Death of the Apostles
Here we look at the death of the apostles which is often asked by the question “How did the Apostles die?”. Research shows us that it is not always straightforward to answer the question correctly for the very simple reason that much of the knowledge is gone.
Although much of the lives of some of the Holy Apostles are unknown, we do know that several of the Apostles became martyrs but how did the apostles die?
We know of the original twelve disciples; 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 into 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.
To start the list of the death of the Apostles with Judas the Traitor is more because we all know the story. Some might say that Judas was not an apostle, we do add him here because he was one of the original 12 disciples.
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
In answer to the question How Did the Apostles Die?, we’ll go to the other ten original apostles giving what information we have found about how they died.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
In Conclusion, How Did the Apostles Die?
The question “How Did the Apostles Die?” is as you can read not easy to answer. 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; https://www.britannica.com/biography/Eusebius-of-Caesarea
The Acts of Philip; https://www.gnosis.org/library/actphil.htm
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs; https://www.ccel.org/f/foxe/martyrs/home.html
The Golden Legend; https://www.christianiconography.info/goldenLegend/bartholomew.htm
The Acts of Thomas; https://www.gnosis.org/library/actthom.htm
Hippolytus, On the Twelve Apostles of Christ; https://biblehub.com/library/hippolytus/the_extant_works_and_fragments_of_hippolytus/hippolytus_on_the_twelve_apostles_.htm
The Acts of Simon and Jude ~ The Golden legend; https://www.christianiconography.info/goldenLegend/simonAndJude.htm
Moses of Chorene; https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10598a.htm
Justice Lipsius; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justus_Lipsius