Wednesday, October 21, 2009

There's martyrs and then there's martyrs

A common argument for the historicity and factuality of the bodily, physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the origin of the apostles' faith. Peter and the rest were weak in faith and overcome by doubt and fear when Christ was nailed to the Cross and couldn't even bring themselves to witness His death agony or to lend Him support as He died. Nor could Peter answer (three times!) honestly when asked whether he knew Jesus. James the brother of Jesus was a skeptic, convinced of the resurrection and the Lordship of Christ by seeing Jesus after He'd risen from the dead. Yet these weak and unbelieving people eventually became fierce advocates of the Lordship of Christ, all suffered hardship for their faith, and most died martyrs for their faith.

The skeptical response almost never varies: Almost every faith, cause, and creed boasts martyrs and committed followers. The fact that Mohammed Atta and the other Sept 11 mass murderers were willing to fly airplanes into buildings isn't evidence for the truth of Wahhabi Islam, is it?

The difference between the original witnesses to the risen Christ and any other martyrs of any other creed that one can bring up is fundamental and striking in its power. An Islamic jihadist suicide bomber straps on his bomb vest on his way to blow up schoolchildren b/c he thinks what he is doing is sanctioned by his god. He believes it is right and has his whole life experience and pious history to "prove" its truth to him. He believes that he is walking in the truth.
The original witnesses to the risen Christ suffered and died b/c they would not deny that what they had seen and touched (2 Peter 1:16, 1 John 1). In the face of opposition - simply confess Kaiser Kurios and you can go free - they would refuse and confess Kristo Kurios. I have seen and touched this man Who was dead but then rose to life again.
What's the difference? They were in a position to know that Christ had not in fact risen, if in fact the resurrection were a lie. Who would be willing to suffer terribly, lose everything, and die a horrible death for something they knew was a lie? Will hundreds of people do this, for something they knew was untrue?

The jihadist could not know with certainty that Allah is not God. He believes (with all his heart, I don't doubt) that Allah is God and he will get his virgins if he blows up a school bus for Allah. The original disciples of Jesus could know with certainty that Christ had not risen, b/c they would know they'd been making the story up the whole time. The situations are not analogous. The quality of the original Christian martyrs is singular in its purity of devotion to truth and to Christ and forms a powerful rebuttal to those who doubt the truth of Christ's resurrection.

20 comments:

Damion said...

So you're saying we should be less skeptical of the gospels because they are backed up by apocryphal martyrologies?

Rhology said...

Hardly apocryphal. Using that term stretches the word past what it's supposed to mean, kind of like yelling "racist" at anyone who disagrees with 0bama and thinks socialist healthcare is a bad idea.

You have to account for the growth of the Christian church with respect to what I've said here, yes.

Dr Funkenstein said...

Gloria Lee and Laverne Landis could know with certainty that they had never been contacted by aliens, yet still starved themselves to death waiting on the aliens' orders

Marshall Applewhite could know with certainty he had just made up his stories about aliens and UFOs, yet still committed suicide on account of them

Jim Jones knew with certainty the miracles and so on he performed were staged scams, but still killed himself for them

So that's 3 people just off the top of my head who were willing to die for things they'd just made up and could have known with certainty that they'd done so.

It's not even unusual when people receive unequivocal disconfirmation of something that they've invested in at great personal cost that at least some of them believe it even more zealously than before:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/When_Prophecy_Fails

(Not to mention how utterly absurd what they believed in is in the first place)

The jihadist could not know with certainty that Allah is not God.

yet presuppositionalism claims to have an argument that can prove TGOTB with certainty due to the impossibility of the contrary.

Rhology said...

Hallucination and delusions could easily acct for those examples. The biblical witnesses numbered in the hundreds.


presuppositionalism claims to have an argument that can prove TGOTB with certainty due to the impossibility of the contrary.

Yes. And?

The Jolly Nihilist said...

This all goes back to the Bible, though, and whether its varied accounts have any veracity. The gospel of Mark—written considerably earlier than Matthew, Luke and John—has no resurrection appearances. (As you know, the gospel properly ends at 16:8, with the other verses being later appended). Perhaps Matthew, Luke and especially John’s much more fantastical accounts are pure embellishment, written some 40 to 70 years after Jesus’ death. Indeed, “embellishment” would be the charitable way, for example, to classify Matthew’s attestation to a horde of zombies roaming about Jerusalem.

All I mean to say is, perhaps, those who were martyrs for Christ simply found an empty tomb and, in the ignorant, pre-scientific, superstitious stupor from which they perpetually suffered, accepted the resurrection conclusion sincerely, without ever having seen a risen figure.

Dr Funkenstein said...

Hallucination and delusions could easily acct for those examples.

It might do, but then it could as easily be the case they knew what they believed was false but couldn't bring themselves to accept it. You'd have a tough time proving it either way - unless you can, your argument is significantly weakened by potential counterexamples.

Besides, cognitive dissonance theory could easily account for the behaviour of the Christian martyrs as well.

Ultimately only the various people mentioned (in the gospels and my examples) know why they did what they did (if indeed much of what happened in the NT happened as it's been written).

The biblical witnesses numbered in the hundreds.

No-one actually witnesses the resurrection itself. They (in some of the gospels, Mark is an exception) witness someone who is supposedly the risen Jesus, who many of them fail to recognise despite spending years in his company.

Furthermore, Paul simply claims there were 500 witnesses, almost all of whom are never named - anyone can do that, how does it prove there were 500 witnesses.

Yes. And?

