Did the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Exist?
by Sean McDowell
You might be wondering, “Why on earth are you offering evidence for the existence of the apostles? Does anyone really question that they were real?” Well, yes, some do. Recently I had a debate about the fate of the apostles with mythicist Ken Humphreys on Premier Christian Radio. Unsurprisingly, he began by questioning that the apostles even existed.
If you are surprised that the existence of the apostles is questioned, then you are in good company. In the third volume of his massive text, A Marginal Jew, historical Jesus scholar John Meier laments that he even needs to defend that Jesus had a group of followers known as the Twelve: “Fortunately we don’t need to spend a great deal of time on the question of whether Jesus in fact had disciples during his lifetime, since the historicity of some such group is rarely if ever denied.”[i]
Nevertheless, here is a simple case for the historicity of the Twelve from my book The Fate of the Apostles:
1. Multiple Attestation
A group known as “The Twelve” is multiple attested in various sources and forms. Reference to the Twelve appears ten times in Mark (some of these cases, such as 3:13-19, may even be pre-Markan). Mention of the disciples also exists in John (e.g., 6:67, 20:24), Q (Matt 19:28 || Luke 22:30), and in the writings of Paul (1 Cor. 15:5).
2. Criterion of Embarrassment
It would have been embarrassing for the early church to invent a disciple of Jesus who betrayed him. Meier observes…
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