Who started the "Would the disciples have died for a lie?" apologetic?

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Ken Olson
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Who started the "Would the disciples have died for a lie?" apologetic?

Post by Ken Olson » Mon Aug 21, 2017 7:00 am

I imagine everyone who reads this forum has heard the apologetic argument that the reports of Jesus' resurrection must be true because the disciples were willing to face persecution to the point of death proclaiming it. As no one would die for a lie, the disciples must really have seen the resurrected Jesus. This argument has been met with strong counterarguments. One is that there are many examples of people dying for beliefs that were not true, so at best this would prove the apostles believed they had seen the risen Jesus (and for mythicists this may have been the first time they had ever seen Jesus). Another is that the evidence for the disciples dying for their belief in the resurrection is relatively late. The New Testament itself reports the death of only two actual disciples, Judas (Matt 27.3-10, Acts 1.18-19) and James, the brother of John (Acts 12.2). The former did not die for his belief in the resurrection and it's not clear the latter did either.

I'd like to ask a different question (I'm crowd-sourcing here): who started this apologetic argument? In William Lane Craig's The Historical Argument for the Resurrection of Jesus (1985) he cites Origen as making this argument very briefly in Contra Celsum 3.23, then Arnobius of Sicca uses it, again very briefly, in Against the Nations 1.54-55, and then Eusebius of Caesarea gives it in a lengthy developed form, especially in Demonstratio Evangelica 3.5. Besides Origen, and possibly Arnobius, what predecessors did Eusebius have in making the argument that the the behavior of the disciples in facing persecution and death is proof of the reality of the resurrection? Does anyone know of earlier Christian apologists who made this argument explicitly?

Best,

Ken

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Re: Who started the "Would the disciples have died for a lie?" apologetic?

Post by Secret Alias » Mon Aug 21, 2017 7:10 am

Since Clement doesn't think that 'all of the apostles' were martyrs it follows that he would have had a more nuanced understanding of the subject. I think the place to start is to determine who believed that 'the apostles' were all martyrs and limit your study from there.
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Re: Who started the "Would the disciples have died for a lie?" apologetic?

Post by Giuseppe » Mon Aug 21, 2017 7:56 am

Can Matthew 5:11-12 have already in nuce the implication "persecution--->possession of the truth"?
Nihil enim in speciem fallacius est quam prava religio. -Liv. xxxix. 16.

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Re: Who started the "Would the disciples have died for a lie?" apologetic?

Post by Kunigunde Kreuzerin » Mon Aug 21, 2017 8:55 am

Ken Olson wrote:
Mon Aug 21, 2017 7:00 am
3.5. Besides Origen, and possibly Arnobius, what predecessors did Eusebius have in making the argument that the the behavior of the disciples in facing persecution and death is proof of the reality of the resurrection? Does anyone know of earlier Christian apologists who made this argument explicitly?
I do not know an earlier source, but I surmise it could be an very early tradition. It needs only a little step from 2 Maccabees 7 and 1 Thessalonians 2:2.

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Re: Who started the "Would the disciples have died for a lie?" apologetic?

Post by Peter Kirby » Mon Aug 21, 2017 7:35 pm

Working from the other end, the theme is notably absent in 1 Cor 15.
12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
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Re: Who started the "Would the disciples have died for a lie?" apologetic?

Post by Peter Kirby » Mon Aug 21, 2017 7:41 pm

Octavius has an oblique reference but doesn't refer to the disciples and the resurrection; rather, to contemporaries and God being on their side.
CHAP. XXXVII
How beautiful is the spectacle to God when a Christian does battle with pain; when he is drawn up against threats, and punishments, and tortures; when, mocking the noise of death, he treads under foot the horror of the executioner; when he raises up his liberty against kings and princes, and yields to God alone, whose he is; when, triumphant and victorious, he tramples upon the very man who has pronounced sentence against him! For he has conquered who has obtained that for which he contends. What soldier would not provoke peril with greater boldness under the eyes of his general? For no one receives a reward before his trial, and yet the general does not give what he has not: he cannot preserve life, but he can make the warfare glorious. But God's solidier is neither forsaken in suffering, nor is brought to an end by death. Thus the Christian may seem to be miserable; he cannot be really found to be so. You yourselves extol unfortunate men to the skies; Mucius Scaevola, for instance, who, when he had failed in his attempt against the king, would have perished among the enemies unless he had sacrificed his right hand. And how many of our people have borne that not their right hand only, but their whole body, should be burned--burned up without any cries of pain, especially when they had it in their power to be sent away! Do I compare men with Mucius or Aquilius, or with Regulus? Yet boys and young women among us treat with contempt crosses and tortures, wild beasts, and all the bugbears of punishments, with the inspired patience of suffering. And do you not perceive, O wretched men, that there is nobody who either is willing without reason to undergo punishment, or is able without God to bear tortures? Unless, perhaps, the fact has deceived you, that those who know not God abound in riches, flourish in honours, and excel in power. Miserable men! in this respect they are lifted up the higher, that they may fall down lower. For these are fattened as victims for punishment, as sacrifices they are crowned for the slaughter. Thus in this respect some are lifted up to empires and dominations, that the unrestrained exercise of power might make a market of their spirit to the unbridled licence that is Characteristic of a ruined soul. For, apart from the knowledge of God, what solid happiness can there be, since death must come?
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Re: Who started the "Would the disciples have died for a lie?" apologetic?

