How did the Apostles die? What does history show and/or the Bible reveal how the 12 Apostles died?
How the Apostles Died
The Bible does not expressly give details about the ways in which the apostles died. We must rely on early church historians and secular historians as well but thankfully both seem to be in agreement and both are reliable. Because of this, we have no reason to disbelieve these accounts as the vast majority of them agree on the method of the apostles’ deaths. We must understand that they were first called disciples which are what every believer is called. Jesus later commissioned them and sent them out to proclaim the gospel. The word apostle means “one sent” and so we can see that disciples and apostles are not the same thing. Every apostle was a disciple but not every disciple is an apostle. Today, anyone who has trusted in Christ is a disciple but the days of apostleship is over and ended with the conclusion of the New Testament. The church, “having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone” cannot have other apostles any more than it can have another cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20) because “no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corintians 3:11). In order for there to be other apostles, we would have to tear down the building again and add to the foundation.
It is believed that most of the apostles died in the middle or late 1st century. We will now examine the historical evidence of how these men died. We begin with perhaps the most well-known of Jesus’ apostles, and that would be Peter.
How the Apostle Peter Died
The knowledge of Peter’s death is widespread among secular and church historians. He was crucified but he thought himself unworthy of the same type of death that Jesus suffered and so asked to be hung upside down which was done in Rome. Jesus saw this coming when He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:18-19). Any time that Jesus said “truly, truly” or “verily, verily” He was putting great emphasis on a truth and Jesus must have known, with certainty, how Peter would die and that they “will stretch out your hands” and “carry you where you do not want to go” clearly implied crucifixion.
How the Apostle Andrew Died
Once again, most historians agree that Andrew was also crucified but he was crucified on an x-shaped cross in Greece. The fact that he was in Greece may mean that he was participating in the Great Commission and taking the gospel to the whole world…at least the known world. This must have meant that he was tilted to one side or the other and was not crucified vertically or horizontally. It is believed that while he hung on that cross and was dying, he called to the crowds and taught them about Jesus Christ and how they might be saved, thus he was sharing the gospel up until the very time of his death on the x-shaped cross…being loyal to the very end.
How the Apostle Matthew Died
Matthew, like most of the apostles late in their lives, became a missionary and was arrested in Ethiopia. It was there that he was staked or impaled to the earth by spears and then beheaded. Not much beyond this is known since Matthew was in such a remote place in Africa and went where few historian or Christians ventured to go.
How the Apostle Bartholomew or Nathaniel Died
Bartholomew is also known as Nathaniel and there is scarce little known about how he died but it appears that since he was martyred in Armenia, he too must have been involved in the Great Commission and taking the good news into that part of the world. Apparently, he became a missionary to Asia Minor. Sadly, most agree that he was basically flayed to death by whip, where he was literally torn to shreds. How agonizing that must have been.
How the Apostle Thomas Died
Again, not very much is known about the method of Thomas’ execution but that maybe due to the fact that he was a missionary in India and was establishing a church there when he was stabbed with a spear and died from the wound. There are so few historical facts that are available beyond this account that we cannot add much to this and do so with absolute certainty.
How the Apostle Philip Died
According to most historians, Philip’s death was exceedingly cruel. He was impaled by iron hooks in his ankles and hung upside down to die. Precious little else is known about the process but it is enough to know how he died.
How the Apostle James (son of Zebedee) Died
The apostle James is not the same James as Jesus brother so we need to establish that fact. James was far from any reliable historical writers or church historians but it is thought that he was beheaded by King Herod near Palestine and not far from where he was a local missionary to the Jews in Judea.
How the Apostle Jude Died
The apostle Jude, who wrote the next to the last book in the New Testament by the same name, went all the way to Persia and it was there that he was crucified by the Magi. It is unlikely that the Magi mentioned in the New Testament who were searching for the child King, Jesus, and the ones who crucified Jude were one and the same. There were many Magi in Persia and so the chances that it would be the same ones who sought Jesus were the same ones who crucified Jude is highly unlikely. Apparently Jude was in Persia on a missionary trip.
How the Apostle Matthias Died
Matthias was the apostle that was selected to replace Judas who hung himself. Acts 1:20-26 reveals how this was done, and some scholars say it may have fulfilled a prophecy in Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8. Regardless of whether the prophecy was about Matthias, he was apparently stoned and then beheaded late in the 1st century.
How the Apostle John Died
This is the disciple whom Jesus loved and was the only one that died a natural death…that is by old age and not martyred. However he was imprisoned on the island of Patmos where he wrote the Book of Revelation. He was later freed and went to Turkey, perhaps on a mission to establish churches there. This is the apostle that is mentioned in John 21:20-23, “Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, ‘Lord, who is the one who betrays You?’ Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, ‘But Lord, what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.’ Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?”
How the Apostle James the Less Died
This is the most inconspicuous of all the apostles and he is called James the Less to distinguish him from the other apostle named James and the James who was Jesus half-brother. James the Less was martyred in a fashion similar to James, the half-brother of Jesus, who was thrown from the pinnacle of the temple and then beaten to death.
How the Apostle Simon Died
The apostle Simon is not Simon Peter (Andrew’s brother) but Simon the Zealot. Once again, very little is known about him inside or outside of the Bible. All that is known about his death is that he was also was crucified.
Judas the Betrayer
It is not fair to call Judas Iscariot an apostle since he was never truly converted or commissioned by Jesus. It may not even be accurate to call him a disciple because he truly did not follow Christ Who said that “whoever would be my disciple must follow after me” (Matthew 16:24). Even so, I thought he should be mentioned. The Bible says that he betrayed Jesus and then being consumed with worldly guilt went out to hang himself (Matthew 27:3-8).
How James, the Brother of Jesus Died
I realize that the brother of Jesus, James, was not an apostle but he was one of the early church leaders and the account of his death is horrific. He died early in the church history while the New Testament was still being compiled. He was believed to have been thrown some 100 feet off a wall. This was done to him after he repeatedly refused to deny his faith in Jesus. After the fall, he was somehow still alive and when they discovered this, his enemies circled him and beat him to death with clubs.
The Apostle Paul
I included Paul among the apostles since he was perhaps the greatest apostle and evangelist the world has ever known and most certainly deserves to be included among the apostles. Second Timothy was the last letter ever written by Paul and in it he knew that the time of his death drew near as he wrote to Timothy “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store 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 longed for his appearing.” You can hear the passion and love of Paul in his last words to Timothy.
He wrote from prison, knowing that his execution was near. Probably Christ Himself must have told him and he was preparing Timothy to take over for him. Listen to the heartbreaking last words of Paul as he awaited his execution in 2 Timothy 4:16-18: “At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” How heartbreaking. Paul was abandoned by everyone as his execution neared…all that is except His cherished Lord. Paul was not ashamed how he lived his life as his death neared. Most historians, both secular and church, say that he was beheaded. His last thoughts must have been of His beloved Lord knowing that since He rescued him from eternal death by saving him, He would rescue him after his physical death and would be with the Lord forever.
How will you die…in your sins? I pray not. If you step out of this life without Christ, then you have sealed your own fate and eternally separated yourself from God. Repent today, confess your sins, see your need for a Savior and put your trust in Jesus Christ and you too will be part of that which is being built today by God and which has as its foundation, the saints of God, the apostles and the Chief Cornerstone, Jesus Christ. There is coming a day when no man or woman can be joined together with Christ so why not decide this very hour for when He comes it will be too late.
Take a look at this related article about the Apostles:
Resources: New International Version Bible THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.  J.H. MacMahon. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent. org/