Sunday, January 22, 2012

J.P. Moreland on the Testimony of the Disciples

"The disciples had nothing to gain by lying and starting a new religion. They faced hardship, ridicule, hostility, and martyr's deaths. In light of this, they could never have sustained such unwavering motivation if they knew what they were preaching was a lie. The disciples were not fools and Paul was a cool-headed intellectual of the first rank. There would have been several opportunities over three to four decades of ministry to reconsider and renounce a lie."

- J.P. Moreland
Scaling the Secular City, pp. 171-172.


Osbad said...

All excellent stuff. Of course we are still left with the issue of an improbabilty (the disciples not telling the truth) versus an impossibility (a dead person coming back to life).

Both events are illogical, but which is most illogical cannot be proved.

Osbad said...

Good points. But of course it is demonstrably impossible for the dead to come back to life. So which is more improbable? Resurrection on the one hand or falsehood on the part of the disciples, however unlikely on the other?

In the end it still comes down to faith.

The Atheist Missionary said...

In light of this, they could never have sustained such unwavering motivation if they knew what they were preaching was a lie.

No counter-apologist has ever suggested (to my knowledge) that they thought what they were preaching was a lie. However, if this argument has any legs, there are countless examples throughout the history of religion where converts to faiths considered myths by Christians willingly suffered unspeakable agonies.

The more people start researching the history underlying the Bible for themelves, the more they learn to appreciate that Christianity is built on an extremely weak foundation. Ignore anything and everything written by Paul - he didn't witness any of the events which supposedly occurred during the lifetime of Jesus. So what do we have left? Four gospels derived from common sources which conflict each other, written at best 2 decades after the supposed miraculous events and perhaps as late as 4 decades.

If you believe in a god who intervenes in the world, I look forward to hearing some examples of that divine intervention. One would think that after 2000 years of waiting for the return of their Saviour, Christians would remember the old adage: "Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me".

Ex N1hilo said...

Best. Conspiracy. Ever.

Vance Marquis said...

Abiogenisis (something that has never been alive) or a dead person (who was alive at one time) coming back to life. Which one is more probable? Abiogenisis requires an unbelievable amount of faith. A dead person coming back to life only requires a person to believe that the tomb was empty on Sunday morning.

royalcanadian said...


Bless your heart. I couldn't help chuckling whilst reading comments. They're honestly some of the dumbest I've come across on this site. You are either extremely stupid, lazy, or more interested lobbing bombs than you are exploring our relationship with God.

Those old objections have been answered by a whole host of historians and philosophers, ancient and modern, time and time and time again. And anyone with a modicum of apologetics experience has long ago encountered these attacks and discovered that they have logical, reasonable and simple answers. A cursory look this site attests to this.

Furthermore, God has intervened in my life and the life of people I know in a fashion that points to a supernatural cause.

Now, we could start an extended discussion and review of basic apologetics and argue whether a certain event is supernatural or not. But, both you and I know that,as a simple troll, you are certainly not interested in meaningful conversation,just contrarian one-upmanship. Pearls are not meant for pigs, as Jesus would say.

So, nice try. I hope you've enjoyed the attention I've givem you. ;)

Jason Engwer said...


A resurrection isn't "an impossibility". It's extraordinarily unlikely to happen by naturalistic means. But Christians don't claim that Jesus rose by naturalistic means. There are many worldviews that would allow for a resurrection as a possibility and more than just an extraordinarily unlikely naturalistic possibility. Even agnosticism can leave the door wide open for a resurrection. If you want us to begin with materialistic atheism or some other worldview that makes a resurrection extraordinarily unlikely or impossible, then you'll have to argue for that worldview rather than just assuming it.

Jason Engwer said...

The Atheist Missionary wrote:

"If you believe in a god who intervenes in the world, I look forward to hearing some examples of that divine intervention."

