Paul’s Martyrdom in Rome?

According to Britannica.Com, the Tradition of Peter in Rome has no valid proofs except that of tradition claimed by early church fathers, see excerpt below:

The strongest evidence to support the thesis that Peter was martyred in Rome is to be found in the Letter to the Corinthians (c. 96 CE; 5:1–6:4) of St. Clement of Rome.

Peter, who by reason of wicked jealousy, not only once or twice but frequently endured suffering and thus, bearing his witness, went to the glorious place which he merited (5:4).…To these men [Peter and Paul] who lived such holy lives there was joined a great multitude of the elect who by reason of rivalry were victims of many outrages and tortures and who became outstanding examples among us (6:1).

Note: The said letter to the Corinth were not those of the apostle Paul, but of Clement of Rome written in AD 96, many years after Paul was martyred for the faith. Therefore, that letter is by no means authoritative nor Scripture.

These sources, plus the suggestions and implications of later works, combine to lead many scholars to accept Rome as the location of the martyrdom and the reign of Nero as the time.

Excavations were begun in the late 19th century in order to substantiate the theory that the burial of Peter and Paul was ad catacumbas. After a half century of investigation, it now seems reasonable to concede that a cult of the apostles existed there about 260 CE, though Christian influence may have been exerted as early as 200 CE. None of the excavations, however, in all of the areas indicated at various times as the resting place of the apostolic relics, have produced any evidence whatsoever that the bodies of Peter and Paul were either buried there originally or brought there at a later time after earlier burials elsewhere.

According to GotQuestions.Org, Christian catacombs, an underground tombs did not came to exist in Rome until the second century. See quotation below:

In ancient Rome people were forbidden to bury their dead within the city limits. This rule led to the creation of the catacombs, a network of underground passages used as a cemetery. The pagans of Rome mainly used cremation, but some pagans and Jews utilized the catacombs to bury loved ones. Following the practice of the Jewish community, Christians began using the catacombs to bury their dead around the second century.

Therefore, the claim that both Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome is highly doubtful. So here is a study on the possible location of Paul’s martyrdom. The second letter of Paul to Timothy provides clues to his whereabouts. See 2 Timothy 4:6-8.

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing.

“Departure [Greek 359]” was used only here in 2 Timothy. Yet, from the context, Paul claimed to have faithfully finished his mission. He had previously said, “For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16)” Consequently, no doubt this was a farewell letter of Paul to Timothy.

Now, let us trace Paul’s last recorded journey to Jerusalem before he was arrested. See Acts 20:17-25.

Now from Miletus he [Paul] sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that none of you [elders from the church in Ephesus] among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again.

So here are the facts:

  1. Paul’s goal was to finish his course of ministry entrusted by Jesus to him (Acts 20:24).
  2. The Lord Jesus constrained Paul to go to Jerusalem, where he would face afflictions and imprisonments (Acts 20:22).
  3. Paul’s opponents were the Jews (Acts 20:18-19).
  4. Paul said he won’t see the Ephesian’s elders again (Acts 20:25).

Here are some important details concerning Paul’s travel to Jerusalem:

See Acts 20:17,22-23

“Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.”

Next, Acts 20:36-38

“And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.”

Finally, Acts 21:1-8,15-18

And when we had parted from them and set sail, we came by a straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. And having found a ship crossing to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. When we had come in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left we sailed to Syria and landed at Tyre, for there the ship was to unload its cargo. And having sought out the disciples, we stayed there for seven days. And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. When our days there were ended, we departed and went on our journey, and they all, with wives and children, accompanied us until we were outside the city. And kneeling down on the beach, we prayed and said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home. When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais, and we greeted the brothers and stayed with them for one day. On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. After these days we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. And some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us, bringing us to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we should lodge. When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly. On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.

It is important to note that Paul travelled to Jerusalem by ship, several connecting ports, from Miletus to Ptolemais, then arriving in Caesarea en route by land to Jerusalem. See map below, follow the blue line to see the travel route of Paul from Miletus to Jerusalem.

