Are there any reliable historical records that show how, where and when the apostle Paul died?


The Holy Scriptures do not record Paul’s death, and although historians agree that Paul was murdered, they are somewhat divided regarding the precise events leading to Paul’s death.

For instance, the 27th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, copyright 1959, writes on page 394, under “Paul”:

“Paul’s fate is hardly obscure. He himself saw that the charge against him, unrebutted by independent evidence, must bring him to the executioner’s sword, the last penalty for a Roman citizen. With this late and century tradition agrees (Tertullian, ‘De praescr. haer.’ 36), namely the very spot on the Ostian Way, marked by a martyr-memorial (‘tropaion,’ Caius ‘ap.’ Euseb. ii 25), probably at the modern Tre Fontane, some three miles from Rome. But the traditional date (June 29) reaches us only on far later authority. Acts simply suggests summer A.D. 62; and we may perhaps imagine Timothy reaching Rome in time to share Paul’s last days.”

Historians are by no means in agreement regarding the actual year of Paul’s death.

“The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics,” by James Hastings, copyright 1917, states on page 694:

“The close of Paul’s life, therefore, like its beginning, is enveloped in obscurity. That he suffered martyrdom at Rome there can be no doubt. That it was by beheading, and that the place of execution was three miles outside the city on the Ostian Way, is the consistent tradition of the Roman Church. The date will lie between A.D. 64 and 67, most probably nearer the former date than the latter limit.”

Historians are divided, whether Paul’s death took place immediately after the end of the events described in Acts 28:30-31, that is, around A.D. 62, or whether a few years after those events, that is, between A.D. 64 and 67. The Broadman Bible Commentary, vol. 10, states on pages 151-152:

“Luke brings his book to a close with a summary account of Paul’s stay in Rome and tells us that he had full freedom in his preaching and teaching… The abruptness of the author’s conclusion has led to much speculation among New Testament scholars. Some believe that the work was unfinished due to the author’s death. Others maintain that the ending of Acts was lost. A few contend that Luke intended to write a third volume…”

We might interject here that some feel that Luke ended the account in the book of Acts in such a drastic way, as he was not inspired to reveal, at that time, the location of the lost ten tribes of the house of Israel. The book of Acts does not report the later activities of the original apostles, such as Peter, because, as some contend, they preached the gospel to the lost ten tribes (compare Matthew 10:6).

The Broadman Bible Commentary continues: “Cadbury (The Beginnings of Christianity, V, 333) cites an imperial edict attributed to the reign of Nero which specifies the time limit when cases were dropped. For capital cases in Roman provinces across the sea which were brought to Rome, the accuser and the accused had to appear in court before the maximum limit of 18 months. If the time limit should be exceeded, the case went by default. Perhaps Luke implied that Paul’s case was dropped by telling us that the apostle lived in Rome for two whole years at his own expense. If this was the situation, the author did end his book in a highly dramatic manner. The default was equivalent to an acquittal before Caesar’s court and gave tacit legal approval to the Christian movement…

“Clement of Rome about A.D. 95 says that Paul ‘preached the gospel to the uttermost bounds of the west.’ It is quite possible that Cement’s information is based on Paul’s express hope to go to Spain (Rom. 15:24,28). Tradition also tells us that the apostle, after his release, was arrested again by Roman officials and put in prison at Rome. Further, during the persecution of Christians by Nero in A.D. 64, Paul was put to death by the executioner’s ax. He was spared from crucifixion because he was a Roman citizen.”

Eusebius explains in “The History of the Church,” edited 1965, pp. 98-99, that Paul was spared in his first trial, as he was “rescued out of the lion’s mouth, the reference being apparently to Nero [or Satan, compare 1 Peter 5:8, using Nero as one of his instruments], because of his bestial cruelty.” Eusebius also explains that “Nero’s tyranny did not begin till A.D. 62, when Paul’s first imprisonment was over.”

Frank J. Goodwin writes in “A Harmony of the Life of St.Paul,” edited 1951, on pages 194-196:

“Paul was acquitted after his first trial, and was remanded to prison… After the first trial nothing is certain. ‘That he underwent execution by the sword,’ says Alford, ‘is the constant tradition of antiquity, and would agree with the fact of his Roman citizenship, which would exempt him from death by torture.’ (Proleg., p. 97). Of his last trial and death there is tradition only, but no history (see Conybeare and Howson, II., pp. 488-490).”

Nevertheless, Conybeare and Howson state, in “The Life and Epistles of St. Paul,” reprinted 1976, on pages 782 and 783, that Paul was released from prison after his first trial, but subsequently again arrested and killed by the Romans. They point out: “The death of St. Paul is recorded by his contemporary Clement…; also by the Roman presbyter Caius (about 200 A.D.) (who alludes to the Ostian road as the site of St. Paul’s martyrdom), by Tertullian, Eusebius…, Jerome, and many subsequent writers… The statement that Paul was beheaded on the Ostian road agrees with the usage of the period, and with the tradition that his decapitation was by the sword not the axe.”

A handout on the Epistles of Paul, by the Ambassador College of the Worldwide Church of God, in the fall of 1982, stated the following under “Rome”:

“Rome, an ancient city dating back some 700 years prior to Christ’s birth, was in the time of Paul the powerful capital of a world-ruling empire. The city sat upon seven hills along the Tiber River in what is today modern Italy. The city itself rests nearly fifteen miles inland from Italy’s western coast.

“Paul’s first visit was in chains from Caesarea. He arrived in Rome after a long troublesome voyage and immediately held conference with Jewish leaders there (Acts 28:16-17). His first imprisonment was in his ‘own hired house’ (Acts 28:30). He received Onesimus here (Philemon10) as well as Epaphroditus (Philippians 4:18). He wrote the ‘Prison Epistles’ of Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians and Philemon probably in 60-61 A.D. He expected acquittal as recorded in Philemon 22.

“Activities between his two Roman imprisonments are rather sketchy. We may wonder if he was able to visit Philippi (Philippians 1:26; 2:24), Colossae (Philemon 22) and Spain (Romans 15:24, 28). We may be rather sure he did visit Ephesus and Macedonia (1 Timothy 1:3; 3:14, 15) as well as Crete (Titus 1:5), Miletus (2 Timothy 4:20), Troas (2 Timothy 4:13), Corinth (2 Timothy 4:20) and Nicopolis (Titus 3:12). It was during this time Paul probably wrote Timothy (first epistle) and Titus from Macedonia.

“Finally we come to Paul’s second arrest, his imprisonment and martyrdom. He is imprisoned as an evil-doer (2 Timothy 1:8; 2:8, 9), and writes his final epistle to Timothy in anticipation of death between 65-67 A.D. The epistle gives detail to Paul’s situation during his second imprisonment. It was here in Rome that tradition stated Paul was beheaded.”

In his remarkable book, “The Drama of the Lost Disciples,” edited 1993, George F. Jowett writes on page 127: “In the year A.D. 66 we are told that Claudia, with her husband and children, rescued the murdered body of St. Paul, interring it in the private burial grounds on the Pudens estate [at Rome], where they were all to rest together.” He continues, on pages 179-180:

“But what of Peter and Paul? Did they remain buried at Rome, in the grave where the loving hands of Claudia, Pudens and their children had placed them?… The positive answer is found in a document written by Pope Vitalian to the British King Oswy, A.D. 656. The letter is still in existence. Probably to the astonishment of many, the letter states that Pope Vitalian permitted the remains of the bodies of St. Paul and St. Peter, with the remains of the martyrs St. Lawrence, St. John, St. Gregory and St. Pancras, to be removed from Rome to England and re-interred in the great church at Canterbury. This historic record is beyond refutation… The full facts concenring this amazing incident are related by the Venerable Bede, A.D. 673-735, in his ‘Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation.'”

Excerpts from the Pope’s letter to King Oswy read [quoted from Opera Historica, Volume I, p. 501]: “But to your messengers, the bearers of this our letter, we have caused to be given the benefits of the saints, that is to say, the relics of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul, and of the holy martyrs, Laurence [or Lawrence], John and Paul and of Gregory and Pancras, all to be delivered truly to your excellency.”

It is therefore reasonably certain that Paul was murdered under Nero through beheading. He was buried in Rome, but his body was later transferred to England, where it is today. Paul is still dead, lying in his grave, and waiting for his resurrection at the time of Christ’s return to this earth, in a few years from now.

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