Today, the 12 apostles of Jesus are considered to be an integral part of the Christian faith, loyal followers of the Savior who helped to spread His word. Christ had many followers, but these 12 men were the closest to him and the ones who were tasked to minister and spread the word of Christ’s teachings and atonement. During the first century, they were not so revered as they are now. These were ordinary men, like so many of us. Christ chose them nonetheless and they certainly completed the tasks he set out for them. Christianity was spread, becoming the official faith of the Roman Empire, and it of course still flourishes today.
The apostles continue to influence us, centuries after they lived. We read their accounts of Christ’s life, as well as other books they wrote, in the New Testament. Andrew, Phillip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Peter, John, and James are all popular names for boys in many parts of the world. One of the popular symbols for Christianity is a fish; four of the apostles, perhaps more, were fishermen. Because of them, Christ’s word was spread and we are able to know Him, thousands of years after His death.
We know that the apostles spread out and preached Christ’s word. According to some stories, they drew lots in order to decide which parts of the world each of them would travel to in order to preach. There are many reports and legends of their lives and their deaths, though not all can be verified as true. All we know for sure is what is recorded in the Bible. The New Testament tells us that Judas hanged himself following his betrayal of Jesus. The apostle James, son of Zebedee, was executed by Herod, as recorded in the Book of Acts.
But what about the other apostles? In some cases, there are multiple accounts of how certain apostles died. Not all of these are reliable and we cannot know for certain the exact events of many of their deaths. We do know that many were martyred, meeting brutal ends for their efforts in spreading their faith in Christ.
Andrew preached in many areas, including Greece, Syria, Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey, and the so-called “land of the maneaters”, an area which was found in the former Societ Union. According to some accounts, he was crucified, taking two days to die and preaching up until the moment he died.
The exact cause of death for Bartholomew is unknown. He ministered in Arabia, Ethiopia, India, and Armenia, where some accounts say he was killed. One story says that he was beheaded, another that he was skinned-alive and then bound to a cross.
James, Son of Alpheus
As there is more than one James in the New Testament, accounts of the life and death of James, Son of Alpheus have been confused with those of the others. He is thought to have traveled to Syria, where he died by stoning and clubbing.
Unlike many of the apostles, the commonly accepted story is that John died from old age. Before his death, he took care of Jesus’ mother, Mary. He lead the church in Ephesus and was eventually exiled to the Island of Patmos around 94AD, during the persecution lead by Emperor Domitian. He is thought to have written Revelation while in exile.
The other apostles chose Mattais to replace Judas following his betrayal. Mattais is said to have spent time ministering with Andrew in Syria. According to tradition, he died by burning.
Older accounts of Matthew’s death do not have him being martyred but there are multiple others that said he was stabbed while ministering in Ethiopia. Prior to his death, he also ministered in Persia.
Peter and Paul
More is known about these two apostles. Both were martyred around 66AD, under the persecution lead by Emperor Nero in Rome. Paul was beheaded, while Peter was crucified upside down. He asked for this to be done, saying that he was not worthy to die as his Lord had died.
According to some accounts, Philip ministered in Carthage (in what is now Tunisia), as well as Asia Minor. He is said to have converted a Roman official’s wife and the official had Philip arrested and put to death, possibly by crucifixion.
Simon the Zealot
There are many accounts of how Simon the Zealot, also known as Simon the Canaanite, died. According to one, he was martyred in Persia. He had been ministering there and refused to make a sacrifice to Mithra, the sun god, and so was put to death.
Thomas ministered in Syria. He also ministered in India, where he is said to be the founder of the Mar Thoma Church. According to their tradition, he was killed by four soldiers, who pierced him with their spears.