QUESTIONS ABOUT THE NEW TESTAMENT
Readers of the New Testament may eventually find themselves wondering about the fate of the many people that appear, especially the apostles who were so important to Jesus and to whom he gave his commission to take the Gospel to the world. Little can be gleaned from the New Testament, but other sources throw some light on what may have happened to a few of these men (and women).
Of the twelve original apostles, Judas Iscariot died at the time Jesus was sentenced to death. Of the remaining eleven, there is only a New Testament account of the death of James the Greater, the son of Zebedee and brother of the apostle John some ten years later. The fate of the remainder and where they preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ comes from a variety of ancient traditions.
Such traditions also apply to Matthias who replaced Judas Iscariot, and to the death of the apostle Paul.
Few, if any of the traditions can be proved, but for some, the circumstantial evidence appears quite strong.
This part actually starts with John the Baptist whose fate, in contrast with most of the apostles, is documented in three of the Gospels.
Map - Traditional Locations Where the Apostles Preached and Died
Key: + - the traditional place(s) of death of the Apostles and John the Baptist
Most of the locations where the Apostles preached and died come from various ancient traditions.
Paul's travels are recorded in Acts
2. JOHN THE BAPTIST
(Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29; Luke 9:7-9)
Matthew 14:1-12 - "About this time (as Jesus was being rejected in Nazareth for the second time) Herod, governor of the province (Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee and Perea), heard the reports about Jesus (healing and preaching) and said to his men, "This must be John the Baptist: he has risen from the dead. That is why miraculous powers are at work in him."
For previously Herod had arrested John and had him bound and put in prison (believed to be the fortress of Machaerus in Perea), all on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip (not Philip the tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitis). For John had said to him, "It is not right for you to have this woman." Herod wanted to kill him for this, but he was afraid of the people, since they all thought John was a prophet. But during Herod's birthday celebrations Herodias' daughter (Salome, daughter of Philip and Herodias) delighted him by dancing before his guests, so much so that he swore to giver her anything she liked to ask. And she, prompted by her mother, said, "I want you to give me, here and now, on a dish, the head of John the Baptist!" Herod was aghast at this, but because he had sworn in front of his guests, he gave orders that she should be given what she had asked. So he sent men and had John beheaded in the prison. Then his head was carried in on a dish and presented to the young girl who handed it to her mother.
Later John's disciples came, took his body and buried it. Then they went and told the news to Jesus."
Mark 6:14-29 - "All this (preaching and healing of the twelve apostles) came to the ears of king Herod, for Jesus' reputation was spreading, and people were saying that John the Baptist had risen from the dead, and that was why he was showing such miraculous powers. Others maintained that he was Elijah, and others that he was one of the prophets of the old days come back again. But when Herod heard of all this, he said, "It must be John whom I beheaded, risen from the dead!"
For Herod himself had sent and arrested John and had him bound in prison, all on account of Herodias, wife of his brother Philip. He had married her, though John used to say to Herod, "It is not right for you to possess your own brothers wife." Herodias herself was furious with him for this and wanted to have him executed, but she could not do it, for Herod had a deep respect for John, knowing that he was a just and holy man, and protected him. He used to listen to him and be profoundly disturbed, and yet he enjoyed hearing him.
Then a good opportunity came, for Herod gave a birthday party for his courtiers and army commanders and for the leading people in Galilee. Herodias' daughter came in and danced, to the great delight of Herod and his guests. The king said to the girl, "Ask me anything you like and I will give it to you!" And he swore to her, "I will give you whatever you ask me, up to half of my kingdom!"
And she went and spoke to her mother, "What shall I ask for?" And she said, "The head of John the Baptist!"
The girl rushed back to the king's presence, and made her request. "I want you to give me, this minute, the head of John the Baptist on a dish!" she said.
Herod was aghast, but because of his oath and the presence of his guests, he did not like to refuse her. So he sent one of the palace guardsman straightaway to bring him John's head. He went off and beheaded him in the prison, brought back his head on the dish, and gave it to the girl who handed it to her mother. When his disciples heard what had happened, they came and took away the body and put it in a tomb."
Luke 9:7-9 - "All these things (the preaching and healing by the twelve apostles) came to the ears of Herod the tetrarch and caused him acute anxiety, because some people were saying that John had risen from the dead, some maintaining that the prophet Elijah had appeared, and others that one of the old-time prophets had come back.
