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What Happened to the Original Apostles?
We know that Jesus was crucified (from biblical accounts plus sources outside the Bible), but how did His Apostles meet their deaths? After Jesus was baptized, he picked twelve men to be his Apostles. While the New Testament does describe the actions of some of the Apostles after Jesus, it only tells of the deaths of two of the original Twelve Apostles. Who are these two? Judas Iscariot and James the Greater. Judas committed suicide and James was put to death by with a sword. So what happened to the rest? Sad to say, very little is known for certain. What we do have outside of the Bible is often sketchy and usually contradictory. Accounts of the lives of several of the Apostles were written in the 100s and even 200s, but that was 100 years or more after their deaths and so are not very reliable. What we do have is below.
Peter’s article: We know more of Peter’s life after Jesus than any of the other original 12 Apostles. Acts chapters 1-12 focuses on Peter’s life and so we know he visited Jerusalem and traveled as far north as Syria. It is also probable that he traveled to parts of Asia Minor (current day Turkey and Greece). Numerous accounts place him in Rome at the end of his life, where he died (on the same day as Paul) probably during the Nero persecution of Christians of AD 64. We have the following account from “The Martyrdom of Peter and Paul” (found at www.ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-08/anf08-87.htm#P7429_2259968): “Then both Peter and Paul were led away from the presence of Nero. And Paul was beheaded on the Ostesian road. And Peter, having come to the cross, said: ‘Since my Lord Jesus Christ, who came down from the heaven upon the earth, was raised upon the cross upright, and He has deigned to call to heaven me, who am of the earth, my cross ought to be fixed head down most, so as to direct my feet towards heaven; for I am not worthy to be crucified like my Lord. Then, having reversed the cross, they nailed his feet up.”
James the Greater’s article: According to Acts 12:1-2, James was beheaded by the order of Herod Agrippa; this probably occurred in AD 44, fourteen years after Jesus ascended to heaven. Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great who killed all the baby boys in an attempt also to kill the baby Jesus, persecuted the Christians in order to please the Jews. Eusebius, who wrote an early church history book, wrote that the man who led James to his death was so moved by James’ defense that he became a Christian and was also beheaded.
John’s article: Through several different accounts we learn that John ended up in Ephesus. This may have been due to the firmly established church in that city which Paul had founded. (Paul lived in Ephesus for three years and the letter he wrote to the Ephesians perhaps indicates that he favored that city over the others to which he wrote.) Revelation states that John was on the island of Patmos (just southwest from Ephesus in the Mediterranean Sea); this probably occurred during the reign of the emperor Domitian, who died in AD 96 and probably during the latter part of Domitian’s life. (AD 95 is the date I usually see for John’s time on Patmos.) John is believed to have been the only original Apostle who died a natural death, around the year AD 100. In the last years of his life he was reported as repeating the same saying over and over: “Little children, love one another.”
Andrew’s article: Numerous accounts places Andrew in different locations north of Israel, even as far north as Istanbul. Most traditions stated that Andrew was crucified, although he was not nailed to a cross but bound in order to prolong his suffering. This could have occurred under Nero in AD 60.
Philip’s article: All we have is a highly doubted account which states that he was crucified in Asia.
Bartholomew’s article: Bartholomew and Nathaniel are probably the same person; Matthew, Mark, and Luke mention an apostle Bartholomew while John mentions an apostle Nathaniel. Numerous and conflicting accounts place him in India, Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt, and long the Black Sea. One account states that Nathaniel brought the Gospel of Matthew to India. Likewise, nothing is known for certain of his death. One account states he was beheaded and another account states that he was flayed alive (skinned) and then crucified head downward.
Thomas’ article: According to numerous accounts, Thomas ended up in India, either by traveling there himself or being sold as a slave and taken there. He preached in India for the rest of life. One account states that he was martyred by being pierced through with spears by four soldiers. To see the evidence of how we know Thomas made it to India (including an eyewitness account by Marco Polo), go here.
Matthew’s article: Different accounts place Matthew in different locations, but most agree that at some point Matthew was in Ethiopia. As for his death, some say he died a natural death, while others suggest being burned at a stake, stoned, or beheaded.
James’ article: He is known as James the Lesser to distinguish him from James the brother of John. Nothing is known of his death, only sketchy accounts that he died at the hands of the Jews.
Thaddeus’ article: According to sketchy accounts he preached in Persia and was martyred there.
Simon’s article: Different accounts have him traveling to Egypt, North Africa, Britain, and Samaria. His death also has divergent traditions, in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the Roman Empire.
©2005 Mark Nickens
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