« How Do We Know the Apostles Died As Martyrs? (Video) | Main | How Tim Keller Made Peace with the Wrath of God »

April 02, 2013

Comments

Great stuff, Mr. Wallace. We're glad to have you on the STR team!

You seem to mistake the purpose in hypothesizing an imposter. If you take enough of the Bible seriously, then of course no naturalistic hypothesis is going to fit. After all, the Bible is filled to the brim with supernatural tales! But that's not the point of the hypothesis. Instead, we are looking for a historical core to the Gospel narrative.

Undoubtedly much of the Gospel narrative is pure nonsense. For instance you claim that an imposter is unlikely to have performed miracles. Well no kidding! Naturalists already reject miracles as fictional or fictionalized stories which did not really happen. Maybe Jesus performed tricks, and these were interpreted (falsely) by his followers as miracles. Or maybe something else happened. But whatever happened, Jesus did not perform miracles, and neither would have an imposter.

It's not just supernatural tales either, which are suspect. For if the early Christians made up stories about miracles, then they surely made up stories about other things too. So for instance the empty tomb may be a made-up story. So might the appearance on the Road to Emmaus. In my opinion, the appearance to 500 people at once was almost certainly made-up whole cloth.

I'm sure you disagree that so many of the Bible stories were made-up, but that's a separate issue. The point is, it doesn't make sense to criticize a naturalistic hypothesis because it doesn't explain all the stories from the Gospels. Of course it doesn't! It was never meant to do that. Rather, naturalists want to find a reasonable hypothesis to explain some of the stories---the ones which are likely to have actually occurred. That is, we are looking for a historical core to the mass of nonsense that constitutes the Gospel narrative.

Ben, are you proposing that the early Christians made all this up, and then proceeded to be tortured and put to death for what they all knew full-well to be a lie?

Jesse,

I don't think it's all made up, no. No doubt some of it is true. There was certainly a Jewish person named Jesus who gathered and taught Jewish followers. He was baptized by John the Baptist, and crucified by the Romans, probably on a charge like sedition.

Furthermore, not all made-up stories are lies in the fullest sense. I'm sure that many early Christians genuinely believed that Jesus appeared to them, just like many Christians today also believe that Jesus has appeared to them---just like many people of other religions believe that their gods or prophets have appeared to them too. Are all these people willfully lying? I don't think so. I think their beliefs are genuine. But they have clearly misinterpreted their experiences. Muhammad did not actually appear to this guy in a dream. Vishnu did not really visit this confused woman. On the other hand, these people have apparently experienced something which has led them to believe that supernatural beings have communicated with them directly. But it would be silly to accept their claims at face value.

Also, I'm very skeptical that any of the original Twelve were put to death for their beliefs. I suppose it's possible, but it just seems unlikely to me. The stories we have of Apostolic martyrdoms are highly suspect, and seem to have originated in the early second century, at which time martyrdom was becoming something of a fad for Christians (for lack of a better word). They may have invented those martyrdom stories to shore up their courage and zeal.

Have you ever read any of the earliest martyrdom stories? For example, Thomas' martyrdom is first recorded in the highly fantastic Acts of Thomas. I suggest you take a few hours to read through that remarkable text. Does it not raise your skepticism with its melodramatic tone and borderline slapstick plot? Yet this fanciful text is the earliest source we have for the martyrdom of St. Thomas. The stories for the rest of the Apostolic martyrs are not much more convincing.

Still, it is possible some of the Twelve were martyred. I don't want to rule out that possibility. It just seems unlikely to me.

Ben, I'll have to take the time to research the martyrdom accounts on my own, but in the meantime I want to thank you for your thoughtful and gracious reply.

"Also, I'm very skeptical that any of the original Twelve were put to death for their beliefs. I suppose it's possible, but it just seems unlikely to me."

So the leader was put to death for what he said, but it seems unlikely that the followers were put to death for believing Him?

If you want to go with that, I can't stop you.

Please don't confuse the fact that we have existing second century writings about the martyrdom of the Apostles with the idea that those views about the martyrdom of the early followers of Christ weren't held earlier.

In order to argue that those views were not held earlier, you must produce positive documentation of the claim that few followers of Christ were martyred. Otherwise you are arguing from silence.

WisdomLover,

You wrote: "So the leader was put to death for what he said, but it seems unlikely that the followers were put to death for believing Him? If you want to go with that, I can't stop you."

I don't normally respond to snide remarks, and I'm especially surprised to see one coming from you. But I will assume it was unintentional, an expression of genuine concern.

To start, you have not represented me correctly. I do not think Jesus was executed merely "for what he said," and the martyrdoms were not merely about "believing Him." Jesus appears to have been executed for sedition. In contrast, the martyrdom accounts hold that the Twelve were executed for religious reasons of one kind or another.

