WHERE WE ARE
There are at least two kinds of pleasure for a skeptic who critically examines the arguments of Christian apologists:
- First, there is the pleasure of shooting fish in a barrel. When I am dealing with the arguments of intellectually deficient philosophers like Peter Kreeft and Norman Geisler, finding problems with their crappy and pathetic arguments provides the pleasure of shooting fish in a barrel.
- Second, there is the pleasure of winning a chess game against a chess master. There are some brilliant Christian philosophers, like Richard Swinburne and William Alston, who argue in defense of Christian beliefs. When I find a serious problem in an argument by Swinburne, I experience the pleasure of winning a chess game against a chess master.
Although I have already provided sufficient reason to conclude that the first premise of Kreeft’s argument (constituting his Objection #2 against the Hallucination Theory) is DUBIOUS, I’m going to continue to hammer on this premise and show that there are further good reasons for rejecting that first premise. In other words, I’m going to enjoy shooting a few more fish.
Here is the first premise of Kreeft’s argument constituting Objection #2:
1a. The witnesses who testified about alleged appearances of the risen Jesus were simple, honest, moral people.
Premise (1a) implies at least six claims about each of the alleged “witnesses”:
______ EXPERIENCED an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus.
______ TESTIFIED about his/her experience of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus.
We currently possess the TESTIMONY of ______ about his/her experience of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus.
______ was a SIMPLE person.
______ was an HONEST person.
______ was a MORALLY GOOD person.
Eleven of the seventeen alleged “witnesses” who Kreeft points out are from an inner circle of Jesus’ disciples known as “the Twelve”. One of “the Twelve” was Judas Iscariot who allegedly betrayed Jesus, and so left (or was kicked out of) the group, leaving eleven disciples in the group. Here is a list of the eleven remaining disciples:
- Simon (whom Jesus named Peter)
- Andrew (Peter’s brother)
- James (son of Zebedee)
- John (son of Zebedee)
- James (son of Alphaeus)
- Simon (called the Zealot)
- Judas (son of James)
Premise (1a) thus implies six different historical claims about each of these eleven disciples. So, Kreeft implies 66 different historical claims about these disciples of Jesus.
In this post, I will argue that not only did Kreeft FAIL to provide ANY HISTORICAL EVIDENCE to support ANY of these 66 different historical claims but that if someone were to try to provide sufficient HISTORICAL EVIDENCE to establish these 66 historical claims, they would inevitably FAIL. Therefore, we ought to reject premise (1a) as being a VERY DUBIOUS claim.
THE IGNORANCE OF PETER KREEFT
One of the benefits of a good education is that it teaches a person some intellectual humility. The more one knows the more one realizes how little one knows. IGNORANT people think they know everything when they actually know almost nothing.
Millions of IGNORANT Americans believe they know better than experienced expert epidemiologists about the danger of COVID, the safety and efficacy of vaccinations for COVID, and the efficacy of wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID. It is likely that about a million Americans will die as a result of such IGNORANCE because so many Americans are blissfully unaware of their own IGNORANCE about COVID.
Peter Kreeft is an IGNORANT person because he is blissfully unaware of his own IGNORANCE. This is particularly the case with respect to his IGNORANCE about Jesus’ inner circle of disciples. Kreeft thinks he knows a lot about the character and the activities of “the twelve” disciples who were the inner circle of Jesus’s followers. But Kreeft is in fact IGNORANT about the character and activities of “the twelve”, for the same reason that we are all ignorant about “the Twelve”: The New Testament tells us very little about the lives of the apostles.
JOHN MEIER’S MAGNUM OPUS: A MARGINAL JEW
The full-strength antidote for the intellectual sloth involved in Kreeft’s Objection #2, 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 some 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.
…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.
OUR IGNORANCE ABOUT INDIVIDUALS IN THE TWELVE
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)
Setting aside Peter, James, and John, we know very little about the remaining eight disciples in the group of eleven disciples about whom Kreeft makes several specific historical claims.
Since Kreeft makes six specific historical claims about each of the eleven disciples, he makes a total of 66 specific historical claims about the eleven disciples, and he makes 48 specific historical claims about the eight disciples about whom we know very little. Thus, MOST of these specific historical claims are about disciples about whom we know very little. So, anyone who attempts to provide sufficient HISTORICAL EVIDENCE to establish the 48 specific historical claims about eight of the eleven disciples is doomed to FAILURE.
THE IMAGINARY APOSTLE
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 probably 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. (AMJ3, 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 probably 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 characters from the Gospel of Mark.
MEIER’S CONCLUSIONS ON OUR IGNORANCE ABOUT SPECIFIC MEMBERS OF “THE TWELVE”
Here is a summary of some of the key points about “the Twelve” apostles from Chapter 27 of John Meier’s A Marginal Jew, Volume 3:
- There is a little bit of information about Andrew during the ministry of Jesus, and there is NO INFORMATION about Andrew after the crucifixion and alleged resurrection of Jesus.
- We know VERY LITTLE about Philip.
- We know NOTHING about Bartholomew.
- We know NOTHING about Matthew.
- We know almost nothing about Thomas.
- James of Alphaeus is a member of the Twelve about whom we have ZERO knowledge.
- We know almost nothing about Simon the Cananean.
- We know almost nothing about Jude of James.
Claims that Kreeft makes about the alleged activities and good character of these disciples cannot be established on the basis of solid historical evidence.
The main problem with premise (1a) of Objection #2 is this: we know very little about the lives of “the Twelve” apostles, so there is insufficient historical knowledge to back up Kreeft’s many historical claims about these disciples, particularly the 48 specific historical claims that he makes about eight of the disciples from the inner circle of “the Twelve” disciples, about whom we know very little.
Kreeft does not make ANY effort whatsoever to provide HISTORICAL EVIDENCE to support ANY of his 66 specific historical claims about the character and activities of the eleven apostles who he claims to be “witnesses” of alleged appearances of the risen Jesus, but even if he were to someday make a serious effort to support his historical claims with HISTORICAL EVIDENCE, he would still FAIL, because the historical evidence that he needs for this objection simply does not exist.
NOTE: Kreeft raised a similar objection in his case against the Conspiracy Theory, another skeptical theory about the alleged resurrection of Jesus. I wrote a series of posts in 2019 arguing that Kreeft’s case against the Conspiracy Theory was a miserable failure. In some of those posts I argued that we are IGNORANT about the lives of most of “the Twelve” disciples because the New Testament provides very little information about most of “the Twelve”. Most of my post above is taken from those previously published posts. If you want more details on this question, please check out the following two posts from 2019:
Defending the Conspiracy Theory – Part 5: Our Ignorance of The Twelve
Defending the Conspiracy Theory – Part 6: More about Our Ignorance
This article is archived.