Defending the Conspiracy Theory – Part 5: Our Ignorance of The Twelve

There are five different possible theories about the alleged resurrection of Jesus, according to Peter Kreeft:

The Conspiracy Theory is one of the skeptical theories about the resurrection.  See Part 3 of this series for my clarification of the content of TCT.


In Part 4 of this series I replied to Objection #1 of Peter Kreeft’s seven objections against The Conspiracy Theory (hereafter: TCT).

In today’s post, I will provide evidence to support one of my main 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.


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.


The full-strength antidote for the intellectual sloth involved in Kreeft’s Objection #1, is to read Chapter 27 of A Marginal Jew, Volume III: Companions and Competitors by John P. Meier (hereafter: AMJ3).  However, I will provide a healthy dose of Meier’s medicine by presenting many of the key points made by Meier, points supporting my claim that, “The NT tells us very little about the lives of the apostles, especially about their lives after the alleged resurrection of Jesus.”

John Meier:

…is a professor of the New Testament at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.  He has been both president of the Catholic Biblical Association and the general editor of the Catholic Biblical Quarterly. (from the back flap of AMJ3)

Meier is a leading scholar concerning the historical study of Jesus.


It is NOT an established historical FACT that Jesus actually had an inner circle of twelve disciples:

…a number of distinguished  critics throughout the 20th century have considered it probable or certain that the group called the Twelve actually arose in the early church and was later retrojected into the ministry of Jesus. (AMJ3, p.128)

But in Chapter 26, Meier goes on to present a careful and scholarly defense of the view that Jesus did actually have an inner circle of twelve disciples (i.e. “the Twelve”).  He summarizes his case for the historicity of “the Twelve” this way:

In sum, Mark, John, Paul, probably L [the special sources used by the author of the gospel of Luke], and probably Q give multiple attestation from independent sources that the Twelve existed as an identifiable public group during the public ministry [of Jesus]. (AMJ3, p.141)

Since I have doubts about the historicity of Jesus, I also have doubts about the historicity of “the Twelve”, but at least Meier puts forward a careful and scholarly case for the historicity of “the Twelve”.

I will grant, for now, the assumption of the historicity of “the Twelve”.  This is in keeping with a defense of TCT, since TCT itself assumes that Jesus actually existed and that “the Twelve” actually existed.  It is important, however, to bear in mind that the historicity of “the Twelve” is NOT an established historical fact, but is at best an historical claim which can be supported by a careful and scholarly case that makes use of actual historical evidence.


Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus and then killed himself, according the the NT.  So, another disciple of Jesus was promoted to take the position left vacant in the Twelve by the departure of Judas:

Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”

And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

(Acts 1:24-26, New Revised Standard Version)

Matthias replaced Judas and was probably the fourteenth member of “the Twelve”, because it appears that there had previously been thirteen individuals in “the Twelve”.   During Jesus’ ministry, before Judas Iscariot left the Twelve, there was another disciple in the inner circle who left and was replaced: it is likely that Thaddeus was replaced by Jude of James during Jesus’ ministry.

There are four lists of the names of the Twelve in the NT.  In the lists from Mark and Matthew (Mark 3:16-19 & Matthew 10:2-4) we find a disciple named “Thaddeus”, but in the lists from Luke and Acts (Luke 6:14-18 & Acts 1:13), we don’t find “Thaddeus”, and instead we find “Jude of James”.  Some commentators explain this discrepancy by claiming these are different names for the same person, but John Meier doesn’t find that to be a plausible view: “…this solution smacks of harmonization.” (AMJ3, p.131)

Instead, Meier thinks it is more plausible that one of the Twelve was replaced during Jesus’ ministry:

Considering Jesus’ stringent demands on the Twelve to leave family, home, and possessions to be his permanent entourage on his preaching tours through Galilee and Judea, we should not be astonished that, sometime during the two years of the ministry, at least one member left the group.  Any number of reasons might be suggested for the departure: voluntary leave-taking, dismissal by Jesus, illness, or even death.  Whatever the cause, it may well be that one member of the Twelve departed and was replaced by another disciple. (AMJ3, p.131)

