Was Peter Martyred in Rome? is a sample chapter taken from my new book “Christianity on Trial: Why we cannot trust the Gospel evidence”. This short cogent read is an objective critique of the orthodox Christian narrative. The book addresses the following topics:
- Confirmation Bias
- Temporal Lobe Epilepsy
- The Historicity of Jesus
- Are the Gospels Historically Accurate?
- Was Peter Martyred in Rome?
- Paul’s Conversion [Orthodox Argument]
- Paul’s Conversion [Scientific Argument]
- Paul’s First Meeting in Jerusalem
- Was James Present at this First Meeting?
- Did Peter Lie to Paul at this First Meeting?
- Did Paul & Peter Preach the Same Message?
- Why Does the Notorious Gospel Gap Exist?
- Were the Gospels Deliberately Fabricated?
- Why Are the Gospels So Different?
- Why Did Christianity Survive?
- Christianity’s Many Short Comings
- The Old Model v The New Model
- Outcome of the Investigation
I’ve chosen Chapter 7 because it deals with a crucial make-or-break issue that still remains largely unrecognised, both by Christians and non-Christians. For Christians it’s a make-issue, because Peter’s alleged death in Rome authenticates uncorroborated claims, made by Peter in Jerusalem some 30 years earlier. For the rest of us, it’s a break-issue, because Peter’s alleged death in Rome still remains unproven, as this sample chapter demonstrates.
Having asserted that the resurrection accounts in the Gospels can be trusted, because Peter was martyred in Rome, it is now crucial that apologists prove beyond all doubt, that Peter was in fact martyred as claimed, because if apologists cannot prove Peter was martyred, they cannot prove Peter told Paul the truth about the alleged resurrection when they first met in Jerusalem c 35-36 CE [see Chapter 10 for details of this first crucial meeting], and if they cannot prove Peter told the truth at this first crucial meeting, they cannot prove the alleged Jerusalem resurrection actually happened.
To prove Peter was martyred in Rome, apologists cite the records of antiquity found in Sean McDowell’s “The Fate of the Apostles” . Apologists argue that the following records of antiquity prove Peter was martyred in Rome.
- The New Testament: The Bible infers that Peter would die as a Christian martyr but it does not state it would be in Rome. In John 21:18-19, Jesus cryptically predicts Peter’s execution, though no details are given, and 2 Peter 1:12-15 records Peter writing from Rome in the knowledge that his death is imminent.
- 1 Clement 5:1-4: Written in the first century, this is believed to come from the church leader in Rome and written to the church in Corinth. Clement assumes that Peter’s martyrdom in Rome around 60 CE is common knowledge. Skeptical scholar Bart Ehrman says, “By the end of the first century and into the second it was widely known among Christians that Peter had suffered a martyr’s death. The tradition is alluded to in the book of 1 Clement”. McDowell says, “At the very least, this passage provides evidence that Peter and Paul were considered examples of faithful endurance for the Gospel, even in the midst of suffering, until their deaths”.
- Two writings of Ignatius: Ignatius was a Christian leader from the second century who was also martyred. In Letter to the Romans 4:3 Ignatius faces his impending martyrdom, and he seems to assume both Peter and the apostle Paul were also martyred before him. His Letter to the Smyrneans 3:1-2 presupposes the martyrdom of many of the apostles, including Peter.
- The Apocalypse of Peter: This is a work attributed to Peter, but the real author is unknown. It is dated to the first half of the second century and it is thought to be built around a historical core of data, thus providing “early attestation for the martyrdom of Peter in Rome under Nero”.
- The Ascension of Isaiah: Like the Apocalypse of Peter, the real author is unknown but the work is dated early in the second century. It refers to an apostle who fell into Nero’s hands and, since it was written in living memory of Peter, the readers would know who was being referred to here. While it doesn’t explicitly state Peter was martyred, it implies it happened in Rome.
- The Acts of Peter: Dated toward the end of the second century, this work contains legendary material in the form of a historical novel. Yet scholars note that the authors did not just make material up. Rather, they were bound by received tradition and memory of events, including the martyrdom of Peter.
