IT’S THE QUESTION OF THE WEEK.
It comes from seven-year-old Asher Kenney, who’s studying the Book of Acts for Bible quizzing in his church.
Here’s his question, which wins him the book of his choice:
How did Paul die and why isn’t it in the Bible?
Asher’s mom, Jill, added: “I kind of agree with him. Paul was central to the New Testament so why wasn’t it included?”
Paul is central to the New Testament because he wrote so much of it.
If someone had managed to save one more of his letters and added it to the Bible—with God’s blessing, of course—Paul would have been credited with writing half the books in the New Testament.
Paul told us a lot about himself and his beliefs. But he couldn’t tell us how he died. That would have been up to someone else.
Someone else didn’t.
Paul told us death was coming.
In a deeply personal letter to Timothy, a young man he loved like a son, Paul asked him to hurry to Rome before his trial ended in execution.
“When I was first put on trial, no one helped me,” Paul complained. “Now the time has come for me to die…Come to see me as soon as you can” (2 Timothy 4:16, 6, 9, CEV).
We don’t know if Timothy got there in time. He was pastoring in Ephesus, a city in what is now Turkey, about 1,000 miles (1,600 km) east of Rome.
Acts tells about Paul on trial in Caesar’s Supreme Court.
But as seven-year-old Asher complains, the book ends with a cliffhanger. The writer never bothers to tell how the trial ended.
Why skip something that important?
Imagine the story of President Abraham Lincoln. Let’s say it’s a movie that didn’t win an Oscar for best picture. And let’s say there’s no scene showing the president getting shot.
Why would the director skip such an important scene?
Everyone knows what happened.
Perhaps everyone who read Acts knew how Paul died, too.
But we don’t know.
There are two main theories about what happened to Paul in the trial reported in Acts.
- He got dead. Caesar Nero—who was a royal piece of work, and not in a good way—found Paul guilty of being “a real pest and troublemaker for Jews all over the world” (Acts 24:5, CEV).
- He got released. He lived to die another day—perhaps two years later, in the same place, by the same court, after a different verdict.
That theory is based on a letter that a Rome bishop named Clement wrote about 30 years later, around AD 96.
He said Paul “went to the limit of the West.” That implies Spain, on the western frontier of the Roman Empire. Paul had said he wanted to go there, “to Spain” (Romans 15:28).
As this theory goes, Paul went there.
He got in trouble again.
He ended up in Caesar’s Supreme Court again.
This was perhaps in AD 64, roughly two years after his first trial. AD 64 is when Nero started persecuting Christians, apparently after blaming them for starting a fire that burned down much of Rome.
Early Christian writers say the Romans executed both of the top Christian leaders in Rome during that wave of persecution: Peter and Paul.
Killing the leaders often manages to stop a movement.
But it doesn’t work with people who know people who saw Jesus raised from the dead.
One sad note:
When momma Jill told young Asher that Paul was probably executed, Asher cried.
Hey Asher, I just said a little prayer, asking Jesus to give Paul a hug for you.
What do you think? Does that sound like something Jesus would do?