In other words, it is more likely that Thaddeus and Jude of James were two different people, and that one of them replaced the other during the ministry of Jesus.  Since the gospel of John places a second Judas (i.e. Jude) at the Last Supper (John 14:22), it appears that Jude of James had replaced Thaddeus sometime prior to the Last Supper, although Meier says that it is “by no means certain that Jude of James is to be identified with the ‘Judas, not the Iscariot’ who asks Jesus a question at the Last Supper…” (AMJ3, p.200)

Contrary to common belief, the group known as “the Twelve” probably contained at least fourteen different individuals, because of departures and replacements of individuals (Matthias for Judas Iscariot, and Jude of James for Thaddeus).


The Gospel of Matthew provides a list of the Twelve, and that list includes a person who probably did NOT exist:

…and Matthew the tax collector…(Matthew 10:3)

The author of the First Gospel was probably NOT Matthew the apostle.  One reason for doubting that Matthew the apostle was the author of the First Gospel is that the list of the Twelve contains an imaginary Matthew.  Although there was a person named “Matthew” among the Twelve, Matthew was NOT a tax collector, so far as we know.  The author of the First Gospel used the Gospel of Mark as a primary source, but revised and edited the material from Mark, including changing the name of a person:

The variations in the second block of four names [in the lists of the Twelve] are likewise due to the First Evangelist’s redactional activity: he changes the name of Levi the toll collector in Mark 2:14 to that of Matthew the toll collector in Matt 9:9.  He thus assures that every named individual who is directly called to discipleship by Jesus winds up in the list of the Twelve.  The First Evangelist hammers home the identification by appending the designation “the toll collector”…to the name of Matthew in the list of the Twelve.  (AMJ, p.132)

In other words, Levi the tax collector was NOT one of the Twelve, but was just an ordinary disciple, but the author of the First Gospel (the Gospel of Matthew) changed the story that came from his primary source Mark, to turn Levi the tax collector into one of the Twelve by changing his name to “Matthew”, the name of one of the Twelve in Mark’s list.  So, Levi the tax collector was probably an actual person, but he was NOT among the Twelve, and there was a disciple named Matthew who was among the Twelve, but Matthew was NOT a tax collector (at least it is very unlikely that Matthew also happened to be a tax collector).  So, the person called “Matthew the tax collector” probably did not exist.  This is a fictional character created by combining features of two different historical individuals.


The assumption of the actual existence of “the Twelve” does NOT mean that we can assume anything in particular about the individual people who make up that group.  In the opening pages of Chapter 27, John Meier indicates that we have very little knowledge about these people:

With the exception of very few of them, the lives of the Twelve, however full and exciting they may have been in the 1st century, have been lost to our ken forever.  (AMJ3, p.198)

If we restrict our question to what we can know about the individual members of the Twelve during the public ministry of Jesus, then the answer, apart from a few special cases, must be almost entirely negative.  In fact, even if we extend our glance into the early church, the result is still zero, with a few precious exceptions. 

>>>If we document this inverse insight (i.e., one comes to know that there is nothing further to know), I will examine in turn each member of the Twelve, touching only in passing on the endless pious legends or gnostic fantasies of a later period.  Most of the space given to each individual will be taken up with pointing out that later legends yield no historical data for our quest. (AMJ3, p.199)

In the end, of all the members of the Twelve, only Peter, and, to a lesser degree, the sons of Zebedee emerge from the shadow of the group to stand on their own as knowable individuals. (AMJ3, p.199)

Let’s consider each one of the Twelve, one at a time, to reinforce these general points by Meier.


To start with the absolute dead ends: Bartholomew is mentioned in all four lists of the Twelve, and nowhere else in the NT.   (AMJ3, p.199)

We know NOTHING about Bartholomew.

One down; thirteen more to go.


Jude (or Judas or Judah) of James is even more of an unknown [than Bartholomew], occurring only in the Lucan lists of the Twelve (Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13). …It is possible but by no means certain, that Jude of James is to be identified with the “Judas, not the Iscariot” who asks Jesus a question at the Last Supper in John 14:22. …       (AMJ3, p.200)

We know almost nothing about Jude of James.

