Tuesday, April 02, 2013

“Wouldn’t Die for a Lie”…won’t die

I recently learned of J. Warner Wallace author of Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels As he ostensibly utilizes methodology akin to the legal system…well…you can see why I was intrigued. Alas, it is nothing more than Christian apologetics.
But recently, he offered a video blog entry: How do we know the Apostles Died as Martyrs. Of course I could not resist. Mr. Wallace indicates he is convinced the Apostles died as martyrs because there is no counter-evidence to the contrary. He points out how defense lawyers offer counter arguments, and opposing factual with differing evidence, yet we have none of that here. On the one hand we have tradition they died as martyrs, but we have no First Century documents (Mr. Wallace points out) saying they lived long lives or were not martyred.

Curious, I asked a question. “What documents would include such information?” Was there some Jerusalem Journal or Galilean Gazette I did not know about keeping obituaries? Was there some First Century High Priest diary listing out each of the 12 disciple’s deaths as they passed on? Yet what really intrigued me was Mr. Wallace’s insistence on First Century documents.

See the first writing we have regarding even a possible martyrdom is 1 Clement, traditionally dated to the early 90’s CE. The second writing would be Josephus’ account regarding James, the brother of Jesus, dating to the later 90’s CE. The third possible writing would be Acts of the Apostles, dated after Josephus (in my opinion), making it very late 90’s CE at best. (And in case one wanted to date it earlier, I am including it within the First Century.)

As you can immediately see—the stories themselves did not circulate amongst Christians in writing prior to the very end of the First Century! It seems slightly…unreasonable…to anticipate anyone disputing these tales MUST be within the few years left within the First Century.

Further, 1 Clement does not explicitly indicate Peter and Paul died martyrs, Josephus does not indicate James’ death had anything to do with Christianity, and Acts only utilizes James, son of Zebedee’s death like a Star Trek Red shirt (as I previously pointed out.) Indeed it was not until the Second Century the martyrdom tales gained their legendary legs and took off with Acts of Peter, Acts of Paul, and Second Apocalypse of James. It wasn’t until the very end of the Second Century, perhaps the beginning of the Third, that Hippolytus gave us the deaths of the other disciples.

So…we don’t really have obituaries in the First Century. And no one is even saying the disciples died martyrs to provide anyone with the notion of countering the tales.

What possible documents could Mr. Wallace be referring to?

We will never know.


  1. It's interesting that you posted this as we've been studying I Peter at church with a focus on suffering for Christ. It's interesting that my church values church tradition on this matter when it typically devalues tradition. My understanding is that the martydom of the apostles is so valued as it lends credibility to Christianity. That being said, even if there's no concrete evidence of the apostles being martyred, isnt there evidence that Christians did experience persecution of some type during the time in which the apostles lived? And if so, wouldn't that lend some support to the idea that there was some reason to be fearful of teaching Christianity? I understand that people may have reason to lie in the face of adversity and that the apostles also could have believed in a risen Jesus for reasons other than actually seeing him rise. I'm just interested in knowing if a climate of fear for Christians has been established in the first century and if that helps the case that the apostles were less likely to deliberately spread a lie.

  2. DoOrDoNot,

    I must ask your patience in replying to this inquiry. I am currently finishing Myth of Persecution and intend to do a book review on it. There are some interesting aspects regarding the Christian “persecution” of the first 3 ½ Centuries I hadn’t considered before.

    The persecution would appear to be sporadic, and unlocalized. What one governor would ignore, another would prosecute. We know there was some pursuit against Christians by Tacitus, Pliny the Younger and 1 Clement, not to mention the New Testament writings. Whether it was to the extent that disciples would think they would necessarily be subjected to it is quite difficult to determine. For example, just because Nero blamed Christians for the Rome Fire, that wouldn’t mean the Christians of Spain or Corinth or Jerusalem would likewise suffer any impact. [Here is an interesting example. Roman law had quite a few crimes with execution as a punishment. Far beyond what we have. And they liked to fit the punishment to the crime. An arsonist, for example, would be burned to death. While we view Nero’s dipping Christians in tar and lighting them on fire as monstrous, they would view it as “Oh…punishment fits the crime.”]

    The more I study Palestine in the First Century, the less I see any reason for organized Jewish persecution against Christianity. They had far too many other problems to bother with a claim that wasn’t causing them any trouble. What did they care about another Messianic claim (amongst dozens.) Worse, it sounded crazy—a crucified Messiah?—and didn’t get enough traction amongst Jews so it evangelized Gentiles. And even then, some proponents apparently continued to follow Jewish practices!

    More to come.

  3. Hello DagoodS,

    I really enjoyed the many wonderful points you made in your comments on the Stand to Reason blog. Very enlightening, especially your examples of when an argument from silence can be strong or weak. And I agree with the essence of your procedure: what medium does J. Warner Wallace find silent on the given matter when we should expect it not to be? He offers no suggestion here that I could find.

    As I’m sure you appreciate, there are many, many issues that can be probed on this matter. Acts 7, for instance, has Stephen being stoned to death at Saul of Tarsus’ feet, but do we learn anything about this from any of Paul’s letters? Not that I can find. Perhaps there was someone named Stephen who was stoned, and the author of Acts decided to put Saul there to pump up his pre-conversion notoriety.

