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Tag: Christian Martyrdom

Indoctrinating Evangelical Children: Are You Willing to Die for Jesus?

the rapture 3

The junior church leader has gathered all the church’s elementary-age children together so she can share the “truth” with them. “Death is certain, and Jesus is coming soon; it could be today,” she breathlessly says. “We are living in the Last Days, and the Bible says all sorts of bad things will happen before the rapture.” Lowering her voice, giving it that worrying sound, she says, “True Christians, those who have asked Jesus into their hearts, will be persecuted for their faith, and some of them will be killed for believing in Jesus. Would you stand for Jesus? Would you be willing to die for Jesus? After all, he died for you; shouldn’t you be willing to give your life for him?” And then comes the graphic story meant to drive this “truth” home. “Suppose Islamic militants rounded up all the Christians and were shooting them if they refused to renounce Jesus. All you had to do is deny Jesus, and your life would be spared. Would you do it? Or would stand strong, believing that even if the militants killed you, you would go to Heaven, and Jesus would meet you there, saying, ‘well done thou good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord?'”

The junior church leader then gives an altar call, asking the children to recommit their lives to Jesus, to be ready and willing to die for him, if need be. And much like young Muslims answering their imam’s call for martyrs, bright-eyed, easily impressed Evangelical children profess their love for Jesus and willingness to die for their Lord and Savior.

We watch with horror as Muslim children blow themselves up in the name of Allah or Mohamed. Yet, we give nary a thought to how American Evangelical children are indoctrinated similarly. Why is that? Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches, in particular, are notorious users of fear of God, threats of Hell, and stories about Satanic enemies such as Muslims, atheists, and liberals to “motivate” children to follow Jesus to the death.

In 2020, I wrote a post titled, Martyrdom: Is Any Religion Worth Dying For? Here’s an excerpt of what I said:

Billy Watkins, a Christian and a writer for The Clarion-Ledger had this to say:

I can’t explain why.

Perhaps it doesn’t require an explanation.

But as the calendar quickly moved toward today — Easter Sunday — the more an image flashed in my mind: 20 Egyptian Christians and one other man, forced to their knees on a Mediterranean beach by members of ISIS on Feb. 15 and asked one by one if they believed in Jesus Christ.

Each answered yes, knowing the consequences.

All 21 were beheaded….

…It made me look inside myself, perhaps deeper than I’ve ever looked before.

It made me face the question: If I were in a similar situation, would I have the faith and the courage to look the ISIS cowards in the eye and say, “I believe in Jesus Christ.”

Knowing those would be the last words I ever said. Knowing the torture I was about to experience. Knowing my family and friends would grieve over my death. Knowing this life, which I can only comprehend as a struggling human, would end.

I would like to say yes, I would have the strength.

But do any of us really know until we are put in that situation?

To help me have some comparison for my struggle with this, I reached out to eight friends.

I asked them how they pictured themselves answering that question with a knife to their throats.

Some answered by email, others by Facebook message. Each provided food for thought. And I must commend them for digging deep inside their souls to help provide their answers.

One of the first I received: “This is very hard. I have tears. No, I am crying … I want to scream yes to those butchers. I believe in Jesus Christ!!!! But when I think of never seeing my husband, my family, my grandchildren, my grandchildren to come, I have to pause. More tears … ”

Friend No. 2 wrote, “I believe each Christian would always be ready to say, ‘Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.’ However, after watching two beheadings on YouTube, it gave me pause for thought. How could I possibly endure torture and a painful, slow death for my beliefs? My next thought was, ‘But that’s what Jesus did for me. Would he expect any less of me?’ ”

Friend No. 3: “There is a peace I believe God gives you in that situation. Just as Jesus prayed in the garden, twice, to let this cup pass from his wrath … I might say the same prayer, but in the end I would submit to God’s plan.”

Friend No. 4: “This is, of course, an impossible question to answer. Under the circumstances, I cannot imagine what I would do … it is always easier to sit in your living room and be convinced of your own virtues under the proposed circumstance. I also know I can rationalize decisions and I can waffle between what I want I know to be true … I could see this part of me rationalizing that it’s more important for me to live for any or all of the following …” My friend named his wife, children, extended family and church.

“I have so much to live for that lying to people who want to kill me is easily excused … (But) the scenario you describe is no time for rationalizing. It is a test … I hope I would get it … I want to be counted among those who would forgo this life for the better eternity to come.”

