My 200 Word Resurrection Witness

I mentioned two weeks ago that I would share my 200 word resurrection witness (it’s actually a little shorter). I use this constantly. Often someone will ask me what apologetics is (that happens a lot). And here’s my reply:

In apologetics we provide argument and evidence for the truth of historic Christianity. For example, consider Jesus’ resurrection. We know that Jesus’ disciples walked with Jesus, talked with Jesus, and ate with Jesus—they knew who Jesus was. They were with Jesus when he was arrested and they then scattered. The Romans then scourged Jesus, drove spikes through His wrists and His feet to nail him to the cross, and thrust a spear in His side to make sure He was dead. Then they buried Jesus.

But three days later, Jesus’ tomb was found empty and the disciples started testifying that they again walked with Jesus, talked with Jesus, and ate with Jesus. And what’s really amazing is that many testified to his resurrection even to their own torture and death. We know extra-Biblically that Nero beheaded the Apostle Paul and we know from the Jewish historian Josephus that the Sanhedrin stoned to death Jesus’ brother James, who had become a leader of the Christian church.

So here’s my question: if Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead, then why would the first disciples die for what they knew was a lie?

That’s my 200 word witness. The most common reply is, “Yeah, but people die for lies all the time.” And I say, “That’s true. People do die for things they think are true that turn out to be a lie. But as I just mentioned, the first disciples were testifying to seeing Jesus raised from the dead, which, if they hadn’t seen Jesus alive would mean they were dying for what they knew was a lie. By the way, even atheist Michael Martin, in The Case Against Christianity, agreed that it ‘is correct that the Resurrection was proclaimed by the early Christians.’” [1] So again, if Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead, then why would the first disciples die for what they knew was a lie? I continue this discussion in my post “Did Peter and Paul Die for Their Belief that Jesus Rose?”

1 Corinthians 15:14-15: “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.”

Amen.


[1] Michael Martin, The Case Against Christianity (Philadelphia: Temple University, 1991), 90.

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29 Responses to My 200 Word Resurrection Witness

  1. Vinny says:

    How about the second most common reply, which is “Do we actually have any reliable evidence that the apostles did “die for a lie”? Isn’t it true that most of those extra-biblical accounts of the martyrdom of the apostles come from as much as several centuries after the fact? Even those that can be dated earlier, like the account of the deaths of James and Paul, provide limited supporting evidence. Josephus doesn’t tell us anything about the death of James that suggests that the resurrection was an issue. With Paul, we even have some reason to think that his belief in the resurrection had nothing to do with his death. Nero persecuted the Christians because he needed a scapegoat for the fire that he had started, not because he cared about what they believed.

    • clayjones says:

      Sorry for the delay, Vinny, this is a very busy time for me.

      Let me begin with the writing of Tacitus in 109 about what happened to the Christians in A.D. 64:

      Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.”[4]

      Do you agree that Jesus disciples were by that time being killed because they were Christians?

      Thanks,

      Clay

      • Vinny says:

        Yes. They were killed because they were Christians, but they were not killed because of any specific Christian belief. They were being used as scapegoats.

        In the pogroms, the killing of Jews was sometimes justified on the grounds that they had used the blood of Christian babies in their rituals. They were killed because they were Jews but not because of any actual Jewish beliefs that they held.

        • clayjones says:

          Hi Vinny,
          Why do you think the early Christians continued to confess Jesus when it often resulted in their torturous deaths?
          Clay

          • Vinny says:

            I’m sure that they believed they would be rewarded in heaven if they did so.

            • Clay Jones says:

              I apologize again, Vinny, this is the most difficult time of my school year.

              Do you think those disciples believed that Jesus was raised from the dead?

              Clay

              • Vinny says:

                Like Dagoods, I need some clarification here.

                To which early Christians were you referring and to which disciples? I don’t believe that we have any evidence that Christians during Nero’s persecution were given the opportunity to escape execution for recanting any particular element of their faith. I suspect that the resurrection of Jesus was a part of their faith, however.

