Enjoy the podcast:
Anchor Audio Link = https://anchor.fm/skeptics-and-seekers/episodes/Episode-35-Sean-McDowell-e39jpr
I thoroughly enjoyed the discussion we had with Sean McDowell on the subject of the apostles. But I think we didn’t really get to dive into one of the central themes. It was nobody’s fault. It is just a matter of balancing time and topics. But I wish I had pushed for followup on one of Sean’s central themes when I had the chance. Here is what I missed:
Dying for a lie
Sean is very conservative about what he believes his thesis can prove. I was surprised and delighted by that. It left me little with which to disagree. But there was one thing. He believes that at the very least, the evidence shows that the apostles were sincere in their belief about Jesus having been raised from the dead. He believes dishonesty is off the table.
I don’t think one can ever remove dishonesty from the table. And I completely disagree with the idea that no one would die for a known lie. There are a number of reasons why they might have died horrible deaths without recanting their faith. And we have other examples to consider.
Joseph Smith died a martyr’s death depending on who is telling the story. And we know a lot more about the particular circumstances of his death than we know about any of the apostles. No one suggests that he ever recanted. He was jailed because of an extreme action he took connected to his religion. Both he and his brother were ultimately killed by an angry mob. Martyr, right?
Considering Smith’s outlandish story, are Christians willing to suggest that Smith was telling the truth, and that he was sincere about his faith? Personally, I think that is quite the stretch. Smith was a liar and a charlatan. I offer the same accusation for the current leaders fo the faith. There is at least one counter-example that shows liars will die protecting their lie.
Playing the role of Captain Obvious, I will briefly mention Jim Jones. He was also a person who died for a lie. He died a martyr for his beliefs. Now you might also say that he died a fugitive who knew he was caught and took the cowards way out. But does that really fundamentally change the claim? Despite these examples, Christians find it easier to stick with their story that no one would willingly die for a lie to protect the integrity of the apostles.
To be sure, I am not stating with certainty that the apostles were liars. I don’t know. My point is that neither does anyone else. And that it is possible they could have been simply lying. Here is why I believe Christians are too quick to take that option off the table:
There was incentive to live dangerously
I am left somewhat gobsmacked when Christians claim that the apostles had no possible incentive to lie about having seen Jesus and start a new religion. The most obvious incentive is money. It is sitting right there in the story. One of the first acts of the newly minted church was to create an organization around the collection and distribution of large amounts of money.
For years, Jesus taught people to sell their possessions and give the money to the poor. Apparently, they did the first part. As for the second, they laid that money at the feet of the apostles. Look no further for an incentive. This would have been more money than any of them would have likely seen in their lifetimes, all at once. And there was more where that came from.
There was also the incentive of power. They went from insignificant fishermen to the voice of eternal life. At their first public appearance, they had captured the attention of thousands of followers who hung on their every word. Power and importance is hard to give up once tasted. For many, it would have to be pried from their cold, dead hands.
It is possible that they didn’t think they would be caught, or even that they could be caught. We can’t be certain of how old they were. But it is a universal truth that the young and powerful feel invulnerable, and take more risks than those who are older and wiser.
The Christian might challenge me by asking why they didn’t recant after they were caught by the authorities. But that assumes a greater knowledge of what really happened than we have. There is no indication that any of the apostles were ever offered the chance to recant. For all we know, they did recant. But it was ignored by their captors who wanted them dead.
It might have been more like Jim Jones. It could be that their crimes had multiplied to the point where there was never going to be an opportunity to get out of their fate. Once they were in at a certain level, there was nothing they could do except to continue with their scheme for as long as they could.
There is also a less cynical possibility. While they knew their story was a lie, they might have believed they were doing good for social change. Perhaps they calculated that Christianity was better for the world even if it wasn’t true, and thus, worth dying for. So would a person die for a lie? You bet they would under the right circumstances.
And that’s the view from the skeptic.
Recommended Sources (for further study);
- Video Lectures/Interviews on the Fates of the Apostles by Sean = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4NM3JUjv3FY(good point at the 25 min mark good question were they willing to die be/c didn’t recant at point of death or willing to die by way they lived- proving willing to die not prove they didn’t recant at the very moment they died as he says one can’t prove that historically) & https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sy1BwLBIU8. Finally, a conference presentation of the topic (1-hour) = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sy1BwLBIU8.
- An Unbelievable? Debate on the Fates of the Apostles with Kenneth Humphreys, see here = https://www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Saturday/Unbelievable/Episodes/Unbelievable-Were-the-apostles-martyred-for-their-faith-Sean-McDowell-vs-Ken-Humphreys.
- Sean’s Books: To get Sean’s book on the Fate of the Apostles, see here = https://www.amazon.ca/Fate-Apostles-Examining-Martyrdom-Followers/dp/1472465202or feel free to check out a full list of all his books on his website here = https://seanmcdowell.org/books.
- Attached Documents;