Most Critical Scholars Reject Gary Habermas’ Claim Regarding Majority Scholarly Opinion on the Historicity of the Empty Tomb

Image result for image of gary habermas
Gary Habermas. Distinguished Professor of Apologetics and Philosophy and chairman of the department of philosophy and theology at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. He holds a PhD (1976) from Michigan State University in history and philosophy of religion and a master’s degree (1973) from the University of Detroit in philosophical theology.


If you have ever debated the topic of the Resurrection with conservative Christian apologists I am sure that you have run up against this argument:

“The majority (75%) of New Testament scholars believe in the historicity of the Empty Tomb.  Therefore, rejecting the Bible’s claim that Jesus’ tomb was found empty is to reject majority expert opinion, a foolish thing to do.  This majority scholarly opinion was confirmed by the research of Gary Habermas of Liberty University.”

I personally believe that we should trust majority expert opinion in all areas in which we are not experts.  Society cannot properly function if everyone chooses to make truth decisions based on their own personal, non-expert opinion.  So the claim that the majority of experts believes in the historicity of the Empty Tomb has always been a dilemma for me as I have serious doubts as to its historicity.

I recently posed the following questions to New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman on his blog regarding this issue:


Dr. Ehrman,  Christian apologists often appeal to Gary Habermas’ literature search regarding the Empty Tomb as evidence that the majority of scholars believe in the historicity of the Empty Tomb.  Do the majority of scholars accept Habermas’ literature search as evidence for this majority scholarly opinion? Or, do they posit that since Habermas has never released his methodology and the details of his study, his work on this topic cannot be used as evidence for this question of historicity?

Bart Ehrman:

My sense is that Habermas is well-known and respected in evangelical Christian circles but not outside of that. Apart from evangelicals, critical scholars typically don’t think you can “prove” the resurrection.


I see.  But related specifically to the historicity of the claim that Jesus’ tomb was found empty, do scholars recognize Habermas’ study as a valid confirmation of a majority scholarly opinion on the historicity of the empty tomb or do they reject his study because he has not released his research for outside review?

I ask for this reason: I accept the majority opinion of experts on all issues on which I am not an expert. If the majority of scholars believe that there is sufficient evidence to believe in the historicity of Jesus’ empty tomb, I will accept that majority opinion. But, if Habermas’ study is considered flawed or inadequate by the majority of scholars, then I do not feel obliged to accept his claim that majority scholarly opinion supports the historicity of the Empty Tomb.

Bart Ehrman:

To my knowledge non-conservative scholars do not generally read the work of Habermas. They tend to stick to the writings of critical New Testament scholars.


So when Christian apologists tell me that the majority of New Testament scholars believe in the historicity of the Empty Tomb based on Habermas’ research, I can tell them they are wrong?

Bart Ehrman:

You can tell them that the majority of NT scholars have never *read* Habermas (and may not even know about him).

(Gary:  Ouch.)


14 thoughts on “Most Critical Scholars Reject Gary Habermas’ Claim Regarding Majority Scholarly Opinion on the Historicity of the Empty Tomb

  1. Ehrman never actually answered your question, “So when Christian apologists tell me that the majority of New Testament scholars believe in the historicity of the Empty Tomb based on Habermas’ research, I can tell them they are wrong?”, with a “yes” or a “no”.

    What are you basing your claim that “Most Critical Scholars Reject Gary Habermas’ Claim Regarding Majority Scholarly Opinion on the Historicity of the Empty Tomb” on?

    Clearly, there’s nothing in Ehrmans response that could lead you to that conclusion.

    I I myself did a “polling” of every known scholar that deals with biblical topics, and asked each and all of them “do you believe the Empty Tomb was historical?”, I’m going to come up with a percentage that do, and a percentange that don’t.

    However, that doesn’t mean that ANY of those that I polled are necessarily ever going to read the results of my poll. And, that might be exactly what’s happened in the case of Habermas’ poll: He did the poll, but, none of those scholars he polled read his results in (whatever) book. And, that’s what Ehrman says: non-conservative scholars don’t read Habermas. But, that doesn’t mean a *thing* in regards to what those scholars believe about the Empty Tomb.


  2. I had always assumed that Gary Habermas had a PhD in New Testament Studies. Apparently he does not. His PhD is in history and religious philosophy. This is probably why critical scholars do not “read” his work. He is not one of them. He is an historian. He is a religious philosopher; in other words: a theologian.

    See the link below to read Dr. Habermas’ full curriculum vitae:


    1. Why does that matter? Habermas has the necessary skills to be a critical New Testament scholar by being trained in history and religious philosophy. What matters are his arguments, not his declared area of expertise. He could contribute to the field of New Testament criticism with his credentials.


      1. And I’m sure he does.

        But, you’ve made the claim that “Most Critical Scholars Reject Gary Habermas’ Claim Regarding Majority Scholarly Opinion on the Historicity of the Empty Tomb”.

        I’d like to see the results of the survey you did that confirms that assertion.