“Last point,” he wrote. “Hearing about the death of these 21 men has mattered to me — and not for the reason the killers wanted. It encourages me to live a life worthy of my calling. They died for Christ. May I at least live for him?”

Friend No. 5 wrote, “In facing a gruesome, wicked, evil death, my faith would still be in God. I hope and trust that such a painful ordeal would be ultimately redeemed and used by God for his purposes. Therefore, such a death is not in vain.”

Friend No. 6 was equally sure of his answer: “Faith is all you have left in that situation. To reject your faith would leave you with nothing — even if you lived. I can say unequivocally I would not reject my belief in Christ. If I did, I would be dead even though I lived. The other thing I know is that I would not die passively. I would fight with all my being. I would not let them dictate the terms of my death.”

Friend No. 7: “When you reach the most terrifyingly vulnerable moment of your life, you’re stripped to nothing but the things no can take away … the core beliefs that have driven every decision you’ve ever made. Ultimately, I would rather die outwardly professing my faith, with my death serving as a testament to those beliefs …

“But then I think of my child, of helping teach him those beliefs … If being a coward and lying to save my life means I’ll have the opportunity to raise a Godly man, so be it … Maybe this isn’t the right answer. But doing the right thing often means forgoing interests of the present so you can protect interests of the future.”

Friend No. 8: “Thomas Babington Macaulay wrote, ‘And how can a man die better than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods?’

“This world doesn’t afford many civilians the chance to die well for something that matters … it sounds cavalier, but I would be humbled and honored to be put in a situation where I had to choose between my life and the one thing that means most to me — my faith in Jesus Christ … I have a passion for this world, and ultimately the honestly amazing and blessed life that I’ve been given.

“I believe if he brings us to that place of choice, he gives us the grace to handle it if we remember that he is the ultimate source of everything … it’s not the end, it’s the beginning … let me go how he would take me, and let his will be done.”

This is what I believe: If I were put in that situation, I believe Jesus Christ would bathe me with a peace beyond human comprehension . . .

Those of us who were once Christians have asked the questions that Billy Watkins asks in his article. If it came to it, would we have been willing to die for Christ? Having grown up in a religious culture where persecution was touted as a sure sign of one’s faith, I had moments when I questioned whether I would stand up for Christ no matter what happened.

While Billy Watkins ponders whether he would be willing to lay his neck on the line for Jesus, I want to ponder the notion of a God who asks his followers to die for him. While most of us can readily understand dying for the sake of family or trying to help our fellow man, what are we to make of a religion and a God that put great value on dying for one’s faith? While Christians will likely say that their martyrdom allows them to give a final testimony to God’s love and grace, I do wonder about a God who could save someone from having their head chopped off and does nothing. What would we think of a man who stood by while his wife or children were violently attacked and killed? Dying for one’s family is recognized by all to be a heroic act. But, dying for a religious belief? Wouldn’t it be better to lie and live than to tell the truth and die? Unlike the Muslim, the Christian martyr receives no special reward for dying. Why die when you can live?

From their earliest ages, Evangelical children are taught:

  • Their present lives are inconsequential and temporary
  • That preparation for the next life is what matters
  • That dying for one’s faith is the ultimate reward
  • That martyrdom guarantees Christians preferential status in Heaven after they die

Many of the January 6, 2021 insurrectionists were Evangelical Christians — men and women who grew up on a steady diet of sermons, lessons, and books about being willing to die for Jesus. Does it come as any surprise that in a moment of insane passion that these same people were willing to die not only for Jesus, but also for the U.S. Constitution and Donald Trump? Those of us who stand outside of the Evangelical bubble shake our heads, forgetting that we ourselves were once indoctrinated with martyrdom teaching. Many of the readers of this blog might think back to their Evangelical days when dying for Jesus was the ultimate honor. What better way to show fealty to Jesus than to lose one’s head for him?

Most Evangelicals take a literalist approach to the book of Revelation. Evangelicals believe that someday soon Jesus will secretly come in the clouds and snatch them off the face of the earth. Once all the True Christians® are gone, God will pour out his wrath on those left behind. Yet, in a show of mercy, God will save a small number of the people who missed the rapture. These new converts will have to prove their faith by having their heads lopped off.

Revelation 20:4 says:

And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.

One need only to read the Left Behind books (apocalyptic porn written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins) or watch the movie series: A Thief in the Night (1972), A Distant Thunder (1978), and Image of the Beast (1983) to see how martyrdom is central to the Evangelical narrative of true faith.

