How Did The Apostles Die: What You Want To Know
Modified: January 9, 2024
Answering how did the apostles die open our eyes to their sacrifice, power, and faith in establishing the Church and spreading God's Words.
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Before we answer the question of how did the apostles die, let’s first answer who the apostles were, and what makes an apostle? Often times, the word “apostle” is prone to interchangeability with “disciple”. Actually, an apostle starts off by being a disciple. A disciple is a devoted student with great obedience to their teacher and Jesus had more than just twelve disciples.
However, being an apostle takes more than just being on a mission, these people are gifted with apostleship from the Holy Spirit ( 1 Corinthians 12:27-31 ). Of course, those who receive the Holy Spirit are disciples (like us). An Apostle is someone bearing witness to the life and resurrection of Christ. So, today, no one can gain the title of “Apostle” for they can’t have seen the life and resurrection of Christ (between 28 – 34 A.D). Anyone can be disciples but, not all disciples are apostles. So, giving up their lives to follow Jesus, how did the apostles die?
Deaths of the Apostles
The 12 original Apostles play an essential role as the backbones of the early Christian Church. They were given the challenging mission to spread the Word of God and to introduce the idea of repentance. As expected, their devotion and faith did not appeal to everyone; no religious leader likes to be challenged when it comes to their beliefs in something or someone. Therefore, we can expect that the manner of how did the Apostles die is painful and violent. Aside from the 12, there are also two men of faith who offered their services in establishing the early Church. With that being said, here are the answers as to how did the apostles die.
Read more: Why And How Did Paul The Apostle Die?
Peter (also known as Simon)
The Apostle Peter is one of the most distinguished names in the early leaders of the Church. His name was originally Simon but, after being the first man to publicly acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God, Jesus honored him by changing his name to Peter. He was killed by Emperor Nero after he blamed the Christian for starting the Great Fire of Rome. He died by being crucified, but by request, he was hung upside down. This is because he did not want to be hung in the same manner as Jesus. He said he was unworthy of having the same manner of death as the Son of Man.
At the time, the Romans were known for their experiments when it comes to how they crucified people. They didn’t just crucify people in one position and Peter was one of many who experienced this. The death of Peter was already predicted by Jesus in the Gospel of John. He tells Peter that someone is going to take him to somewhere he would not want to go. The manner of how the apostles die, like Peter, proves their immense faith and devotion to God. In other traditions, Peter is known as the first Pope considering his impact on the early Church.
Andrew, Peter’s brother, was in Jesus’ earliest inner group. During his mission, he went to the “land of man-eaters” or what is now known as the Soviet Union. This is according to the Christians in that area who says that Andrew is the first one to introduce the Gospel to their land.
Unlike Peter’s death, the way Andrew died is debatable. However, clusters of documents found have stated that he died by crucifixion. He was put to death in the city of Patras, Greece around 60 A.D. Like Peter, Andrew didn’t see himself worthy to in the same manner as Jesus did. Therefore, he was bound to the cross (not nailed) and hung in an X-form rather than the usual T-form.
Since he wasn’t crucified, he was tied in an uncomfortable angle which caused him internal complications. Because of this, an X-shaped cross is referred to as Andrew’s Cross. Despite his sorrowful death, the apostle Andrew’s apostolic efforts are remarkable. Additionally, Andrew founded the first Christian church in Byzantium.
James, Son of Alphaeus
How did the apostles die? In James’ case, there are numerous complications from different sources. James is often interchanged as James son of Zebedee who died in the hands of King Herod by a sword. There have been many accounts opposing each other’s party, however, the death of the apostle James by stoning and clubbing has more explanation and proof.
James was preaching in Damascus or what’s known as Syria today. While his efforts did allow many people to convert, he faced his death because of this reason; the Jewish historian Josephus reported that James was stoned but since this didn’t work instantly, he was clubbed to death. The life of James revolved around his devotion to preaching to different audiences and places. Truly, the accounts of his life are quite confusing but, that’s to be expected due to how there are at least three James referred to in the New Testament.
