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

The Tragedy of Suicide

Why is it always tragic when someone takes their own life? Let’s dive into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Many people today are talking about Brittany Maynard and how she did decide to end her own life due to having a terminal disease. I’ll be upfront about my stance on this. To take one’s own life in an active manner like this is immoral. Had she let nature run its course and not resist knowing the case was terminal, that would not necessarily be immoral.

Unfortunately, when many people see something like this, they will themselves start to consider the question of suicide. Suicide is often made to be a noble act in our culture. We can think of Robin Williams who had the meme going around with being told “Genie. You’re free.” I did write about that shortly afterwards and also posted a piece my wife Allie wrote on suicide.

Suicide is a tragedy because life itself is something wonderful and when you choose to end your life actively, you are making a statement not just about your life, but also a statement about everything else that is out there. Chesterton said years ago that a martyr dies because he believes there is something worth dying for. A suicide dies because he believes there is nothing worth living for.

If you have something, anything, then you can fight on and live. To say that you want to end your life is to tell every single facet of creation that none of it is worthwhile. It is to say that your pain trumps all of that. Please note also that in all of this, nothing is being said about the state of one’s salvation. I do not say suicide is the unforgivable sin, but I certainly do see the Scriptural position of it as sinful.

Unfortunately, events like the death of Maynard do not help us see suicide as a tragedy, but rather as something somehow dignified. What is dignified however about it? What is dignified is choosing to face your life and not let pain define you. It is choosing to enjoy every moment that you are given instead of saying none of those future moments will be worth it.

If we are people who see this today, then we need to see it today. Are we really looking at our world and seeing all the good that is in it, or are we choosing to let our pain define us? Many of us can often even identify ourselves by our struggles. We identify ourselves as alcoholics or porn addicts or drug addicts. These can be facets of who we are, and we should certainly work on them if they’re problems for us, but we do not need to let them identify us.

What happened to Maynard is a tragedy, and we should be mourning. Oh we can celebrate the life that was here, but it is always tragic when someone chooses to end their own life. We can say it’s noble if someone takes a bullet for someone else in self-defense, but it is not when someone pulls the trigger themselves. The former says the other person is worth dying for. The latter says no person is worth living for.

Celebrate life today and while we honor the person who died, let us make sure we never honor suicide. It always will leave pain to those left behind. There’s enough pain with the death itself. Let’s not add to it.

Self-Sacrifice and Love

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. Right now, we’re going through 1 Corinthians 13. Tonight, we’re going to be looking at the topic of self-sacrifice and love. After all, Paul’s next point is that if we give our bodies to be burned and have not love, we have nothing.

Martyrdom became something common in the early church. Christians weren’t the most popular people around. For some moving accounts of martyrdom, one can read some of the writings of the early church and read about people like Ignatius and Justin Martyr. One of the most incredible ones to read about is the martyrdom of Polycarp. There’s also the account of how Peter when he was crucified asked to be crucified upside-down because he was not worthy to die in the same matter as his Lord.

Indeed, one can read these accounts and hope that if push came to shove, that we would do the same thing. It’s quite easy to talk strongly. We can all be like Peter and say “Lord. I am wiling to die for you!” How shocking it is if we were told that “You will deny me three times.” “Me?! Deny you Lord?! Never!” only to hear ourselves later say “Him? Sorry. Don’t know him. You must have me confused with someone else.”

And of course, as I tell people, if we think about it, dying for Christ is pretty easy. Living for Him is the hard thing and rather than think about dying for Him, we should think about living for Him.

Paul’s point in this situation however is to say not even the sacrifice of death is worthwhile if one does not have love. We can even conceive of how someone would make that sacrifice if only for the sake of personal honor rather than out of love for the one that they say that they serve.

Of course, I don’t intend to call into question the faith of the early church fathers. I do not doubt that Ignatius, Justin, and Polycarp were all believers. I do believe that we should look to them as great heroes of the faith and hope that we could make the sacrifice, but we must remember that because one is a Christian, one can make the sacrifice. Making the sacrifice does not make one a Christian.

Thus, we have seen that for Paul, there is nothing that you can have or do that if you do not have love, will merit you anything. Love is absolutely essential in everything. The question we can ask ourselves then is if we are really seeking love. There is the problem in our society that we are seeking the wrong thing in that we make love something that it is not. Let us be clear that we must be seeking biblical love.

So what is that love exactly? We’ve spent much time talking about the value of love and indeed we have to do that. As I said at the start, it can be tempting for us to read through that portion without taking the time to really see what it says. Now that we have seen that, next time, we will begin looking at what it is.