Apostolic Beheading; the Death of Paul
The apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthian church, summed up his own contribution to Christianity better than anyone else could. “For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” Wherever he carried the gospel, the church put down deep and enduring roots. He saw himself as primarily an apostle to the Gentile races.
Paul was ideally equipped for the role. In him three great cultures merged. A Roman citizen, he had entree to the entire Roman world. Steeped in Greek culture, he could convey his ideas across the Hellenized world. A Pharisee, strictest of the Jews, he carried in himself the Mosaic law and had points of contact in the synagogues of the empire.
Paul began his career as a persecutor of the faith. After meeting Christ in a daylight vision on the road to Damascus, where he was traveling to arrest Christians, his life was transformed. Christ ever after was all to him and he gave us insights into the Lord as deep as any found in the writings of the apostles who walked with the Lord. “I resolved to know nothing among you except Christ, and him crucified.” “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless, I live; Yet not I, but Christ lives in me.” “He was the firstborn over all creation.” “That at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, both in heaven and the earth and under the earth.”
In addition to his Christology, Paul pioneered the missionary tactics of the early church, brought the gospel to the Gentiles and came as close as any apostolic writer to creating a systematic theology. His Letter to the Romans has had a profound impact upon our understanding of guilt and grace, predestination and faith. Wherever reformation has come to the church the ideas of this epistle have played a leading part. His letters were prized by the early church. His fellow apostle Peter recognized their worth and included them with the other scriptures.
According to The People’s Chronology, Paul was beheaded with a sword near Rome, possibly on this day, June 29, 67. This date is open to dispute. Paul’s death has been variously placed between 62 and 67. We shall probably never know for sure.
What we do know is that he gave his life for the faith he had persecuted. At his conversion, a prophet named Ananias was sent to him to show him what things he must suffer. In an early letter he catalogued some of those sufferings. It is a long list. His beheading was but the culmination of a life of sacrifice “poured out as a drink offering” to his Lord Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2:6).