Apologetics Faith Jesus Resurrection

Die For a Lie? Resurrection Apologetics

People die everyday. Some of them die from natural causes. Some deaths are accidents. Others though, are on purpose. Those people that die on purpose usually die for a purpose.

In this day and time, we’ve become accustom to people dying on purpose. We see it on the news daily. With the Islamic war on the West encroaching on us, we see daily reports of suicide bombers, hijackings, and other self-sacrificial style deaths. Dying on purpose has become old hat.

Unfortunately, because Islam is considered a religion, and many people are familiar with the reason that Muhammadans actually commit suicide, martyrdom has been marginalized. Any and all religious self-sacrifice has been labeled fanatical. The kind of mindset that would drive someone to die for his or her faith is now considered insanity.

I’d like say that this may be true for the Apostles who died on purpose almost 2000 years ago. That’s only on one condition. They were insane if and only if they died for a lie. Let me explain.

As I said earlier, many people die on purpose for a number of reasons. Here are some.

People die for ideals.

During the American Revolution only about one third of the Colonials who lived on the American continent were pro-rebellion. Another third were Tories and the last were uncommitted. The leaders of the Colonial rebellion against King George and his English rule were well aware of the consequences of their rebellion. If captured, they would surely die. Many of them did.

Why did they remain dedicated to the cause, even under such a threat? Their cause, their purpose, was one of liberty. They desired to be free men, free from the oppression of the English.

Liberty is an ideal. It is a grand one, but still it is something in our minds. It is virtuous and should be a standard for humanity, but it is still an ideal. Liberty is neither true nor false; to make that claim would be to place liberty in a category that it doesn’t belong. Liberty is good. It is right. But it is not truth. It is another kind of thing.

When those who die for liberty do so, they do not die for something they know to be true. They die for some thing that they believe to be right. It is not something that they can test for coherency; Liberty is something that they must try. It is not true that everyone should have it. Habitual criminals should not have liberty.

Liberty is an ideal, one worth dying for, but only an ideal.

People die for beliefs.

Islamic terrorists die for something that they genuinely believe is true. There is no doubt that their faith is authentic. Their actions prove it. Their resolve is unmoving. Their dedication is solid. Their fear is absent. They believe what they have been taught. That is the purpose for which they die.

Dying for a belief is admirable. The world has known many who have died for what they believe and whether what they held so dear was virtuous or not, their self-sacrificial deaths should be admired. Killing innocent people as a part of your death is not. Even so, dying for a belief is virtuous.

Many Christians have died for their beliefs. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs tells many of their stories. Other Faiths have had their share of martyrs as well. Many soldiers and politicians have died for beliefs too. In fact, that probably happens pretty often. War is the amplification of dying for beliefs as well as ideals.

These deaths are sad ways of bringing about change. People die on purpose for a cause greater than themselves. They die for a belief that something is true based upon teachings or testimonies. They die for great causes like liberty and equality. The things that they die for cannot be tested against truth and found false. Their purposes are great faiths and virtues found in their minds. They are no less worth dying for.

I am afraid sometimes that there is some confusion of those types of deaths and the deaths of the Apostles. The Apostles died for another reason.

The Apostles died because of something they saw. They would not stop preaching the gospel of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, because of an event that they themselves had witnessed.

The Apostles saw Jesus die. They may have helped Joseph of Arimathea take Jesus to his tomb. In a culture that was very familiar with death and rigor mortis, they knew Jesus had died. They saw it with their own two eyes. They witnessed his stiffening joints and lifeless wounds once flowing with blood, stilled by the stopping of his heart. The Apostles knew what a dead person was and they knew that Jesus was a dead person because their culture was intamintly familiar with death (unlike ours). 

The Apostles witnessed the burial of Jesus. It is possible that they took part in his preparation, which was a lengthy process. The lifeless body of Christ needed to be carried to the tomb. It was not a one-man job and the man who gave his tomb to Jesus probably would not have been allowed to touch his dead body. It would’ve been considered unclean. The Apostles were eyewitnesses and acquainted with Joseph of Arimathea  and the women who we know prepared Jesus’ body. They had no reason to doubt and every reason to believe that he was dead!

The Apostles witnessed the empty tomb. After the testimony of the women, some of the Apostles went back to the tomb to verify the testimony of those ladies that “Jesus was gone”. They found an empty tomb. It was only the beginning.

The Apostles saw Jesus alive, walked with him, touched him, ate with him, and spoke with him. For over a month they did this.

All of these things confirmed their belief that Jesus was the Christ, not the other way around. All of these things were real events, real experiences with a real person. They were not merely virtues or ideals. The Apostles didn’t just believe in Jesus, they believed in him because they saw him resurrected!

There is a difference between the deaths on purpose of most people, even religious people, and the deaths of the Apostles. People die for abstract things that may be virtuous but are no less abstract in that they are thoughts or concepts. The Apostles died for something that they claimed to have seen. People can believe things that they are convinced are true but can never really be disproven in their own minds as false. The Apostles would’ve known that what they were proposing, the resurrected Christ was falsifiable. If they would’ve known or were not certain that Jesus was raised from the dead, they would’ve died for a lie. Who would do that?

J. Warner Wallace makes a very good case for why the Apostles or disciples of Jesus of Nazareth did not die for a lie in his book Cold Case Christianity as he explores the historicity of the resurrection account. He gives several reasons why the testimonies of the witnesses to the resurrection can be trusted. His experience as a cold case investigator gives an interesting take on the possibility of tainted testimony of the witnesses. I’d like to recommend that book for further study.

