(Part 3 of 3 on Biblical Reliability)
The argument has been made that “the apostles died uniquely for the belief that they had actually seen the risen Christ.”(1) But, do we actually know how each one of them died? While this isn’t exactly the question I would ask, it does spark the interest of many Christians and non-Christians. The fast answer is no, we do not know how all of them died. We know by tradition how most of them died, but we can’t write that in stone for all of them. What we do know is this:
“The apostles spent between one and a half and three years with Jesus during his public ministry, expecting him to proclaim his kingdom on earth. Although disillusioned at his untimely death, they became the first witnesses of the risen Jesus and they endured persecution; many subsequently experienced martyrdom, signing their testimony, so to speak, in their own blood. The strength of their conviction, marked by their willingness to die, indicates that they did not fabricate these claims; rather, without exception, they actually believed Jesus to have risen from the dead…[This lends] credibility to their claims about the veracity of resurrection, which is fundamental to the case for Christianity.
We must recognize that this in and of itself only shows their depth of belief; it does not prove Christianity to be true. Candida Moss, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Notre Dame, says,
“Today, we are pointedly aware that martyrdom is not an exclusively Christian practice; virtually every religious group holds the deaths of their heroes in high esteem, and many people have died for religions that no longer exist. Yet many still declare that there is something special about the character and nature of Christian martyrs.”(3)
We must consider the difference here. While Moss is correct that most all religions, and even movements, have martyrs who die for what they believe, the difference is that the apostles believed they had seen the risen Jesus. This is firsthand eye witness evidence as opposed to believing something secondhand. Additionally, they were not OK with simply believing what they saw. Rather, they changed from cowardly men following their leader who were upset at his untimely death, to bold, courageous men ready and willing to die for what they had seen, what they knew to be true.
One last point of consideration, and perhaps one of the most important, is that there is no record of them ever recanting their beliefs. Often times, when put under severe pressure, people will take back what they claimed to believe. Sometimes, this is even done with little or no pressure.
Let’s look at an example of three men were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). These men, Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and David Whitmer, claim to have seen the gold plates from which Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon. However, at some point in each of their lives, they either voluntarily left the LDS church or were excommunicated. In fact, when Martin Harris was asked if he saw the plates with his “naked eyes,” he “looked down for an instant, raised his eyes up, and said, ‘No, I saw them with a spiritual eye.’” Additionally, Harris was said to have addressed a congregation and told them that “he never saw the plates with his natural eyes, only in vision or imagination.” Later in life Harris’ recantation was denied. Whitmer also claimed a more spiritual approach to seeing the plates before being excommunicated from the church. At some point each of these three eye-witnesses to the gold plates denied physically seeing the plates.(4)
If your eyewitnesses recant or change their minds at any point, even if they later deny ever doing so, it is reasonable evidence that it probably isn’t true. The apostles never did this. Their story didn’t change and neither did their testimony.
I want to leave you with a final thought from Sean McDowell:
“The willingness of the apostles to suffer and die for their faith contributes significantly to resurrection research. While alone it does not prove the resurrection is true, it does show the apostles sincerely believed it. They were not liars…The apostles proclaimed the risen Jesus to skeptical and antagonistic audiences with full knowledge they would likely suffer and die for their beliefs. All the apostles suffered and were “ready to be put to death,” and we have good reason to believe some of them actually faced execution. There is no evidence they ever wavered. Their convictions were not based on secondhand testimony, but personal experience with the risen Jesus, whom they truly believed was the risen Messiah, banking their lives on it. It is difficult to imagine what more a group of ancient witnesses could have done to show greater depth of sincerity and commitment to the truth.”(5)
(1) Sean McDowell, The Fate of the Apostles: Examining the Martyrdom Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus. (Routledge: New York, 2016), 3.
