We don't have that much information on the lives of the apostles, apart from a few passages on Peter and John, and of course lots on Paul. But even then there are big gaps. Where can I find reliable information, especially about where the apostles went once they left Jerusalem?
Great question. I have often wondered this myself, reading a pile of books on the subject. Being in Jerusalem piqued my interest, and it so happens that I've just finished W. Brian Shelton's new Quest for the Historical Apostles. Shelton traces the trajectories, to the best of anyone's ability, of all 13 apostles (the Twelve plus Paul). This is a handy work, and I summarize his conclusions below—while encouraging motivated readers to secure copies for themselves.
The biblical locations associated with the apostles (ministries and, in some cases, deaths—usually the last location mentioned) are in black, with the more credible extrabiblicallocations in blue. I am aware that for some of my readers, I may be challenging cherished traditions in your country. The following is based on the weight of evidence only. (And new evidence could always turn up.)
- Peter—Jerusalem, Samaria, Antioch, Rome. Good evidence for his martyrdom on Vatican Hill. His bones repose in the Vatican.
- Andrew—Jerusalem, Scythia—and possibly Anatolia, Macedonia, and Greece. Other locations dubious. Martyred in Patras.
- James—Jerusalem. Executed in Acts 12, the first apostle to die.
- John—Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, Ephesus, Patmos. Probably buried in Ephesus.
- Philip—Jerusalem, Hierapolis, Ephesus—and perhaps Greece, Parthia, and Scythia. His tomb was identified recently in Hierapolis.
- Bartholomew (Nathanael)—Jerusalem, Parthia (Armenia), India—possibly Africa.
- Thomas—Jerusalem, Syria, Parthia, India: tradition that he was speared in South India.
- Matthew—Jerusalem, Persia, and the Caspian Sea region.
- James, son of Alphaeus—Jerusalem, Persia, Egypt/ North Africa. Martyred in Parthia.
- Jude (Thaddeus), son of James—Jerusalem, Syria, Mesopotamia and Persia. Martyred.
- Simon the Zealot—Jerusalem, Egypt, North Africa, Mauritania, Parthia.
- Matthias—Jerusalem, Scythia, Palestine, and dying in Georgia (Caucasian one, not the American state).
- Paul—Palestine, Cyprus, Syria, Anatolia, Macedonia, Greece, Italy, Spain. Buried just outside Rome, along the Ostian Way.
For further study:
- W. Brian, Shelton, Quest for the Historical Apostles: Tracing Their Lives and Legacies (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2018).
- Q&A 0390—Who baptized the apostles?
- Q&A 1174—Apostolic Succession?
- N.T. Character Podcasts on the Peter, James, John, Andrew, Thomas, Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot, Judas Iscariot. Philip, Matthew, Bartholomew, the other Judas, and Paul. (There are 67 podcasts in all.)
These men truly made an impact on their world. So... what about you and me? Are we touched by heaven's fire? With this important question in mind, next week we'll begin a series on Ezekiel. Israel of Ezekiel's day was in a deep crisis—though few of his countrymen took God's word and warning seriously. How different is the situation of the modern church? Not very, I would say. (Prepare for some strong lessons.)