        1. You are right. The title of the post should be: “According to Critical NT Scholar Bart Ehrman, Most Critical Scholars Ignore Gary Habermas’ Research Regarding the Historicity of the Empty Tomb”.

          Thank you for pointing out my error.


      2. If someone has a PhD in biology and physiology does that mean they are qualified to practice medicine? No. In order to practice medicine in the United States you need to have earned an M.D. or D.O. degree which takes a lot more than just mastering the subjects of biology and physiology.

        A critical New Testament scholar has a PhD in New Testament studies and can read Greek, Hebrew, German, (and French, I think). You need the language fluency to evaluate the ancient manuscripts and to evaluate all the prior research done on the New Testament (much of it in German). Habermas is a historian and a theologian. He is not a critical New Testament scholar. He does not have the PhD for that field to claim that title.


  3. I’m just waiting to see the data you’ve got that refutes Habermas’ claim that 75% of scholars believe in the historicity of the Empty Tomb.

    Clearly, Ehrman didn’t answer that question. Perhaps you should simply have asked Bart this: “Is it true that 75% of scholars believe in the historicity of the Empty Tomb?”

    He could have answered “yes”, “no”, or “I don’t know”.

    But, as is, Ehrman said nothing about it. Rather, he just commented on “who reads Habermas”.

    SO – again – where’s your data that refutes Habermas?


  4. It seems even if most NT scholars believed this, you’d still have a type of set issue. Lets say you had a sufficient number of Muslim scholars who believed various aspects of the Mohamed ascending to heaven on a winged horse story. Would that then be a valid authority for that event? It’d seem you’d have to expand the set to all historians, not simply those who are already predisposed to that belief. What am I missing?


    1. Since writing the above post, I have come to accept the probable historicity of the Arimathea Burial Story (as told in Mark) and the finding of an Empty Tomb (empty for reasons unknown, but most probably NOT due to the supernatural resurrection of the corpse) due to my reading of Roman Catholic scholar, Raymond Brown.


  5. I can not understand. Why do you accept an empty grave? Habermas’ s survey, as he says himself, is about publications on the historical Jesus. That is, most theologians study.
    Would it be possible for those who believe in the resurrection of Jesus to make choices that deny the physical resurrection of Jesus?
    I can not understand


    1. “Resurrection” (anastasis) means physical resurrection, unless someone modifies the term to indicate something else, like, by saying “spiritual resurrection”. Without some type of modifier, the term is understood in the biblical context to mean physical resurrection.

      In Jewish thought, the idea of a “spiritual resurrection” is not a foreign concept. It was, though, a concept that (historically) was widely rejected. However, in modern Judaism (reformed and conservative) the idea has come up again. The Orthodox still reject it.

      In regards to Jesus’ resurrection, it is, of course, possible for someone to believe that Jesus was “spiritually resurrected”, but, not if they know anything about Pharasaic Judaism.

      Paul is the writer that writes most about the resurrection of Jesus, and the nature of resurrection, and his understanding is clearly Pharisaic (as it should be, since he himself claims to be a Pharisee).

      There is an interesting line in Pauls discorse in 1 Corinthians 15 in which he says “…if there is no resurrection, then.. neither is Christ resurrected…” Paul, here, is talking about the Pharisaic belief in the “resurrection at the last day”, of which he believed Jesus to be the first to be resurrected. But, that “resurrection at the last day” was a belief in a physical resurrection of all human beings. Not only can this be confirmed in many, many ancient Jewish writings, but even Josephus confirms it.


      1. It is difficult to understand precisely because of limitations in translation performance.
        I think you now seem to be describing the definition of the physical resurrection, right? If I’m right, we are failing to communicate.

        I do not care what the resurrection was used 2000 years ago.
        I want to say that the 21st century
        It is possible for Christians to believe in the spiritual resurrection Claimed by John Dominic Croshan.
        But there are not many Christians who can make such a transition.
        And only theologians capable of such a conversion of faith can deny the empty tomb incident. In conclusion, it is not objectively acceptable that 75% of theologians acknowledge empty tomb events


        1. Crossans “spiritual resurrection” thing really has nothing to do with Christianity. Christianity, at it’s base, is a belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus.

          However, it is entirely possible to deny the empty tomb incident and yet, still believe in a physical resurrection. If one did not know about the “empty tomb story”, but, simply believed that Jesus was buried in a more common “trench grave”, that would not at all preclude him from believing that Jesus had been physically resurrected. It might mean, though, that the person (believer) was not a very “critical thinker”, and did not expect much evidence. OR, it could mean (perhaps) that the person (believer) saw Jesus himself after the crucifixion.

          In short, though, a belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus is not at all entirely dependent on an “empty tomb”.


  6. The ridiculousness of this never ending Empty Tomb crap is simply confounded by the simple archaeological fact that, there is no tomb.

    So it matters not one iota what supposed New Testament scholars think, especially as no one as far as I am aware has ever seen this list of scholars Habermas polled or the methodology used.
    This suggests at the very least that Habermas is a disingenuous prick.

    Seriously? So who gives a monkey’s uncle?


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