To My Fellow Jews(2)
I've done some thinking since we talked. You said you believed that Jesus died and there was no resurrection, but the disciples had invested too much in him to let the movement just come to an end, so they came up with this idea that he rose from the dead. From that point on, the disciples were just good PR men; they started spreading this story and everything took off from there. I have been thinking a lot about what you said, and while what you say sounds plausible, I wanted to investigate the texts to see if I could find some evidence for your theory.
I tried to figure out why? Why would the apostles have done it? They must have had some motive. What did they hope to gain? The first thing I thought of was the typical things which might motivate a person to lie: greed, a desire for power, fame, or respect. People who want them badly enough will manipulate others. They will lie, cheat, deceive, or even use religion to get them. (Sunday morning TV proves that.) And I tried to think, "Would these have been the motives of the apostles? Would the desire for money, power, fame, or honor been enough of an incentive to spread a story which they knew to be a lie?" If your conclusion is accurate, the facts of the case should uphold your conclusion. In the scriptures themselves there must be some evidence which would show that they really wanted respect, fame, money, power, and honor. This should be true especially in the writings of Paul, for letters usually are pretty revealing of a person's true intent and character. So I looked in the New Testament to see if I could discover a hint of the apostles' true motivations.
The first question I asked was, "did they do it for money?" And in looking, I found a lot of evidence to the contrary. From what I discovered, it seems that they had sort of given up a desire for money. Here are a few of the things I found out: Peter, Andrew, James, and John were all fisherman. They were not "poor." They were not common laborers or hired hands. They owned their own boats and nets, which meant they were not part of the servant class. In fact, Peter had a house (Matthew 8:14), and James and John had servants (Mark 1: 19-20). The majority of the disciples, it seems, were probably from the merchant class. And they all left their businesses to follow Jesus. Matthew was a tax collector and probably fairly well-to-do because he made his wealth by extorting money from the poor (Luke 27:28), and yet, at a word from Jesus, he got up, and left his tax office, and never returned. The rest did the same. They gave up all that earthly security and their stable source of income to follow him. For the rest of their lives they would travel, without knowing the stability of a home or the security of a regular source of income.
Think about stopping medicine tomorrow, and see how secure you feel about your finances. It would take a lot of guts. Would you quit, not knowing from where your next paycheck was coming or how you would pay the bills? It would not be a desire for money that would make you quit. I don't think it was a desire for money that made them quit their businesses and follow him either.
What about Paul? Is there any evidence that Paul did it for the money? I couldn't find any. In fact, I found out he got in trouble with at least two of his churches for refusing to accept any support from them: the two churches that gave him trouble were the ones at Thessalonica and Corinth. It seems Paul made his living as a tent-maker, a low income profession to say the least, and he paid for his room and board through that. He refused to accept money for preaching the gospel. Why? Because he didn't want anybody to be confused about his motives for preaching the gospel.
You know we never used flattery or words as cloak for greed...Surely you remember our toil and hardship; we worked day and night in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the Gospel of God to you. (I Thessalonians 2: 5,9 )
We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. One the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you... For we follow this rule we gave you: If any man will not work, he shall not eat. (2 Thessalonians 3: 7-10)
Do we not have the right to our food and drink? ...Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? ...Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put a stumbling block in the way of the gospel of Christ. (I Corinthians 9: 4, 7, & 12; compare also 2 Corinthians 11: 1-2; 12: 11-18)
For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word; but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God. . .we speak... (2 Cor. 2:17)
Paul knew that there are a lot of hucksters in the world. He did not want anyone to be confused about his motives, so he provided his own support. There are a lot of religious hucksters in the world today; it is pretty easy to see that their only real interest is the money. While making a show of religion, they manipulate people with guilt and false hopes so they can rake in the dough. As a result, Christianity is given a bad name; for these hucksters are slick ad. men; but their motives are selfish. Paul did not want the gospel destroyed for the sake of a few dollars, and so he eschewed payment in order to prove that he was not out to make money, and for the sake of preaching, he lived an impoverished life.
Finally, what about afterwards? After Jesus' death (and resurrection?), did the rest of the apostles stand to make much money of the story of his resurrection? No. As a matter of fact, they followed Jesus' teaching about money so strictly that they drove themselves into poverty and almost into starvation.
Jesus said," If you would be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me," (Matthew 19:21), and, "Fear not little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with wallets that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will be your heart also," (Luke 12: 32-34)
The apostles took Jesus' message to heart. And after he was gone, they sold all their possessions and held everything in common (Acts 2: 43-45; 4: 32-34; also Deuteronomy 15: 1-11 -- the idea for this caring of one for another's financial needs is straight from Moses). Twenty years later, circa 55 A.D., when a famine hit Jerusalem, Paul had to go to all his Gentile churches to take up a collection for the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, because they were now starving. The record indicates that those Gentile churches gave and gave because they were so destitute in Judea (2 Corinthians 8 & 9; Romans 15: 25-27; 1 Corinthians 16: 1-4).
From all the evidence I could gather, it seems the ministry for Paul and the other apostles was not a street paved with gold. So, I don't think they did it for money. So, I asked, "could they have done it for power?" Today, many love having power over others; they love to tell people how to think and what to think, and what they must think to be a good Christian and a good American. (There is one in southern Virginia who immediately comes to mind. ) But Jesus told his true followers that we are not to have power over each other because we are all equals before God: "You are not to be called rabbi, for you have One Teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one Master, the Messiah," (Matthew 23: 8-10; 20: 25-28).
And it seems that Paul got in trouble with his churches because he modeled this behavior for his congregations. In Corinth and Galatia, he was challenged and was not considered a legitimate apostle because he was not an authoritarian! In both cases, men from Jerusalem came who were very strict and authoritarian and told the people in Paul's churches what they had to believe and how to behave in order to be true Christians; even forcing the people to get approval for marriage and jobs, etc. (like in a cult).
For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourself! For you take it if a man makes slaves of you, or preys upon you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs...Forgive me, I must say, we too weak for that! (2 Corinthians 11: 19-21)
Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may serve their pride...Oh, how I am in the pains of childbirth until the maturity of the Messiah becomes part of your character, (Galatians 4: 17-19).
In contrast to these self-important "leaders," Paul gets impatient and disappointed with his people when they keep coming to him for advice about everything. He knows that this dependence is immature and unless they grow up, their dependence is a recipe for disaster: those who need to be told when and how to do everything will be prey to cults. Instead, he wants them to be mature and independent adults. The whole point of the gospel, he says, is that we all have direct access to God through the Messiah and that we don't need other men to control us or manipulate us: "It is for freedom that the Messiah has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not submit yourselves again to the yoke of slavery," (Galatians 5: 1). Paul doesn't want power; he wants them to grow up!
But in spite of Paul's yearning, the people in his congregations still fell prey to authoritarian leaders who told the people to reject Paul. Paul lost much esteem and power and authority in Corinth and Galatia because he would not act like a tyrant. So, I don't think it was for power that Paul preached the gospel. There is not that much evidence about the rest of the apostles, but I do know that Peter got in trouble with his church in Jerusalem because he would not use a heavy hand with the new Gentile converts, (Acts 11: 1-18). So, it doesn't seem like he was typical of people whose motive is the pursuit of power.
Not finding much evidence to prove they were power hungry, I wondered "could have told the lie in order to gain respect and honor in the community?" But what I found was more damaging to this theory than of the first two combined. Why? Well, take for instance: Paul. Paul had much more respect and honor before he became a Christian. Paul was well known and highly respected as a member of the Pharisees' ruling party. He says: "For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews my own age because I was so extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers," (Galatians 1: 13 & 14). He had studied the Torah under Rabbi Gamaliel and already had respect and honor, but he gave that all up to preach the gospel. For as soon as he turned to Jesus, he had to leave town. His former friends rejected him; he lost his social standing; he himself was persecuted and in danger of losing his life. Why did he abandon all that? Because he believed Jesus to be the Messiah. Something happened to him that made him willing to abandon all that community respect and esteem and throw it in the dirt. It doesn't seem that it was for respect and honor that he preached Jesus as Messiah, because for Jesus he had to give up his place of respect.
The other disciples fared no better. Before Jesus, they were just average Jews minding their own business. Soon they were to be the most hated and persecuted of all people on earth. They were despised by their friends and their families and were hated by their fellow Jews. They became people without a synagogue; and for what? Because they believed Jesus had been raised from the dead; or at least because they said they believed he had been raised from the dead.
At least as far as I can tell, the apostles didn't do it for respect and honor. So, if they didn't do it for respect, did they do it for fame and popularity? Did they want to be ancient day rock-stars? Well, if they did, they went about it the wrong way because they were not very popular. They were called blasphemers. They were stoned. They were imprisoned. James had his head cut off. Stephen was stoned to death. Peter was crucified upside down. Thomas was killed in India. Most had to flee their homes and towns and Palestine because they were considered heretics. They lost their possessions, their property, and their lives. They were whipped. Their brothers handed them over to the Romans as traitors. They did not get public adulation, nor did they gain followers as political leaders do. They were considered betrayers of the faith; they were hated and not loved. They would have been very disappointed if their motive was fame and popularity, because they got notoriety instead.
What about Paul? He may have had more fame after his conversion, but he was certainly more popular before he changed. Listen to what he went through and see if you would trade places for the sake of that fame:
Five times I have received from the Judeans the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I have daily pressure of my concern for all the churches... In Damascus the governor had the city guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands. (2 Corinthians 11: 24-33)
And eventually, Paul was captured and held as a prisoner for as much as 6 years until, as the tradition has it, he was beheaded in Rome.