I don't know whether you're asking for evidence of paranormal phenomena in general or Christian miracles in particular. Why don't you interact with the research of, say, Stephen Braude or Craig Keener? Braude is one of the foremost paranormal researchers of our generation. Keener is a prominent New Testament scholar who's recently published a highly commended multi-volume work on the historicity of miracles. When we've posted about the research of such men at Triablogue in the past, you haven't had much to say. Maybe you missed all of those posts. But I doubt it. It's more likely that you don't know how to refute what's been documented, so you make vague comments like the one above.

Osbad said...


Well, of course resurrection is (humanly speaking) impossible. It is necessary to postulate some extra-human intervention to explain such a physically impossible event. Compared to the physical impossibility of resurrection, how relatively unlikely is the matter of the testimony of the disciples being mistaken?

I agree that for the disciples to be misleading in their testimony would be very unlikely given what we know about human nature, but it is not "physically impossible", nowhere close.

It still is a requirement for one to presuppose the existence of supra-human intervention.

Lets be clear. I'm purely challenging the limits of the argument that "the disciples were highly unlikely to have lied". It is persuasive evidence, but it can never be as strong a "proof" as the observed, testable, physical law that dead bodies do not resurrect.

In order for this argument to become persuasive, it requires some form of secondary evidence - such as personal experience, an "encounter with God", or witnessing a miracle with which one can make the intuitive leap into the assumption that miracles *can* actually happen. Simple logic however alone cannot to this. Or so I would understand. I am interested in being proved wrong though.

Jason Engwer said...


You've changed your argument. I was responding to what you initially said, not what you're saying now.

You initially claimed that "it is demonstrably impossible for the dead to come back to life". Now you're adding the qualifier "humanly speaking". And you initially said "which is most illogical cannot be proved", whereas you're now telling us how we could go about arguing for one alternative over the other.

As I said above, even agnosticism can leave the door wide open for a resurrection. Do you have an argument for keeping the door shut or nearly shut?

And I've cited evidence for the occurrence of miracles, like the research done by Stephen Braude and Craig Keener. The evidence for the resurrection is itself evidence for the miraculous and an entity capable of performing miracles. If we needed to have one miracle in order to accept another, how would we ever get to an acceptance of the first miracle? The same question can be asked of events you'd classify as natural. If you need some sort of precedent before accepting something, how do you accept the first occurrence?

Anonymous said...

This is the "why would they die for a lie?" argument?

I'm afraid it's quite a flimsy argument. How do we know that the disciples were martyred? The evidence is very late--early second century, I believe. And to what crime could you say, "OK, just kidding! We made up the Jesus thing!" and be let go? Rabble rousing? Sedition? Treason?

The martyrdom of the disciples is just an accretion from the many decades of oral history this story went through.

Jason Engwer said...,

Given that some of the apostles didn't die until the mid to late first century, how would the early second century be "very late"? Eyewitnesses and contemporaries of the apostles were still alive in the early second century and beyond. Historians regularly accept testimony significantly later than what we have in this context. Critics of Christianity often rely on arguments they derive from Josephus, Tacitus, and other sources who were writing around the same time as or later than the New Testament and early patristic sources.

And we have accounts of the suffering and martyrdom of the apostles and other relevant sources prior to the early second century. The book of Acts refers to the martyrdom of James, son of Zebedee, the gospel of John refers to Peter's martyrdom, Josephus refers to the death of Jesus' brother James, Clement of Rome refers to the martyrdom of Peter and Paul, etc.

How would you know that "The martyrdom of the disciples is just an accretion from the many decades of oral history this story went through"? The notion that we should dismiss all of the early Christian and non-Christian sources who disagree with you, while accepting your contrary speculations that you haven't supported with any evidence, doesn't make sense. Why are we supposed to believe your ridiculous, highly speculative reconstruction of what happened while dismissing the early reports we have from eyewitnesses and contemporaries?

Regarding whether the apostles and other relevant sources had an opportunity to benefit from recanting, see Appendix VIII here.

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