While Christians often think about the death (and resurrection!) of Jesus, many Christians (especially Protestants) rarely consider how the earliest followers of Jesus lived out their last moments on earth. In part, this is because–unlike with Jesus–we have relatively few historically credible accounts of the death of the earliest leaders of the Jesus Movement. What we do have are various church traditions and accounts of the martyrdoms and deaths of the Apostles and Evangelists. Below are short renditions of some of the more widely attested accounts of the testimonies of the deaths of the apostles.
Perhaps the most widely known tradition concerning apostolic martyrdom is that of Peter who is said to have been crucified in Rome upside down during the reign of the Emperor Nero (typically dated around 64 CE). According to tradition, Peter felt unworthy to die in the same manner as the Lord Jesus, and thus was apparently crucified upside down on an x-shaped cross. Continue reading
Historian J.W.C. Wand argues that the orthodox belief of the early church included the deity of the Holy Spirit, as it was essentially argued along with the deity of Christ in the Christological debates and was held as popular belief among Christians. Yet as Rebecca Lyman argues that one cannot merely accept popular opinion as orthodoxy, for while popular belief in the church did play an important role in the defeat of Arianism, popular piety was a more divisive factor in later historical Christological debates, such as that between Cyril and Nestorius. While one certainly cannot unwittingly conflate popular opinion as orthodoxy, the uniformity that existed between the orthodox Church Fathers and the general Christian population seems to indicate that worship and theology were intricately related in early Christianity, that belief and formalized doctrine were the same confession. Often times the “differences” in doctrinal belief were simply a matter of use of “mutually confusing theological terms.” Early Christians then used worship as the locus of their theological beliefs – how they worshiped is what they confessed. Continue reading
Icon of the Holy Trinity (Rubilev)
The doctrine of the Trinity–espoused by the Cappadocian Fathers as “God is one object in Himself and three objects to Himself”–is commonly understood to be one of the more difficult concepts to grasp in Christian theology. Much of Early Church history revolved around debates concerning the Person of Jesus Christ and His relationship to the Father, and doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit was often not explicitly discussed. However by the time of the Cappadocian Fathers and Augustine, an explicit doctrine of the Trinity was emerging in Christendom (Kelly, 252). In her essay entitled “Why Three?” Sarah Coakley engages the Maurice Wiles’ perspective on the Trinity as espoused in his The Making of Christian Doctrine. Continue reading
Many readers of the New Testament are both fascinated and perplexed by the book of Acts, the earliest “history of Christianity” put to papyrus. Acts begins to tell the story of the church, following the miracles, lives, and journeys of Peter, the Jerusalem Church, and the Apostle Paul. But Acts also ends abruptly—with Paul under house arrest in Rome—and often raises a number of questions about the early Church. Thus, readers find themselves wondering, “What really happened after Acts?” In answer to this question, Bryan Liftin has written After Acts: Exploring the Lives and Legends of the Apostles (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015), a book dedicated to introducing and exploring the traditions of the Apostles following the end of “church history” in the New Testament canon. Continue reading
It’s Holy Week for Christians, the week we remember the last days, Passion, Death, and (ultimately) the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The vast majority of all Christian knowledge about the death and resurrection of Jesus comes from the four canonical gospel accounts, each of which records in some detail the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion and death. And since that historic Friday almost 2,000 years ago, a great deal has been written (and drawn, painted, scripted, and produced) about the passion of the Christ. And despite what some scholars and news outlets claim this time of year, most scholars conclude that its safe to say that we know a good deal about the events surrounding the death (and resurrection) of Jesus. Continue reading
Crucifixion of Peter, Filippino Lippi
While Christians often talk about the death (and resurrection) of Jesus Christ, they often don’t give much thought to the the deaths of his earliest followers. No doubt this is because of the centrality of Christ’s death and subsequent resurrection for Christian faith. Additionally, the historical sources for accounts of the deaths of the apostles are considerably less reliable than those attesting the final hours of the Lord Jesus’ life. Nevertheless, there are various traditions surrounding the martyrdoms and deaths of the apostles and earliest followers are Jesus which are worthy of our reflection. Below are short renditions of some of the more widely attested accounts of the testimonies of the martyrs (please remember– these are traditions, often put together with spotty and somewhat questionable sources).
Perhaps the most widely known tradition concerning apostolic martyrdom is that of Peter who is said to have been crucified in Rome upside down during the reign of the Emperor Nero (typically dated around 64 CE). According to tradition, Peter felt unworthy to die in the same manner as the Lord Jesus, and thus was apparently crucified upside down on an x-shaped cross.
James, brother of John (not to be confused with any of the other prominent James’ in the early church), was executed with the sword in Jerusalem, and is generally understood to have been beheaded. Some traditions hold that one of the Roman guards assigned to watch him was so overcome by James’ faith that he joined him in his execution. Continue reading