A Historical Evaluation of the Evidence for the Death of the Apostles as Martyrs for Their Faith
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A commonly used argument for the reliability of the first witnesses to the resurrection is that the apostles willingly died as martyrs for their faith. It is often claimed that all the apostles, except John, faced martyrdom. And yet until now, there has been no thorough scholarly evaluation of this claim. This dissertation demonstrates that (1) all the apostles were willing to die for their faith, and (2) a number of them actually did experience martyrdom. Their willingness to face persecution and martyrdom indicates more than any other conceivable course their sincere conviction that, after rising from the dead, Jesus indeed appeared to them. This dissertation takes a historical approach, which involves studying various sources that include the New Testament, the Apostolic Fathers, secular writers, and pseudepigraphical texts, such as the Acts of the Apostles, and Gnostic sources. The evidence for each apostle is examined with a scale that ranges from not possibly true (certainly not historical) to the highest possible probability (nearly historically certain). There are a few key steps to be established in this research. First, Christianity was a resurrection movement since its inception. The belief of the apostles was rooted in their conviction that Jesus rose from the dead. Second, the apostles were the closest followers of Jesus during his life and then were eyewitnesses of the resurrection. Paul and James are included along with the Twelve. Third, Christians really suffered and died for their faith beginning at the end of the first century. These three points provide the context and likelihood the apostles were martyred for proclaiming the name of Jesus. Fourth, the evidence for each apostle is examined and compared with a historical grid. Fifth, objections are considered and rebutted. While there is considerable evidence for the martyrdoms of apostles such as Peter, Paul and James the son of Zebedee, much less evidence exists for many of the others, such as Matthias and James the son of Alphaeus. Still, it is clear the apostles were all willing to die for reporting what they believed to be true and that many in fact did.