Did Jesus’ Disciples Die for Their Beliefs, and If So, So What?

By Tom Gilson

Since I first became a Christian I’ve heard repeatedly that Jesus’ disciples died for their belief in him, and that this provides evidence that Christianity is true. Actually I first heard it several weeks before I decided to follow Christ, when I read Josh McDowell’s 1973 book Evidence That Demands a Verdict. It was a major point in Josh’s writing and in his speaking.

The claim has been challenged. Skeptics and atheists are quick to remind us that lots of people have died for beliefs that weren’t true. They’ve asked how we really know the apostles died for their faith. Recently a newer related question has come up: How do we know specifically that they were given a choice? Were they offered the option to live if they would let go of their belief in Christ?

Josh McDowell’s son Sean wondered how we knew they died for their faith, too, and he focused his Ph.D. research on that question. (It isn’t every son who feels the freedom to question his dad like that. They’re still writing and speaking together.)

Sean published his research for academic readers in a book titled The Fate of the Apostles. For the rest of us he’s been summarizing it on his blog. His findings don’t support everything that I read years ago in Josh McDowell’s writings. It turns out we don’t have solid information about every apostle’s death. We know they were all happily willing to face hardships, though, and we know how some of them died…

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