Wikipedia explains the plot of the aforementioned movies this way:

Patty Myers is a young woman who considers herself a Christian because she occasionally reads her Bible and goes to church regularly, where the pastor is really an unbeliever. She refuses to believe the warnings of her friends and family that she will go through the Tribulation if she does not accept Jesus as her savior. One morning, she awakens to find that her husband and millions of others have suddenly disappeared. Gradually, Patty realizes that the Rapture has happened.

…..

In A Distant Thunder, the story of Patty is told in a flashback, which itself includes flashbacks. It begins with Patty awaiting her execution and, after fellow Christians awaiting execution ask her how she got there, she begins to tell the story and a flashback commences. The flashback begins where the previous film left off, with Patty awakening from her dream to realize that the Rapture has actually occurred. The film ends dramatically with Patty witnessing her friend Wenda being executed and arguing with Wenda’s younger sister Sandy (who, along with Jerry and Diane, urges Patty to take the Mark) who betrayed them—and being prepped for her own execution.

The third film begins with Patty being forced by UNITE soldiers to decide to take the Mark or to be publicly executed by guillotine. The soldiers strap her, speechless and in shock, down to the guillotine, lying face-up. A sudden earthquake and storm appear, and the soldiers and others nearby run for safety, leaving Patty strapped to the guillotine. She cries, “I want the Mark!”, yet no one was nearby to hear her or unstrap her. Alone, she attempts to unstrap herself, but the guillotine blade falls on its own, and Patty dies.

Video Link

While Evangelicals are certainly more materialistic these days — ready for the rapture, but in no hurry to go — pastors, evangelists, missionaries, Sunday school teachers, and junior church leaders continue to indoctrinate children and adults alike in the Christian death cult. This is why Evangelicalism is not a harmless religion. Its teachings cause real psychological, and at times, physical harm. I started this post with a story gleaned from the many years I spent in the Evangelical church, both as a member and pastor. It is hard, is it not, to not conclude that such indoctrination is child abuse.

What were you taught about being willing to die for Jesus? Please share your stories in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Who’s to Blame for the Brutal Death of Evangelical Missionary John Allen Chau?

john allen chau

Oral Roberts University graduate John Allen Chau was killed last week while attempting to evangelize an isolated tribe on North Sentinel Island — 700 miles off the coast of India. Chau, 26, did not have permission to ferry to, land on, or evangelize North Sentinel natives. He broke the law, choosing instead to “follow” the “leadership” of the Holy Ghost. His obedience to God and the teachings of his peculiar flavor of Evangelical Christianity cost him his life.

CBS News reports:

Officials typically don’t travel to the North Sentinel area, where people live as their ancestors did thousands of years ago. The only contacts, occasional “gift giving” visits in which bananas and coconuts were passed by small teams of officials and scholars who remained in the surf, were years ago.

Indian ships monitor the waters around the island, trying to ensure that outsiders do not go near the Sentinelese, who have repeatedly made clear they want to be left alone.

….

Scholars know almost nothing about the island, from how many people live there to what language they speak. The Andamans once had other similar groups, long-ago migrants from Africa and Southeast Asia who settled in the island chain, but their numbers have dwindled dramatically over the past century as a result of disease, intermarriage and migration.

Chau spent his young life immersed in Evangelical Christianity. He attended an Evangelical high school and college, and was trained for missionary service by Fundamentalist mission agency, All Nations in Kansas City, Missouri. Mary Ho, international executive leader of All Nations, admitted to CBS News that Chau had discussed his mission trip with her and understood the danger and risk of landing on the island. Ho stated, “He [Chau] wanted to have a long-term relationship, and if possible, to be accepted by them and live amongst them.”

The first day Chau landed on the Sentinel Island, a young boy shot arrows at him, forcing his retreat to a boat waiting for him offshore. Chau wrote in his notes:

Why did a little kid have to shoot me today? I DON’T WANT TO DIE Would it be wiser to leave and let someone else to continue. No I don’t think so.

Chau’s second return to the island was his last. He was killed by Sentinelese tribesmen — yet another well-intentioned zealot who wasted his life attempting to evangelize people who weren’t the least bit interested in what he was selling. This tribe is known for killing or attempting to kill outsiders who dare to trespass. Chau knew this, yet he believed God was leading him to take the gospel to them. I am sure he thought that God would protect him. In one comment, Chau said that “God sheltered me and camouflaged me against the coast guard and the navy.” In his mind, if God miraculously kept him from being found out by authorities, it is not a stretch to think that he believed that all would go well when he came ashore to preach the gospel. After all he brought gifts for them — fish and a football. What could go wrong, right?