When questioning how did the apostles die, we usually think about the 12 Apostles. And you would then most likely think of the Four Gospels. One famous apostle, John, the author of the fourth Gospel, the Book of John, is known to be the only apostle to die of old age. In John 19: 26-27, Jesus entrusts his mother Mary to John after His death. After Mary’s death, John went to Ephesus. This is where he wrote his epistles. An informational fun fact, an epistle is a form of literature specially directed to a group or person.
After receiving the revelation for Jesus, he wrote the Book of Revelation. This was after he was exiled to Patmos for preaching the Gospel. Still, he made it back to Ephesus and died to old age approximately after 98 AD. Another interesting event that happened to John before he died is how he managed to convert an entire coliseum to Christianity. In front of hundreds, after being dunked in boiling oil, John stood up unharmed, and just like that, he converted plenty.
Read more: What Does The Bible Say About Life In Hell
How did the apostles die? Just like other gruesome accounts, Philip’s narratives on his death is not present in the Bible. Back then, historians confused Philip the Apostle with Philip the Evangelist similarly to what happened to Peter. There are no exact accounts on his death, however, historians were able to grasp the possibility of answering how his death went. Before he died, he managed to convert the proconsul’s wife into a Christian which angered her husband which led to his later death.
Philip died a cruel death according to most historians. He was said to be impaled by iron hooks in his ankles. Not only that, but he was also hung upside down to die. While Philip faced a severely violent death, he was able to establish a powerful ministry in North Africa and in Asia Minor.
Some records of how the apostles die vary from different places and traditions, Bartholomew’s death is one of these. The most consistent depiction of how he died is by beheading. He preached in India, Armenia, Ethiopia, and Southern Arabia. His ministry was a success that led him to face his gruesome death.
Another account of how he died is from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. According to this account, Bartholomew died in India. There, he was cruelly beaten and then crucified by the idolaters. Aside from this, other traditions believe that he was beaten up and drowned after. While these accounts are different from each other, a consistent pattern of how Bartholomew died traces back to his ministry. Therefore, it is made clear that Bartholomew’s apostolic efforts became the prime factor of his death.
The Apostle Thomas had his apostolic efforts active and centered in the area east of Syria. He’s known for being martyred in Mylapore, India in 72 AD. His efforts in preaching and teaching have made ancient Marthoma Christians note him as their founder. He successfully preached and converted many people in his time. Just like how the other apostles died, his devotion to Jesus led him to his death.
While there is no exact account as to the manner of his death, there’s only one surviving narration of his death. According to this, Thomas died a violent death as the spears of four soldiers went through his chest. To prove this, there is an early entry from the ecclesiastical calendar that notes his death with a lance in a place written as “India”. The entry also set an exact date of when he died which is on July 3.
The process of answering how did the apostles die can really branch to varying sources, traditions, and conclusions. Matthew’s death has four major conflicting accounts. First, Clement of Alexandria quotes Heracleon (an early commentator on the New Testament) that Matthew died naturally. The quotation also included Philip, Thomas, and Levi as those who died of old age.
The second account says that he ministered in Parthia and Etiopia. After this, he was slain by a halberd in the City of Nadabah. A halberd is a combination of a battleax and a spear which makes his death more painful and violent, at least in this account. The third account states that Matthew was burned. While the early church fathers say that he was either stoned or beheaded.
Because of the opposing accounts, the death of Matthew is never surely verified. Still, we are sure of one thing and that’s his apostolic efforts in his prime. While having to spend his time mostly in Palestine, Matthew helped plant new congregations and spearheaded the teachings of Christ in the area he focused on.
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James, son of Zebedee
The accounts of how did the apostles die can really be a mind-bender – especially in James’ case where there are three James’s in the New Testament! He and Judas Iscariot are the only apostles with their deaths recorded in the Bible. We can see in the Acts of the Apostles that James was executed with a sword.
The story behind his death lies in the ruling of King Herod. Since the king desired to win the favor of the Jews, he thought that killing Christians would please his Jewish subjects. At the time, the Jews really wanted to prevent Christianity from spreading. Alongside this event is the death of Hames where he was arrested and persecuted after.