Map courtesy of ESV Study Bible Resources Follow the blue line to see the travel route of Paul from Miletus to Jerusalem

Now continuing on our study of Paul’s journey back to Jerusalem before his house arrest in Rome, see Acts 21:27-28.

When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, seeing him [Paul] in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people [the Jews] and the law [the Mosaic law] and this place [the Temple]. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.”

The enemies of Paul, Jews in Asia Minor, came also to Jerusalem and saw Paul. They instigated against him, claiming he was an enemy of the Jews, the Mosaic Law and the temple itself. So Paul was arrested; see Acts 21:30-37.

Then all the city was stirred up, and the people ran together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. And as they were seeking to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. He at once took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. And when they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. Then the tribune came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. He inquired who he was and what he had done. Some in the crowd were shouting one thing, some another. And as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. And when he came to the steps, he was actually carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the crowd, for the mob of the people followed, crying out, “Away with him!” As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune, “May I say something to you?” And he said, “Do you know Greek?

Like that of the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul’s arrest came by the instigation of the Jews, who wanted him dead (Acts 21:31). If not for the intervention of Roman soldier, in their effort to keep peace in Jerusalem, perhaps Paul might have been stoned to death outright.

While being investigated at the Roman tribune, the soldiers came to know that Paul was a citizen of Rome; see Acts 22:25-30.

But when they had stretched him out for the whips, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” When the centurion heard this, he went to the tribune and said to him, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman citizen.” So the tribune came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” And he said, “Yes.” The tribune answered, “I bought this citizenship for a large sum.” Paul said, “But I am a citizen by birth.” So those who were about to examine him withdrew from him immediately, and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him. But on the next day, desiring to know the real reason why he was being accused by the Jews, he unbound him and commanded the chief priests and all the council to meet, and he brought Paul down and set him before them.

While Paul was still in Jerusalem, he was next examined and confronted by the Chief Priest and the Jewish Sanhedrin. Paul raised the topic of Resurrection, creating a division among the Sadducees and Pharisees. Click here to understand the differences between these two Jewish religious sect.

A plot against Paul’s life was designed with the cooperation of the Chief Priests and elders. See Acts 23:12-15.

When it was day, the Jews made a plot and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. There were more than forty who made this conspiracy. They went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have strictly bound ourselves by an oath to taste no food till we have killed Paul. Now therefore you, along with the council, give notice to the tribune to bring him down to you, as though you were going to determine his case more exactly. And we are ready to kill him before he comes near.”

The plot however came to the knowledge of Paul and the tribune, so the Roman soldiers escorted Paul out of Jerusalem and transferred him to the custody of Felix, the Roman governor of Judea, Caesarea. Paul spent two years imprisoned at Caesarea until Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus; see Acts 24:27 to 25:1-7.

When two years had elapsed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison. Now three days after Festus had arrived in the province, he went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. And the chief priests and the principal men of the Jews laid out their case against Paul, and they urged him, asking as a favor against Paul that he summon him to Jerusalem—because they were planning an ambush to kill him on the way. Festus replied that Paul was being kept at Caesarea and that he himself intended to go there shortly. “So,” said he, “let the men of authority among you go down with me, and if there is anything wrong about the man, let them bring charges against him.” After he stayed among them not more than eight or ten days, he went down to Caesarea. And the next day he took his seat on the tribunal and ordered Paul to be brought. When he had arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many and serious charges against him that they could not prove.

It had been two years after Paul was first arrested in Jerusalem. Though he was away, imprisoned in Caesarea, the Jews still wanted him dead. Paul was later interrogated by Festus and King Agrippa [Herod Agrippa II]. It was at this time that Paul appealed for Caesar (Acts 25:10-12; Acts 25:21-22; Acts 26:32).

Paul appealed to appear before Caesar, not really to escape death, for he has previously claimed desire to die in Jerusalem preaching the Gospel (Acts 21:13), but to further do his mission – to testify also in Rome. See Acts 23:11.

The following night the Lord stood by him [Paul] and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about Me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”

On hindsight, before his arrest in Jerusalem, while he was still doing his ministry at Ephesus, the Spirit of Jesus had actually previously told Paul about his future mission in Jerusalem, then Rome (Acts 19:21-22).

