By Sean McDowell - Professor @ Biola University
The traditional view is that Paul was beheaded in Rome during the reign of Nero AD 64-67. In my recent book The Fate of the Apostles, I make the case that the apostles were all willing to suffer and die for their faith. While the evidence for individual apostles varies, there is very good historical reason to believe that Paul died as a martyr in the mid to late 60s.
While Scripture does not specifically mention Paul’s martyrdom, there are hints in both the book of Acts and 2 Timothy 4:6-8 that Paul knew his death was imminent. Extra biblically, there is evidence from 1 Clement 5:5-7 (c. AD 95-96) where the writer describes Paul as suffering tremendously for his faith and then being “set free from this world and transported up to the holy place, having become the greatest example of endurance.” While details regarding the manner of his fate are lacking, the immediate context strongly implies that Clement was setting up Paul as an example of martyrdom. Other early evidences for the martyrdom of Paul can be found in Ignatius (Letter to the Ephesians 12:2), Polycarp (Letter to the Philippians 9:1-2), Dionysius of Corinth (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.25.4), Irenaeus (Against Heresies 3.1.1), The Acts of Paul, and Tertullian (Scorpiace 15:5-6).
The early, consistent, and unanimous testimony is that Paul died as a martyr. But what about the claim he was beheaded? Can this part of the traditional account be trusted?