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Evidence for the Martyrdom of the Apostles - Sean McDowell

Discussion in 'Christian Apologetics' started by A_Thinker, Feb 21, 2020.

  1. A_Thinker

    A_Thinker Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Cited below is a presentation of the evidence for the martyrdom of the Apostles. Questions have been raised about this ... and this was the easiest way for me to publish it for viewing. The presentation below is a part of a larger presentation found at the following link ...

    Did the Apostles Really Die as Martyrs for Their Faith? By Sean McDowell - Bible Answer Man with Hank Hanegraaff

    I excerpted the following for brevity as it summarizes the conclusions of the more general discussion ...

    THE FATES OF THE APOSTLES

    In The Fate of the Apostles, I examine the historical evidence for each apostle and rate the likelihood of his martyrdom on a ten-point probability scale that ranges from not possibly true (0–1) to highest possible probability (9–10). Historical research deals with probability and not certainty. And so my estimates are based on a careful assessment of the quantity and quality of the available evidence for each apostle. The common narrative is that all the apostles except John died as martyrs for their faith. While this may be true, it cannot be demonstrated historically.

    In fact, here is what I believe the historical record reveals:

    Highest possible probability (9–10): Peter, Paul, James son of Zebedee, James brother of Jesus

    More probable than not (7): Thomas

    More plausible than not (6): Andrew

    As plausible as not (5): Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, James (son of Alphaeus), Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot, Matthias

    Improbable (3): John

    Highest Possible Probability

    Peter. The traditional view is that Peter was crucified in Rome during the reign of Nero in AD 64 to 67. The earliest evidence for the martyrdom of Peter comes from John 21:18–19, which was written no later than thirty years after Peter’s death, and possibly before AD 70. Commentators unilaterally agree that this passage predicts the martyrdom of Peter. Bart Ehrman concludes, “It is clear that Peter is being told that he will be executed (he won’t die of natural causes) and that this will be the death of a martyr.”11 Other early evidence for Peter’s martyrdom can be found in writings such as Clement of Rome (1 Clement 5:1–4), Ignatius (Letter to the Smyrneans 3:1–2), The Apocalypse of Peter, The Ascension of Isaiah, The Acts of Peter, The Apocryphon of James, Dionysius of Corinth (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History2.25.4), and Tertullian (Scorpiace 15, The Prescription Against Heresies 36). The early, consistent, and unanimous testimony is that Peter died as a martyr.

    Paul. The traditional view is that Paul was beheaded in Rome during the reign of Nero in AD 64 to 67. Scripture does not directly state his martyrdom, but there are hints in both Acts and 2 Timothy 4:6–8 that Paul knew his death was pending.12 The first extrabiblical evidence is found in 1 Clement 5:5–7 (c. AD 95–96) in which Paul is described as suffering greatly for his faith and then being “set free from this world and transported up to the holy place, having become the greatest example of endurance.” While details regarding the manner of his fate are lacking, the immediate context strongly implies that Clement was referring to the martyrdom of Paul. Other early evidences for the martyrdom of Paul can be found in Ignatius (Letter to the Ephesians 12:2), Polycarp (Letter to the Philippians 9:1–2), Dionysius of Corinth (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.25.4), Irenaeus (Against Heresies 3.1.1), The Acts of Paul, and Tertullian (Scorpiace 15:5–6). The early, consistent, and unanimous testimony is that Paul died as a martyr.

    James, the Son of Zebedee. There are only a few apocryphal accounts surrounding James, the son of Zebedee. The Acts of Saint James in India reports a tradition that he went to India along with Peter. The Apostolic History of Abdias (sixth and seventh centuries) tells a story of James and his interaction with two pagan magicians who eventually confess Christ. The most likely reason apocryphal accounts are rare for James was because his martyrdom in Judea (AD 44) was so firmly entrenched in the early church and limited the trajectory of such stories.

    His martyrdom is first recorded in Acts 12:1–2. The brevity of the account may be unexpected, but it does serve to strengthen its reliability. No legendary details creep into the narrative. In fact, quite the opposite is true. The account reads like an official execution. There is no good reason to doubt Luke’s version of the fate of James, the son of Zebedee.

