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