Rock stars and movie stars are not dragged through the streets and beaten as the price for popularity. They are revered, they get rich, live in mansions, eat well, jet around the country, go from party to party and make the social circuit, and wherever they go, people fall all over them. The reward for following Jesus as Messiah for Paul and the other apostles was not anything like that. They suffered deprivation; they did not receive a reward of luxury and comfort, riches and wealth. So, I wanted to know why else would they have done it?
The only other motive I could come up to prove your theory was some starry-eyed, religious idealism: somehow, through this story, they they must have hoped to make a better world. I can understand this as a motive; the toughest part of accepting this theory is the question: "could they have done all they did, knowing it was all a lie?" Sometimes people will face difficulty and tragedy and even death for the sake of a cause. Che Guevara, Lenin, Castro, Washington, Jefferson, Adams, for example, all were willing to die for the sake of what they believed. The key is "for what they believed." They all risked, but they did it because they believed their cause to be just. They believed in their ideals. That is the normal motivation for idealists: they believe in their ideals. But how willing are idealists to die, if they know what they believe is a hoax? Communists are willing to die for the cause. They will use subterfuge and propaganda to spread dissension and revolution. But they use lies because they believe in their ultimate purpose: communism. And this is just for some political ideology! Could the disciples been motivated by a similar ideology? Would they have been willing to die for what they knew to be a hoax?
It is possible that they could have been idealists, wanting a better world. But if that is true, they certainly were affected enough by Jesus's teaching to live like him and die like him. Unlike common revolutionaries, they chose to be killed rather than kill; and to live by the principle of non-violence. Then I would ask again whether Jesus' mission was a success or a failure? Many will fight and kill others for profit or for a cause, it is entirely different to be willing to die without fighting back! It takes much greater courage to die for a religious conviction when your teacher tells you that you are not allowed to fight back!!! Martin Luther King, Jr. did it, and so did Gandhi. Could they have done it if they knew what they were doing was a hoax? They would have to have been crazy. I wouldn't do it for the sake of a story I made up with a bunch of other friends. Would you? Would you endure a loss of income, rejection, torture, beatings, and stoning, even the abuse of your wife and children, all for the sake of a lie? I don't think I could.
The disciples all faced death; Paul faced beatings. Would they have done it for a hoax? Would they give up their property, their respect, their, fame and honor, even their lives, for a story they knew to be false? Even if it was for a better world, were they supermen that they could undergo all that torture and not lift a finger to retaliate? All they had to do to spare themselves was to deny that Jesus really was raised from the dead. All they had to do was admit it was all a lie, a big hoax. But they didn't. They submitted to beatings and torture for the sake of a few words. Just think how hard that would be. They must have believed in what they said; at least they were affected by Jesus that much; or else they were the greatest masochists that ever lived. They lived and suffered so that they might teach love and non-violence. So then, do they sound like people who would purposely tell lies?
Paul answered this question when he wrote to Corinth, where some of his people, like you, did not believe that Jesus was raised from the dead. He said that what he was doing made no sense unless Jesus had been raised from the dead. For Paul, a Jew, had no belief in immortality or in an immortal soul; he, like all Jews of his day, believed only in the nephesh, the spirit of God in man, that went back to the Creator upon death. That is why none of the Jews looked forward to immortality of the soul. Instead they hoped for the resurrection of the body; they believed the spirit would be breathed back into the body so that a man would return to life. That is why there is so much resistance to disturbing the graves in Israel today, because the rabbis believe that it is those bones that will come back to life at the resurrection. So, as a Jew, Paul based his belief in Jesus as Messiah on Jesus' resurrected from the dead, an event Paul saw with his own eyes. No other event would have been strong enough to turn Paul from a persecutor of the faith to a preacher of it:
But if it is preached that Messiah has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no general resurrection of the dead? If there is to be no resurrection, then not even Messiah has been raised. And if Messiah has not been raised, our preaching is in vain and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses for God, for we have testified that God raised the Messiah from the dead...If only for this life we have hope in Jesus as Messiah, we are to be pitied above all men. (I Corinthians 15: 12-19).
Why would Paul and the rest of the disciples be pitied above all others? Because they had given up money, fame, power, security, reputation, and honor, all the blessings of this life, for the sake of their belief in the resurrection. They could have had it all. And if Jesus hadn't been raised, then they had not only deprived themselves of all the joys of this life, they had given it all up for the sake of a lie. Paul says then "we should be pitied more than anyone else, because we are the most deceived and have wasted our lives for an error." Paul, at least, seemed to believe that what he was saying was true; that the resurrection was a real event and not just a clever fabrication.
Now Mark, I can't figure it out; it the apostles didn't do it for all the reasons I have mentioned, why then did they do it? Why did they tell this lie? What is the reason they would have suffered all these hardships, knowing it was all a lie? I can only come up with the conclusion that they were willing to suffer all these things because they believed they had seen Jesus the Messiah raised from the dead. At least, that is they way it seems to me. They didn't fabricate it. It was a truth as they saw it that made them willing to die. Now, if it isn't true, what was their motive? Can you think of another explanation? Maybe there is another explanation I haven't considered. Why else did they do it?
I wait your reply.