When faced with the question, “Would the Disciples die for a lie?” I reply, “When did they die, how did they die, and what were the circumstances of their death?” Upon review, we see that it is a guess, pure opinion that they had a chance to recant and save their lives.
History does not record it. The Bible does not record it. The church does not record it until so long after, it cannot be considered reliable. The proponent of this argument, through all the claims, and statements and cute catch phrases, is really saying, “I guess they wouldn’t die for a lie, but I have no facts to demonstrate otherwise.”
Dagood begins by listing the sequence of the argument.
The claim is composed of five elements. It requires:
1) A group of individuals;
2) Specifically named;
3) Who saw a physically resurrected Jesus;
4) Willingly dying for this belief; (key issue)
5) And not for any other reason.
This is the argument that we are making. Dagood's refutation brings up some interesting points.
Paul is the central character to the Book of Acts
First, the book of Acts does not mention much of the key disciples. They disappear from the narrative, even John and then Peter himself fades away and is not heard from again. My response to that is that the book of Acts was written by Luke as an explanation of the apostle Paul. Once Paul enters the picture, the other characters begin to fade out, and Paul is followed almost exclusively thereafter. One theory I have heard but cannot find footnotes for is the Book of Acts was the amicus brief in Rome for Paul's trial. Either way you look at it, it is not scandalous that a book ostensibly about the works of Paul shouldn't spend a whole lot of time on the others. Dagood actually admits this truth; "The rest of Acts focuses on Paul’s ministry".
John's whereabouts are well-documented as he wrote his gospel later as well as his letters and the Revelation. He was purported to be the disciple who lived the longest, as is insinuated in John 21.
Book of Acts - Wikipedia.
Second, Dagood states that...
In the back of our mind, it must be remembered that the events surrounding the early church were not recorded contemporaneously, but after they had happened. These are not daily reports, nor newspaper headlines. Paul recorded certain events, then the Gospels were written, and finally Acts was written.
All I could do here is cast doubt on this assumption that no one took notes or talked with each other prior to some old guy sitting down to write his memoires. The writings that have survived represent a very small percentage of what was written.
Whether one holds that these were written only a few years, or many decades after the event, either situation provides ample opportunity to add, remove, or modify events with just the flick of a pen. We should keep a careful and cautious eye investigating these events.
This is reasonable, and also goes both ways, particularly in regard to the much later Gnostic Gospels.
Here I should restate what the argument "would not die for a lie" really means. The disciples who walked with Jesus and the other followers would have had seen with their own eyes the truth about Jesus. Dagood brings out the Heaven's Gate tragedy in which 37 people followed the guy with the spooky eyes to commit mass suicide. They believed that a space ship was sailing behind Halley's Comet and would pick them up if they died at the right time. [We assume they failed?] This is totally different. Those who died had no way of knowing if it was true. The differnce is this: They put their faith in a man..who was nuts. This is a problem in many faith systems (Islam with Muhammed, Mormonism with Joseph Smith for example).
So we are to assume that an inner circle of disciples could have confused the rest into dying for the dead Jesus en masse? Dagood questions the veracity of whether the disciples really died for their faith and, here's a challenging point, whether they died intentionally.
Did the disciples really die for their faith? The books of Acts and Romans give details about an expulsion by the emperor Claudius of Jewish Christians from Rome in the early 50s AD, less than 20 years after Jesus' resurrection. Next we find extra-biblical data that Nero persecutedthe Christians as scapegoats about AD 64, 31 years after. The Christian church had already become a force that the most powerful ruler in the world had to deal with, and he dealt with them harshly. He even killed thousands of them. The point I'm, getting at here is that we have this hard fact, thousands of Christians are dying for their faith [all most of them had to do was recant, declare Nero God and deny Christ] just 30 years after Jesus walked the earth. The idea that none of these folks were eyewitnesses is a stretch. Short of new forensic or documentary evidence, the debate ends there in a draw.
Dagood doesn't address the rapid growth of this "opt-in" church. Islam was spread by the sword which is a lot faster than just convincing people. But again, the skeptic doesn't care about this larger picture.
The second point about the disciples dying I thought was interesting. Dagood argues that the disciples didn't necessarily die for their faith. He mentions Joseph Smith's death; he was shot running away from a shoot-out. Indeed, Smith's death was caused by his Mormon activism, but he wasn't pinned down and asked to recant or die.
Charges against the early Christian
However, if we look at many verified accounts of early Christian martyrs, we see this very situation repeated over and over. The crime of the early church was that they called Jesus Lord, a word reserved for the emperor. There was no other law that could be thrown at them. Robbers were often killed in the Old West for robbing. Protestant pastors weren't killed for robbing unless they were robbers. Christians were blasphemers for choosing Jesus as their Lord over the emperor X.
I see this as a serious obstacle to saying that the eyewitness Christians did not die for their faith. Certainly, they were grabbed and condemned to die, but on what grounds? We have this fact that Christians were killed for the charge of calling Jesus "Kurios" within 30 years of Jesus' death. We have the fair estimate that the eyewitnesses could live another 30 years (unless they're a rock band) and be killed for calling Jesus Lord. It is not a strong position to say that the eyewitnesses were that deluded, assuming Jesus rotted away, and still write anything sensible.
The only disciple noted as killed is James, the brother of John (Acts 12:2) and even then it is merely an introduction into a story about Peter. More on James in a bit.
The inspired Bible does not record all Twelve of one accord. It does not mention what each one did separately. It does not indicate they were not “dying for a lie.” While referred to as a group, the events recorded as history do not include information as to their death.
In order for this argument to work, the proponent would need to demonstrate that the disciple (or James) had an opportunity to avoid death by claiming, “It is a hoax,” and did not take it. Simply dying because they are a Christian, (while making them a martyr) is not enough for this argument.
Again, the problem with the likely charge against John's brother James is blasphemy hurts his argument. In fact, Dagood here makes the assumption that Herod gets angry at James [as if they were unaware that decrying "Jesus is Lord" wouldn't anger Herod] and simply sicks his dogs on him. The ancient world wasn't that primitive. Even if the charges were trumped up, there would have been charges, and most likely the charge was blasphemy. I believe that it is logical that James died because he refused to deny Christ. He woudl also have been an eyewitness to whether Jesus was Lord or loco.
To be continued...