    Frankly, I think the value which apologists put on the martyrdom traditions of the apostles is way overblown, but I also think that’s a consequence of the fact that they have so little else going for them. The whole “willing to die” motif seems, in my view, to be carelessly handled as a matter of habit by apologists. When they make their case that the apostles “allowed themselves to be tortured to death” (Strobel, The Case for Christ, p. 248), one might get the impression that they had a choice in this to begin with. But typically when individuals are being tortured and readied for execution, they are restrained against their will and their torture is being administered by force. I strongly doubt that if anyone riled the authorities to the point of winding up in such a situation, that merely recanting would offer much promise of improving their lot. And perhaps some of them did recant. Would those who were campaigning for the spread of Christianity run around and advertize this? I doubt it. Would the authorities advertize it? Possibly, but perhaps not in a form that would survive all these centuries. Besides, such reports could have easily been censored once Christians were in control.

    Incidentally, I noticed that in his book Challenging the Verdict (p. 19), Earl Doherty allows that Clement records both Peter and Paul “had ended their lives as martyrs,” but finds quite unsettling the lack of any detail linking these events to Rome, where later tradition has them meeting their bloody end. Doherty wonders: “How could a Roman writer not include the tradition that Peter and Paul had been to Rome, or been martyred in that city, several decades after the alleged events?” Quite plausibly, the core tradition that Peter and Paul were martyred took root (for emotional needs – it would embolden the faithful), perhaps without any historical basis, and eventually grew in legendary development.

    At any rate, I think you’re entirely right that arguments from silence, a noose of Warner’s own making, will only work against the apologists’ ambitions here.

    Also, I’m looking forward to your review of Myth of Persecution. Sounds very interesting.

    Dawson Bethrick

  4. Thanks, DagoodS, I look forward to the book review.

  5. Hi there -good post. Warner Wallace is one of the most intellectually dishonest apologists getting about these days.

    He touts himself as a 'cold-case' apologist but in reality, this appears to be a marketing catch phrase and little more.

    He continually refers to the gospels as 'eye-witness' testimony instead of the more honest 'hearsay.'

    His assertion that the disciples wouldn't have died for a lie is just a repackaged version of Billy Craig's apologetic rant on the same topic. Using this reason, we would have to conclude that Islamic extremists who detonate themselves are also evidence for the legitimacy of Islam.

  6. Hi Dagood,

    You and Bruce Gerencser have turned me into the black sheep of the orthodox Lutherans. Check it out:


  7. Below is a comment I just left on Bruce Gerencser's atheist blog. This statement is not a "ploy" to try to re-convert Bruce. I really and truly have no intention of ever again debating an agnostic or atheist on the existence of God and the truths of Christianity using human logic and reason. I also will never again use the Law to beat an ex-Christian over the head to repent. I will not preach at him. I will love him. Period.

    See the full discussion here: Bruce Gerenscer

    "I am probably no different than these evangelical scholars, but my position now is much different than what it was at the beginning of this thread.

    I guess what I am trying to point out is that Bruce and Dagood helped me to see that Christians cannot “prove” the existence of God, the historicity of the Resurrection, or the inerrancy of the Bible. Christians, including myself, spend hours trying to convince non-believers of the above Christian concepts when we really shouldn’t. None of these beliefs can be proven by reason, logic or through scientific methods.

    So what is left:

    1. I can decide that since the Bible and the existing Greek manuscripts DO have discrepancies…a lot of them…Christianity is a farce, and I can chuck it and live my life as a good, kind humanist.

    2. I can become a liberal Christian who believes that Jesus was a wonderful spiritual leader but deny any of the supernatural, illogical claims such as the Resurrection and Biblical inerrancy.

    3. I can maintain my belief in the Christian God, the historicity of all the OT and NT stories, the bodily Resurrection of Jesus, the inerrancy of the “autographs” (which no longer exist) and that all the true doctrines and practices of the Christian Faith, as given by God, have been preserved in orthodox Christianity. Can I prove any of this? ABSOLUTELY NOT! And for this reason, I will never again argue/debate an agnostic, atheist, or other non-believer on the validity of Christianity using logic and reason. My position is foolish. My position is silly. My position is uneducated. My position is based on what I call “faith”…childlike faith. (my choice)

    4. I can bury my head in the sand and say that there are NO discrepancies in the Bible and ignore all the evidence.

    My educated brain says that to continue believing in Christianity after what I have learned from Bruce, Daygood and Ehrman is foolish, but my heart still believes. I cannot tell you why. Maybe it is just fear to lose what I am comfortable with. Maybe it really is due to divine intervention. I choose, rightly or wrongly, to believe the latter.

    Thank you, again Bruce and Daygood for the enlightenment. I wish you all the very best."

  8. The orthodox Lutherans are collecting firewood to burn me at the stake, Dagood. Check out what they are saying:

    “I can tell you right now, speaking as a former atheist, nothing pleases the atheist more than watching a Christian retreat into irrational babble in the guise of "faith." Why? Because when a Christian says that there is no sense in reasoning with an atheist because belief in God is solely in the purview of faith, then the atheist's contention that belief in God is irrational has been given strong support.

    The evidence we have (for the Resurrection) are the Gospel accounts and Paul's corroboration of those accounts. Such evidence is remarkable and only a skeptic with an axe to grind against God would reject the evidence out of hand.

    I'm sorry you got your intellectual booty thoroughly kicked by Ehrman and a couple atheists, but you aren't solving your problem by running to fideism.

    I believe the Scriptures report the historical fact that Christ is risen from the dead. Indeed, the resurrection is falsifiable. All that is needed are the bones of Christ and it is a done deal that Christianity is false... so says the Apostle Paul. Right? If there is no resurrection our faith is in vain. Yes?

    Finally, I completely agree that "No amount of persuasion based on science, reason, and logic is going to sway ANYONE to believe... Jesus Christ as Lord." Absolutely true. However, where you are wrong is in your thinking that we can't demonstrate through "science, reason, and logic" the probability Jesus rose from the grave just as reported in the Gospels and confirmed by the Apostle Paul in his epistles.”

    Here is the actual online discussion: