Written by Sean McDowell whose dissertation research is focused on this subject.
While we can have more confidence in the martyrdoms of apostles such as Peter, Paul and James the brother of John (and probably Thomas and Andrew), there is much less evidence for many of the others (such as Matthias and James, son of Alphaeus). This evidence is late and filled with legendary accretion. This may come as a disappointment to some, but for the sake of the resurrection argument, it is not critical that we demonstrate that all of them died as martyrs. What is critical is their willingness to suffer for their faith and the lack of a contrary story that any of them recanted.
I am writing you today because as a regular “lurker” at your blog, I was dismayed at certain comments posted recently in reply to your blog posts concerning the topic of eye-witness reliability and the evidentiary value of eye-witness testimony. As an individual who has worked for most of his professional life in real-life fields that depend heavily on eye-witness testimony and which make serious decisions based on such testimony (Intelligence and Policing), I was indeed shocked at the generally poor understanding and misconceptions that many of your commentators expressed when they were discussing the issue of eye-witness testimony.
Let me explain what I mean by focusing on a number of critical issues that are relevant to this general topic and which also respond to the points that some of your commentators made. (And please note that the reason that this information has been sent in the form of an e-mail rather than posting it in the Comments Section of your blog post is due to this message’s length as well as being due to the fact that the Comments Section for the discussion concerning eye-witness testimony has slowed down at this point).
“Trusting testimony is not an irrational act of faith that leaves critical rationality aside; it is, on the contrary, the rationally appropriate way of responding to authentic testimony. Gospels understood as testimony are the entirely appropriate means of access to the historical reality of Jesus.”
J. Warner Wallace is a homicide detective who has worked cold cases. He provides his analysis on the Gospels on his web site Cold Case Christianity. Recently, he posted this video where he talks about the Gospels as eyewitness accounts. Here’s the accompanying text:
J. Warner Wallace answers the following objection:
“Christians like to call the Gospels ‘eyewitness accounts,’ but why should we take them seriously as ‘eyewitness’ testimony when the authors don’t say anything about being eyewitnesses and the accounts clearly contain descriptions of events (like the virgin conception, birth narratives, and private moments of Jesus) that the authors could not have personally seen?”
The title of this debate between Craig Evans and Bart Ehrman is “Does the New Testament Present a Reliable Portrait of the Historical Jesus?” (recorded January 19, 2012 at St. Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada)
Craig Evans on the textual integrity of the New Testament documents (12:37-14:02):
“The Greek text of the four Gospels – indeed the text of all 27 writings that make up the New Testament – is stable, and in all probability is quite close to the original text. No one claims that we have recovered the autographic texts – the originals – but most New Testament scholars and textual critics, think that through comparison and careful study we have reconstructed the text within – pick any percentage you want – 98, 99, more, less, percent of its original form.”
“We have the complete text of the four New Testament Gospels preserved in documents about 270 to 280 years removed from the autographs. We have substantial portions of the texts removed by about 130 to 200 years. We have tiny portions of the texts, perhaps as many as one dozen documents, about 70 to 120 years removed from the autographs. All in all, not a bad record compared to the many classical writings and histories where in most cases there are gaps of 800 to 1,000 years or more between the time of the author of the original and our oldest surviving copy of his manuscript. It is an excellent record indeed.”