Nevertheless you have implied that since Jesus was executed by the Romans, that gives us a reason to think his followers were executed too. Actually, that raises an interesting point: namely, perhaps some of his followers were executed with him, because like Jesus they too were perceived by the Romans as pushing for a rebellion against the state. But we have no evidence of this, and so we can only speculate.

The thing is, being executed along with Jesus for being one of his real-world followers is a very different fate than being executed decades later for following the new religion. On the contrary, it is clear that most Christians were left safe and unmolested by Rome, especially in the early period when it was viewed as just another branch of Judaism. And on those occasions when Christians were punished, it was not on the charge of inciting rebellion against the state, but rather for refusing to acknowledge the pagan gods, and once for starting fires in the city.

So it seems strange to suggest that since Jesus was executed for sedition, therefore some of the Twelve were probably executed for practicing Christianity. The latter seems to bear little connection to the former.

You continue: "Please don't confuse the fact that we have existing second century writings about the martyrdom of the Apostles with the idea that those views about the martyrdom of the early followers of Christ weren't held earlier. In order to argue that those views were not held earlier, you must produce positive documentation of the claim that few followers of Christ were martyred. Otherwise you are arguing from silence."

What's wrong with arguments from silence? Do we not conclude based on silence that the Gnostic gospels were written later than the canonical gospels? What about the notion some have that Jesus was a feminist? Doesn't the silence of our sources count against that claim?

Perhaps you mean to say that the silence of our sources is not an ironclad argument against some of the Twelve having been martyred. If so, then I agree! That's why I made a special point of saying that I am not ruling out the possibility that some of them really were martyred. But given the nature of the sources we have---how wild and fanciful they are, and having been written in the period where martyrdoms were in vogue, so to speak---it looks to me like they probably weren't.

"Jesus appears to have been executed for sedition"

The sedition being that He claimed to be a God over Caesar. (In virtue of the fact that He is YHWH incarnate.)

"the Twelve were executed for religious reasons of one kind or another."

Like believing that Jesus was a God over Caesar, and YHWH incarnate.

"So it seems strange to suggest that since Jesus was executed for sedition, therefore some of the Twelve were probably executed for practicing Christianity. The latter seems to bear little connection to the former."

Unless you consider what Jesus' sedition was and what practicing Christianity is. To practice Christianity is precisely to make the confession that got Jesus killed for sedition: Jesus = YHWH.

"What's wrong with arguments from silence?"

Fair enough. They are not always bad. In addition to the examples you cite, for instance, the fact that Acts doesn't mention the downfall of Jerusalem is very cogent evidence for the claim that it was written before that happened.

However, right now we are talking about a case where we have pretty early evidence that claims that apostolic martyrdom occurred and no earlier or even equally early evidence that denies that claim. This combination of evidence favors apostolic martyrdom.

Arguments from silence work when you would have expected someone to say something and they didn't. We don't have the materials for that here.

In fact, the only thing you've really offered that goes against apostolic martyrdom is that it doesn't seem likely to you, 2000 years after the fact that it occurred.

And I'm sorry, I'm not trying to be snide, you're a pretty clever guy, but your contemporary incredulity counts for nothing.

"The stories we have of Apostolic martyrdoms are highly suspect, and seem to have originated in the early second century, at which time martyrdom was becoming something of a fad for Christians (for lack of a better word) [got this from your earlier post]"

For starters, you really must have been lacking a better word if you think that Christians or anyone would ever view being stoned, fed to the lions or crucified upside down as a kind of fad. As if being killed in excruciating pain were anything like getting a tatoo, piercing or goth hairstyle.

Why exactly are these martyrdom stories highly suspect? Because they were written in the early second century? That is, because they were written at a time when many of the eyewitnesses of those martyrdoms would still be alive?

"They may have invented those martyrdom stories to shore up their courage and zeal."

If Christians weren't being persecuted, why was it that they needed to shore up their courage and zeal?

WL, you raise a good point about the book of Acts. Acts, and many of the letters in the New Testament, indicate that early Christians suffered extremely (not just martyrdom, but also imprisonment, loss of property, beatings) for their unique beliefs (that Jesus was God incarnate, was sacrificed for their sins, and was raised on the third day).

If any of these were written after 79 A.D., it's very odd that none of them said "and the temple was destroyed, just as Jesus predicted!"

I we live in a multiverse, with an infinite number of universes, couldn't our universe be one of the ones in which miracles are possible as described in the Gospels? With an infinite number of universes, anything is possible.

If the miracles of the Gospels are pure nonsense to the materialist, what can we make of the materialistic explanation of the universe, where, from the begininngi, the elements of the periodic table pop into existence with their inherent properties along with the physical and mathematical underpinnings that allow science to operate? How does materialism explain E=mc2?