    • DagoodS says:

      Assuming, for a moment, Tacitus is accurate, there is nothing about the Christians being killed by Nero as being any of the disciples, or persons who physically saw Jesus resurrected. This leaves in place the first objection—people DO die for mistaken beliefs all the time.

      In order for “Die for a Lie” to work, one must show:

      1) The witness saw a physical Jesus post-resurrection (not a vision);
      2) The witness had an opportunity to recant to avoid death.

      Tacitus does not provide us either of those foundational requirements; let alone both.

    • clayjones says:

      I’m back in the saddle. I apologize for the delay. I only started this blog last Spring when I had a lot more time and what I’ve learned is that there are probably always going to be about three months during the fall term (Oct-Dec) that I’m just not going to have the time to participate much on my blog. I expect that this will also be true about two months durring the Spring term.

      Anyway, after reading through the many comments I’ve decided the best thing to do is for me to post a blog (there may be more than one) specifically regarding the evidence that some of the apostles gave their lives for their belief that Jesus was raised from the dead.

      I intend to do this as the blog after next. The reason I am doing that is I need to clarify a misunderstanding regarding my last blog first.

      Clay

  2. Clay Jones says:

    Hi Vinny,
    I’m traveling right now and I don’t have access to everything I need, I’ll have to answer you when I return in about nine days.
    Clay

  3. Yolanda Planes says:

    Can we agree that the Apostle Paul was hostile in fact an enemy of Christians who then died for the Christian faith. Now when you deal with the question of historical documents and its trustworthiness there are certain rules of historiagraphy by which historians as scholars measure and evaluate historical sources for there credibility. There are standards that are applied to Josephus, Seutonious, Tacitus etc. And those standards employ a certain level of Empirical investigation, obviousley a historian cannot subject the appearence of Angels to the normal cannons of historical veriification or falsification. There is a host of material within the body of the literature of the Bible that is open to historical verification or falsification. For example ub tge 20th century an English scholar who was very skeptical about the veracity of the New Testament accounts went on a special vayage and retraced the footsteps of the Apostle Paul on his missionary journies, much like Darwin in the Beagal. He went out and did his scientific inquiry. And this particular scholar by pursuing the Body of Acts and its account, examined from an Archeological viewpoint things that can be verified and falsified. You know for example when Luke says that Paul visited such and such a city, the local magistraste was called, this kind of title, and he would say well: we have no evidence whatsoever that people in those days and those times were called by these titles. This Archeologist goes and uncovers evidence where by the local magistrate is called by exactly the title that Luke assigns to him in the book of Acts. Well after Sir Ramsey finished this scientific expedition begginning as a skeptic seting out to disprove the historical reliability of Like as a historian came to the conclusion at the end of his journey. That Luke has the best credentials of historical verification of any historian in antiquity. Now it is tragic to see that people who critisize the Bible as historical accurate, then go ahead and take other historical documents with much less manuscripts, which documents are many years after the events much more than the New Testament, and then have the audacity to critisize the accuracy of the N.T. acoounts.

  4. Yolanda Planes says:

    Can we agree that the Apostle Paul was hostile in fact an enemy of Christians who then died for the Christian faith. Now when you deal with the question of historical documents and its trustworthiness there are certain rules of historiagraphy by which historians as scholars measure and evaluate historical sources for there credibility. There are standards that are applied to Josephus, Seutonious, Tacitus etc. And those standards employ a certain level of Empirical investigation, obviousley a historian cannot subject the appearence of Angels to the normal cannons of historical veriification or falsification. There is a host of material within the body of the literature of the Bible that is open to historical verification or falsification. For example ub tge 20th century an English scholar who was very skeptical about the veracity of the New Testament accounts went on a special vayage and retraced the footsteps of the Apostle Paul on his missionary journies, much like Darwin in the Beagal. He went out and did his scientific inquiry. And this particular scholar by pursuing the Body of Acts and its account, examined from an Archeological viewpoint things that can be verified and falsified. You know for example when Luke says that Paul visited such and such a city, the local magistraste was called, this kind of title, and he would say well: we have no evidence whatsoever that people in those days and those times were called by these titles. This Archeologist goes and uncovers evidence where by the local magistrate is called by exactly the title that Luke assigns to him in the book of Acts. Well after Sir Ramsey finished this scientific expedition begginning as a skeptic seting out to disprove the historical reliability of Like as a historian came to the conclusion at the end of his journey. That Luke has the best credentials of historical verification of any historian in antiquity. Now it is tragic to see that people who critisize the Bible as historical accurate, then go ahead and take other historical documents with much less manuscripts, which documents are many years after the events much more than the New Testament, and then have the audacity to critisize the accuracy of the N.T. acoounts.

