Did Jesus’s Disciples Conspire to Lie about Him? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

In part 1, we started to look at J. Warner Wallace’s analysis of whether the disciples of Jesus could have successfully conspired to lie about his death and resurrection. We already saw that there were too many conspirators (disciples) for them to be successful, and the disciples were separated by great distances, unable to communicate with each other to keep their story straight.

In part 2, we will finish Wallace’s analysis by looking at whether there was a short time span, significant relational connections, and a lack of pressure. Here is Wallace, from his book Cold-Case Christianity:

The apostles would have been required to protect their conspiratorial lies for an incredibly long time. The apostle John appears to have lived the longest, surviving nearly sixty years after the resurrection. [Two criminals] couldn’t keep their conspiracy alive for thirty-six hours; the apostles allegedly kept theirs intact for many decades.

To make matters worse, many of them were complete strangers to one another prior to their time together as disciples of Jesus. Some were indeed brothers, but many were added over the course of Jesus’s early ministry and came from diverse backgrounds, communities, and families. While there were certainly pairs of family members in the group of apostolic eyewitnesses, many had no relationship to each other at all.

Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Simon the Canaanite, and Matthias had no family relationship to any of the other apostles. Whatever the relational connection between these men, the short years they spent together would quickly pale in comparison to the decades they would spend apart from one another prior to the time of their final interrogations. At some point, the bonds of friendship and community would be tested if their individual lives were placed in jeopardy.

Successful conspiracies are unpressured conspiracies. The apostles, on the other hand, were aggressively persecuted as they were scattered from Italy to India. According to the records and accounts of the local communities, each of them suffered unimaginable physical duress and died a martyr’s death. Ancient writers recorded that Peter was crucified upside down in Rome, James was killed with the sword in Jerusalem, and Thomas was murdered by a mob in Mylapore. Each story of martyrdom is more gruesome than the prior as we examine the list of apostolic deaths. This pressure was far greater than the fear of state prison faced by [modern conspirators], yet none of the Twelve recanted their claims related to the resurrection. Not one.

What is Wallace’s conclusion?

I can’t imagine a less favorable set of circumstances for a successful conspiracy than those that the twelve apostles faced. Multiply the problem by ten to account for the 120 disciples in the upper room (Acts 1: 15), or by forty to account for the five hundred eyewitnesses described by Paul (1 Cor. 15: 6), and the odds seem even more prohibitive.

None of these eyewitnesses ever recanted, none was ever trotted out by the enemies of Christianity in an effort to expose the Christian “lie.” Don’t get me wrong, successful conspiracies occur every day. But they typically involve a small number of incredibly close-knit participants who are in constant contact with one another for a very short period of time without any outside pressure. That wasn’t the case for the disciples. These men and women either were involved in the greatest conspiracy of all time or were simply eyewitnesses who were telling the truth. The more I learned about conspiracies, the more the latter seemed to be the most reasonable conclusion.

The idea that the disciples conspired to lie about Jesus is simply implausible. Only a miracle could have allowed the disciples to lie about Jesus and never be detected by their contemporaries. Unfortunately for most skeptics of Christianity, miracles aren’t an option.

  • barry

    “The apostles would have been required to protect their

    conspiratorial lies for an incredibly long time.”

    ———-Not if the vast majority of the NT is embellishment of earlier kernels of historical truth.

    “The apostle John
    appears to have lived the longest, surviving nearly sixty years after
    the resurrection. [Two criminals] couldn’t keep their conspiracy alive
    for thirty-six hours; the apostles allegedly kept theirs intact for many
    decades.”
    ———-So? You think the Jewish explanation that the disciples stole the body (Matthew 28:11-15) is a conspiracy theory that survived many decades, as the text of Matthew explicitly admits in v. 15.

    “To make matters worse, many of them were complete strangers to one
    another prior to their time together as disciples of Jesus. Some were
    indeed brothers, but many were added over the course of Jesus’s early
    ministry and came from diverse backgrounds, communities, and families.”
    ———-Which perhaps explains why the gospels, allegedly written by original apostles, or by those interested in original apostolic testimony, seem to care much for the words of the historical Jesus, while apostle Paul infamously nearly never relies on something Jesus said, to settle any theological or moral dispute among the many he deals with, but prefers to prove everything from the OT. If you were apostle Paul, would you have leaned any more on things Jesus said, than the real Paul actually did? If you had written 1st Corinthians 15, would you have appealed to Luke 24:39 and similar gospel traditions to settle disputes about the nature of the resurrection body? Or would you, like Paul, knowing of such traditions, have nevertheless remained silent about them and instead felt that comparisons with seeds, sun, stars, fish, birds, etc, was the “best” way to settle disputes about the nature of the resurrection body?