- The Apocryphon of James: Again the real author is unknown, but the text is dated to before 314 CE. It shows that “by the end of the second century at the earliest, the crucifixion of Peter was assumed by both Orthodox and Gnostic circles alike.”
- Dionysius of Corinth: This was a pastoral letter written around 170 CE to encourage the Corinthian church. He mentions the martyrdoms of both Peter and Paul, and the historian Eusebius uses Dionysius’ work as confirmation that both apostles died under the reign of Nero.
- Irenaeus, Against Heresies: Written at the end of the second century to challenge Gnosticism, he references the deaths of Peter and Paul in Rome. The tradition of their martyrdoms was strong at the end of the second century, and this text is clearly referring to this tradition.
- Tertullian, Scorpiace 15: This was written in 208 CE. He is confident in Peter’s martyrdom in Rome, and encourages the reader to check the archives of the empire if they doubt this fact.
According to apologists, the cumulative evidence in the above records of antiquity, more or less proves Peter was martyred in Rome, but the Roman Catholic Church  is far more assertive about the matter. It asserts that it’s an indisputably established historical fact that St. Peter labored in Rome during the last portion of his life, and there ended his earthly course by martyrdom.
However, before accepting these apologetic claims that Peter was martyred in Rome, we should note the following. First, these records of antiquity were preserved by the early Roman Church as part of its political ambitions to establish the primary of Rome and the authenticity of the papacy. To achieve these two political goals, it was necessary for the “early church” to establish a belief that Peter died a martyr’s death in Rome. Second, none of these records actually proves definitively that Peter was martyred in Rome. Third, extracting definitive meanings 2000 years later is always going to be difficult. Some records may simply be indicating that an early scholar believed Peter was martyred in Rome. Other records may simply be indicating that vested interests were trying to promote the idea that Peter was martyred in Rome. Some records may even just indicate that someone was simply reiterating what others already believed, or indicate that someone was simply acknowledging the existence of earlier records or earlier comments. Finally, we should note that four of these ten antiquity records are by unknown authors, and three of them are totally partisan records left by church leaders in the early Christian movement.
We should also note the following relevant information taken from less partisan sources:
- Early Christianity history is as much about church politics as it is about religion .
- Several different competing interests vied for supremacy during the first couple of centuries .
- These competing groups all needed a presence in Rome to establish their authenticity and authority .
- As the leader of one of the competing groups, Peter had to be introduced into the Rome scene somehow .
- C. O’Neill  explains how and why Pope Damascus I (c 366–384 CE) harnessed stories of Peter and Paul in Rome to elevate Rome’s primacy over the other bishoprics in the East. Church politics at the time dictated that simply establishing Peter’s presence in Rome was not enough. He had to be thought to have also died there.
- Claims that the Church of Rome was founded by Peter and claims that he served as its first bishop are both still disputed .
- Where Peter was buried has been argued for centuries and there’s still no resolution to this question .
- There’s nothing in the Bible to suggest Peter ever traveling to Rome .
- Nicola Lewis .states that the absence of any connection between Peter and Rome in the New Testament, the lack of references to him in our earliest Roman Christian literature, and what we know of Peter’s background and character, all combine to make it unlikely that he ever went to Rome
- There is no solid evidence—textual or even archaeological—that Peter died in Rome .
- Paul’s epistle to the Romans establishes that Paul had no knowledge of any apostle, least of all Peter, having preceded him to Rome .
- Justin Martyr, a citizen of Rome is totally silent on Peter’s alleged presence in Rome .
- The Roman Catholic Church claim to apostolic authority stands on no real evidence at all .
- There is no obvious biblical evidence that Peter was ever in Rome .
- There’s not a single piece of reliable literary evidence and no archaeological evidence to suggest Peter was ever in Rome [10, 11].
