How Did the Apostle Paul Die?
After the third missionary journey of the Apostle Paul, he continued to minister in the Roman world for the cause of Jesus Christ until his death. The genuineness of the Pastoral Epistles is here assumed. But for them we should know nothing further, save from a few fragments in the early Christian writings. As it is, some few who accept the Pastoral Epistles seek to place them before 64 AD, so as to allow for the Apostle Paul's death in that year from the Neronian persecution. In that case, he was not released. There is no space here to argue the question in detail.
We can piece together the probable course of events. He had expected when in Corinth last to go on to Spain (Romans 15:28), but now in Rome his heart turns back to the east again. He longs to see the Philippians (1:23) and hopes to see Philemon in Colosse (Philemon 1:22).
But he may have gone to Spain also, as Clement of Rome seems to imply (Clement ad Cor 5), and as is stated in the Canon of Muratori. He may have been in Spain when Rome was burned July 19, 64 AD. There is no evidence that the Apostle Paul went as far as Britain. On his return east he left Titus in Crete (Titus 1:5). He touched at Miletus when he left Trophimus sick (2 Timothy 4:20) and when he may have met Timothy, if he did not go on to Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3). He stopped at Troas and apparently expected to come back here, as he left his cloak and books with Carpus (2 Timothy 4:13).
He was on his way to Macedonia (1 Timothy 1:3), whence he writes Timothy in 65-67 a letter full of love and counsel for the future. The Apostle Paul is apprehensive of the grave perils now confronting Christianity. Besides the Judaizers, the Gnostics, the Jews and the Romans, he may have had dim visions of the conflict with the mystery-religions.
It was a syncretistic age, and men had itching ears. But Paul is full of sympathy and tender solicitude for Timothy, who must push on the work and get ready for it. Paul expects to spend the winter in Nicopolis (Titus 3:12), but is apparently still in Macedonia when he writes to Titus a letter on lines similar to those in 1 Timothy, only the note is sharper against Judaism of a certain type. We catch another glimpse of Apollos in Titus 3:13. Paul hits off the Cretans in 1:10 with a quotation from Epimenides, one of their own poetic prophets.
The Apostle Paul's Last Imprisonment and Death
When the Apostle Paul writes again to Timothy he has had a winter in prison, and has suffered greatly from the cold and does not wish to spend another winter in the Mamertine (probably) prison (2 Timothy 4:13,21). We do not know what the charges now are. They may have been connected with the burning of Rome. There were plenty of informers eager to win favor with Nero. Proof was not now necessary.
Christianity is no longer a religio licita under the shelter of Judaism. It is now a crime to be a Christian. It is dangerous to be seen with the Apostle Paul now, and he feels the desertion keenly (2 Timothy 1:15; 4:10). Only Luke, the beloved physician, is with the Apostle Paul (2 Timothy 4:11), and such faithful ones as live in Rome still in hiding (2 Timothy 4:21). The Apostle Paul hopes that Timothy may come and bring Mark also (2 Timothy 4:11).
Apparently Timothy did come and was put into prison (Hebrews 13:23). Paul is not afraid. He knows that he will die. He has escaped the mouth of the lion (2 Timothy 4:17), but he will die (2 Timothy 4:18). The Lord Jesus stood by him, perhaps in visible presence (2 Timothy 4:17).
The tradition is, for now Paul fails us, that the Apostle Paul, as a Roman citizen, was beheaded on the Ostian Road just outside of Rome. Nero died June, 68 AD, so that the Apostle Paul was executed before that date, perhaps in the late spring of that year (or 67). Perhaps Luke and Timothy were with him. It is fitting, as Findlay suggests, to let the Apostle Paul's words in 2 Timothy 4:6-8 serve for his own epitaph. He was ready to go to be with Jesus, as he had long wished to be (Philippians 1:23).Recommended:
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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain (with minor edits).