist approach if he so wishes, but he errs when he insists that it is the only approach everyone should use, and if you use The Minimal Facts Approach, you’re not defending the resurrection correctly. I have found his objections to be extremely lackluster, to put it charitably. The objections are not only fallacious, but they have no force whatsoever.

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1 and like these two arguments, I think the Argument From Contingency is stronger because you don’t even need to argue that the universe began to exist. All you need to do is show that the universe is not logically necessary. It’s even compatible with a B-Theory of time. So, if I come across a hardened B-theorist, I might use The Argument From Contingency over and against The Kalam. Because while the latter is my favorite, the former would be more practical in that situation. The Minimal Facts Approach has the advantage of getting to the conclusion while circumventing objections regarding historical inaccuracies or contradictions
2 Erik Manning, “The Minimal Facts Argument For The Resurrection Is Too Minimal”,, Timestamp – 0:42-0:52
3 Greg Koukl, “Tactics: A Game Plan For Discussing Your Christian Convictions”, Zondervan 2009, pages 38-39
4 Erik Manning, “The Minimal Facts Argument For The Resurrection Is Too Minimal”,, Timestamp – 2:48-3:57
5 Strobel, Lee. 1997. God’s Outrageous Claims: Discover What They Mean for You. p. 215, Zondervan
6 Gary Habermas, Michael Licona, “The Case For The Resurrection Of Jesus”, pages 105-106, Kregel
7 “The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus: The Role of Methodology as a Crucial Component in Establishing Historicity” by Gary Habermas, Liberty University Posted August 2, 2012 Originally published in the Southeastern Theological Review 3/1 (Summer 2012) 15–26. — http ://www.garyhabermas .com/articles/southeastern_theological_review/minimal-facts-methodology_08-02-2012.htm
8 See The Reasonable Faith Podcast, “Objection To The Minimal Facts”, May 6th 2018 —
9 Bart Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (New York: Oxford University, 1999), 230-231.
10 Gerd Lüdemann, What Really Happened to Jesus?, trans. John Bowden (Louisville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), p. 80.
11 Erik Manning, “The Minimal Facts Argument For The Resurrection Is Too Minimal”,, Timestamp – 5:48 – 6:08
12 The Jews of the first century got their prophecies mixed up. Jesus will indeed get rid of all the evil in the world, He will overthrow Israel’s oppressors, but He’ll do this in His second coming. In His first coming, He was to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 2:2 cf. Isaiah 53).
13 Women were second class citizens in first century Israel. Josephus wrote: “But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex, nor let servants be admitted to give testimony on account of the ignobility of their soul; since it is probable that they may not speak truth, either out of hope of gain, or fear of punishment.” (Antiquities, 4.8.15). And Talmud Sotah 19a says “Sooner let the words of the law be burnt than delivered to women“! The Talmud also contains a rabbinic saying that goes like this: “Blessed is he whose children are male, but woe to him whose children are female”!
14 William Lane Craig, “Q&A: Establishing The Gospels’ Reliability”, 

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Zach

    Overall, this was a good post, but I have some remarks that would be worth mentioning. First, you have already noted that Manning’s preferred approach is to argue that the gospels and Acts are reliable and based on that show why Jesus was raised from the dead. Second, in response to Manning’s objection concerning pareidolia you already implicitly said that, unlike Manning’s approach, the minimal facts approach refrains from the defending the gospels and Acts. With these first two points in mind it should be noted that the purpose of the minimal facts argument is to argue for the resurrection within the scope of contemporary New Testament studies. Third, to stay within this scope, you must only use documents that even the most skeptical scholars accept, these would be the 7 accepted epistles of Paul as noted by Gary Habermas in his “Resurrection Evidence that Changed A Generation of Scholars” lecture. This acknowledgment takes us to 1 Corinthians 15. Fourth, as Manning noted, there isn’t enough detail in the creed of that passage alone to conclude that the appearances were genuine. Therefore one must tie 1 Corinthians 15 with the resurrection narratives in the gospels. This is when Manning’s objection comes in. It seems impossible, based on the Pauline corpus alone (as that set of documents is the only set that can be used for a “minimalist” as they must stay within the scope of contemporary New Testament studies) to determine whether or not when Paul mentioned appearances he was referring to the resurrection narratives in the gospels. This is where I think you went wrong. You said that Manning’s objection was that 1 Corinthians 15 is not enough to get you a physical resurrection. However, that isn’t completely true. Manning’s objection was that the Pauline corpus, primarily 1 Corinthians 15, is not enough to get you to the resurrection narratives in the gospels, not just a physical resurrection in general. In fact, even if a physical resurrection just in general can be inferred based solely on Paul that still doesn’t tell us much. As the appearances Manning mentions that are also compatible with 1 Corinthians 15 could be interpreted as physical. In conclusion, if you want to get across Manning’s objection, you need a way to adequately tie 1 Corinthians 15 with the resurrection narratives in the gospels without having to defend the historical reliability of the gospels and Acts.

    1. Evan Minton

      It just isn’t true that you have to stay with Paul in a minimal facts. You can use the gospels so long as you can use the criteria of authenticity on certain aspects. Gary Habermas and Michael Licona both use the gospels in their book “The Case For The Resurrection Of Jesus”. Habermas also appeals to the gospels in his Credo Course on the resurrection. But again, it’s for the purpose of multiple attestation arguments and the embarrassing nature of women witnesses to establish the empty tomb. And he used the gospels a ton in his talk “Evidence For The Minimal Facts” on the talk he gave at the National Conference On Christian Apologetics at SES in 2017.
      It is true that nowadays Licona uses a much more strict version of the argument. Maybe he’s modified it so you can’t go outside Paul. But classical minimalist approaches will let you use the gospels so long as you can use a criterion of authenticity and so long as the fact you’re authenticating via this route is one that the majority of scholars accept.

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