  5. Vinny says:

    I don’t think that we can have any certainty that Paul died for the Christian faith. As I understand it, the earliest report we have is Eusebius and he quotes a source that was writing late in the 2nd century. That just isn’t very strong evidence.

  6. DagoodS says:

    Like Vinny, I am curious as to how you would respond to the question regarding the mythical development regarding the deaths of the apostles.

    Not sure how Paul helps you (regardless), since he never claimed (nor does Acts) to have seen a physical Jesus, but rather relies upon a vision. Even if he did die for belief—it was belief in a vision, not necessarily a physically resurrected person, thus the first objection remains robust as to Paul.

    Not to mention, of course, our first indication of Paul’s death is 1 Clement, which does not mention how he died, and also indicates Paul continued to Spain, giving us a difficult chronology to coordinate with the New Testament. (And we should note the question regarding the dating of 1 Clement.) The beheading of Paul is not recounted until the Acts of Paul, written 150-200 CE—a work Tertullian claims was a forgery, yet curiously lifts the story regarding Paul’s martyrdom from it.

    And we really don’t want to start talking about Peter!

    As for James’ death in Josephus, he is recorded as being a pious Jew, and killed for political reasons. There is absolutely nothing in there about his being killed for any belief whatsoever, let alone a belief in the resurrection. Further, we see how the mythology surrounding the death develops by comparing Josephus’ account to the 2nd Apocalypse of James (120 – 180 CE) wherein James gives a Gnostic speech, and is then thrown down from the temple before being stoned. And then comparing it to Hegesippus (165-175 CE) where James is thrown down from the temple, stoned, and then clubbed to death.

    If James’ story can grow from 100 to 120 to 165 CE…how much more the stories we don’t have any record for during this same time period?

    I look forward to your response when you get back.

  7. fregas says:

    I’ll be watching this thread with interest…

  8. fregas says:

    Dagoods, please continue about Peter.

  9. DagoodS says:

    Fregas,

    Peter (according to the tradition as to how he died) was sentenced to death because he was convincing wives (including the wives of political leaders) to completely abstain from sex.

    Not because of his belief in the resurrection; because of his doctrine of abstinence, even when married. Note, too, Peter fled [not very convincing for “Willing to die for a lie,” eh?”] and then had a vision of Jesus who was going to Rome to be crucified again. Peter offered to go back to Rome to take Jesus’ place.

    Yes, that is right. The same “tradition” that has Peter being crucified upside down also indicates that Jesus was planning on being crucified again at Rome. As well as a resurrected smoked herring and a talking dog.

    If you want a longer exposition, you can read my blog entry Why Peter had to Die

    • clayjones says:

      Hi DagoodS,

      I don’t have the time to read another blog and respond to it so all the argument will have to appear here. Please tell us what you consider to the be very best single piece of evidence that Peter was killed for telling people they couldn’t have sex with their wives.

      Clay

  10. DagoodS says:

    Clay Jones,

    Our first account as to the specifics of Peter’s death are in Acts of Peter (150 – 200 CE) which says, in part (and feel free to read the entire transcript at the link):

    “Now Peter was in Rome rejoicing in the Lord with the brethren, and giving thanks night and day for the multitude which was brought daily unto the holy name by the grace of the Lord. And there were gathered also unto Peter the concubines of Agrippa the prefect, being four, Agrippina and Nicaria and Euphemia and Doris; and they, hearing the word concerning chastity and all the oracles of the Lord, were smitten in their souls, and agreeing together to remain pure from the bed of Agrippa they were vexed by him.