Two down; twelve more to go.


Once one rejects the identification of Jude of James with Thaddeus, there is nothing to be known or said about the latter–except that, by way of Jude, he too became identified with the ever-popular Thomas.   (AMJ3, p.200)

We are completely ignorant about Thaddeus.

Three down; eleven to go.

Noticing a pattern here?


James “of Alphaeus” (probably in the sense of James the son of Alphaeus) always begins the third group of four names in the lists of the Twelve.  That is all we know about him.  (AMJ3, p.201)

James of Alphaeus is a member of the Twelve about whom we have ZERO knowledge.

Four down; ten to go.


… both the Marcan and the Lucan Gospels distinguish between Levi, a toll collector whom Jesus called to be a disciple (Mark 2:14||Luke 5:27), and Matthew, who appears in the lists of the Twelve, who has no description after his name, and about whom nothing else is known (Mark 3:18||Luke 6:15).  It is the Matthean Gospel that creates a cross-reference and identification [between Levi and Matthew]… …the change of names is a redactional intervention of a Christian evangelist toward the end of the 1st century and tells us nothing about an original member of the Twelve named Matthew.  (AMJ3, p.201)

We know NOTHING about Matthew.

Five down; nine to go.


In the Synoptics [i.e. Matthew, Mark, & Luke] and Acts, he [Philip] exists as an individual nowhere outside the lists of the Twelve.  In contrast, he is one of the more prominent disciples in John’s Gospel, usually appearing in the company of Andrew. (AMJ3, p.201)

However, the Gospel of John is NOT a reliable source of information about Philip:

…Philip, like everyone else in John’s Gospel, can serve as a mouthpiece or symbol of Johanine theology. …One cannot help but detect here the deft theological hand of the evangelist.  Hence it is difficult to know how much of the special Johannine material about Philip may reach back to reliable information about him circulating in the early church.  (AMJ3, p.202)

But there are a few points about Philip in John’s Gospel that Meier thinks might be historical:

Since no particular theological points seem to be scored by the assertions that Philip was from Bethsaida and that he was a companion of Andrew, these may be nuggets of historical tradition.  Critics have likewise been willing to grant that Philip…may well have met Jesus for the first time in the circle of the Baptist’s disciples.   (AMJ3, p.202)

But overall, we don’t have any significant information about Philip:

Even if we accept these points as historical, they tell us very little about Philip as an individual.  We know nothing about his activity in the early church.   (AMJ3, p.202)

We know VERY LITTLE about Philip.

Six down; eight to go.


In the Gospel of John:

  • Andrew is the brother of Peter. (John 1:40)
  • Like Philip, Andrew is from the city Bethsaida. (John 1:44)
  • At the Feeding of the Five Thousand, Andrew asks Jesus a question: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” (John 6:9)
  • Philip and Andrew inform Jesus that some Greeks who are visiting Jerusalem are seeking to meet Jesus. (John 12:20-22)

In the Synoptic Gospels (points from AMJ3, p.203):

  • Jesus calls Peter and Andrew together to become “fishers of men” in Mark 1:16-18||Matthew 4:18-20. 
  • Mark–and only Mark–also mentions Andrew in the company of Peter, James, and John at the beginning of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (1:29). 
  • With the exception of the list of the names of the Twelve (Mark 3:18), Andrew disappears from the rest of the public ministry in Mark.
  •  Mark brings Andrew back (13:3) in the company of Peter, James, and John at the beginning of Jesus’ eschatological discourse…
  • Apart from a few parallels to Marcan pericopes in Matthew and Luke, and the four lists of the Twelve, Andrew figures nowhere else in the Synoptics and Acts.

In Acts:

…Andrew completely disappears from Acts, and hence the history of the early church after his name is listed among the Eleven in Acts 1:13. (AMJ3, p.203)

There is a little bit of information in the NT about Andrew during the ministry of Jesus, and there is NO INFORMATION about Andrew after the crucifixion and alleged resurrection of Jesus.

Seven down; seven to go.

To Be Continued…