As I ponder the wasted life of John Allen Chau, I ask, who’s to blame for his death? Not the tribesmen. They were protecting their land from an interloper. No, the blame rests on the Evangelical churches, school, and college Chau attended. These institutions filled his head with stories of grandeur, of missionaries God used to evangelize the “lost.”  The blame also rests on All Nations. They filled his head with nonsense about reaching “lost” Sentinelese tribesmen for Jesus, ignoring the fact that Chau’s interaction with them could have infected them with deadly Western diseases, diseases for which the Sentinelese had NO immunity. All Nations knew about Chau’s desire and encouraged him to be obedient to God. Everyone who filled Chau’s head with Evangelical beliefs about the exclusivity of Christianity and the need for people to get saved lest they spend eternity in Hell bears responsibility for the young man’s death.

Chau was a True Believer®. His heart and mind were set on being an obedient, zealous follower of Jesus. As missionaries and martyrs before him, Chau was willing to die for the cause. Is this not the true mark of zealot? I am sure he heard countless preachers talk about being willing to die for one’s faith. Jesus gave his life for us! Should we not be ready and willing to give our lives for him? countless preachers have said. Much like Islamic zealots, Evangelicals — in theory, anyway — believe that, if called upon to do so, they would die for Jesus. I say in theory, because I highly doubt, when push comes to shove, that most American Evangelicals would truly die for Jesus. It’s easy to say, “I will not deny Jesus, and I am willing to die for him,” when in fact few Evangelicals are willing to follow Chau to the grave.

Several weeks ago, I wrote about the death of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) missionary Charles Wesco. Much like Chau, Wesco threw his life away thinking that he was called by his God to evangelize the lost in Cameroon. Within a week, Wesco was dead, caught in a gunfire battle between opposing forces. Both of these deaths are, on one hand, tragic, but on the other hand they are unnecessary. No one “needs” Jesus, and the world would be better off if Evangelicals minded their own fucking business. If asked about Jesus, share away, but if not, keep your cult’s dogma to yourself. Do I sound harsh? I intend to be. Both of these stories have all the markings of cultism, no different from the Manson or Jonestown cults. Oh, Evangelicalism might appear more respectable and be accepted as a “good” cult, but their teachings can and do cause psychological and physical harm, and, in some instances, death. Chau’s and Wesco’s deaths are perfect examples of what can happen when some really, really, really believes, drinking glass after glass of Jesus-inspired Kool-Aid. Their deaths left countless mourners who want to know WHY? One need not look far for the answer. The blame ultimately rests on Evangelicalism and its teachings about sin, salvation, the Great Commission, and the exclusivity of the Christian religion. These deaths should lead preachers and other church leaders to ponder and question their missionary rhetoric, but alas, men such as Chau and Wesco will, instead, be venerated and turned into martyrs, inspiring others to foolishly follow in their steps.

The next time someone tells you that religions is harmless, I hope you will think of John Allen Chau. His religion cost him his life.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Who’s to Blame For the Tragic Death of IFB Missionary Charles Wesco?

the charles and stephanie wesco family

Two weeks agoCharles and Stephanie Wesco, ages 44 and 33 respectively, along with their eight children, ages 2 to 13, traveled from Indiana to Cameroon to evangelize the lost. Today, Charles is dead, thanks to a bullet wound to the head after being caught in crossfire between government soldiers and armed separatists. (Stephanie and her oldest daughter were in the car with her husband, but luckily escaped injury.) I can only imagine the heartache Stephanie and her family must be experiencing. That said, in the hope of warding off anyone else needlessly dying for Jesus, there are a few things that need to be said. I realize I will be accused of being insensitive, but after numerous stories in recent years of Evangelical missionaries being killed, kidnapped, and arrested, I think it is time for someone to suggest that maybe, just maybe missionaries need to rethink their “calling.”

The Wescos are Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) missionaries. Stephanie is the daughter of Don Williams, pastor of Believers Baptist Church in Warsaw, Indiana. Don Williams is a graduate of Hyles-Anderson College. He is the son of Ronald Williams, pastor emeritus of Believers Baptist and the founder and director of Hephzibah House — a girls boarding school. Hephzibah House is notorious for its abusive discipline and has been investigated several times by the state of Indiana (see video below). Charles’ brother is Indiana state representative Tim Wesco.