    James, the Brother of Jesus. The first evidence for the death of James comes from Josephus in his Antiquities 20.197–203 (c. AD 93/94). Unlike the Testimonium Flavianum,13 this passage is largely undisputed by scholars. It allows the dating of James’s execution to AD 62, since Josephus places his death between two Roman procurators, Festus and Albinus. According to this account, the high priest Ananus had James stoned to death. The death of James is also reported by Hegesippus (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.23.8–18), Clement of Alexandria (Hypotyposes Book 7), The First Apocalypse of James (Gnostic text), and the Pseudo-Clementines (Recognitions 1:66–1.71). The case for the martyrdom of James is strengthened by the fact that there are Christian (Hegesippus, Clement of Alexandria), Jewish (Josephus), and Gnostic (First Apocalypse of James) sources that affirm it within a century and a half from the event, which suggests an early, widespread, and consistent tradition regarding the fate of James.

    More Probable Than Not

    Thomas. The traditional story is that Thomas traveled to India where he was speared to death. Although some Western scholars are skeptical, the Eastern Church has consistently held that Thomas ministered in India and died there as a martyr. There are records of travel from the Middle East into India during the first century, so there is no reason to doubt Thomas could have made it there. Positive evidence comes from the Acts of Thomas (c. AD 200–220), which records the traditional story of his fate. Many write it off as entirely fictional, but the mere fact that it contains historical figures, such as Thomas, Gondophares, Gad, and possibly even Habban and Xanthippe, Mazdai, and the city of Andrapolis, indicates that it is not entirely divorced from a historical memory. While there is not any written history in India prior to the arrival of the Portuguese in the sixteenth century, there certainly was a sense of history passed down orally through poems, songs, customs, and celebrations of the people. The St. Thomas Christians, for instance, are utterly convinced that their heritage traces back to the apostle Thomas himself, including introduction of the Syriac or Chaldaic (East Syriac) language. The community has preserved many ancient antiquities that testify to their traditions.

    More Plausible Than Not

    Andrew. The earliest written record of the martyrdom of Andrew comes from the Acts of Andrew (c. AD 150–210). This text concludes with Andrew speaking to the cross and then demanding the executioners kill him. Many later written accounts exist of the death of Andrew, but they all trace back through the Acts of Andrew. Hippolytus on the Twelve (c. third century) may possibly preserve an independent tradition of his fate when it describes Andrew as “crucified, suspended on an olive tree, at Patrae.” But we cannot be sure. The Acts of Andrew clearly contains legendary embellishment, but it seems slightly more plausible than not that it was connected to a reliable tradition about the fate of Andrew.

    As Plausible as Not

    The Rest of the Apostles. It is difficult to know for sure what happened to the remaining apostles (excluding John). The evidence is late and filled with legendary accretion. The claim that Bartholomew was skinned, for instance, doesn’t show up until about AD 500. Does that make it false? Not necessarily. But it makes it difficult to have much historical confidence that it is true. While there are no early accounts that any of the apostles recanted, we simply don’t know how many of them were killed for their testimony about Christ.

    WILLING TO DIE FOR THEIR CONVICTIONS

    This may come as a disappointment to some, but for the sake of the resurrection argument, it is not critical that we demonstrate that all of them died as martyrs. What is critical is their willingness to suffer for their belief that Jesus had risen from the grave and the lack of a contrary account that any of them recanted.

    Historian Michael Licona captures the key point: “After Jesus’ death, the disciples endured persecution, and a number of them experienced martyrdom. The strength of their conviction indicates that they were not just claiming Jesus had appeared to them after rising from the dead. They really believed it. They willingly endangered themselves by publicly proclaiming the risen Christ.”

    What about others who have died for their beliefs? There is a massive difference between willingly dying for the sake of the religious ideas accepted from the testimony of others (e.g., Muslim radicals) and willingly dying for the proclamation of a faith based on one’s own eyewitness account. Given the historical facts, if Jesus had not risen from the grave, then we are left with the extraordinarily implausible scenario that the apostles knew that Jesus remained dead and they willingly died for a lie.

    This does not prove that the Resurrection is true. But it shows the depth of the apostles’ convictions. They were not liars. They truly believed Jesus rose from the grave, and they were willing to give their lives for it. And as we have seen, many of them did.

    Sean McDowell, PhD, is an assistant professor of Christian apologetics at Biola University. He is an internationally recognized speaker for conferences, camps, churches, universities, and more. He has authored or co-authored more than fifteen books, including The Fate of the Apostles (Ashgate Publishing, 2015) and A New Kind of Apologist (Harvest House Publishing, 2016). He blogs regularly at seanmcdowell.org.
     