    “Now as Agrippa was perplexed and grieved concerning them -and he loved them greatly- he observed and sent men privily to see whither they went, and found that they went unto Peter. He said therefore unto them when they returned: ‘That Christian hath taught you to have no dealings with me: know ye that I will both destroy you, and burn him alive.’ They, then, endured to suffer all manner of evil at Agrippa’s hand, if only they might not suffer the passion of love, being strengthened by the might of Jesus.

    “And a certain woman which was exceeding beautiful, the wife of Albinus, Caesar’s friend, by name Xanthippe, came, she also, unto Peter, with the rest of the matrons, and withdrew herself, she also, from Albinus. He therefore being mad, and loving Xanthippe, and marveling that she would not sleep even upon the same bed with him, raged like a wild beast and would have dispatched Peter; for he knew that he was the cause of her separating from his bed. Many other women also, loving the word of chastity, separated themselves from their husbands, because they desired them to worship God in sobriety and cleanness. And whereas there was great trouble in Rome, Albinus made known his state unto Agrippa, saying to him: ‘Either do thou avenge me of Peter that hath withdrawn my wife, or I will avenge myself.’ And Agrippa said: ‘I have suffered the same at his hand, for he hath withdrawn my concubines.’ And Albinus said unto him: ‘Why then tarriest thou, Agrippa? Let us find him and put him to death for a dealer in curious arts, that we may have our wives again, and avenge them also which are not able to put him to death, whose wives also he hath parted from them. ‘”

  11. clayjones says:

    Thanks for that, Dagood. Why would we take a Gnostic work over other works that we have access to?

    Clay

  12. DagoodS says:

    Clay Jones: Why would we take a Gnostic work [Acts of Peter] over other works that we have access to?
    .
    I presume you mean “take” as in “take as reliable.” If you mean it a different way, I apologize for any confusion in this comment.

    *shrug* You don’t; you don’t have to take Acts of Peter as historically reliable. But that’s the exact problem Vinny and I are pointing out. If you agree the earliest accounts (here being approx. 100 – 150 years after the supposed death) are not reliable…this supports what we are saying: That these claims of “not willing to die for a lie” are legendary. Myth development.

    Acts of Peter (150 – 200 CE) is the first account we have regarding the circumstances of Peter’s death. Although 1 Clement, John 21 and 2 Peter all acknowledge Peter is dead—they don’t explain the how, the when and most importantly: the why. Acts of Peter does.

    You appear to be caught between a terrible choice—that Acts of Peter is not historical—in which case we lose “not willing to die for a lie” because we have no information about Peter’s death, or a catastrophic choice—that Acts of Peter is our best historical source—in which case we lose “not willing to die for a lie” because our information about Peter’s death indicates he was killed for promoting an unpopular doctrine of wives abstaining from sex.

    I have no idea what “other works that we have access” you are referring to. It can’t be Tertullian—he used Acts of Peter as his source. Nor can it be Hippolytus (even presuming this is original to him) as he is even later than Tertullian.

    Historical method would look to the earliest source first…especially if the later sources utilized the earlier source! Are you claiming we should rely upon Tertullian as being historically accurate, when he used a document we should not rely upon as being historically accurate? That can’t be right.

    Look, you originally concentrated on two examples—James, the brother of Christ and Paul. I assumed (perhaps incorrectly) you did not refer to Peter precisely because of this problem. Are you saying Peter is also an example of “not willing to die for a lie”? If so, what is your source for the how, the when and the why as to Peter’s death?

