How the Disciples Died

How the Disciples Died

The apostles of Jesus, also called the twelve disciples, are the twelve hand-picked men that Jesus kept close to Him and that learned directly from Jesus during his time on earth. Two others were later included with these – Matthias, who replaced Judas Iscariot after his suicide, and Paul. These men followed the teachings of Jesus and carried the message of the gospel to a large quantity of cities throughout southern Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. 

The task of spreading Jesus’ message was unpopular. The government of the day were very negative toward the message of Christ, which caused the men who were sharing it to be targeted. The Bible only gives information about the circumstances of the death of two of these men (James and Judas Iscariot), but historians and Christian tradition give us knowledge about the others. 

Simon Peter

Probably the most well-known name in the list of the apostles, Simon Peter was one of Jesus’ inner circle (which consisted of Peter, James, and John). The most common account of Peter’s last days indicate that he was to be crucified but he considered himself unworthy of dying in the same way as his Lord, and therefore he was crucified upside down. The historian Josephus mentioned in his historical records that the Roman soldiers experimented with different positions for crucifixion as a form of entertainment. 


Simon Peter’s brother Andrew was brought into the group of disciples by his brother. His service to Jesus was not as documented as Peter’s but he was with the twelve wherever they followed Christ. His demise followed similarly to Peter’s, as well, according to tradition. His crucifixion, however, was more unlike Jesus’ in that he was bound rather than nailed, and the cross was arranged as an X rather than a T. This type of cross is referred to as St. Andrew’s Cross because of this traditional narrative. 

James the son of Zebedee@

The first martyr of the 12, according to tradition, James is one of the two whose death is documented in the Bible. According to Acts 12:1-2, “Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.” Herod was ostensibly intending to ingratiate himself to the Jews of the time, who were against the spread of Christianity. According to verse three, he succeeded. “And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)“

John the son of Zebedee

It is assumed that John was the only disciple to die of old age. It is also assumed that he is the same John who was sent to the isle of Patmos and wrote Revelation. The writer Tertullian, who lived in the late second century, told about a time when John was taken to a coliseum and put into boiling oil. His description of the event says that John was unharmed, and all of the audience in the coliseum became Christians. This happened before he was exiled. 


It is unclear how Philip died, as there were potentially two men by the same name referred to in the Bible: Philip the Apostle and Philip the Evangelist. While these may have been the same man, there are accounts that suggest they were not. One thing that most accounts agree on is that he was interred in Heirapolis, though some believe that this was the Evangelist and may not have been the Apostle. Some believe that he was crucified upside down, after a proconsul became angry that his wife converted to Christianity. 


Bartholomew was sometimes called Nathaniel. It is assumed that Bartholomew was martyred, but the method used is in dispute. One account suggests that he was beaten at length and then crucified. One suggests he was crucified upside down at the same time as Philip. One suggests he was skinned alive, then beheaded. Still another claims he was beaten until he lost consciousness and then tossed into the ocean to drown. The one thing that all accounts agree upon is that he was killed in a gruesome manner. 


More commonly referred to as “Doubting Thomas,” his martyrdom is documented in historical tradition. He was killed with a spear in India. 


Matthew joined the group of disciples from his tax collector’s table. While one early commentary guesses that Matthew died of natural causes, most scholars believe that Matthew was a martyr. Some of the possibilities suggested include burning, stabbing, stoning, or decapitation. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs says that he was “slain with a halberd.” 

James the son of Alphaeus

James may have been the same man known as James the Just, who was an early church leader. Tradition believes they were, but some scholars disagree. According to tradition, James the Just was beaten with a club and stoned. One tradition says that James, son of Alphaeus, was crucified. The theologian Hippolytus attributed stoning to the martyrdom of James. 

Lebbaeus Thaddaeus

Also known as Jude, Thaddaeus’ death has two possibilities that are suggested by historians. One says that he was crucified, while the other says he was beaten to death with a club, then cut into pieces with either a saw or an axe. 

Simon the Canaanite

Also called Simon the Zealot, Simon’s death is also in dispute. Most accounts declare him to be a martyr. Two say he was crucified, while another wrote that he was sawed in half. One single tradition says that he died of old age. While nobody knows for sure which account is accurate, it is likely that he was martyred. 

Judas Iscariot

The only other apostle whose death is chronicled in the Bible, Judas committed suicide following the death of Jesus, in which Judas was instrumental by pointing Him out to the Roman soldiers. After throwing the payment into the floor because the chief priests would not accept its return, Judas then went out and hung himself, according to the Gospel of Matthew. The book of Acts, however, says that Judas bought a field with the money and then fell and burst open. Some reconcile the difference by suggesting that Judas hung himself, then his body later fell and burst open. Both accounts agree that the money was used to buy a field, though they disagree on who actually made the purchase. 


Added to the group following the death of Judas, Matthias was chosen by lot. He joined the apostles in sharing the message of Jesus with the world and died from stoning followed by decapitation. 


Imprisoned, tortured, and suffering through much persecution, the apostle Paul had a very difficult life after his conversion, but he did not let it keep him from serving the Lord with all his heart. He was beheaded in Rome by the emperor Nero after many years of service and leaving many letters to the Christian churches to aid in their Christian growth.