"If the materialist, neo-Darwinian orthodoxy contradicts common sense, then this is a mark against the orthodoxy, not against common sense. When a chain of reasoning leads us to deny the obvious, we should double-check the chain of reasoning before we give up on the obvious…." atheist Thomas Nagel

WL,

You suggest that Jesus and the Apostles thought that Jesus was "God over Caesar," but I see no good reason to think that is really what they believed. The divinity of Jesus seems to have developed later in the first century, perhaps originating with Greek converts who seem more likely than Jews to suspect men of being gods.

Rather, the Apostles initially thought Jesus was the Messiah---a worldly leader of the Jews. But when he was executed (probably on that very suggestion of worldly leadership), it became clear he could not be the kind of leader they expected. They no doubt modified their beliefs, just as we see modern religious sects modify their beliefs when their expectations of the future are so radically upset.

But in any case, even supposing anachronistically that Jesus really did claim to be "God over Caesar," well, that still doesn't mean he was executed for that claim. All four canonical Gospels indicate a different charge: Jesus is accused of claiming to be the "king of the Jews." Not "God over Caesar." Recall, for instance, that Pilate finally caves in the fourth Gospel when the Jews threaten him, saying: "If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar" (Jn 19:12).

Luke is even more explicit about the worldliness of the Pilate's concerns. He sends Jesus to Herod Antipas because he was told that Jesus "stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching" (Lk 23:5). When Jesus returns, Pilate announces, "You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion" (Lk 23:14).

So, were the Twelve also stirring up people and inciting them to rebellion? Were they claiming to be king? Did they claim that Jesus was king? None of the martyrdom accounts speak of this. Instead the Twelve apparently thought that Jesus would come again as Messiah to usher in a new age.

Now, it is nevertheless possible that the Twelve managed to make themselves enough of a nuisance that the Romans really did have some of them executed. They were certainly at greater risk for such a violent fate, since their beliefs were so offensive. But we still need some good evidence that they really were executed. Mere risk is not enough. After all, many Jews and Christians believed in a coming apocalypse yet were not executed.

Please don't misunderstand me here. I agree that we have reason to suspect some of the Apostles may have been martyred. However that's a far cry from having reason to conclude that they really were martyred. In my judgment, it seems unlikely that any of them were, much less most of them.

(cont. below)

(cont. from above)

You wrote: "In fact, the only thing you've really offered that goes against apostolic martyrdom is that it doesn't seem likely to you, 2000 years after the fact that it occurred. And I'm sorry, I'm not trying to be snide, you're a pretty clever guy, but your contemporary incredulity counts for nothing."

You seem to have misunderstood me here. I am not offering evidence that the apostles were not martyred. I don't think I need to, any more than I would need to offer evidence that any other random Christian evangelist was not martyred. I'm only pointing out that we have no good evidence that they were martyred.

And it is quite true that my personal judgment isn't evidence. But that's not why I spoke of it. Rather, all of us here are engaged in the task of evaluating the evidence in determining how likely it is that any of the Twelve were martyred. But how do you think that evaluation happens? Well, we have to use our personal judgment. We have to decide for ourselves how to weigh the evidence.

We don't have hard statistics to fall back on here. Instead, we have to use our best judgment given the evidence available. My own judgment tells me that the evidence is woefully insufficient. Maybe your judgment tells you something different, in which case we can compare ideas and see if one of us can persuade the other. Hopefully my comments here have shaken your confidence that the Twelve really did face martyrdom. But if not, well, that just goes to show the difference in our personal judgments.

Regarding the comment about martyrdom being a "fad," recall that second- and third-century Christians were often eager to seek out martyrdom. Christians did all kinds of crazy things. They still do.

At any rate, surely you do not deny that many second- and third-century Christians regarded martyrdom as the noblest possible fate. This no doubt motivated them to invent martyrdom stories about the Twelve. I mean, do you really think the martyrdom of Thomas played out in real life like it did in the Acts of Thomas? Surely you reject those fantastic details. Well, I'm just taking the additional step of rejecting the martyrdom itself. It has no basis in reliable evidence.

Finally, you wrote: "If Christians weren't being persecuted, why was it that they needed to shore up their courage and zeal?"

Come on WL. Did you really misunderstand me that badly? Of course I don't deny that Christians were persecuted! Rather, I was pointing out that beginning in the early second century martyrdom had become more widely sought-after and revered. Of course, this is not to say that persecutions had not occurred previously. As early as AD 64, Nero had Christians scapegoated for the fire of Rome. And there is good evidence from Acts and the Pauline epistles that Christian evangelists faced serious political pressure, perhaps even to the point of execution, as early as the late 40s. But none of that even comes close to giving us evidence that any of the Twelve really were martyred.

We came from monkeys

Have u ever heard of evolution ???? Yeah is the truth

There is no Jehová and jesus was a man

The comments to this entry are closed.