    “While there were certainly pairs of family members in the group of
    apostolic eyewitnesses, many had no relationship to each other at all.
    Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Simon the Canaanite, and Matthias had no
    family relationship to any of the other apostles.”
    ————But after they became committed to the cause, they became Jesus’ family:

    47 Someone said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.”
    48 But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?”
    49 And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers!
    50 “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” (Matt. 12:47-50 NAU)

    “Whatever the
    relational connection between these men, the short years they spent
    together would quickly pale in comparison to the decades they would
    spend apart from one another prior to the time of their final
    interrogations.”
    ———If their prior experiences together had been nothing more significant than neighbors who occasionally congregated at a few barbecues, then yeah. But three years of personally witnessing genuine miracles tends to bond the witnesses to each other, apparently.

    “At some point, the bonds of friendship and community
    would be tested if their individual lives were placed in jeopardy.
    Successful conspiracies are unpressured conspiracies. The apostles,
    on the other hand, were aggressively persecuted as they were scattered
    from Italy to India.”
    ——–The historical and patristic evidence that talks about the fates of the apostles has too many problems of date, authorship and credibility, to deserve being presumed inerrant as you do here, not to mention that Wallace, like most apologists, never attempts to give the reader a way to judge the level to which
    an author’s relation and interest in the subject matter might taint his version of events. Further, you overlook that Eusebius himself who happily admitted he would suppress evidence of Christians failing in the faith and only mention things that are edifying for posterity, so the 4th century wasn’t exactly known for willingness to lay all its cards on the table in the name of objective historiography:

    Eusebius, Church History, Book 8, ch. 2:
    But it is not our place to describe the sad misfortunes which finally came upon them, as we do not think it proper, moreover, to record their divisions and unnatural conduct to each other before the persecution. Wherefore we have decided to relate nothing concerning them except the things in which we can vindicate the Divine judgment. Hence we shall not mention those who were shaken by the persecution, nor those who in everything pertaining to salvation were shipwrecked, and by their own will were sunk in the depths of the flood. But we shall introduce into this history in general only those events which may be useful first to ourselves and afterwards to posterity. Let us therefore proceed to describe briefly the sacred conflicts of the witnesses of the Divine Word.
    Schaff, P. (2000). The Post-Nicene Fathers (electronic ed.). electronic ed. Garland, TX: Galaxie Software.

    “According to the records and accounts of the local
    communities, each of them suffered unimaginable physical duress and died
    a martyr’s death.”
    ———-Then apparently you haven’t read Sean McDowell’s Ph.d thesis. This son of best-selling Christian author Josh McDowell
    studied the known historical sources for martyrdom of the 12 apostles, and before he draws his pro-Christian conclusion at the end,
    candidly admits numerous times that the sources are less than “reliable”.

    “Ancient writers recorded that Peter was crucified
    upside down in Rome, James was killed with the sword in Jerusalem, and
    Thomas was murdered by a mob in Mylapore. Each story of martyrdom is
    more gruesome than the prior as we examine the list of apostolic deaths.
    This pressure was far greater than the fear of state prison faced by
    [modern conspirators], yet none of the Twelve recanted their claims
    related to the resurrection. Not one.”
    ———And nobody is a stranger to the fact that embellishing fact with fiction can inspire moral reflection and change. Don’t believe me? The Book of Mormon is a 100% fraud, yet it has managed to attract millions of people who, through the Mormon church, have cleaned up their lives and become more and more religious the more they hear
    the stories within this fraudulent book. Inspirational stories hardly need be true to history, to perform the job of being inspiring and life-changing.

    “What is Wallace’s conclusion?”
    ———Did he conclude that atheism is true?

    “I can’t imagine a less favorable set of circumstances for
    a successful conspiracy than those that the twelve apostles faced.”
    ——–a conclusion mitigated by the generally unreliable nature of the patristic martyrdom accounts.