- Steven M. Collins states  “It’s significant that the Apostle Peter wrote the book of 1-Peter from the city of Babylon not Rome as others have suggested. This fact indicates that Peter had heeded Jesus Christ’s instructions by traveling to territory ruled by the ten tribes”.
- Philip W. Comfort states  there’s no definitive Biblical evidence that Peter ever visited Rome and states the tradition that he visited Rome is only tradition and nothing more.
The cumulative effect of these alternative views about Peter and his alleged demise, all expressed by less partisan scholars, gives ample cause to doubt apologetic claims that Peter was martyred in Rome. We should also note the following points derived from the New Testament.
- Romans, written by Paul c 57 CE does not mention Peter. This would be an incredible oversight if Peter had lived in and evangelized the city.
- Romans 15:20 actually states that Paul’s policy was to evangelize in places where no one had previously evangelized. Therefore it’s almost certain that Peter did not visit or preach in the city prior to 57 CE.
- Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, written whilst Paul was imprisoned in Rome 61-63 CE, make no mention of Peter. Again this would have been a glaring omission if Peter was also imprisoned in Rome. This suggests Peter did not preach or live in the city before 63 CE.
- 2-Peter, allegedly written by Peter c 65-66 CE, does not indicate Peter was writing from Rome. Since Peter likely died between 67 CE and 68 CE, any possible visit to Rome would have been quite short and offered little time to spread the gospel before he was to die.
After considering all of the above evidence, both partisan and less partisan, we can say the following with some confidence:
- Motives and selective interpretations will always be issues when considering Peter’s demise.
- Ambiguity in the records of antiquity provides apologists with plenty of opportunities to apply their sympathetic manners and generous spirits.
- Apologists assume their explanations are the only possible explanations.
- Apologists are reluctant to consider possible alternative explanations.
Based on the above considerations we can safely conclude the following:
- Catholic Church dogma states definitively that Peter was martyred in Rome, but this dogma was established centuries ago as part of a political campaign to establish Rome’s primacy over the other bishoprics in the East. There’s ample reason to ignore this church dogma.
- None of the records of antiquity prove definitively that Peter was martyred in Rome. These records constitute little more than circumstantial evidence, and thus the apologetic argument is little more than a simple prima facie argument based on circumstantial evidence.
- Apologetic assertions that Peter was martyred in Rome remain unproven, and therefore apologetic assertions that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem remain unproven.
If you found the read interesting, perhaps you’d like to consider buying Christianity on Trial. It’s a layman’s guide to first century Christianity and it explains why the orthodox narrative is not as water-tight as Christians make out. E-Book version $1.99 on Amazon.com & £1.50 on Amazon.co.uk – click appropriate link for details.
 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia.
 Frontline, 1998. The First Christians, “The Diversity of Early Christianity”.
 Encyclopedia Britannica, “Emergence of Roman Catholicism”.
 John C. O’Neill, “Messiah. Six Lectures on the Ministry of Jesus”, Cambridge: Cochrane Press, 1980.
 Nicola Denzey Lewis, “The Apostle Peter in Rome”, Biblical Archaeology Society, Bible History Daily, March 31, 2017. [Nicola Denzey Lewis is visiting Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Brown University].
 Peter Nathan, Vision.org, “Was Peter ever in Rome?” [Vision.org is funded by the Church of God, an International Community. The site is not intended to convert readers to its beliefs, nor is it designed to solicit membership. It offers many viewpoints in the broader discussion of ideas]
 Zwierlein, Otto (20 February 2010), “Petrus in Rom”, Walter de Gruyter. ISBN9783110240580
 Zwierlein, Otto, “Petrus und Paulus in Jerusalem und Rom”, Vom Neuen Testament zu den apokryphen Apostelakten, Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2013. ISBN 978-3110303315.
 Steven M. Collins. “The “lost” ten tribes of Israel…found!” Revised Edition 1995, CPA Books, Boring, Oregon. p 310–311.
 Philip W. Comfort, “Complete Book of Who’s Who in the Bible”, Tyndale House Publishers.2014, ISBN 10:0842383697/ISBN 13:9780842383691.