There are five different possible theories, according to Peter Kreeft, about the alleged resurrection of Jesus:
Peter Kreeft raises seven objections against The Conspiracy Theory (hereafter: TCT).
See Part 3 of this series for my clarification of the content of TCT.
In today’s post, I will consider Kreeft’s first objection to TCT.
OBJECTION #1 AGAINST TCT
For his first objection to TCT, Peter Kreeft quotes Blaise Pascal:
…The hypothesis that the Apostles were knaves is quite absurd. Follow it out to the end, and imagine these twelve men meeting after Jesus’ death and conspiring to say that he has risen from the dead. This means attacking all the powers that be. The human heart is singularly susceptible to fickleness, to change, to promises, to bribery. One of them had only to deny his story under these inducements, or still more because of possible imprisonment, tortures and death, and they would all have been lost. … (Pensees, 322)
NOTE: Kreeft might be referencing page #322 from some edition of Pensees (?). In any case, this quote is NOT from thought #322; it is from thought #801: “Proof of Jesus Christ”.
MY REPLIES TO OBJECTION #1
1. This ASSUMES without any proof that there were powerful people in Palestine in the years immediately following the crucifixion of Jesus who had a strong motivation to persuade or pressure the apostles to deny that they had physically seen the risen Jesus.
2. This ASSUMES without any proof that ALL of the apostles actually and frequently faced attempts at bribery, and serious threats of imprisonment, torture, and death, specifically in order to make them recant their claim to have personally and physically seen the risen Jesus.
What is the HISTORICAL EVIDENCE for these assumptions? The NT tells us very little about the lives of the apostles, especially about their lives after the alleged resurrection of Jesus. What the NT does say about the lives of the apostles is very questionable: written by unknown biased Christian authors, based on second or third-hand accounts, written several decades after the events in question, written in a time when historical accuracy and objectivity was of little concern, etc.
3. Suppose that the apostles did face frequent and serious threats of “imprisonment, tortures and death” related to their Christian preaching; many of them might have been killed off or imprisoned BEFORE they had much of an opportunity to confess that their claim to have physically seen the risen Jesus was an intentional deception.
This would likely have been the case if such threats were aimed at simply silencing them as opposed to making them recant their claims to have physically seen the risen Jesus. If most of the apostles were imprisoned or killed within a few years after the crucifixion of Jesus, then only the few who remained alive and free would need to keep the conspiracy a secret for the decades following the crucifixion of Jesus.
The most natural response of powerful authorities who oppose a religious or ideological movement is to simply silence the leaders of the movement, and NOT to try to argue against the beliefs of the followers of the movement. It is difficult to persuade believers in a cause to change their religious or ideological beliefs, even if one has powerful evidence against those beliefs. It is easier to simply instill fear and to kill or imprison leaders in order to prevent the movement from spreading openly and publicly.
4. What does the phrase “they would all have been lost” mean? Does this mean that the planned deception would have FAILED and the Christian movement would have quickly died out if just one apostle had recanted his testimony about physically seeing the risen Jesus?
That would have been a strong and persuasive response to this charge of “conspiracy”. To the extent that bribes and threats to the apostles to motivate them to recant their testimony were serious and frequent, that would provide an excellent reason for believers to IGNORE the claim of one or two apostles that the resurrection appearance stories of the other apostles was an intentional deception. On the other hand, if such bribes and threats were implausible or infrequent, there would have been a good chance for the conspiracy to remain a secret.
KREEFT’S COMMENT ON OBJECTION #1
Kreeft adds his own comment to Pascal’s objection to TCT:
The “cruncher” in this argument is the historical fact that no one, weak or strong, saint or sinner, Christian or heretic, ever confessed, freely or under pressure, bribe or even torture, that the whole story of the resurrection was a fake, a lie, a deliberate deception. Even when people broke under torture, denied Christ, and worshiped Caesar, they never let that cat out of the bag, never revealed that the resurrection was their conspiracy.
MY REPLIES TO KREEFT’S COMMENT
1. This ASSUMES without any proof that ALL of the apostles actually and frequently faced attempts at bribery, and plausible threats of imprisonment, torture, and death specifically in order to make them recant their claim to have personally and physically seen the risen Jesus.
2. This ASSUMES without any proof that NONE of the apostles EVER stated or implied that the resurrection appearance stories told by the apostles were false or an intentional deception.
Kreeft, like Pascal, FAILS to provide any HISTORICAL EVIDENCE to support his questionable historical assumptions. No historical evidence means that this objection doesn’t even attempt a refutation of TCT. Objection #1 is not even in the ballpark for a “refutation”.
Since the NT provides very little information about the lives of the twelve apostles, especially in the years and decades after Jesus was crucified, there is no historical basis for making such a broad universal negative claim. For all we know, most of the apostles were killed in the first few years after Jesus was crucified, and they never had much opportunity to confess to a conspiracy.
For all we know, most of the apostles abandoned faith in Jesus and went off to live quiet and solitary lives, never preaching about Jesus or the resurrection, and thus never facing threats of “imprisonment, tortures and death”, or perhaps most of them did preach about Jesus and the resurrection for a year or two, and then drifted away from the movement, thus taking themselves out of the spotlight, and avoiding persecution and any threats of “imprisonment, tortures and death” that might have made them admit to a conspiracy.
In the end, Kreeft doesn’t provide a single scrap of historical evidence, not even a single quote from the NT! His Objection #1 to TCT is a miserable and pathetic failure, a clear indication of intellectual carelessness and a delight in ignorance. It suggests that Kreeft has ZERO concern about historical truth or facts. Sadly, Kreeft is not alone in this attitude; it is nearly universal among Christian apologists.