"I beheaded John," said Herod. "Who can this be that I hear all these things about?" And he (Herod) tried to find a way of seeing Jesus."
The twelve original apostles follow in the same order as Matthew 10:2-4
3.1 SIMON, GIVEN THE NAME PETER or CEPHAS, 'THE ROCK' - A FISHERMAN
Peter worked among the Jews before he eventually reached Rome, where he was traditionally the first bishop. Along with the Apostle Paul, he may have been executed around AD64 during the persecutions of Emperor Nero, or later in AD67. Apparently he was crucified, head-down, at his own request. Later traditions claim that St. Peter's in Rome was built over his grave.
Mark's Gospel is based on Peter's teaching, and Peter wrote The First Letter of Peter. Scholars still question the authenticity of the Second Letter of Peter. Apocryphal works associated with his name, but dating from the 2nd century and later include the Gospel of St. Peter and the Apocalypse or Revelation of St. Peter.
3.2 ANDREW, BROTHER OF SIMON PETER - A FISHERMAN
Andrew was originally a disciple of John the Baptist. After the death and resurrection of Jesus, claims are that Andrew preached in Achaia (southern Greece) and Scythia (Ukraine and southern Russia - St. Andrew is the patron saint of Russia), and was crucified at Patras in Achaia. A later tradition describes him as being crucified in a spread-eagled position - hence the St. Andrew's cross of Scotland.
3.3 JAMES, SON OF ZEBEDEE - A FISHERMAN
During the persecutions of Herod Agrippa I, King of the Jews, in c AD44, the apostle James was beheaded - 'put to the sword' (Acts 12:1-2 following). Before his death, James the Greater as he is known to distinguish him from James, son of Alphaeus, preached in Jerusalem and Judea, modern Israel. A later Spanish tradition is that James preached the Gospel there sometime before his death.
Acts 12:1-2 - "It was at this time (of great famine, possibly around AD44) that King Herod laid violent hands on some of the Church members. James, John's brother, he executed with the sword ....."
3.4 JOHN, BROTHER OF JAMES and SON OF ZEBEDEE - A FISHERMAN
According to John's Gospel (19:26-27), it was probably John who took Mary, the mother of Jesus as his adopted mother. He preached in Jerusalem, and later, as bishop of Ephesus, south of Izmir in western Turkey, worked among the churches of Asia Minor. During the reigns of either Emperor Nero (AD54-68) or Domitian (AD81-96), he was banished to the nearby island of Patmos, now one of the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. He was subsequently freed and died a natural death at Ephesus c AD100.
After decades of debate, many scholars accept that the apostle John wrote the Book of Revelation, perhaps as early as c AD68-70, and that he either wrote or provided the material and theology for John's Gospel and the three Letters of John.
Philip preached the Gospel in Phrygia (west central Turkey) before dying or being martyred there at Hieropolis.
The apostle should be distinguished from Philip the "deacon" or Evangelist, who preached to the people of Samaria and baptised the Ethiopian eunuch, Acts 8:4-8,26-39.
3.6 BARTHOLOMEW, also NATHANAEL
The missionary work of Bartholomew is linked with Armenia (present day Armenia, eastern Turkey, northern Iraq, north western Iran) and India. Other locations include Egypt, Arabia, Ethiopia and Persia (Iran). Traditionally he met his death by being flayed or skinned alive, and then beheaded. Derbent, north of present day Baku on the Caspian Sea may have been his place of martyrdom. Alternatively he may have suffered this cruel fate in what is now India.
3.7 THOMAS DIDYMUS - 'DOUBTING THOMAS'
Thomas may have laboured for the Gospel in Parthia (including modern Iraq and Iran), but stronger traditions link him with southern India. Indian Christians from the west coast Kerala area claim they were evangelized by Thomas, who was later speared to death near Madras on the east coast. Mount St. Thomas, close to Madras is associated with his name.
Apocryphal writings include the 3rd or 4th century Acts of Thomas, and the Gospel of Thomas.
3.8 MATTHEW, also LEVI - TAX-COLLECTOR/PUBLICAN
Nothing definite is known of Matthew's career. After preaching in Judea, different traditions place his missionary work and possible martyrdom in Ethiopia or Persia.
The first Gospel of the New Testament has from the earliest times been attributed to Matthew. This is now disputed by many scholars.
