Did Peter and Paul Die for Their Belief that Jesus Rose?

by Clay Jones

BeheadingofStPaulOn 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.”

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Did Peter and Paul Die for Their Belief that Jesus Rose? | Clay Jones

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