One of the popular evidences for the resurrection of Jesus is the martyrdom of his disciples. It is claimed that eleven of Jesus’ twelve disciples went to their deaths defending their faith. It is later concluded that no one would die for something knowing it is a lie. I agree completely. However, this assumes that their martyrdom was a fact. What is the evidence to this happening?
We know from the book of Acts that the apostle James was executed by Herod Antipas. We know from Josephus that James, the brother of Jesus was executed as well for his faith. Eusebius, the first church historian, reports the death by martyrdom of all the apostles except for John. John was exiled to Patmos, but later released, dying soon thereafter as an old man. Eusebius is generally fairly reliable, but definitely not completely reliable. He himself relied on other sources. The martyrdom of Peter and Paul is quite well established by many early church witnesses besides Eusebius. I think we can conclude that the two James, Peter and Paul were definitely executed for their faith, and probably the majority of the others were as well, but we are less certain about the means and timing of their deaths. I would not stake my faith or that of other people on the sure statement that all the apostles except John were executed. Having said that, the argument still stands. We know that all the apostles were very strongly persecuted, threatened with death, and several of them (although we are not sure how many) were in fact executed for their faith, yet all the evidence is that not one of them ever gave the slightest hint of denying their faith or the claim of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
John Oakes, PhD