The question “How did the Apostles die?” is often asked and although much of the lives of some of the Holy Apostles is unknown, we do know that several of the Apostles became martyrs.
We know of the original twelve apostles; the men who, during the three years of His ministry, walked with Jesus. In Scripture, we are given an introduction to the twelve when we are told how and when Jesus chose each man.
It follows that throughout the Gospels, many events are given which offer us insight to the apostles and their interaction with Our Lord.
We know more about some than others but do we know how the apostles died?
Go and Make Disciples of All Nations
Jesus’ last words to his disciples were,
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
And this is exactly what they did.
They went to different places in the world, teaching the “Good News.”
We are told some things about their lives after Pentecost but we know little about how the apostles died. Of the twelve, Scripture tells us of the deaths of only two of these men: James and Judas.
Judas the Traitor
To start the list of the death of the Apostles with Judas the Traitor is more because we all know the story.
Judas, overtaken by guilt and without an understanding of Jesus’ forgiveness, committed suicide. (Matthew 27: 3-5).
Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying,
“I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.”
“What is that to us? See to it yourself.”
And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself.
The first apostle to be martyred was Saint James whose death is recorded in Scripture:
About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword………. (Acts 12: 1-2)
The death of the other Apostles
Now, we’ll go to the other ten original apostles giving what information we have found about how they died.
The Death of Simon Peter
Of the original twelve apostles, Peter was probably the most important.
Because Jesus said to Peter,
“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven,”
the Catholic Church believes Peter to have been the first pope.
Church tradition tells us that Peter was killed by Emperor Nero in approximately 64 AD.
A second-century apocryphal text called Acts of Peter was the first account claiming Peter was crucified upside down, which was apparently because he didn’t consider himself worthy of dying the same death as Jesus.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus, although somewhat cryptically, tells Peter of this destiny when He says,
“Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (John 21:18)
Peter was martyred on a cross. He requested to be crucified head downward for he believed that he was not worthy to die in the same way as Jesus had died.
Peter was approximately 64 years old when he died.
His apostolic symbol is a cross upside down with crossed keys.
The death of James the Greater is on record
Saint James was the first apostle to be martyred for following Jesus. His death is one of the only two apostles’ death that is recorded in Scripture.
In Acts 12: 1-2, it is written,
“It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword.”
The Jews wanted to prevent Christianity from spreading and King Herod was eager to acquire popularity with them. He believed that persecuting Christians would help him accomplish this popularity. Scholars generally believe James was killed in Jerusalem in 44 AD.
In the fourth century, Eusebius of Caesarea quoted Clement of Alexandria about James’ death:
“It appears that the guard who brought him into court was so moved when he saw him testify that he confessed that he, too, was a Christian. So they were both taken away together, and on the way, he asked James to forgive him. James thought for a moment, then he said ‘I wish you peace,’ and kissed him. So both were beheaded at the same time.” (Eusebius of Caesarea, Church History)
Saint James was approximately 40 years old when he was martyred.
His apostolic symbol is a sword.
Was Saint Andrew Crucified?
Andrew was Peter’s brother and it is believed that he, too, was crucified.
An apocryphal book, The Acts of Andrew, tells of Andrew’s death.
According to the account given, Andrew, like his brother, did not believe himself worthy to die in the same manner as Jesus and was also crucified.
His crucifixion, however, was different in that he was bound, rather than nailed, to an X-shaped cross.
He was martyred in the Greek city of Patras in 60 AD.
Sadly, the origin of this account is not dependable. The apocryphal book from which it comes also includes many accounts of miracles performed by Andrew. One, in particular, asserts that he preached non-stop for three days as he hung on the cross.
Andrew died at approximately 50 years old.
His apostolic symbol is an X-shaped cross.
The Crucifixion of Philip
Because many Christians confused Philip the Apostle with Philip the Evangelist, an accurate account of Philip’s death is not certain. Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that stories are different and it is not clear which story refers to which Philip.
While it is not certain how the apostle, Philip, died, it is believed that he died around 80 AD in the ancient Greek city of Hierapolis. Polycrates of Ephesus.
The Acts of Philip offers the most thorough account of his death.
This account tells that Philip converted the wife of an Official of Ancient Rome. The official became so angry at this that he had both Philip and Bartholomew crucified upside down.
While hanging there, Philip preached. The crowd became encouraged by his preaching and asked that he be released. The Official released Bartholomew but not Philip.
One of the symbols of Saint Philip is a basket, because of his part in the feeding of the five thousand.
Bartholomew was Martered but HOW?
There is more than one version of how the Apostle Bartholomew’s died.
It is almost certain he was martyred but there are several ways his martyrdom occurred.
Bartholomew was probably martyred—but like many of the apostles, there are several ways it may have happened. The most well-known account is that he was scourged and then beheaded.
Another account is in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs which claims that in India,
“He was at length cruelly beaten and then crucified by the impatient idolaters.”
