This Post is part two in a two part post that discusses evidence for the resurrection related to the lives and deaths of the Apostles, these posts will primarily reference Sean McDowell’s The Fate of the Apostles Amazon link provided on the previous post.
Much has been done to show how the lives of the Apostles lives evidence the reliability of the resurrection. Last post I wrote about how the historic evidence for martyrdom of Paul and James strengthens the Minimal Facts argument that Gary Habermas and others have presented. Today I want to focus on how what we know about the Apostles of Jesus as a group adds value to the argument for the resurrection of Jesus.
What We have to Work with
The writings on the Apostles within the first few hundred years of their lives varies in overall reliability. Some of the material we have was written by historians such as Josephus or Movses Xorenac’I. Some material comes from Pseudo accounts which have some obviously exaggerated material, like dragons and talking lions. Some material comes from various early church fathers from different parts of the world.
With varying sources with some obviously false material it is a difficult task to sort out the true pearls but thankfully Professor McDowell done this for some facts that ring the truest. For methodology McDowell looks for independent traditions, early traditions (writings within the living memory 1-2 generations of the person), facts we know are true from archeology and other historical sources and criteria such as embarrassment to tease out what would very likely not be made up. In other words is this fact attested by multiple independent sources? Is there a competing tradition? Is there a reason why making up this fact would be of value to the writer? Through asking these questions McDowell is able to give a rating for the reliability of different elements of the Apostles lives.
What we know:
- The Apostles became bold proclaimers of the resurrection.
- There are accounts describing the missionary journeys of all of the Apostles.
- Whenever the Apostles are mentioned by early historians, the Church Fathers or any other accounts in first two generations of the Apostles the unchallenged theme is that they continued Jesus’ mission.
- There were a number of enemies of the Christian faith in the Apostles day.
- The accounts of Paul and Peter’s deaths by the Romans and both James, the brother of Jesus, and James of Zebedee’s execution by the Jews all have a highly probable rating.
- These martyrdoms agree with the persecution described in the book of Acts and give credence to the acceptance of persecution of that kind happening during the lives of the Apostles, by both their fellow Jews and the Roman government.
- The disciples faced persecution and many died for their confession of Jesus and His resurrection.
- McDowell rates the martyrdom of Peter, Paul, James of Zebedee as the Highest Possible Probability. He gives James the brother of Jesus’ martyrdom a rating of Very Probably True and Thomas’ martyrdom a rating of More Probable than Not.
- None of the disciples ever recanted their faith.
- No evidence for any Apostle recanting their faith, despite the benefit the enemies of the Christian faith would have had in using such an account.
- There are writings in some form for all of the Apostles describing how they attempted to continue Jesus’ mission, while all accounts may not be wholly accurate the constant theme of these writings indicates that the disciples were committed to Jesus.
- The disciples attempted to fulfill the great commission (Matthew 28:19-20) by spreading out throughout the world preaching the gospel.
- McDowell goes through the Apostles one by one and gives the likelihood that each Apostle engaged in missionary work at least a rating of Very Probably True.
- The Highest Possible Probability Paul went to Rome. Very Probably True that Peter went to Rome. Very Probably True that John ministered in Ephesus. More Probable than Not that Thomas preached in India. More Probable than Not that Andrew preached in Greece. Very Probably True that Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thaddeus and Matthias engaged in missionary work outside of Jerusalem in including at the very least missionary work in Romania.
Given the virtually undisputed fact that the disciples had experiences they honestly believed were the risen Jesus. The evidence leaning well towards the dedicated missionary nature of the Apostles is no small historic truth.. History faces us with a group of men who are so committed to the knowledge that they interacted with Jesus after he rose from the dead that they were willing to risk death and torture, never recanting, but even being executed for that truth. We must ask ourselves, what did all of those people experience? Is there truth to the claim that God raised Jesus from the dead? What does that mean for my life today?