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I have heard that all the apostles except for St John were martyred. How were they killed?
Thank you for your question about the martyrdom of the apostles. The bible and church history records many people being killed as a result of their faith in Jesus.
The word martyr comes from Greek and means “witness”. In the first century the word came to be associated with those “witnesses” of Jesus who were killed because of their faith in Jesus.
In Revelation 6:9 we read that John, in his vision, saw the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. This means that we can be sure that early in the history of the Church many had been killed for their faith in Jesus, including good friends of John.
What the Bible tells us:
James, the brother of John was killed by the sword under King Herod (Acts 12:1-2).
Peter - Jesus’ words in John 21:18-19 suggest that Peter would “stretch out his hands” in death. Early Christian writings from as early as 80AD confirm this, suggesting that Peter was crucified in Rome (some say upside-down at his own request) by the emperor Nero.
Stephen was stoned to death (Acts 7:54-8:1). Although he is regarded as the first Christian martyr, he was not one of the Apostles who had followed Jesus during his time on earth. This does show that martyrdom was not something just for the disciples, but was something that all of Jesus' followers could face.
What historians tell us:
There are various historical theories about the martyrdom of James the brother of Jesus, and one of his closest disciples. The fullest account by the Jewish historian Josephus suggests that James was stoned to death under the command of the High Priest Hanan ben Hanan in about 62AD.
What later tradition tells us:
Matthew was likely beheaded at Nad-Davar sometime around 60AD.
Philip was supposedly tortured and crucified upside-down after having angered the proconsul of Hierapolis. Philip is said to have brought the proconsul’s wife to faith in Jesus, and was still preaching whilst on his cross. This suggestion comes from the late 4th century but cannot be proved.
Some traditions suggest that Andrew was crucified in Patras, Achaea, but on an X shaped cross because he did not regard himself worthy to suffer the same death as Jesus.
Abidas, Bishop of Babylon is said to have written about the martyrdom of Simon and Jude in Beirut, Syria. In art, Simon is often holding a saw, while Jude is seen holding an axe, suggesting their method of execution. Historians and scholars date Abidas’ writings to the 5th century or even later.
Bartholomew is said to have converted the king of Armenia, leading the king’s brother to have Bartholomew skinned alive and then crucified.
Ignatius writes in 110AD that Paul was martyred, and many other early writers confirm the tradition that the Emperor Nero had him beheaded in Rome. We know from his letters that he was imprisoned and expected to die there.
Some of these are argued against and it’s very hard to find clear evidence. So, it may be true that all of the apostles except John were martyred (although even he encountered his fair share of suffering throughout his life) but for at least half of them, we simply can’t be completely sure of when, where and how. We must not place the same trust in human tradition and speculation as we place in God’s words in the Bible.
We might ask: “Why doesn’t the Bible give us many or any details about the deaths of the apostles?” In the end, it is for this reason: the most important death of all was that of Jesus himself. The Bible doesn’t want to draw our attention to the achievements of any ordinary men, and we are not meant to worship or venerate the apostles. Everything in God’s word points us to worship and celebrate Jesus. The Apostles, however brave, have no power to save or change lives. Jesus’ crucifixion was not the end of an ordinary man’s life; He was raised from death, bringing new life for everyone who trusts him.
Looking to heroes of the faith throughout history can inspire us, excite us and even shock us. Many Christians today, and throughout the centuries, are still murdered for their faith. Perhaps looking to these brave men, women and children who loved Jesus and believed the gospel should inspire us to live boldly for Him and help us reflect on how seriously we take our faith in Jesus.
I do hope this general answer to your question goes some way to helping you find peace with God through Jesus Christ our Lord. If you want to know more about what Jesus has done for you please watch the video on the main part of our site: www.lookingforGod.com
In closing, I want to encourage you to get more involved with your local church. It would be good to speak to a Christian leader or another trusted church individual regarding your question. I know they would be delighted to further answer you as well as offer prayer and support as you continue your spiritual journey:
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*All Scripture references are taken From The English Standard Version of the Holy Bible unless stated otherwise
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