    We still haven’t even addressed the issue that Paul (regardless of how he died) relies upon a vision and not a physically resurrected Jesus. (Are we saying anyone who has seen a vision of Mary demonstrates Mary is physically resurrected? Of course not—seeing a vision is NOT the same as the claim of eating with, touching, walking and talking with a formerly dead person.) Not to mention Paul’s death correlates the same problem as Peter’s death when it comes to sources.

    Nor have we addressed James, the brother of Christ, and the legendary development from Josephus –> 2nd Apocalypse of James –> Hegesippus.

    I understand you want to talk about one issue at a time (which is fine), but I am really seeing Peter as a dead issue [pun intended, ‘cause there it is] unless you have some source other than what I’ve talked about.

    • Clay Jones says:

      Why we would choose one source over another is an important conversation but will need to wait. As I mention above, I’m buried with school work right now. Why don’t you join Vinny and my conversation which you will find above.

      Clay

  13. fregas says:

    The crux of this disagreement seems to be this question, which I had considered asking various people but didn’t know how to word it:

    “Christians claim that the early disciples (such as James, Paul, Peter) would not have died for a lie. How do we know in what manner they died and for what reason?”

    Dagoods seems to be saying “We don’t” based on the best historical information.

  14. Vinny says:

    I don’t think it is a case of taking one source over another. It is simply acknowledging that none of our sources are sufficient to give us any confidence.

    The simple fact is that people like their heroes to die heroically and they will invent heroic deaths for them in order to inspire others. Just look at the claims the army made about Pat Tillman’s death in Afghanistan. Even early sources would have to be taken with a grain of salt.

  15. DagoodS says:

    Clay Jones,

    I appreciate your being busy, outside this blog. That being said, I would think, if this is the optimal argument you could make (only 200 words) about the principle Christian belief (the Resurrection) it is not too much to ask what sources you use for this claim. I would think you would have them readily at hand.

    I would equally think, since you utilized Paul and Peter (and even referred to sources in your statement!) you would be familiar with those sources as well.

    And, most importantly, I would have thought at one time someone would have raised the issue Vinny did in the very first comment regarding theses sources’ reliability.

    As to entering your and Vinny’s discussion…you may notice I already did! I will repeat my position:

    In order for “not willing to die for a lie” to work, one must demonstrate two things:

    1) The claimed witness saw a physically resurrected Jesus (not a vision); and
    2) The witness had an opportunity to recant to avoid death.

    Your only cited source in the original blog entry—Josephus—does not provide us with either argument: 1) It does not indicate James was proclaiming a physically resurrected Jesus and 2) it does not indicate James would have avoided death by recanting such a belief.

    Your only non-cited source in the original blog entry—Acts of Paul—does not provide us with support for the first argument: 1) That Paul saw a physically resurrected Jesus.

    Your only cited source in your comments—Tacitus—does not give us either argument: 1) No demonstration these Christians claimed to see a physically resurrected Jesus and 2) they could not have avoided death by recanting anyway.

    Most surprisingly, you continue to argue as if the objection mentioned in the blog entry had force—that people are willing to die for things they think are true. We all agree that is true. Muslims are willing to die. Heaven’s Gate were willing to die. Jonestown demonstrated this.

    The response you made (and quite forcefully correct) was that contrary to these other examples, the disciples would be willing to die for things they saw–not just things they believed. (You indicated they walked, talked and ate with Jesus.) But in order for this to work, we must first establish these people dying were among those who saw Jesus—not just the ones who believed. The ones who walked, talked and ate with Jesus; not the ones who heard about walking, talking and eating Jesus.

    Yet here you are demonstrating, when asking about what early Christians believed, and why they would be willing to die for it, that you are only addressing the objection in your blog entry.

    Vinny and I are NOT making that objection. We are looking to the sources—the written documents making these claims.

  16. DagoodS says:

    Whoops! Meant to say “you utilized Paul and James” in the blog entry. Must have Peter on my mind. *grin*

  17. Clay Jones says:

    Hi DagoodS,

    I’m building a case and I am doing it one point at a time. I never move on from that point until the person I’m dialoging with either agrees or shows me that I’m wrong.

