On 27 September I posted a blog entitled “My 200 Word Resurrection Witness.” My 200 word witness ended with this: “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?”
Subsequently, several skeptics have challenged the concept that the first disciples did die because they believed Jesus was raised and they have asked me to cite the evidence.
Presently, my intention is to do this as the first of an occasional series on the martyrdom of the disciples, and so in this one I am going to focus on the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul.
To do this I need to explain the historical background.
First, we know that Christians were being tortured to death in large numbers very early. In A.D. 109 the Roman historian Tacitus chronicled what happened to the Christians in A.D. 64:
Consequently, to get rid of the report [that Nero had set the city on fire], 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. 
Sensibly, none of the skeptics challenged this point on my prior blog: Christians were being torturously killed by A.D. 64. Remember that Jesus was crucified A.D. 30.
Second, the early Christians gave their lives precisely because they believed Jesus rose from the dead. After all, believing and preaching the resurrection of Jesus Christ is, and always will be, central to Christianity. Consider the words of Paul in 1 Cor. 15:1-8:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
Paul says this is of “first importance.” Holding that Jesus died for our sins and was raised is Christianity. By the way, it is important to note that most scholars, even skeptical ones, believe that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in the mid 50s AD. 
Notice also that Paul wrote “what I also received.” In other words, what Paul wrote here was a creedal statement that was passed on to him prior to the mid 50s. But don’t take my word for it. Consider the words scholar James G. D. Dunn wrote, “This tradition, we can be entirely confident, was formulated as tradition within months of Jesus’ death.”  Also, the unambiguously non-Christian, skeptical scholar Gerd Ludemann wrote: “We can assume that all the elements in the tradition [of 1 Cor. 15:3-8] are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion of Jesus.” 
From this we learn that from a very early date the Christians began preaching that Jesus was raised. Even atheist Michael Martin, in The Case Against Christianity, agrees that it “is correct that the Resurrection was proclaimed by the early Christians.” 
Why else would they have maintained their proclamation that Jesus was raised? If Jesus wasn’t raised, they wouldn’t have been emboldened to die for Him. The second century satirist Lucian commented on their boldness in facing death: “These misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and it was impressed upon them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws.” 
So what do we know? We know that within 35 years of Christ’s crucifixion that many Christians confessed to being Christians even though it resulted in their torturous deaths. What they believed and preached was that Jesus was raised from the dead.
Third, so now we come specifically to Peter and Paul. Clement, a contemporary of the apostles (see Phil. 4:3) put it this way:
Let us come to those champions who lived nearest to our time. Let us set before us the noble examples which belong to our generation. By reason of jealousy and envy the greatest and most righteous pillars of the Church were persecuted, and contended even unto death. Let us set before our eyes the good Apostles. There was Peter who by reason of unrighteous jealousy endured not one but many labors, and thus having borne his testimony [martyresas] went to his appointed place of glory. By reason of jealousy and strife Paul by his example pointed out the prize of patient endurance. After that he had been seven times in bonds, had been driven into exile, had been stoned, had preached in the East and in the West, he won the noble renown which was the reward of his faith, having taught righteousness unto the whole world and having reached the farthest bounds of the West; and when he had borne his testimony before the rulers, so he departed from the world and went unto the holy place, having been found a notable pattern of patient endurance. Unto these men of holy lives was gathered a vast multitude of the elect, who through many indignities and tortures, being the victims of jealousy, set a brave example among ourselves. By reason of jealousy women being persecuted, after that they had suffered cruel and unholy insults as Danaids and Dircae, safely reached the goal in the race of faith, and received a noble reward, feeble though they were in body. 
So we learn from a contemporary of the apostles that Peter and Paul were killed and that their testimony encouraged those who heard them to likewise endure torture and death.
Polycarp, another contemporary of the apostles, a disciple of the apostle John, and himself burned at the stake (155), wrote:
Now I beseech you all to obey the word of righteousness, and to endure with all the endurance which you also saw before your eyes, not only in the blessed Ignatius, and Zosimus, and Rufus, but also in others among yourselves, and in Paul himself, and in the other Apostles; being persuaded that all of these “ran not in vain,” but in faith and righteousness, and that they are with the Lord in the “place which is their due,” with whom they also suffered. For they did not “love this present world” but him who died on our behalf, and was raised by God for our sakes.
Notice that Polycarp related Paul’s suffering to Jesus’ resurrection. Around 200 Tertullian wrote:
That Paul is beheaded has been written in their own blood. And if a heretic wishes his confidence to rest upon a public record, the archives of the empire will speak, as would the stones of Jerusalem. We read the lives of the Caesars: At Rome Nero was the first who stained with blood the rising faith….Then does Paul obtain a birth suited to a Roman citizenship, when in Rome he springs to live again ennobled by martyrdom. Then is Peter girt by another, when he is made fast to the cross. 
Here Tertullian says, if you don’t believe me, check out “the archives of the empire”! We may not have those archives today but only those who don’t want this to be true could argue that Tertullian was just making that up.
Similarly, the church historian Eusebius (236-339) points to additional evidence:
Thus [Nero] publicly announcing himself as the first among God’s chief enemies, he was led on to the slaughter of the apostles. It is, therefore, recorded that Paul was beheaded in Rome itself, and that Peter likewise was crucified under Nero. This account of Peter and Paul is substantiated by the fact that their names are preserved in the cemeteries of that place even to the present day. 
Here Eusebius tells the reader to check out the cemetery where they were executed because it still exists!
I could go on but this is already my longest blog to date so I’ll stop for now. I intend related blogs to follow in the months to come.
Acts 17:31 “For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”
 Tacitus, The Annals, http://classics.mit.edu/Tacitus/annals.11.xv.html.
 Bart Ehrman: “The earliest Christian writings that still survive are those of the apostle Paul, written around 50-60 CE.” Bart D. Ehrman, Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code (Oxford: OUP, 2004), 77-78. John Dominic Crossan says 1 Cor. “Written from Ephesus in the winter of 53-54 C.E…..” John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (New York: HarperCollins, 1991), 427.
 James G. D. Dunn, Jesus Remembered: Christianity in the Making (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 855. Emphasis his.
 Gerd Ludemann, Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1995), 38.
 Michael Martin, The Case Against Christianity (Philadelphia: Temple University, 1991), 90.
 Lucian, The Death of Peregrine, http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/luc/wl4/wl420.htm.
 1Clem 5:1-6:2 http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/1clement-lightfoot.html.
 Polycarp, Philippians 9:1-2, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/polycarp-lake.html.
 Tertullian, Scorpiace XV, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf03.v.x.xv.html. Also, regarding Peter Ignatius of Antioch (c.35-108), who himself was sentenced to be killed by lions in the arena, wrote: “For I know and believe that He was in the flesh even after the resurrection. And when He came to Peter and those who were with him, He said to them, ‘Take, handle me and see that I am not a spirit without body.’ And straightway they touched Him and believed, being united with His flesh and spirit. Therefore also they despised death, and were found to rise above death.” Ignatius, The Epistle to the Smyrneans. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/srawley/smyrnaeans.html. It is true that these comments by Ignatius don’t specifically say that they were killed for their faith but at the very least it says that they were willing to die for their faith.
 Eusebius, History of the Christian Church, 2.XXV.5. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf201.iii.vii.xxvi.html.