How Did the Apostle Paul Die?

The Bible contains many details of Paul’s life, both in the book of Acts and in his own letters, but only hints about his death are included. For that reason, we cannot be sure about the details, but putting biblical clues together with writings from the early church, it appears that he died a martyr’s death in Rome, being beheaded during Nero’s reign sometime between A.D. 64-68, during the wave of  persecution spurred because Nero blamed the Christians for the Great Fire in Rome in A.D. 64. 

What does the Bible say?

We know that Paul was in Rome near the end of his life. When the Jews called for his death, he appealed to Caesar, a privilege he had as a Roman citizen. In a vision while Paul was being held in Jerusalem, Jesus had assured him that he would, indeed, see Rome: “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome” (Acts 23:11). The book of Acts ends with an account of Paul sharing the Gospel in Rome. He was under house arrest, but had freedoms, being “allowed the stay by himself with the soldier who guarded him” (Acts 28:16b). The book of Acts ends with Paul having lived in Rome for two years, freely proclaiming the Gospel (see Acts 28:30-31). 

Paul himself writes to Timothy from Rome. Clearly, his words show that he felt he was nearing the end of his life on earth. 

“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”. 

2 Timothy 4:6-7

But the Bible does not document what followed. 

What do other early Christian writings say?

The date of his arrival in Rome documented in Acts was probably A.D. 60. There are two mid-4th century writers that claim he left Rome for a period of time and ministered in Spain (John Chrysostom and Cyril of Jerusalem). His martyr’s death in Rome, however, is substantiated much more widely, being mentioned in the apocryphal Acts of Paul (160) and the writings of Tertullian (200), Eusebius (320), and Jerome (392), among others. Thus, it is generally accepted that he died at Nero’s hand after the Great Fire in Rome by decapitation, since crucifixion was not an accepted way to execute a Roman citizen. It is likely that the Apostle Peter was executed during this same wave of persecution. 

Christians take courage in the Apostle Paul’s words to Timothy as he looked toward his imminent death: 

“Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing”.

2 TImothy 4:8

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