The idea though, is that the eyewitnesses were reliable. They would’ve each known the truth about Jesus’ alleged resurrection. They would’ve also been privy to their fellow disciples fates. They would’ve had every chance to save their own lives and recant. The conclusion that we would have to come to is that because they knew the truth and never recanted, each one of them must have sincerely believed that they saw the resurrected Jesus. Even Bart Ehrman believes that!

There is the difference.

I admit, if the Apostles died for a lie, they were lunatics. Why would each one of them do that? Wouldn’t at least the last few of them have decided that there was no reason to carry on with this charade? Wouldn’t they just have said, “Okay, you got me? We made it up.”

No, they did not die for a lie I don’t believe. They died for a person that they saw alive, after he was dead. He is risen. He is risen, indeed!

My friend, that’s a hard one to overcome.

Happy Easter!

I was born in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, born again at a very young age, married a beautiful and likeminded woman, moved to Tennessee, and raised two children in the Southern traditions of loving God and neighbor, exercising manners, and being stewards of the land and its bounty. After becoming involved in youth ministry in our local church, the need of teaching people "what they believe and why they believe it" became painfully apparent, especially in my immediate context (rural Southern churches). We began an apologetics/theology ministry there but have since moved on. After serving in church leadership and being called to faithfulness and duty to protect our congregation from a rogue pastor under church discipline of his previous church, my experiences in this biblical process shape much of what I believe about how churches in the South have become weak and why nominal Christianity is prevalent. I love the Church and Southern culture so you can expect to read about apologetics and theology as well as church and culture here, written southern style, by the grace of God. Deo Vindice

4 thoughts on “Die For a Lie? Resurrection Apologetics

  1. The following two paragraphs need a serious rewrite.

    “The Apostles saw Jesus die. They took him to his tomb. In a culture that was very familiar with death and rigor mortis, they knew Jesus had died. They saw it with their own two eyes. They felt his cold body with their hands. They witnessed his stiffening joints and lifeless wounds once flowing with blood, stilled by the stopping of his heart. The Apostles knew what a dead person was and they knew that Jesus was a dead person.

    The Apostles witnessed the burial of Jesus. It is likely that they took part in his preparation, which was a lengthy process. The lifeless body of Christ needed to be carried to the tomb. It was not a one-man job and the man who gave his tomb to Jesus probably would not have been allowed to touch his dead body. It would’ve been considered unclean.”

    The only apostle known, or even likely, to have witnessed the crucifixion was John. Nine of the remaining apostles scattered after the arrest of Christ and fled. Only Peter and John are know to have followed behind to witness the trial, but after denying Christ three times Peter was in such sorrow that he probably went off alone to weep and probably wasn’t a witness to Jesus death. After Christ died, John whom had been given responsibility for Mary, Jesus’ Mother, would have been taking care of her not the body.
    Also you must remember that there was a rush to take care of the body as the Sabbath was nearing, that’s why they broke the bones of the thieves to hasten their deaths. The scriptures clearly state that Joseph of Arimthea and Nicodemus took care of the preparation of the body, not the disciples, who were probably still in hiding.

    1. The fleeing of the disciples in the Matthew account only meant that they fled the scene of the arrest (they were probably all together hiding in a home nearby) and actually the Luke account is pretty clear that the disciples were at the crucifixion-49 And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things. (49) Luke closes his account of the crucifixion with a reference to Jesus’ friends standing (εἵστηκα; cf. Jn. 19:25; diff. Mk. εἰμί; cf. ἔστησαν Ps. 37:12 LXX) at a distance. For γνωστός see 2:44; elsewhere Luke uses it only in the neuter. Instead of αὐτῷ (𝔓75 A B L 0124 33 pc) most MSS have αὐτοῦ; so TR; Diglot. The reference is to Jesus’ friends rather than his relatives, and is meant to include such of his disciples as were there (cf. Jn. 19:26) and to prepare for the role of Joseph (Lagrange, 594). For ἀπὸ μακρόθεν cf. Mk. 15:40, but the whole phrase is reminiscent of Ps. 37:12 LXX. A second subject is loosely added, namely the women (i.e. ‘including the women’) who had accompanied him from Galilee. αἱ is added in 𝔓75 B pc; was it lost in the other MSS by homoioteleuton? For συνακολουθέω cf. Mk. 5:37; 14:51**; AG give the meaning ‘to be a disciple’, but Luke’s stress is on their accompanying Jesus from Galilee (cf. 23:55). Luke has not retained Mark’s wording ἠκολούθουν … συναναβᾶσαι (although he uses the latter word in Acts 13:31**). He omits the names of the women, possibly because he has already given them in 8:2f. The verse has contacts with Jn. 19:25f. and differences of wording from Mk. which suggest that traces of a non-Marcan source lie behind it. Rengstorf’s suggestion, 265, that Luke depicts the disciples (whom he does not name as such) as having broken off their relationship with Jesus, over-interprets the verse.)
      The disciples did not prepare the body but viewed with their own eyes Jesus post death and it could easily be assumed that they communicated directly with Joseph (knew location of tomb) and the women who probably helped prepare the body therefore leaving no doubt that Jesus was in fact dead. They saw him dead shortly after his death (visible signs of rigor mortis are easily recognizable to people used to seeing dead people) and had no reason to doubt his death assuming Joseph and the others would not bury a live person.
      The point is that these witnesses, including the disciples, were more intimately familiar with physical signs of death than we assume in our modern context and they witnessed Jesus body first hand never questioning the fact that he was dead. Even if Peter and John were the only ones there, this could and would’ve been assumed.

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