Book Plunge: The Fate of the Apostles

What do I think of Sean McDowell’s book published by Routledge? Let’s dive into the Deeper Waters and find out.

“No one would die for a lie!”

So begins an apologetic¬†for the resurrection. The apostles were all willing to die. (Most leave out John, the son of Zebedee, thinking he died in exile) Why would they all die for what they knew to be false? Now let’s state something at the start. The apostles would die for what they had firsthand knowledge of. Martyrdoms today would not make the same statement, even all Christian matryrdoms. All we can conclude is that they really think that their belief is true.

Still, could we be using this claim too flippantly? There is a great danger that when we make this claim someone could say “Okay. Prove it.” Then, we are caught in a bind. After all, what are our sources? Is this a legend that we have heard and just repeated without studying it? For too many of us, the latter part is definitely true.

This book is McDowell’s Ph.D. dissertation on the topic. In it, he looks at the accounts that come after the apostles to see what we can demonstrate. I find it interesting that McDowell doesn’t just go with the party line. There are some cases that frankly, we don’t really have the evidence for that we’d like. Some are incredibly strong and we could say easily that the persons were martyred for their faith. Others are not so clear.

McDowell also seeks to get the sources closes to what he calls living memory of the events. This is a time frame of about 200 years or so. After that, matters get less reliable. He also looks at each in terms of historical probability indicating many times where a belief in something is possible.

This is also a fascinating look at church history as you get to see wondrous stories and how they were told. You’ll probably read about writings that you had no idea even existed. Some aspects will leave a lot to wonder about, such as the idea of Thomas making it all the way to India. You can get historical tidbits from that about the relationship of the Roman Empire to India.

In the end, McDowell states that for all of the apostles, we don’t have clear accounts of martyrdom. They are still possible, but we just don’t have the evidence that we would like to have. I find this to be a wonderful statement to make seeing as no one can look at this and say McDowell just got the conclusions he wanted to get. No doubt, he would have loved to have found clear martyrdom accounts of all the apostles, but they just weren’t there.

I do have one contention about how this could be used. At times, McDowell points to Biblical statements about what the apostles saw and what they were told. These work fine for a person who accepts Biblical authority. For someone who doesn’t, appeals to these passages could be seen as spurious. (Skeptics would not accept the Great Commission account for instance.) Apologists wanting to use such an argument will need to be careful about how much they rely on the Bible for these points.

Still, McDowell’s book is an enjoyable read. Most sections on an apostle are brief and can be read in a one-time sitting. If you want to read about a particular apostle, it is not necessary that you read the other chapters. If all you care about is Matthew, just go to the Matthew chapter. Hopefully further research will come along to expand McDowell’s findings.

In Christ,
Nick Peters