Would someone die for what they knew was a lie?

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An often used modern argument for the truth of the resurrection of Jesus is that of martyrdom. The claim is that all of the apostles would have had first-hand knowledge as to whether or not Jesus actually returned from the dead and confirmed that he was the Son of God. As they died rather than admit the account was false, this suggests that rather than just believe that it was true like other martyrs in other faiths, they knew it was true for a fact.


  • The premise that people would never "die for a lie" is demonstrably false. People throughout history have, in fact, died for beliefs which turned out to be false, deceptive, poorly understood, and even mutually exclusive. For example, many thousands of Germans died during World War II based on the belief that they were the "master race" and were justified in conquering other nations for "living space". Also during World War II, many Japanese civilians committed suicide rather than being captured by the Americans because of the false belief they would be mistreated. In 1993, 76 people died at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco Texas because they believed their leader, David Koresh was a prophet of god.

Examples like the September 11th attacks indicate that people are willing to die for their beliefs, and this argument would imply that Islam is just as true as Christianity.

  • The Apostles may well have had first hand knowledge but that doesn't lend any credibility to the claim because we don't have first hand knowledge about them or of their claims. Any number of people can have first hand knowledge of Spiderman as stated in his comics, but we still don't believe in Spiderman's authenticity.
  • Implicit in this argument is the idea that the miracles of Jesus therefore actually happened, which is not supported by the premise that his apostles would not have died for a lie. This conclusion ignores several other possibilities:
    1. The apostles strongly believed the stories to be true, but were mistaken:
      • The ones who were killed never actually witnessed the events take place themselves, but were told by other apostles, whom they trusted.
      • They convinced themselves the stories were true, to the point of actually believing they were, even though what they witnessed directly contradicted them.
      • They remembered the details of the events differently than they witnessed, because the false details were constantly reinforced by everyone they kept company with.
      • They were fooled. They really did see the events, but what they saw was a trick.
    2. The apostles did not believe all of the stories, but died for another reason:
      • They believed the literal truth of John 3:16 Bible-icon.png, and thought they would not die.
      • They considered the cause to be just, even though they knew some of the stories were embellished or exaggerated.
      • They were protecting the lives of other people.
      • They were killed because they were public figureheads for the cause, not due to the specific stories they maintained or denied.
      • They were killed without being given opportunity to retract their stories.
      • They stuck to their story to maintain some dignity in their death, as they were going to be killed either way.
      • They intended to become martyrs.
    3. The apostles admitted the stories were not true, but the admission was never made public.
    4. They did die protecting the truth, but the stories of those events were later embellished. The "miracles" we now read about are not what they actually saw and died for.
    5. The stories of the apostles' deaths were themselves later embellished to present them as martyrs.
    6. The apostles were never killed.
    7. The existence of the apostles was also an invention.
  • Assuming the bible is true, Jesus didn't die, he was found alive some days after his crucifixion.*
  • This is false, according to the Bible Jesus did die and was resurrected, ergo creating a difference between resuscitation and resurrection. The gospels say that Jesus died on the cross as a result of crucifixion, if that doesn't prove his death, being in a sealed tomb for three days does. Furthermore, according to gospel accounts and other accounts, upon Jesus' resurrection it is said that he had wounds but wasn't in a state of looking ill (as would be the result of crucifixion and being in a tomb for three days). Thus Jesus had to die and resurrect, not just resuscitate.

Achtemeier, Paul J. "Introducing the New Testament." Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eardmans Publishing Company. 2001.

v · d Arguments for the existence of god
Anthropic arguments   Anthropic principle · Natural-law argument
Arguments for belief   Pascal's Wager · Argument from faith · Just hit your knees
Christological arguments   Argument from scriptural miracles · Would someone die for a lie? · Liar, Lunatic or Lord
Cosmological arguments   Argument from aesthetic experience · Argument from contingency · Cosmological argument · Fine-tuning argument · Kalam · Leibniz cosmological argument · Principle of sufficient reason · Unmoved mover · Why is there something rather than nothing?
Majority arguments   Argument from admired religious scientists
Moral arguments   Argument from justice · Divine command theory
Ontological argument   Argument from degree · Argument from desire · Origin of the idea of God
Dogmatic arguments   Argument from divine sense · Argument from uniqueness
Teleological arguments   Argument from design · Banana argument · 747 Junkyard argument · Laminin argument · Argument from natural disasters
Testimonial arguments   Argument from observed miracles · Personal experience · Argument from consciousness · Emotional pleas · Efficacy of prayer
Transcendental arguments   God created numbers · Argument from the meaning of life
Scriptural arguments   Scriptural inerrancy · Scriptural scientific foreknowledge · Scriptural codes
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