Tough Questions Answered

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Did the New Testament Writers Record Fact or Fiction? Part 8

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In this series of posts, we have shown that the NT writers claimed to be eyewitnesses or associates of eyewitnesses; we have shown that we have multiple witnesses, and we have shown that the eyewitnesses were trustworthy.  How?  They included embarrassing details about themselves  and difficult details about their subject of worship, Jesus; their accounts contain divergent details, just as we would expect from independent witnesses; and they wrote about historical facts that have been thoroughly corroborated by ancient non-Christian writers and modern archaeology.

There is one final piece of evidence that you should consider, though.  I think it is one of the strongest historical evidences we have.

Here it is.  The apostles, some of whom wrote portions of the NT, were all killed for their beliefs, except John.  According to Christian tradition, Paul was beheaded and Peter was crucified upside down – both of them killed in Rome.  James, the brother of Jesus and leader of the Jerusalem church, was thrown off the top of the Jerusalem temple and stoned to death.  The other apostles met similar fates.    Before they died, they were beaten, stoned, imprisoned, mocked, and persecuted, mostly because of their professed beliefs in Christ.

I was having lunch with a couple of bright engineers a few years back, and we started discussing religions, Christianity in particular.  They challenged my belief in the NT documents by saying that many people have created religions in order to gain fame, fortune, and power.  They thought it was quite possible that the NT writers were merely doing the same.  I asked them if they knew what happened to the apostles after Jesus died, and they did not know.  When I shared the facts above, they became silent.  Fame, fortune, and power eluded all of these men while they were alive.  Their lives would have been far easier if they had just kept quiet.

Maybe the apostles weren’t in it for the money, so to speak.  Maybe they had been lied to or deceived.  Maybe they just died for their false religious beliefs like so many other fanatics do.   Many people die for their religious beliefs, don’t they?  The Muslim fanatics on 9/11 certainly died for their beliefs.  Aren’t the apostles just the same?

No, they aren’t.  There’s a fundamental difference between the disciples and the 9/11 extremists.  The 9/11 fanatics died for contemporary beliefs that reflected someone’s modern-day interpretation of the Qur’an, a book which was written 1,400 years ago.  They had no way of knowing if the source of that book, Muhammad, was telling the truth or not.  They weren’t there to see it.  They believed based on what they had been taught by their contemporary religious teachers.

Not so with the disciples.  They all went to their deaths claiming that they saw Jesus risen from the dead.  But they knew this, not based on information delivered 1,400 years after the fact, but based on their own two eyes!!  If Jesus did not rise from the dead and the NT is a pack of lies, then the disciples knew it.  They were there.

But if they knew Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then we must explain why they willingly went to their deaths.  Many people die for a false belief, but nobody dies for a false belief they know is false, especially not 12 different people!  The martyrdom of the apostles is strong evidence for the truth of the historical resurrection of Jesus.  There exists no other theory which can adequately explain their behavior.

I conclude this series with an extended quote from Chuck Colson, who is often asked about why he believes that Jesus rose from the dead, which is the central event and miracle of the NT.  Here is Colson:

Watergate involved a conspiracy to cover up, perpetuated by the closest aides to the President of the United States, the most powerful men in America, who were intensely loyal to their President.  But one of them, John Dean, turned state’s evidence, that is, testified against Nixon, as he put it, “to save his own skin,” and he did so only two weeks after informing the president about what was really going on – two weeks!  The real cover-up, the lie, could only be held together for two weeks, and then everybody else jumped ship in order to save themselves. Now, the fact is that all that those around the President were facing was embarrassment, maybe prison. Nobody’s life was at stake.

But what about the disciples?  Twelve powerless men, peasants really, were facing not just embarrassment or political disgrace, but beatings, stonings, execution.  Every single one of the disciples insisted, to their dying breaths, that they had physically seen Jesus bodily raised from the dead.

Don’t you think that one of those apostles would have cracked before being beheaded or stoned?  That one of them would have made a deal with the authorities?  None did.

You see, men will give their lives for something they believe to be true – they will never give their lives for something they know to be false.

The Watergate cover-up reveals the true nature of humanity.  Even political zealots at the pinnacle of power will, in the crunch, save their own necks, even at the expense of the ones they profess to serve so loyally. But the apostles could not deny Jesus because they had seen Him face to face, and they knew He had risen from the dead.