Post by Peter Kirby » Mon Aug 21, 2017 7:55 pm

Porphyry criticizes the gruesome results of Jesus' poor choice of witnesses. Possibly responding to a martyr argument, but only possibly.
64. Macarius, Apocriticus II: 14:

There is also another argument whereby this corrupt opinion can be refuted. I mean the argument about that Resurrection of His which is such common talk everywhere, as to why Jesus, after His suffering and rising again (according to your story), did not appear to Pilate who punished Him and said He had done nothing worthy of death, or to Herod King of the Jews, or to the High-priest of the Jewish race, or to many men at the same time and to such as were worthy of credit, and more particularly among Romans both in the Senate and among the people. The purpose would be that, by their wonder at "the things concerning Him, they might not pass a vote of death against Him by common consent, which implied the impiety of those who were obedient to Him. But He appeared to Mary Magdalene, a coarse woman who came from some wretched little village, and had once been possessed by seven demons, and with her another utterly obscure Mary, who was herself a peasant woman, and a few other people who were not at all well known. And that, although He said: "Henceforth shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds." For if He had shown Himself to men of note, all would believe through them,and no judge would punish them as fabricating monstrous stories. For surely it is neither pleasing to God nor to anysensible man that many should be subjected on His account to punishments of the gravest kind.
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Re: Who started the "Would the disciples have died for a lie?" apologetic?

Post by Peter Kirby » Mon Aug 21, 2017 8:06 pm

Letting "if P then Q" be "if the apostles suffered and faced death, then they were proved," Cyril gives us the logical inverse "if not-P then not-Q."
SERMON L.
...
But the violence of the Jews broke forth frequently against the other apostles also: they persecuted them; they summoned them before their synagogues; they scourged them wickedly, commanding them to keep silence, and desist from their sacred preachings: for they said, "Did we not strictly command you not to speak to any man in this Name?----even the Name of Christ, the Saviour of us all;----and behold! ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine." But after the disciples had borne their violent accusation for the firm love they had to Christ, they went out "rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the Name." But had they been timid, and abject, and frightened at words, and overpowered by the terrors of death, how would they have been proved?
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Re: Who started the "Would the disciples have died for a lie?" apologetic?

Post by Peter Kirby » Mon Aug 21, 2017 8:15 pm

Tertullian makes these statements, which fall short of "explicit."
Prescription, CHAP. XXXVI
Come now, you who would indulge a better curiosity, if you would apply it to the business of your salvation, run over the apostolic churches, in which the very thrones of the apostles are still pre-eminent in their places, in which their own authentic writings are read, uttering the voice and representing the face of each of them severally. Achaia is very near you, (in which) you find Corinth. Since you are not far from Macedonia, you have Philippi; (and there too) you have the Thessalonians. Since you are able to cross to Asia, you get Ephesus. Since, moreover, you are close upon Italy, you have Rome, from which there comes even into our own hands the very authority (of apostles themselves). How happy is its church, on which apostles poured forth all their doctrine along with their blood! where Peter endures a passion like his Lord's! where Paul wins his crown in a death like John's where the Apostle John was first plunged, unhurt, into boiling oil, and thence remitted to his island-exile! See what she has learned, what taught, what fellowship has had with even (our) churches in Africa! One Lord God does she acknowledge, the Creator of the universe, and Christ Jesus (born) of the Virgin Mary, the Son of God the Creator; and the Resurrection of the flesh; the law and the prophets she unites in one volume with the writings of evangelists and apostles, from which she drinks in her faith. This she seals with the water (of baptism), arrays with the Holy Ghost, feeds with the Eucharist, cheers with martyrdom, and against such a discipline thus (maintained) she admits no gainsayer. This is the discipline which I no longer say foretold that heresies should come, but from which they proceeded. However, they were not of her, because they were opposed to her. Even the rough wild-olive arises from the germ of the fruitful, rich, and genuine olive; also from the seed of the mellowest and sweetest fig there springs the empty and useless wild-fig. In the same way heresies, too, come from our plant, although not of our kind; (they come) from the grain of truth, but, owing to their falsehood, they have only wild leaves to show.
Tertullian elsewhere asserts that "persecution makes even martyrs, (but) heresy only apostates" (Prescription, chapter 4) and, of course, a bit famously, "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church" (Apologeticus, Chapter 50).
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Re: Who started the "Would the disciples have died for a lie?" apologetic?

Post by Ken Olson » Mon Sep 11, 2017 5:54 am

Belated thanks to everyone who replied in this thread. My initial interest in the topic began because I see the argument that the resurrection appearances to the disciples, as proof of life after death, were the necessary precondition for the continuation of Christianity after Jesus' gruesome death as being present in the Testimonium Flavianum. The disciples had seen what the result of their following Jesus' teaching was likely to be, so they must have had some reason for continuing to follow it that outweighed their fear of torture and death at the hands of the authorities. Eusebius makes this argument explicitly in Demonstratio Book 3, Chapter 5, which is also where I believe the Testimonium Flavianum first appeared.

I think Eusebius was the first person to make this argument explicitly, following the suggestion in Origen. It is, no doubt, rooted in the earlier belief that martyrs would be rewarded in the afterlife for not abandoning their beliefs in the face of persecution, but I was looking for writers who specifically linked this general belief to Jesus' resurrection appearances as proof given to the disciples of the reality of the afterlife. Eusebius' argument in Demonstratio 3.5 is more limited in scope than the modern apologetic argument. He is specifically trying to refute the argument of unnamed critics of Christianity (possibly Porphyry or Hierocles, who were certainly known to him) who suggested that the disciples had met together to invent the resurrection appearances. He argues that it is completely implausible that the disciples would have colluded to invent false stories of the afterlife, which they knew were likely to lead to their own deaths, and refuse to give them up in the face of torture and execution.

Best,

Ken

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