The Golden Legend (Lives of the Saints) notes several accounts:
“There be diverse opinions of the manner of his passion. For the blessed Dorotheus saith that he was crucified, and saith also: Bartholomew preached to men of India and delivered to them the gospel after Matthew in their proper tongue. He died in Alban, a city of great Armenia, crucified the head downward. Saint Theodorus saith that he was flayed, and it is read in many books that he was beheaded only. And this contrariety may be assoiled in this manner, that some say that he was crucified and was taken down ere he died, and for to have greater torment he was flayed and at the last beheaded.”
Did the spear end the life of Thomas?
There is little debate regarding the death of Saint Thomas.
The Acts of Thomas tells us that he was martyred in Mylapore, India, where he was stabbed with spears.
Syrian Christian tradition specifies Thomas was martyred in Mylapore on July 3, 72 AD, noting that he was killed with a spear. An early ecclesiastical calendar entry reads:
“3 July, Saint Thomas who was pierced with a lance in ‘India’.”
There is no further information or tradition regarding his death.
Thomas was approximately 61 years old when he died.
His apostolic symbol is a spear.
Saint Matthew, beheaded, stoned, burned, stapped or old age?
Like most of the other apostles, there are a few inconsistent accounts of Saint Matthew’s death. There are several differing accounts of how this apostle died.
Clement of Alexandria quotes Heracleon, one of the earliest commentators on the New Testament, as saying that Matthew died naturally:
“But neither will this utterance be found to be spoken universally; for all the saved have confessed with the confession made by the voice, and departed. Of whom are Matthew, Philip, Thomas, Levi, and many others.” (Stromata)
However, most scholars don’t accept Heracleon’s account. Because they are closer to the time when the events actually happened, earlier records are considered to be more dependable.
Earlier accounts agree that Saint Matthew was martyred. Disagreement is in that they do not agree on how or where this occurred. The choices are, burned, beheaded, stoned, or stabbed.
John Foxe’s famous Book of Martyrs record of Matthew states:
“The scene of his labors was Parthia, and Ethiopia, in which latter country he suffered martyrdom, being slain with a halberd in the city of Nadabah, A.D. 60.”
Saint James the Lesser son of Alphaeus
James the Elder was a significant leader in the Church, but James son of Alphaeus (James the lesser), was mentioned only twice in Scripture and is one of the most ambiguous apostles.
As with some of the other apostles, there is disagreement in how James son of Alphaeus died.
Tradition tells us that while he was preaching, he was pushed from the peak of a temple, beaten with a club, and then stoned to death.
Another tradition, however, claims that he preached in Egypt and was crucified there, in the city of Ostrakine.
Hippolytus, a theologian who lived in the second and third centuries, allegedly recorded James’ death in On the Twelve Apostles of Christ:
“And James the son of Alphaeus, when preaching in Jerusalem was stoned to death by the Jews, and was buried there.”
He died in 62 AD.
James the Lesser’s apostolic symbol is a Carpenter’s saw and a fuller’s club.
Saint Jude marted on a mission in India
It is customarily believed that Jude was martyred in Syria when on his missionary journey with Simon the Zealot.
Since this tradition comes from the account given in Acts of Simon and Jude, it is not considered absolute.
Simon the Zealot
Simon the Zealot is one of the vaguest apostles.
Although he was one of the 12 main disciples of Jesus, other than being named in the lists of the apostles, nothing more is told of him in the Gospels.
There are many accounts of Simon’s death but since the earliest account did not come until centuries after his death, it is difficult to know which is reliable.
In the fifth century, Moses of Chorene wrote that Simon the Zealot was martyred in the Kingdom of Iberia.
The Golden Legend says he was martyred in Persia in 65 AD.
Ethiopian Christians believe he was crucified in Samaria.
In the sixteenth century, Justus Lipsius claimed he was sawed in half.
Eastern tradition claims he died of old age in Edessa.
So, in actuality, it is not known for certain how he died.
Saint John Old Age
John is considered to be the only apostle to die of old age.
As Jesus was dying, he commended His mother, Mary to His beloved disciple, John.
After Mary’s Assumption into Heaven, John went to Ephesus.
There he wrote his three epistles.
From Ephesus, he was banished to the island of Patmos.
It was there, where he wrote he wrote the Book of Revelations.
He eventually returned to Ephesus where he died a natural death.
Tertullian, a Christian writer from the late second and early third century, wrote that before the Romans banished John, they brought him into a coliseum and dunked him in a vat of boiling oil.
When he emerged unharmed, the entire coliseum converted to Christianity.
This is why some iconography shows John in a vat of boiling oil.
Accounts of the death of some of the apostles are considered Church history and not debated. Accounts of the deaths of other apostles are contradictory so how these apostles died may be questionable. What is not questionable is the love these men had for Jesus and their dedication to preaching His word.
Eusebius of Caesarea, Church History
The Acts of Andrew
The Acts of Philip
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs
The Golden Legend
The Acts of Thomas
Hippolytus, On the Twelve Apostles of Christ:
The Acts of Simon and Jude ~ The Golden legend
Moses of Chorene