No, you can take it from an expert in cover-ups – I’ve lived through Watergate – that nothing less than a resurrected Christ could have caused those men to maintain to their dying whispers that Jesus is alive and is Lord.  Two thousand years later, nothing less than the power of the risen Christ could inspire Christians around the world to remain faithful – despite prison, torture, and death.

Jesus is Lord: That’s the thrilling message of Easter.  And it’s an historic fact, one convincingly established by the evidence – and one you can bet your life upon.  Go ahead researchers – dig up all the old graves you want.  You won’t change a thing.  He has risen.


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Comments

  • Mark

    Hi thanks for a great post. I’ll be back :)

  • http://www.CalvinSchool.info Dr. Johnson C. Philip

    Each post gets better than the earlier one. The effect of cumulation!

    Johnson C. Philip, PhD (Physics)
    India

  • http://ramblingtaoist.blogspot.com The Rambling Taoist

    You offer one plausible explanation, but it’s certainly not the only one. For example, since these men had staked their reputations on this “story”, to all of a sudden recant it would have made them out to be liars. So, to save face, they stuck to the storyline. In other words, one could argue their true motivation was selfishness and pride.

    Another plausible explanation is that they each wanted to share in the fame of their master. Since he got a lot of good rep from his death, maybe his top disciples wanted to ride on his coattails into history.

    Of course, another plausible (likely) explanation is that none of these fellows wrote the books ascribed to them. By attaching their names and with people knowing what happened to each, it would give each book a more authentic ring to each.

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Trey,
    You said, “since these men had staked their reputations on this “story”, to all of a sudden recant it would have made them out to be liars.”

    I don’t think any rational person would suffer endless persecution and allow themselves to be killed to save face. That’s a bit odd, don’t you think?

    “Since he got a lot of good rep from his death, maybe his top disciples wanted to ride on his coattails into history.”

    This is even more odd than the last one.

    “Of course, another plausible (likely) explanation is that none of these fellows wrote the books ascribed to them.”

    I spent the last several posts explaining why they probably did write these books. But, it really doesn’t matter, because nearly every critical scholar agrees that the disciples of Jesus: 1) believed Jesus rose from the dead and 2) died for their beliefs. Whether they actually wrote the NT books doesn’t really hurt this argument. You still have to explain why these people went to their deaths for something they knew was false.

  • http://ramblingtaoist.blogspot.com The Rambling Taoist

    I don’t think any rational person would suffer endless persecution and allow themselves to be killed to save face. That’s a bit odd, don’t you think?

    The Jews have been doing it for centuries! In fact, if we look at the annals of history there are lots of people — religious and not — who have endured persecution and death for their beliefs. To name but one, Socrates.

    For any person deluded by a specific belief, the belief becomes the person! To recant is a fate worse than physical death because you would have to admit to yourself that your life was based on a lie.

  • Bill Pratt

    Trey,
    You have misunderstood my point. It is obvious that many religious people have died through the years for their sincere beliefs, but they had no way of knowing that their beliefs were true or false. All of the things they believed happened years before their time.

    Not so with the disciples. Almost all critical scholars admit that the disciples of Christ saw something that they believed was the risen Jesus. Nobody, and certainly not 12 people who were all separated from each other at their time of death – as the disciples were – willingly dies for a belief that they know is false. If you know of a similar case, where 12 separate people all died for the same belief that they knew was false, please let us know.

    The examples you gave in your last comment do not fit the bill. Socrates absolutely believed that his cause was righteous. He didn’t think his beliefs were false.

    The only way out of this problem is to come up with an explanation for how all of these people were convinced that they saw the risen Jesus, but were mistaken. How could they all have been mistaken?

  • http://ramblingtaoist.blogspot.com The Rambling Taoist

    Not so with the disciples. Almost all critical scholars admit that the disciples of Christ saw something that they believed was the risen Jesus.

    I find this assertion dubious, at best. Most of the critical scholars I’ve read report nothing of the sort. Besides, you’re invoking circular reasoning. The basis for your assertion is what it says in the bible which is used to state the names on the books are written by the disciples themselves. (I didn’t phrase that as well as I should, but me brain is tired.)

    The examples you gave in your last comment do not fit the bill. Socrates absolutely believed that his cause was righteous. He didn’t think his beliefs were false.