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2020
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  2. Nihilist Virus

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    I don't see where you addressed the real issue. Getting killed is tragic, but it proves nothing. Show me that one of these people 1) is attested to be a witness of the resurrection, and 2) was given the opportunity to recant their faith, but refused, and faced torture/execution. One person fitting both criteria would get me to stop and think; two or three and I'd be really sweating.

    I don't see where you establish these points at all for any of the disciples. If your sources flesh this out, could you include that information here?

    Also, why on earth is Paul mentioned? I understand that my first condition is taken as a given for the disciples, but Paul fails this utterly.

    The official story is that Jesus rose from the dead, stayed on earth for about a month, and then ascended into heaven. Paul was still a boy named Saul when that was happening. Jesus does not appear to Saul until around a decade later. It may as well have been a millennium later because it was an appearance, not Jesus in the flesh. Furthermore, Acts goes out of its way to say that Saul's companions had a different experience. Jesus was not there in the flesh. His appearance was no more evidence of a resurrection than when the other Saul (King Saul) summoned the ghost of Samuel.
     
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  3. InterestedAtheist

    InterestedAtheist Veteran

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    Let's begin here.
    This is extremely weak.
    First of all, it was written by John no earlier, and probably much later, than thirty years after the alleged words of Christ were spoken. So what is to stop John from having heard of Peter's death and deciding to put a prophecy into Jesus' mouth in order to make it a betters story?

    Secondly, the "prophecy' itself. "When you were young, you'd go where you wanted; but when you are old, others will take you where they want." Yes, that sounds like it could be used to describe old age for most people.

    Thirdly, this extract from John is no proof of any kind that Peter was, in fact, martyred. Even if we grant the extremely unlikely assumption that Jesus was prophesying that Peter would be martyred, this extract from the Bible is no proof that he was.

    Fourth, what evidence do we have that Peter faced death and refused to recant? Any at all? Or is it just a Christian assumption?

    All in all, this just amounts to...nothing.
     
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2020
  4. A_Thinker

    A_Thinker Well-Known Member Supporter

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    The prophecy is just one evidence of Peter's martyrdom, and not one that I would have chosen.

    However, Peter's death is attested to in numerous other documents.

    From the presentation ...

    "Other early evidence for Peter’s martyrdom can be found in writings such as Clement of Rome (1 Clement 5:1–4), Ignatius (Letter to the Smyrneans 3:1–2), The Apocalypse of Peter, The Ascension of Isaiah, The Acts of Peter, The Apocryphon of James, Dionysius of Corinth (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History2.25.4), and Tertullian (Scorpiace 15, The Prescription Against Heresies 36)."

    The historical writings attesting to the events of christian historical exist for the purpose of transmitting, ... not for proof. And these writings are on par with the written documentation for other non-christian historical events.

    Also, the documents in question do not exist in a vacuum. They are only part of the vast volume of writings on early christianity which exist, ... of which only a fraction are included in the biblical canon.

    New Testament apocrypha - Wikipedia

    Every historian knows that you cannot absolutely PROVE a non-recent event with a written historical witness. For some persons, ... only there own personal witness is enough.

    For others, however, such a plethora of written attestation is indeed enough.
     
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2020
  5. InterestedAtheist

    InterestedAtheist Veteran

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    Okay. I'm willing to be convinced. But you put forward the quote from John as one of your proofs, and since it's the first, it would seem to be the strongest. You say you have other proofs? Alright. Let's hear them: where they came from, when they were written, and what they say.
    You started off with a great deal of confidence in your sources, and now you seem to be much less confident.
     
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  6. Tinker Grey

    Tinker Grey Wanderer Supporter

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    I'm not sure how one could consider a prediction of death by martydom evidence that someone actually died a martyr's death. Pardon me, but that's just ridiculous.
     
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2020
  7. InterestedAtheist

    InterestedAtheist Veteran

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    I'm afraid I've had my ratings ability suspended. So, rather than tick "agree" I'll just say you're right, and this is what we should expect from someone called McDowell.
     
  8. Tinker Grey

    Tinker Grey Wanderer Supporter

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    Sorry to hear that.
    Indeed.
     
  9. Nihilist Virus

    Nihilist Virus Infectious idea

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    You and I seem to be way off topic on this particular nuance. The circumstances of their death apparently don't matter. All that matters is that they were killed by someone.
     
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