Video Link

2015 Wartburg Watch article on Hephzibah House

As IFB missionaries, the Wescos spent two years traveling from church to church (deputation) begging for support. Once they raised sufficient support, they made their way to Cameroon so they could win souls for Christ and establish IFB churches. You can check out their website here. The Wescos believed that God has called them to go to Cameroon to preach the gospel. I have no doubt they were excited once they raised sufficient money to begin their evangelistic work. I suspect they planned to win countless Cameroonians to Christ and establish numerous Fundamentalist Baptist congregations. Yet, two weeks into their endeavor, Charles is dead, Stephanie has lost her husband, and eight children no longer have a father.

Charles is being called a martyr for Christ, a man of faith who was willing to put his life on the line for the Cameroonian people. Others are praying that their God will use his death to bring many Cameroonians to Christ. And then there are those who are trying to make sense of the senseless, trying to understand WHY God would have the Wesco family go through the rigors of deputation and the pain of leaving their family and church behind, only to have Charles gunned down, Stephanie made a widow, and their children left without a father. I suspect people will be told to not dwell on the WHY, and to, instead, trust in the loving, faithful, enduring providential care of God. Their pastors will remind them that God knows what’s best and all they can do is ask for God’s name to be glorified through Bro. Charles’ death. They mustn’t dwell on WHY because that might call God’s purpose and plan into question; it might cause Christians to wonder if there really is a God in Heaven who loves and cares for them; it might cause them to question God; yea it might even cause them to doubt his very existence. Of course, those of us who are former Evangelicals know firsthand about asking WHY and not finding a satisfactory answer. For many of us, realizing that, at the very least, God was indifferent towards us or unconcerned with our loss and pain was our first step towards unbelief. I have no doubt that there will be Christians who will face real crises of faith over Charles Wesco’s senseless death, and perhaps some of them might even question God’s very existence. To that I say, good. Better to learn that trusting God to care for you and keep you out of harm’s way is delusional than to see anyone else get it in their head that God talks to them and wants them to pack up their family and go to a hostile foreign land to evangelize sinners.

The root blame rests, of course, on the person(s) who murdered Charles Wesco. But, culpability also rests with the IFB church movement and its doctrines, Believers Baptist Church, Pastor Don Williams, Pastor Emeritus Ronald Williams, and the Wescos themselves. It is IFB preachers and churches that tell congregants that the entire world is divided into two classes of people: saved and lost; that God has commanded them to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature; that American Fundamentalists are duty-bound, if led by God, to carry the gospel to foreign lands. Cameroon is 70 percent Christian, yet the Wescos thought there was a “need” to take the gospel to Cameroonians. Why? Well, 40 percent of those Christians are Catholic, and in the IFB world, Catholic is just another word for LOST. Thirty percent of Christians are Protestants, and in the IFB world Protestant is also just another word for LOST. In the minds of the leaders and congregants of Believers Baptist and the Wescos, what Cameroon needed was Jesus-loving, sin-hating, King James-Only Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches.

I realize that my words may come off as those of a heartless atheist, but I hope that my speaking the truth will cause others who are interested in evangelizing the lost in foreign countries to reconsider their ambitions. Granted, my words are no match for God’s, but surely there’s room for reason in the discussion. Surely, there’s a place for common sense. If Charles Wesco wanted to go to Cameroon and put his life on the line so he could expand his cult’s reach, well that’s on him. But, he, as the head of his home, took his wife and eight young children into harm’s way. It could just as easily have been his wife or one or more of his children killed in the crossfire. It is fair for thoughtful people to question whether taking children into the midst of a brewing civil war is reasonable. I know I would never put my wife, children, or grandchildren at risk of being hurt or killed. As a husband, parent, and grandparent, I have a duty to love, care, and protect those I love. My booking a family vacation in Cameroon would be considered by most people to be dangerous, careless, and irresponsible. But for people who are immersed in the teachings of the IFB church movement, if God is leading the way, no risk or danger is too great. And when things take a tragic turn, as in the case of Charles Wesco? Few will question God, Believers Baptist and its pastors, or the parents of the Wescos as to their culpability in Charles’ death. Cameroonian soldiers and insurgents will be blamed, end of story.