Jude is believed to spend his Missionary journey with Simon the Zealot. However, this account comes from the Acts of Simon and Jude which is still being put in question as of today. According to this legend, Simon and Jude were hewed to death. The process of hewing is very violent; this takes an ax or a pick to brutally chop the human body. After this, they were said to be turned into coals.
James and Simon were noted as “enchanters” when they commanded demons to come out of their idols and destroy their fixated reflections. The person behind their death is the religious leaders of the area where they were venturing (accounts say that they focused in Syria). After they were killed, the people honored their deaths. This is the reason why the Apostle Jude is depicted in art as someone with an ax.
Simon the Zealot
As we can see, there are many answers to the question of how did the apostles die. But, Simon the Zealot has the most varying accounts! The earliest records of his death didn’t come out until centuries after he died. The first account states that he was martyred in the Kingdom of Iberia. This is according to Moses of Chorene in the fifth century.
The Golden legend opposes this and says that Simon was actually martyred in Persia. On the other hand, the Ethiopian Christians believe that he wasn’t just martyred but, crucified in Samaria. Another account informs us that he was crucified in Britain. After the fifth century, accounts like Justus Lipsius claims that Simon was sawed in half. While the Eastern tradition insists that he died of old age in Edessa.
Clearly, Simon’s accounts contradict each other. But, we are certain of his success in spreading the teachings of Jesus Christ which led him to his death. According to most accounts, Simon preached the Gospel in many places but, he focused on Egypt. The area where he died is still in question.
Judas Iscariot’s death is recorded in the Bible, unlike the other apostles. Since his and James’ are the only deaths that were recorded, answering how he died is easier to verify. Unlike James however, he didn’t die a martyr. Instead, he committed suicide after betraying Jesus. But, it does not end here; the Bible has two accounts of how exactly Judas took his life.
Matthew 27:3 – 10 records Judas throwing the money that the priests refused to take back and immediately hung himself. On the other hand, Acts 1:18-19 says that he fell headlong with his body bursting open and his intestines spilling out in the Field of Blood in which Judas bought. If we think about this, these accounts do not contradict each other since the version of Acts simply points out what happened after Judas hung himself.
We can verify that Judas died at a similar time as Jesus did. In the Bible interestingly, only the Book of Matthew depicts the remorse Judas felt as he hung himself. His death is confirmed by the Words of the Bible and there are no other records than this.
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After Judas Iscariot committed suicide and Jesus ascended to heaven, the other members of the original lineup of the apostles chose Matthias to replace Judas. We can see this in Acts 1:12-26. There aren’t many accounts as to how Matthias died (or even how he lived) but, some accounts say that he was stoned in Aethiopia (known as Georgia today), others say that he was stoned by the Jews and then beheaded in Jerusalem. Lastly, another record from Hippolytus of Rome says that he died in Jerusalem of old age.
Unlike the conflicting accounts answering how did the apostles die, Paul’s death is well-documented although it is not stated in the Bible. Though Paul is an Apostle, he isn’t a part of the original 12 apostles. But, he devoted his life as an apostle to the Gentiles for a lot of time. The early church leaders record Paul’s death due to being beheaded by King Nero. From this record, the historians and church leaders concluded that Paul died probably around 68 AD.
Aside from this, Clement of Rome gave the earliest record of Paul’s death in his letter to the Corinthians. Another source is from the Acts of Paul which says that Nero decapitated him. Other Christian writers and historians also managed to dig support and provide additional details such as where he died and where he was buried. From these records, it was found that he died in Rome and was buried in the Ostian Way, still in Rome.
Indeed, the manner of how did the apostles die is gruesome. But, these men devoted their lives to faith and serving the mission God has endowed them. The apostles are surely an inspirational icon for the believers. They are the living example of being brave by becoming great leaders in spreading the Word of God. Because of their sacrifices. the Church we know today is more free, accessible, and open to God’s teachings.