    So here’s the question I asked above (slightly modified): Do you and Vinny agree that those disciples that Nero was killing believed that Jesus was raised from the dead?

    Clay

  18. DagoodS says:

    Clay Jones,

    To clarify, when you say “those disciples” are you referring to the Chrestians (Christians) in the Tacitus (and likewise Suetonius) account?

    I ask because in your previous discussion with Vinny you started off talking about Tacitus, then asked about “early Christians” continuing to confess Christ even when it resulted in their deaths, but then changed to “Do you think those disciples believed that Jesus was raised from the dead?”

    I can’t tell if you are using “early Christians” synonymously with “those disciples” or whether there is a difference I should be aware.

    Assuming you are asking regarding the Chrestians (Christians) of Tacitus, then the answer is simple—Tacitus does not give us any information regarding this sects beliefs. At best we can only infer the beliefs were contrary to Tacitus’ (hence the reference to “superstitions”) and their reported practices were considered an abomination to the public.

    Of course, as you know, Christians were accused of atheism (according to Martyr and Polycarp), as well as cannibalism, and incest (according to Athenagoras, but he is really late at 177 CE). It doesn’t mean they were actually practicing such acts—but rather there was a perception they committed abominable acts.

    As a historical study, we could not say anything regarding the beliefs of the Chrestians (Christians) in Rome during 64 – 68 CE, according to Tacitus or Suetonius, except they were not in line with Roman perceptions of correct religion.

  19. Your testimony, such as it, seems to hanging by some precarious threads.

    We know that Jesus’ disciples walked with Jesus, talked with Jesus, and ate with Jesus—they knew who Jesus was. They were with Jesus when he was arrested and they then scattered. The Romans then scourged Jesus, drove spikes through His wrists and His feet to nail him to the cross, and thrust a spear in His side to make sure He was dead. Then they buried Jesus.

    Aside from the prolixity of this passage in a statement intended to be succinct, I’m not at all convinced we know any such thing, even by historical standards. I’m not an historian, but I’m reliably informed that we cannot be very confident that any Jesus existed all, or that the character in the Gospels is not just loosely based on an actual person who might or might not have had disciples, and who might or might not have been executed, maybe or maybe not by crucifixion.

    Then they buried Jesus.

    But three days later, Jesus’ tomb was found empty and the disciples started testifying that they again walked with Jesus, talked with Jesus, and ate with Jesus.

    The obvious alternative hypothesis here (granting the previous point) is that Jesus’ death was simply faked, and some of the details of his death were embellished. One of the key features of crucifixion is that the body is not supposed to be buried; it’s supposed to rot on the cross. Any time anything moves, especially unexpectedly, there’s a chance to perform stage magic to fool a distracted audience who are filling in the blanks in their perceptions. I’ve seen Penn & Teller explain more mystifying tricks.

    And what’s really amazing is that many testified to his resurrection even to their own torture and death. We know extra-Biblically that Nero beheaded the Apostle Paul and we know from the Jewish historian Josephus that the Sanhedrin stoned to death Jesus’ brother James, who had become a leader of the Christian church.

    As DagoodS and Vinny have pointed out, we do not know any disciple actually died for what he would have known were a lie.

    Furthermore, there’s a very obvious reason people might die for what they know to be false. As many Christians have pointed out, it’s possible to be a Christian without actually believing the resurrection actually happened. I don’t see how one can exclude the hypothesis that even granting all the previous points (assuming only that the disciples were in on the trick) the disciples might have believed that dying for a lie would have a beneficial effect on humanity and they acted altruistically, or out of loyalty, or to avoid looking foolish.

    Your latest comment is entirely mystifying:

    Do you and Vinny agree that those disciples that Nero was killing believed that Jesus was raised from the dead?

    Why have you switched to believed? As you yourself pointed out in the post, people dying for what they believe is not at all interesting or probative.

    Honestly, this is the best you’ve got? I’d be afraid of trusting a dentist on this kind of evidence.

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