Here’s what I know for sure. Remove IFB beliefs from the equation and it is likely that Charles Wesco would be sitting at home tonight with his wife and children. It is IFB beliefs that put Charles in the line of fire, regardless of his sincere intentions. Had it not been for his cult’s beliefs about divine calling, missions, and evangelization, Charles never would have packed up his wife and children and traveled more than 6,000 miles to a country torn by political strife and violence.

I lament the fact that Stephanie Wesco has lost her husband and her children have lost their father. No one should have to go through the pain they are going through. But, perhaps this tragic story will cause other IFB missionaries-in-training or on deputation to ponder whether they are really ready to sacrifice their lives or the lives of their families for Jesus. At the very least, I hope this story will end the practice of sending families to the mission field; that missionary work will be restricted to single men, much as the Mormons do or the Apostle Paul did 2,000 years ago.

I know my words will be misunderstood and I will be pilloried in IFB circles, but I felt it my duty to say what other want to say but won’t.

You can read Charles Wesco’s obituary here.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Quote of the Day: Would the Disciples of Jesus Die for a Lie?

bart ehrman

QUESTION: Another very very popular evidence put forward for the resurrection is “the disciples would not have died for what they knew was a lie, therefore it must have happened.” I hear this all the time. You note that they really believed they saw Jesus after he died so they were not lying. However, is there evidence (historical or literary) that they were killed because of their belief in Jesus’ resurrection?

Ah yes, if I had a fiver for every time I’ve heard this comment over the years, I could retire to a country-home in Maine…. Several other people have responded to this question on the blog by saying that we have lots of records of lots of people who have died for a something that they knew, literally, not to be true. I am not in a position to argue that particular point. But I can say something about all the disciples dying for believing in the resurrection.

The way the argument (by Christian apologists) goes is this (I know this, because I used to make the same argument myself, when I was a Christian apologist!): all the apostles were martyred for their faith, because they believed Jesus had been raishgggged from the dead; you can see why someone might be willing to die for the truth; but no one would die for a lie; and therefore the disciples – all of them – clearly believed that Jesus was raised from the dead. And if they *all* believed it, then it almost certainly is true (since none of them thought otherwise, they must have all seen Jesus alive after his death).

The big problem with this argument is that it assumes precisely what we don’t know.   We don’t know how most of the disciples died.   People always *say* that the apostles were all martyred.  But next time someone tells you that, ask them how they know.  Or better yet, ask them which ancient source they are referring to that says so.

The reality is this.  We simply do not have reliable information about what happened to Jesus’ disciples after he died.  In fact, we scarcely have any information about them while they were still living!  Read the Gospels, and ask yourself what they tell us about Bartholomew, or Judas-not-Iscariot, or Thaddaeus and so on.  Answer: next to nothing.  And what does the book of Acts tell us about what they did after Jesus death and resurrection?  Answer: next to nothing (just some comments about them as a group, not as individuals).  And what does the book of Acts tell us about how they died?  Almost nothing.  (Acts does mention the death of James and the death of Stephen – the latter was not a disciple and did not have a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus granted to him.)

Nor do we have reliable accounts from later times.  What we have are legends, about some of the apostles – chiefly Peter, Paul, Thomas, Andrew, and John.   But the apocryphal Acts that tell their stories are indeed highly apocryphal.   They are great reading and great fun, highly entertaining and highly enlightening for what later Christians were saying about these earlier champions of the faith.  But they are not historically reliable accounts of their lives (recall Peter and the smoked tuna and Peter and the flying heretic) or their deaths (such as Peter’s crucifixion upside down; during which he gives a long sermon).

….

In case someone should object – why would anyone believe so fervently in the resurrection without being an eyewitness?? – need I point out that there are about a two billion people today who believe it without being an eyewitness?  Really, truly, and deeply believe it?   You don’t need to see Jesus with your own eyes to believe what someone else says about him, that *they* saw Jesus with their own eyes.   So too with the early disciples.  None of them left us any writings, so we don’t know what they saw, heard, or experienced.   And we don’t know how most of them died.   And so it makes no sense to argue that they were martyred because they “knew” on the basis of their own experience that Jesus had been raised.

— Bart Ehrman, The Bart Ehrman Blog, Would the Disciples Die for A Lie? Proofs for the Resurrection, September 13, 2018

If you aren’t a registered member of Dr. Ehrman’s blog, I encourage you to pony up $24.99 and join his site.  Dr. Ehrman is a prolific writer, and he covers many interesting Biblical and historical subjects. All proceeds go to charity. I thoroughly enjoy reading his writing.