    You’re simply underscoring my original point! We don’t know if Socrates absolutely believed his perspective was valid or not. He may have died because he believed it was OR he may have died because he abjectly refused to say he was living a lie.

    If you want to argue that his death PROVES he absolutely believed his beliefs were valid, then we must agree to the same terms for people who fly airplanes into buildings or drink kool-aid as a form of suicide.

    The only way out of this problem is to come up with an explanation for how all of these people were convinced that they saw the risen Jesus, but were mistaken. How could they all have been mistaken?

    Why do they have to be mistaken? Maybe they never saw what was reported. Maybe the story is an allegory, not an actual event.

  • Bill Pratt

    Trey,
    Let me respond to your comments. First, it is true that virtually all critical scholars admit that the disciples of Christ saw something that they believed was the risen Jesus. This has been thoroughly documented by Gary Habermas in several of his books. One that documents it is The Risen Jesus and Future Hope. These scholars came to those conclusions based upon analyzing all of the relevant historical data, not just based any particular beliefs about who wrote the gospels.

    Second, you want to argue that people will actually die for a belief that they know is false. You are the only person I’ve ever heard make this argument. It seems unbelievable and actually unproveable. If anyone dies for their beliefs, you can always say that they didn’t really believe, and we can never ask them because they are dead! How would you ever prove your theory wrong? It is unfalsifiable.

    I think the more reasonable approach is to say that if people claim throughout their lives that they truly believe something, and they then die for that belief, the most reasonable conclusion is that they did indeed truly believe. This makes sense from our own experience and from our knowledge of human behavior. A person willing to die for a lie would be a seeming violation of everything we know about human behavior.

    Third, I do agree that “people who fly airplanes into buildings or drink kool-aid as a form of suicide” really do believe their beliefs are valid. I have always agreed with that.

    Fourth, you said, “Maybe they never saw what was reported. Maybe the story is an allegory, not an actual event.” That statement is contradicted by the vast majority of critical scholarship. Few scholars doubt that the disciples of Jesus actually believed he was risen from the dead. They may question whether he really was risen from the dead, but very few question their belief.

    So, if they believed, and they were in a position to know whether it was true or not, it must have been incredibly convincing, whatever they saw. This is what needs to be explained. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, what caused the disciples to say he did, and to suffer years of persecution and eventually death? That is the question.

  • http://worduncensored.wordpress.com Sukirtha

    Outstanding! Simply awesome. Thank you for the post! Appreciate the time you have spent on this series. I Praise God for all the contents in this series.

  • Bill Pratt

    Thanks for the encouragement, Sukirtha.

  • Pingback: Did the New Testament Writers Record Fact or Fiction? Part 7 | Tough Questions Answered()

  • failed_atheist

    Hi Bill,
    I realize this post is quite old, but I’ve just run across it in my quest for knowledge of Jesus and the Bible. I was an atheist for much of my life. At the ripe old age of 49, after being miserable for so many years I finally accepted Christ. In the past year I’ve experienced a change for the good that no one would ever believe. I feel a lot like Ebeneezer Scrooge felt when he woke up after his visits with the 3 ghosts and realized he didn’t miss Christmas :-)

    I at one time would have looked for any excuse or argument to prove you wrong and would never have even considered your explanations as being logical. I’d have given the typical atheist response of “these have all been refuted and proven wrong many times over” and then followed that up with dubious articles and responses from other atheists that did nearly no true research on the topic. I now know when I was an atheist I was like a horse with blinders on. I had no vision outside of anything that was straight ahead of me and involved being an atheist. I only cared about myself and making sure I was comfortable knowing that I was not going to be held accountable to anyone but myself.

    But oh how my life has changed. Thanks to people such as yourself that take the time to write these kinds of articles and have the knowledge and graciousness to refute the sometimes “hair-brained’ claims and “atheistic blindness” that atheists make (I was one of them), my life is better than I could have ever imagined.

    One of the topics I’ve been struggling with recently is validity of the NT. Your research has helped me greatly and given me much more confidence to know that I can speak more intelligently to people that want to drag me down a rat hole claiming the NT is all a bunch of fluff made up my fanatics, power hungry men or nutjobs.

    I pray that God gives you the strength to continue your wonderful work.

    God bless,
    Bill

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Wow! I am truly humbled by your comment. If I can be of any help to you on our journey, please let me know. This series just scratches the surface on this topic, as I’m sure you know.

    God bless you,
    Bill

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