3.9 JAMES, SON OF ALPHAEUS
Known as James the Less, to distinguish him from James the Greater, son of Zebedee, but more likely because of his smaller stature than his relative importance. He, and Jude following, should not be confused with James and Jude (or Judas), the brothers of Jesus. Most commentators treat them as separate sets of brothers.
Tradition claims he first worked in Palestine (Israel) before preaching and martyrdom in Egypt.
3.10 JUDE, also THADDAEUS
Jude is also confused in some sources with Jude, one of the brothers of Jesus. He may have preached in Assyria (eastern Iraq) and Persia (Iran), before joining with Simon the Zealot and being killed with him in Persia.
3.11 SIMON THE ZEALOT or PATRIOT
Simon is referred to both as the "Cananaean" and the "Zealot". The titles may refer to him being "zealous", or to his membership of one of the Jewish revolutionary movements known as Zealots. Nothing else is known about him.
One tradition is that he first preached in Egypt, before joining Jude and travelling to Persia, where both were martyred. Simon may have been crucified or hacked to death.
3.12 JUDAS ISCARIOT
(Matthew 27:3-10; Acts 1:18-19)
Matthew 27:3-10 - "Then (as Jesus was being handed over to Pilate) Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that he was condemned and in his remorse returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and elders, with the words, "I was wrong - I have betrayed an innocent man to death."
"And what has that got to do with us?" they replied. "That's your affair."
And Judas flung down the silver in the Temple and went outside and hanged himself. But the chief priests picked up the money and said, "It is not legal to put this into the Temple treasury. It is, after all, blood-money." So, after a further consultation, they purchased with it the Potter's Field to be a burial-ground for foreigners, which is why it is called "the Field of Blood" to this day. And so the words of Jeremiah the prophet came true:
'And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of him who was priced, whom they of the children of Israel priced, and gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord directed them' (Zechariah 11:12,13; Jeremiah 32:6-9)."
Acts 1:18-19 - "(After his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus ascends to heaven. The disciples meet to choose a successor to Judas Iscariot, and his fate is briefly described by Luke in his Acts of the Apostles ....) This man (Judas) had bought a piece of land with the proceeds of his infamy, but his body swelled up and his intestines burst. This fact became well known to all the residents of Jerusalem so that the piece of land came to be called in their (Aramaic) language Akeldama, which means "the field of blood"."
As a disciple from the time of Jesus' baptism through to his death and resurrection, and possibly one of the 72 sent out to preach and heal, Matthias was chosen by prayer and the drawing of lots to replace Judas Iscariot as the twelfth apostle, Acts 1:15-26. No more is heard of him in the New Testament, and the various traditions are made more confusing because of the similarity of his name to Matthew's.
He may have preached and been martyred in Ethiopia, Other traditions place him in Judea, and later Cappadocia (eastern Turkey) and the Caspian Sea area.
5. PAUL OR SAUL OF TARSUS
Paul travelled widely, made at least three major missionary journeys, wrote many letters of which thirteen still exist (some scholars dispute three of them), and his life and work is touched upon in a variety of ways in his letters. On returning to Jerusalem after his third journey, he was arrested and during his subsequent trials, as a Roman citizen "appealed to Caesar" for judgement - all covered by Acts 21-26. Chapters 27 and 28 then describe Paul's voyage and journey to Rome in fascinating nautical detail. Thereafter his life, and death is a matter of conjecture and tradition.
For some two years after his arrival in Rome, he was under house-arrest, before possibly being executed in the persecutions of Emperor Nero that followed the burning of Rome in AD64. If so, Paul's authorship of the three "Pastoral Letters" - 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus - can be open to doubt.
However, there are strong traditions that on appeal to the Emperor on what was a Jewish religious charge, he was acquitted. He remained free for perhaps three years, revisiting Ephesus and other churches, and even going as far as Spain, before being re-arrested and sentenced to death. In his cell, he wrote his last letter - the Second Letter to Timothy - before execution around the year AD67.
Tradition is he was beheaded at a place now called Tre Fontane in Rome, and that the church of St. Paul stands over his grave.
The apocryphal "Acts of Paul" comes from the second century. They describe Paul as "a man small of stature, with a bald head and crooked legs, in a good state of body, with eyebrows meeting and nose somewhat hooked, full of friendliness; for now he appeared like a man, and now he had the face of an angel!"
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