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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

13 June 2006

The Deaths of the Disciples

Q: Can you give me the Scripture for how each of the disciples died? Which one died by stoning?

A: James the Greater (Zebedee’s son and John’s brother) was beheaded at the order of King Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:1-3), Herod the Great’s grandson, nephew of Herod Antipas (the killer of John the Baptist), and father of Herod Agrippa II (who heard Paul’s defense before Festus). Saint James was the first of the disciples to suffer martyrdom, and the only one (besides Judas) whose death is recorded in the New Testament. Any accounts other than these belong to tradition, although some appear to be better attested and more likely truthful than others.

For example, tradition says that Saint Peter was crucified upside down because he didn’t want to die facing the same way as his Savior. Saint Andrew is also said to have been crucified, but on a Cross Saltire (an X-shaped cross), thus that is his symbol, white on a blue background. Since he is the patron saint of Scotland, his cross is also the Scottish flag.

12 DisciplesAncient testimony says that John died a natural death in Ephesus at a very old age and after returning from years of exile. Very little is said about the death of James the Lesser while one source claims that Philip died in Hierapolis.

Of the apostles of Christ, the only other one whose death is widely commented upon is Saint Paul, who was not one of the Twelve, but who was called away from persecuting the Church. Tradition claims that he was martyred in Rome under Nero, as Peter also was thought to be. However, since Paul was a Roman citizen, he probably avoided crucifixion and it is widely said that he was beheaded.

The Bible doesn’t record a death by stoning for any of the Twelve. However, Acts 6-7 records the selection of the seven deacons, Stephen’s testimony, and his death by stoning. While Jesus “remained silent (Matthew 26:63)” in order to fulfill prophecies about Himself, Saint Stephen was bold to testify, even though his words sealed his doom. If we make further comparison, we see how closely Stephen’s words as he was being killed mirrored those of Jesus on the cross (compare Acts 7:60 with Luke 23:34 and Acts 7:59 with Luke 23:46).

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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