So conceivably it means there's a method by which a suicide bomber acting in the name of Allah martyring him/herself for reasons he/she can know with certainty to be false?

Rhology said...

Can know with certainty. As in, the potential exists out there in the world.
But he hasn't troubled himself to learn, clearly.

Damion said...

If you don't consider the Acts of Peter apocryphal, you've almost the whole weight of Biblical scholarship against you and should perhaps consider using another word to describe it, if only for the sake of clarity.

Rhology said...

Oh, didn't realise you were referring to sthg like that.

Seth said...

Hallucination and delusions could easily acct for those examples.

I'm with Dr. F that this is a weak argument, and I'm not sure it really defends Christianity.

But he hasn't troubled himself to learn, clearly .

I could say that about anybody that disagrees with me!

Perhaps true martyrs are distinguished in that they are fully resolved to die for the cause, but they'll go pretty far to try and not get themselves killed. Stephen, for example, was emboldened in his preaching, but I don't think he was out looking for trouble. Not so for David Koresh, Jim Jones, etc.

David said...

Excellent post, Rhology.

There's a lot of theories out there that try to handle this from an atheistic perspective, including that it was a mass hallucination or that the Apostles stole the body and spread the "resurrection conspiracy," and none of them really hold much water. In the end, it's a simple fact that the atheists have to deal with: At least 11 men (the Apostles) went out in the world proclaiming that they had seen the Resurrected Christ and all but one of them (John) consented to die for this claim.

Damion said...

"There's a lot of theories out there that try to handle this from an atheistic perspective..."

Not only atheists, but all non-Xn's do not believe the essential points of the gospel accounts. If someone does not credit those accounts as anything more than just another set of religious legends, why ought he credit the later and arguably more apocryphal accounts of the martyrologies?

Damion said...

BTW - Who was the first Xn martyr to write a first-person account of his or her time with the earthly Jesus?

Rhology said...

Hmmm...probably Matthew (since we're talking about martyrs, and I don't know if Luke or Mark were martyred).

Damion said...

Leaving aside for the moment the fact that the Gospel According to Matthew bears no internal evidence of being a firsthand account, we have little good evidence that this disciple was actually martyred.  The passage below is excerpted from the Catholic Encyclopedia (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10056b.htm)


According to Heracleon, who is quoted by Clement of Alexandria, Matthew did not die a martyr, but this opinion conflicts with all other ancient testimony. Let us add, however, that the account of his martyrdom in the apocryphal Greek writings entitled "Martyrium S. Matthæi in Ponto" and published by Bonnet, "Acta apostolorum apocrypha" (Leipzig, 1898), is absolutely devoid of historic value. Lipsius holds that this "Martyrium S. Matthæi", which contains traces of Gnosticism, must have been published in the third century.

There is a disagreement as to the place of St. Matthew's martyrdom and the kind of torture inflicted on him, therefore it is not known whether he was burned, stoned, or beheaded. The Roman Martyrology simply says: "S. Matthæi, qui in Æthiopia prædicans martyrium passus est".


I must assume that you must have stronger sources in mind than the Roman Martyrology when you claim that Matthew was indeed martyred.

Rhology said...

the Gospel According to Matthew bears no internal evidence of being a firsthand account

You mean other than the fact that every copy we have bears his name, and that Matthew was a disciple of Jesus? It's not bulletproof, of course, but show me one, even one, fact of ancient history that is. The evidence is in its favor.
Ditto with the martyrdom acct. Give me a good reason not to accept it. That's how historians operate.

Damion said...

Good reasons not to accept Matthean authorship:
 
·         Strong probability Markan priority over Matthew.
·         Lack of testimony to Matthean authorship by the author himself
·         Lack of testimony of Matthean authorship by any reliable witness who knew the author
 
The only argument that you actually have for Matthean authorship is an oral tradition which grew up anonymously over many years among a community of faithful Xn devotees.  Such ‘evidence’ carries no more epistemic weight than mere rumor or internet glurge.

Rhology said...

Strong probability Markan priority over Matthew.

Irrelevant.


Lack of testimony to Matthean authorship by the author himself

None of the Gospel writers name themselves.
All the mss we have have "Gospel according to Matthew" written on them. None of them lack it. More likely it was on there from the beginning than that it wasn't.


Lack of testimony of Matthean authorship by any reliable witness who knew the author

Like which witnesses do you have in mind?


Such ‘evidence’ carries no more epistemic weight than mere rumor or internet glurge.

The Internet was around in the early days of the church?
Why reject this tradition? Surely you know that many, many events of ancient history are put "on the books" as it were b/c of one single rumor-like mention.

Damion said...

Assuming Markan priority, does it seem at all likely to you that an actual eyewitness would quote a non-eyewitness (verbatim and at length) rather than relying on his own memory and his own words?  Is it not far more plausible that Matthew is using Mark as a primary source rather than relying on his own memories because he (Matthew) was never there.
 
“None of the Gospel writers name themselves.”
 
Exactly as one would expect on the hypothesis that the gospels originated primarily from collections of anonymous folk myths transmitted orally between early Xn believers, rather than biographical accounts reliant on eyewitness sources.
 
“Like which witnesses do you have in mind?
 
Who told you that Matthew wrote that book?  Who told them?  Can you trace the chain of attribution back to someone trustworthy who actually knew the author?
 

merkur said...

"Give me a good reason not to accept it. That's how historians operate."

No, it isn't. Historians operate in exactly the opposite way; when presented with a novel source, the question is, why should I accept it. This is especially true where the source is not supported by other contemporary sources for which reliability has already been established.