(2) McDowell, Sean (2016-03-09). The Fate of the Apostles: Examining the Martyrdom Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus (p. 2). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
(3) Moss, Candida (2013-03-05). The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom (p. 17). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
(4) The information in this paragraph is derived from three different sources: 1) John Gilbert, “Memorandum,” September 8, 1892, in EMD, 2: 548; 2) Stephen Burnett to Lyman E. Johnson, April 15, 1838 in EMD, 2:291; 3) Whitmer interview with John Murphy, June 1880, in EMD 5: 63.
(5) McDowell, Fate of the Apostles, 265.
Victoria Harris holds an M.A. in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. She is a former Miss Florida Teen USA and Mrs. Florida U.S. Victoria is a lover of Jesus, a wife, biological mom of a toddler and soon-to-be adoptive mom of a tween. Follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/vdharris, on twitter @VictoriaDHarris, or on instagram @VictoriaRatliffHarris.Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
As I sat down to write this blog, I browsed someone’s website who I cite frequently, J. Warner Wallace. As a former atheist and cold case detective, Wallace combines his knowledge and skill set to study the Christian faith. When doing so, one thing he looked at was whether the story of Jesus changed over time - particularly, if Jesus was worshipped as a deity during his life and immediately after his death and resurrection, or if that started later as the “legend” developed. In his blog on this topic (see the full entry here), Wallace provides quotes from eight different students who were taught by the original apostles, spanning from about 70 AD - 225 AD. We can look at John, Paul, and Peter to assess their teachings, and then, see if their students and their student’s students taught the exact same principles, or if they changed.
Let’s start by assessing John’s student’s - Ignatius, Polycarp, and Papius. Of this we have seven letters written by Ignatius to local churches and one from Polycarp. We do not have anything written by Papius. Furthermore, we can look at Ireneaus, who was a student of Ignatius and Polycarp, to see if what he taught matched what his teachers taught.
In chapter seven of his Letters to the Ephesians, Ignatius of Antioch wrote:
“But our Physician is the Only true God, the unbegotten and unapproachable, the Lord of all, the Father and Begetter of the only-begotten Son. We have also as a Physician the Lord our God, Jesus the Christ, the only-begotten Son and Word, before time began, but who afterwards became also man, of Mary the virgin. For "the Word was made flesh.”
Clement of Rome wrote directly of the Deity of Christ and the resurrection of the dead:
“Do we then think it to be a great and marvelous thing, if the Creator of the universe shall bring about the resurrection of them that have served Him with holiness in the assurance of a good faith, seeing that He showeth to us even by a bird the magnificence of His promise?” (1 Clement 26:1)
In Paul’s letters, he mentions Lionas and Clement. Additionally, we know that Peter teaches Mark and Mark chooses the first five bishops in Rome who form a school in Alexander. Now we have Jesus being taught in three different regions of the known world. And, Jesus is the same man in all of the stories.
Here are a few more that Wallace quotes in his article(1):
Hippolytus, Leading Presbyter at the Church in Rome (c. 205AD):
“Although He endured the cross, yet as God He returned to life, having trampled upon death.”
We know God is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, is ever constant and never changing. Likewise, Jesus starts early and never changes. He is the same redeemer of our souls today as He was 2,000 years ago when he hung on a tree, was buried in a tomb, and rose alive and well three days later.
A great starting point to learning more about this is to read the writings of some of the Apostolic Fathers in a book such as The Apostolic Fathers by Michael W. Holmes.
J. Warner Wallace, “The Deity of Jesus is not a Legend.” http://coldcasechristianity.com/2016/the-deity-of-jesus-is-not-a-late-legend/, accessed February 7, 2017.
Victoria Harris holds an M.A. in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. She is a former Miss Florida Teen USA and Mrs. Florida U.S. Victoria is a lover of Jesus, a wife, biological mom of a toddler and soon-to-be adoptive mom of a tween. Follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/vdharris, on twitter @VictoriaDHarris, or on instagram @VictoriaRatliffHarris.