    “Multiply the problem by ten to account for the 120 disciples in the
    upper room (Acts 1: 15), or by forty to account for the five hundred eyewitnesses described by Paul (1 Cor. 15: 6), and the odds seem even more prohibitive.”
    ———Translation: “Because the apostles suffered terrible martyrdom, we may as well assume, with no other evidence, that all other first century followers of Jesus endured similar fates.” But this is absurd in light of a) that means an additional 500 eyewitnesses of Jesus, went unrecorded in church history after the NT was written, despite byour belief that because they saw Jesus risen from the dead, they would have been mightily transformed in a way that likely would have have motivated some church fathers to record at least something about them, and b)your admission that John managed to stay alive, despite his presumed ceasless preaching, and reached an old age in the first century when reaching old age was rare. If an identifiable loudmouth can get that lucky, chances increase that other original followers of Jesus that remain unnamed, for which there is ZERO extra-biblical idependent confirmation, did not endure martyrdoms.

    “None of these eyewitnesses ever recanted,
    ——– Again, you are viewing the patristic accounts of martyrdom as inerrant despite your own belief that the church father writings are not inerrant. The Jerome Bible Commentary accepts “compelled them to blaspheme” as a proper translation of Acts 26:11 with no hint that this was only an “attempt”. Further, Paul complains that most of his friends and churchs fell away from him after he was persecuted, which would hardly be the case if his friends and churches were made up of stable-minded Christains willing to endure martyrdom. 2nd Timothy 1:15, 4:10-11, 16.

    ” none was ever trotted out by the enemies of Christianity in an effort to expose the Christian “lie.”
    ———–Did Eusebius admit that he would rather not mention historical instances of Christians making shipwreck of the faith?

    “Don’t get me wrong, successful conspiracies occur every day. But
    they typically involve a small number of incredibly close-knit
    participants who are in constant contact with one another for a very
    short period of time without any outside pressure. That wasn’t the case
    for the disciples. These men and women either were involved in the
    greatest conspiracy of all time or were simply eyewitnesses who were
    telling the truth.”
    ———-Or the gospels are made up of embellishments on earlier kernels of historical truth. Your blind reliance on apostle Paul’s self-serving assertions is perfectly absurd, even he acknowledged not all Christians of his day believed he was a true apostle. 1st Cor. 9:2.

    “The more I learned about conspiracies, the more the
    latter seemed to be the most reasonable conclusion.
    The idea that the disciples conspired to lie about Jesus is simply
    implausible.”
    ———Probably because the accounts of their fearless preaching are fiction. When you are making up facts out of thin air, the fact that a conspiracy theory could not explain your story, hardly matters.

    “Only a miracle could have allowed the disciples to lie
    about Jesus and never be detected by their contemporaries.”
    ———-What makes you think secular detection of Christian lies in the first-century would have likely been preserved, when first-century historians mentioning Christianity are already rare?

    “Unfortunately for most skeptics of Christianity, miracles aren’t an option.”
    ——-Yes, for the same reason that YOU don’t believe in most “Christian” miracle claims made today, such as those of Catholics in seeing Mary in Fatima. Apologists who explain this away as a deception of Satan, don’t really believe it is a deception of Satan, rather, they are frightened of how skeptics will respond if they admit that the Marion Apparitions are just delusions of grandeur by devoted religious fanatics….it will prove that thousands
    of people can collectively agree they saw something that in reality, never existed, which will then be used to explain first-century Christians “seeing” a resurrected Jesus.

    The apologist’s only safe-haven, when confronted with miracle claims in religions he doesn’t agree with, is to preserve the miraculous element while disagreeing with how they interpreted it, so that miracles can remain alive without also confirming the truth of non-Christian religions. Unfortunately, Protestants who say they think Marian Apparitions are counterfeit miracles of Satan, are lying through their teeth. They believe these Catholic miracles have nothing supernatural about them whatsoever. At the end of the day, the greater likelihood is that nothing supernatural has happened, the apparitions of Mary are simply a case of delusion exacerbated by religious fervor and herd-mentality. In other words, the truth about modern day miracle claims does not give apologists any reason to think something real happened beyond delusion or mistaking natural phenomena for miracles….in which case these modern day frauds strongly argue for the plausibility of saying first-century Christians, living much earlier and having far less
    education and ability to verify claims, engaged in the same fallacious delusion, fervor, and mistaking natural phenomena for miracles.