At this point, a relevant information might connect 2 Timothy 4:14-18 with the riot against Paul at Ephesus in Acts 19. That must be the reason, Paul told the Ephesian elders, after his departure to Jerusalem he won’t be seeing them again. For the simple reason, later, it was the Jews from Asia (Ephesus) who came to Jerusalem accusing Paul of wrongdoings against the Jewish traditions. They might be the forty Jews who pledged to kill Paul also.

See 2 Timothy 4:14-17.

Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.

Now see and compare Acts 19:22-27,33-34.

And having sent into Macedonia two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while. About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.”Some of the crowd prompted Alexander, whom the Jews had put forward. And Alexander, motioning with his hand, wanted to make a defense to the crowd. But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours they all cried out with one voice, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

Alexander was prompted by fellow Jews not to make a defense on Paul’s behalf, but in an effort to protect themselves – Jews – against the possible animosity of the Gentiles. They fear for themselves and perhaps for their trade as well. Alexander was a coppersmith man in Ephesus, probably also a maker of the image of Artemis.

On his first letter to Timothy (1 Timothy 1:18-20), Paul also mentioned Alexander along with Hymenaeus, saying: “This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.

Possibly, after the riot, sometime later, the Gospel was shared to Alexander, but his true colors came out. He might be with Hymenaeus and Philetus, promulgating heresy regarding the resurrection; see 2 Timothy 2:16-18.

But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.

Concerning the heresy about the resurrection, read my blog entitled “Scripture vs. Tradition”, click on the link to read.

Now back to 2 Timothy 4:17, Paul’s mention of lion’s mouth refers to the Jews of Ephesus, for the context begins with his mention of Alexander the coppersmith. In 1 Corinthians 15:32, Paul said: “What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.‘”

Furthermore, Paul also said (2 Timothy 1:15-18):

You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes. May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me— may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day!—and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus.

Luke’s narrative here has to do with Paul’s house arrest in Rome, Acts 28. His trouble was instigated by Jews in Asia. So it makes so much sense that in Revelation, the Seven churches of Asia Minor became the focus of Jesus Christ, for among the seven was Ephesus, the beasts whom Paul fought.

Now back to Paul’s journey. In Acts 28:16,30-31, finally Paul came to Rome, though was in house arrest but was able to freely preach the Gospel for two years, thereby fulfilling his mandated mission.

And when we {Luke, the author of Acts was with Paul] came into Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who guarded him … He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

During his house arrest in Rome, Paul wrote four letters to the churches, namely Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. GotQuestions.Org placed his Rome imprisonment about 60-62 AD. Below is an excerpt from the said website concerning Paul’s imprisonment in Rome.

The prison epistles—EphesiansPhilippiansColossians, and Philemon—are so named because they were written by the apostle Paul during one of his incarcerations. It is generally accepted that Paul wrote the prison epistles during his first Roman imprisonment. The exact dates he wrote each of the prison epistles is unknown, but the two-year period he spent under house arrest in Rome has been narrowed down to the years AD 60–62. Paul’s imprisonment in Rome is verified by the book of Acts, where we find references to his being guarded by soldiers (Acts 28:16), being permitted to receive visitors (Acts 28:30), and having opportunities to share the gospel (Acts 28:31). These details, along with Paul’s mention of being with “those who belong to Caesar’s household” (Philippians 4:22), support the view that Paul wrote the prison epistles from Rome. Paul’s Roman incarceration produced three great letters to the churches of Ephesus, Colosse, and Philippi, as well as a personal letter to his friend Philemon.

Details on Paul’s whereabouts after his release from house arrest in Rome may be seen through the prison letters of Paul vis-a-vis the details found in his pastoral letters to Timothy. However, due to its length, we will continue our study in my next blog, on Paul’s whereabouts when he was martyred, which obviously was not in Rome.


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Published by Eric

I am a pastor. In the course of leading Bible studies, I have noticed inconsistencies in the traditional Christian beliefs and teachings. So now I am on a journey of in-depth study of the Scripture. By the grace of God, having been liberated by the truths of the Word of God, now I am doing the ministry independently, teaching the Word of God.

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