About six months ago, Taylor Mauldin (TJ's wife) came to me full of excitement with a new book that her husband was releasing. This book, a 30-day devotional, has sold hundreds of copies in our local community. All of the proceeds from the sale of this devotion help to fund their international adoption. So, I thought, let's do an interview with TJ to get his insight on the devotion. Enjoy!
Victoria: Why (and when) did you decide to write 30 Days of Desperation?
TJ: 30 Days of Desperation came out of an interesting season. Our foster child that had been with us for two years returned to his birth mother, which was our prayer As incredible as it was, it was utterly devastation for us. Additionally, I was diagnosed and dealing with a difficult medical issue all in the same few weeks. This was also when we needed to raise funds for our adoption. We were desperate to hear from the Lord. It was in the midst of this grappling with suffering and the love of God that we thought about compiling a devotion from the last several years of my writings that could serve other people walking through the same kind of desperation and serve as a fundraiser. Not all, but many of the devotions come from a time when I would write for my wife. I longed for her to see and cherish Christ with unremitting joy in every situation and wanted to take the lead in pointing her to the gospel every chance I got. Many of the devotions you will read have sat in her email from mornings or evenings that I felt compelled to share with her what God had shared with me. So, 30 Days of Desperation didn’t start out as a devotion for everyone to read. It started as a simple guy who sat with an extraordinary God and fleshed out life, suffering, and surrender with the tip of a pen.
Victoria: Of the 30 devotions, which one has the greatest meaning to you?
TJ: All of the devotions have great significance to me in unique ways. "Wounded People Fill Wounded Churches" would probably be the one that has the greatest meaning though. I wrote this in a season where I had just been fired from a church that I had planted with my best friend. I didn’t do anything unethical, immoral, or outside of the guideline of scripture. My best friend had transitioned from co-pastor along side me to senior pastor over me. He and I kept running into leadership roadblocks with each other. We were both pretty sinful in the way we handled it and ultimately we were both immature. He decided to fire me and I was, for the first time, truly wounded in church. Every band member I had recruited that were my friends I lost, every interpersonal relationship that was precious to me now had a deep tension attached, and there was this strange silence around why I was no longer there. It was some of the darkest days of my life. I had been deeply wounded. It was in this season that I realized the church was filled with wounded people. Some wounds unavoidable as others deride us, but some self-inflicted.
It was in this season that I penned this devotion. I was preaching a sermon to myself on how to recover from the wound, and continue to pursue Christ. I had to remind myself that there is no perfect church --- that we have to take the chip off our shoulder and remember we aren’t looking for churches that are perfect; rather, we are looking for somewhere to serve and be spent for the Gory of God, and that wounds either lead to healing or death and the only lasting healing available to us is in the person and work of Christ Jesus. I had to preach those three realities to myself over and over. I will say that I’m grateful that God trusted myself and my best friend with this kind of wound. I think we are both better pastors and men today because of it. God has since restored our friendship and I love to remind him that firing me was the best dumb thing he ever did. We are both thankful that God is sovereign over our stupidity.
Victoria: What are your future plans for writing?
TJ: I recently finished writing our churches membership curriculum and am in the process of writing another set of devotions for Crossfit and Arrow Up Outfitters. One is geared toward exercise and health, while the other is focused on the outdoors.
To purchase 30 Days of Desperation (which will help TJ and Taylor bring their beautiful baby boy home from India), email Taylor at email@example.com.
P.S. At only $15 each, they would make great Valentine's Day gifts!
If this his interview was helpful to you, please don't forget to share it with your friends and like/comment.
Victoria Harris holds an M.A. in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. She is a former Miss Florida Teen USA and Mrs. Florida U.S. Victoria is a lover of Jesus, a wife, biological mom of a toddler and soon-to-be adoptive mom of a tween. Follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/vdharris, on twitter @VictoriaDHarris, or on instagram @VictoriaRatliffHarris
Victoria is a wife, mom, ambassador of Jesus, and a lover of all things that involve learning.