How Did the Apostle Peter Die?
Peter Was Martyred
Tradition tells us that when Peter died as a martyr. When he was given the choice of how he should die, he said, “I’d like to be crucified up-side-down because I am unworthy to die as my Lord died.”
The Scriptures do not record this request of Peter. However, John 21:16,19 alludes to the fact that Peter would die a martyr’s death:
“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou [Peter] wast young thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake He, [Jesus] signifying by what death he [Peter] should glorify God. And when He [Jesus] had spoken this, he saith unto him, [Peter) Follow me.”
Liberty Bible Commentary, Vol. II (page 258) states concerning John 21:18,19 as follows:
“Christ prophesies that one day Peter’s freedom would cease. ‘Old’ – This indicates that Peter will have a long, useful life of service. ‘Thou shall stretch forth thy hands’ – This language could refer to crucifixion, and church tradition concurs that this is how Peter died. ‘Glorify God’ – What confidence the Lord gives to the one who had denied Him. Peter would be faithful to the end, and would bring glory to God through his death. ‘Follow me’ – The Lord calls Peter to a life of total commitment to Him.”
In this text from John 21 Jesus is, in effect, saying to Peter, “Peter, you said you were willing to go to prison and to death for Me,” [see John 13:36,37] “and you are going to do it. When you were young you went your own way, but when you are old you are going to be bound with chains and taken to prison and death for Me.”
And if we can trust early church history, this is just what happened (probably some time between AD 67 and AD 70), because Peter was in prison for Christ’s sake and he was taken out to death [see 2 Peter 1:14,15]. They were going to nail him to a cross, and Peter said, “No, no! My Lord died like that. I am not worthy to die as He did.” Then Peter said, “Hang me on that cross head downward.” (Ref. John, pp. 889,890, H. A. Ironside)
Comments by Dr. Willmington
Dr. H. L. Willmington, in his book entitled, Willmington’s Guide to the Bible, says in his introduction to 1 Peter the following:
“The letter [1 Peter] was probably written at the end of his [Peter’s] life. It is thought that after this epistle he was arrested and tried. Between his trial and execution he wrote 2 Peter [see 2 Peter 1:13-21]. It must have been written around AD 64, on the eve of the outbreak of the persecution by Nero. Nero died in AD 68.”
The traditional account of Peter’s crucifixion could be considered accurate, based on:
- the prophecy of our Lord in John 21:18, 19;
- 2 Peter 1:14, 15; and
- church history handed down through the ages, even though we do not find the actual account recorded in the Scriptures.