Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Did the Apostle's Die for a Lie?

Would the apostles willingly die for their belief in the resurrection if they knew it to be a lie?

Maybe not. However, they might willingly die for their belief in the teachings of Jesus about the coming Kingdom of God regardless of whether the resurrection happened in the way the gospels tell the story.

The apostles had personally experienced a truly extraordinary person and believed his teachings. They sincerely believed in the coming Kingdom of God and the crucifixion did not change the significance of those teachings for them. However, the crucifixion did change the significance of those teachings for every everyone else. For those who had not encountered this amazing individual personally, the crucifixion demonstrated that he was nobody.

The apostles had to convince people that Jesus’ teachings transcended his death as they truly believed they had. So they started telling people that Jesus himself had transcended his death. At first, they may have simply spoken in a fuzzy way about how they continued to feel the presence of his spirit which probably would have been completely true. However, they quickly found that when they added content and details to Jesus’ continued presence, people were much more receptive to listening to Jesus’ ethical teachings. So they continued to expand those details because they believed the ends justified the means. They believed that the most important thing was that people understand Jesus' teachings They may even have convinced themselves of the reality of the appearances.

This is what mythology is all about; people embracing stories for their ability to communicate deeper truths rather than their ability to communicate accurate factual information. The men who spread the story that Pat Tillman died at the hands of the enemy rather than in a friendly fire incident probably did not see themselves as disseminating untruths. They no doubt believed that their version of events more accurately captured Tillman’s heroism as well as the courage of the men he fought with. They also probably knew that his character was in no way diminished by the fact that he died in an unfortunate accident. Nevertheless they told the story in the way that best communicated the truths that they believed to be most important.

The apostles’ willingness to die for their faith may have had nothing to do with the resurrection and everything to do with the message they had heard first hand from Jesus.


  1. So, they sat under the teaching of this guy who told them he was going to change the world by ussering in God's kingdom. Then this guy with the great message dies without bringing in said kingdom. And now they set aside all of their culturally shaped beliefs and start a new religion in the name of this dead guy.

    Your explaination doesn't even account for their conversion, much less their martyrs' deaths (assuming they died that way).

  2. I am not trying to account for things for which no reliable evidence exists, such as the exact content of Jesus' teachings, the exact reason why his disciples decided to follow him, or the exact circumstances under which his followers died. These are things which can only be accepted as a matter of faith.

    I am trying to account for the stories that came to be written down some thirty to sixty years after his death and my account considers the possibility that those stories evolved over time.

  3. Interesting.

    There is plenty of valid historical evidence for the traditional accounts of Christ's life and death.

    There is every reason to believe that an oral culture could have very accurately preserved the accounts of Jesus' life.

    Further, we would have expected those accounts to be written down at just about the time that the apostle's and early church leaders would reach old-age.

    Recommended reading:




  4. There is almost no historical evidence for the traditional accounts of Jesus' life and death other than those accounts. There is no evidence that historians like Josephus had sources that were independent of Christians themselves.

    Anthropologists have studied oral cultures without finding anywhere near the kind of accuracy in preservation that apologists posit for the early church. Moreover, in the early church, a brand new story was being passed from person to person among people of many different backgrounds and cultures. It makes little sense to apply an oral transmission model developed in a single homogenous culture for stories that had been passed down for hundreds of years.

    I agree about the time when the stories would start being written down. I think the passing of the first generation of believers would have caused the church to realize that the Second Coming might not be as soon as they thought. That would have motivated them to write down the stories lest they be lost. I don't think that changes the fact that they could have changed considerably prior to that time.

  5. See "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses" by Bauckham and "The Historical Reliability of the Gospels" by Blomberg (links above) for well-researched competing views of oral tradition.

    Also, we are talking here about the transmission of facts about historical events and verbal teachings. Oral cultures do quite well with these, as much current research demonstrates.

  6. I have looked at Bauckham's book and Blomberg's articles. The problem with both of them when it comes to oral tradition is that they do little more than quote some scholarly conclusions that seem to support their position.

    I would recommend John Dominic Crossan's The Birth of Christianity : Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately After the Execution of Jesus. Crossan provides a much more thorough discussion of the actual research done by anthropologists in the field of oral traditions as well as a description of experiments on memory done by scientists. When you look at the work actually done by researchers in the field, the model proposed by Bauckham and Blomberg seems much less plausible as a description of how the gospel stories were transmitted.

  7. Paul is clear in Galatians 6:12 that early Christians were persecuted on the issue of circumcision.

    He makes clear that Christian leaders avoided persecution for the cross (NB not resurrection) of Christ, by simply compromising on the issue of circumcision.

    And, of course, the New Testament contains zero stories of Christians being accused of any crime of preaching a resurrection.

  8. JONES
    There is every reason to believe that an oral culture could have very accurately preserved the accounts of Jesus' life.

    Yes, Paul was lying through his teeth when he wrote 'For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.'

    Paul was not a scholar.

    He was not aware of the latest research which showed that Christians would preserve the stories about Jesus.

    He was under the bizarre impression that Christians of his time readily accepted different Jesus's.

    What an idiot he was.

  9. JONES
    There is every reason to believe that an oral culture could have very accurately preserved the accounts of Jesus' life.

    More 'coulda bean' soup.

    It could have been this way. It could have been that way.

    No evidence - just tasteless, unfilling coulda bean soup.

    Show us the evidence that one person in history had ever seen Joseph of Arimathea, Lazarus, Bartimaeus, Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, Nicodemus, Joanna, Salome, Simon of Cyrene, Jairus,Martha , Judas, Thomas.

    As soon as there is a public church, in Acts 2, with the possibility of public records, these people vanish from history as though they had never existed.

    Vanish even from *church* history as though they had never existed.

    They vanish as quickly and totally as the Angel Moroni and the Golden Plates vanish from Mormonism.

    Even Jesus virtually disappears.

    While the anonymous author of Luke can tell us the exact year John the Baptist started preaching, he does not even attempt to date the crucifixion, and the best he can do about Jesus is that he was 'about 30' when he started to preach.

    Luke is more accurate about John the Baptist than about his own Lord and Saviour!

    JTB - exact year of preaching. Jesus 'about 30' when he started and heaven knows when he was killed.

    And Christians actually have the audacity to say there is real history to be got from these works.

  10. I love Bauckham's claim that the author of Mark did not mention Lazarus, because Lazarus was scared of being killed, and so had to be hushed up by Christians.

    So these people were like so totally prepared to die, and yet Bauckham claims they were so scared of being killed that they could not even be named in Christian books!

  11. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qh38ygMiY5I&feature=PlayList&p=8D71CEDB225E5AE0&index=0&playnext=1

    That refutes the Die For a Lie argument, when applied to the apostles.