When I attempt, as a non-Christian, to evaluate the historicity of various historical claims in the New Testament, I come across various things that come across to me as obvious falsifications and propaganda. Examples:

Believers sometimes argue to the contrary that "liars don't make good martyrs." So for example, if skeptics suggest that the miraculous disappearance of Jesus from his tomb may have been the result of fraud by Jesus's followers, a believer might argue that it doesn't make sense for his followers to have concocted this fraud, but then died for their faith.

Can anyone clarify the chronological plausibility of this argument? There was an apostolic period, and there was a period when Christians were being thrown to the lions. But was there enough of a generational overlap between these two periods to make the liars/martyrs argument valid? It seems likely to me that there was essentially a full generation of early Christians that was born after the crucifixion, participated in the myth-making and theology-making of the early church, was not continually afraid of persecution, and intentionally or unintentionally molded their oral retelling of the events of their parents' generation to suit their own purposes in building a new religious cult.

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    The Apostles, except John, were all martyred, according to the bible. I don't know if other sources discuss this much.
    – frеdsbend
    Apr 30, 2017 at 4:04
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    The strength of belief does not depend on the truth or falsity of what's believed in. We can look to more recent history for examples. For instance Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon religion. Or the Branch Davidians, or the southern California sect who killed themselves to go ride on a comet... It's like the old Mark Twain (?) story about the man who started a rumour about a gold strike in Hell. After most of the town had headed off to the new diggings, he figured there must have been some truth to the rumor, so he went too.
    – jamesqf
    Apr 30, 2017 at 5:07
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    I suspect the downvotes come from the phrasing "obvious falsification" and the description of Christianity as a "cult". It gives the impression that the writer has an answer already in mind.
    – pokep
    Apr 30, 2017 at 21:26
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    Why can't the question just be "What is the earliest evidence of Christian persecution?" Then you can draw (or keep) your own conclusions.
    – frеdsbend
    Apr 30, 2017 at 21:51
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this is a better fit for Christianity SE.
    – Tom Au
    Apr 30, 2017 at 23:30

1 Answer 1


King Agrippa began persecuting Christians less than a decade after the crucifixion. And that's just the official persecution.

Saul (yes, that Saul) claimed to have witnessed the stoning of Stephen one year after the crucifixion. Christians were considered by many Jews to be dangerous apostates, and in a time of tremendous social upheaval we should not be surprised that they were persecuted.

Saul/Paul himself was imprisoned more than once. There is little reason to doubt Paul's words about such events - his letters seem candid and often mention details that are somewhat embarrassing. A better liar would likely have presented himself in a better light.

Finally, Nero made persecution imperial policy roughly 32 years after the event. Most of the apostles (that had survived as long) were likely in their mid-50's. Tradition states that 10 of the 12 were martyred. You can quibble with the numbers - few deaths of any kind in that era were documented - but it is hard to make a serious argument that the early disciples of Christ didn't face considerable risk in their efforts to spread their faith.

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    Christians and Jews value humility. The argument that lies should be more self-flattering doesn't really hold in this case, in my opinion. Also, I'd like to see a source for the first statement about Agrippa. Is that the NT only that states this?
    – frеdsbend
    Apr 30, 2017 at 21:47
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    Of Agrippa, Josephus wrote only that Agrippa sought the favor of the Jews which the Bible referred to as Pharisees, and does not explicitly confirm the passages in Acts. So the political situation is confirmed, but the specific acts are not. Tacitius describes the persecution under Nero. Suetonius describes the expulsion of Christians from Rome under Claudius. And Pliny the Younger famously corresponded with Trajan regarding what specific acts of "repentance" were required for a Christian to avoid execution.
    – pokep
    Apr 30, 2017 at 23:00
  • Finally, regarding Paul, "humble" is not a word usually associated with the man. Not everyone is going to be convinced by such arguments, but it is a solid principle of textual analysis that surprising, unflattering details are a good sign that the writer was working from experience.
    – pokep
    Apr 30, 2017 at 23:12
  • I think @pokep is correct here. Also, for scholarship investigating the facts of the events described in the book of Acts I recommend reading "The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History" by Colin J. Hemer. It is hailed as one of the most scholarly works ever produced on the history and backdrop of Acts comparing it to it's broader Roman and Hellenistic setting. I have the book and was fortunate enough to get it at a significantly discounted price. But given how expensive it is your best bet is probably to obtain it through Inter Library Loan (ILL). Jul 9, 2017 at 5:33
  • @pokep Paul himself was persecuting Early Christians before he became a Christian. That's much less than the 10 years after the Crucification, asserted to Agrippa. Nov 28, 2019 at 1:27