Saint Matthew is best known as one of the disciples of Jesus and the author of one of the four canonical Gospels. After Jesus’ crucifixion and ascension, Matthew continued Jesus’ ministry. The Bible does not mention how he died; however, this does not preclude the possibility of determining the cause of his death. By examining the persecutions Christians and disciples faced at the hands of the Romans, we can safely come up with how Matthew the apostle died.
Various churches, including the Roman Catholic, recognize that Matthew died as a martyr in Ethiopia. After witnessing Jesus’ ascension to heaven, the remaining disciples continued the ministry and spread the message throughout the Middle East. Matthew went even beyond this region to preach the Gospel in Ethiopia. It is here that he suffered martyrdom in the hands of King Hirtacus.
Various Accounts of the Martyrdom of Matthew the Apostle
There are various records of conflicting stories that state the death of Matthew, which are mostly based on the writings of the early church fathers. For instance, an account of Matthew dying of old age is given by Clement of Alexandria.
Another version that gives a less happy ending is told in The Golden Legend, where Matthew was killed with a sword while saying mass on the order of King Hirtacus. For his various roles, including gospel writing and as an apostle of Christ, Christians celebrate the feast of St. Matthew.
Evidence From the Bible
While his death is not mentioned in the Bible, it is possible to infer how Matthew died based on the way Christians, including Jesus Christ and disciples, were persecuted for their faith.
Early Christians faced opposition, arrest, and even death for their faith under various authorities, including Roman rulers. In fact, after Jesus’ death, His disciples and early followers experienced suffering and persecution.
The New Testament shows the difficulties disciples and Christians faced, including martyrdom. Stephen, an early follower of Jesus, was stoned to death for boldly proclaiming the Gospel. He became the first Christian martyr. Peter and John were also arrested and brought before the Jewish religious authorities for preaching (Acts 4:1-22).
The death of Jesus on the cross is another good example of forms of persecution Christians face for their beliefs. Jesus faced opposition from religious authorities who were threatened by His teachings and popularity among the people. His messages challenged traditional religious practices, and some leaders perceived Him as a threat to their authority (Matthew 23).
Overall, early Christian traditions, scriptures, and historical sources outside the Bible suggest that several apostles, including Matthew, faced persecution and martyrdom for their faith. The Roman Empire, in particular, viewed Christianity as a potential threat and often targeted them for their refusal to worship the Roman gods and emperors. In addition, the persecution of several apostles sets a historical precedent for considering the possibility that Matthew may have faced a similar fate.
How the Other Apostles Died
For purposes of context, here is a table that shows how the other apostles died
|Name of Apostle
|How He died
|Hanged himself (recorded in the Bible)
|Matthias (Judas Replacement)
|Stoned and beheaded
|Crucified on an X-cross
|Killed by an axe
|Killed by a spear
|James the Less (Son of Alphaeus)
|Beaten to death
|Simon the zealot
Who Was Mathew?
Matthew, the author of the first canonical Gospel, was a tax collector for the Roman empire in Capernaum before he became a disciple (Matthew 10:2-4). Most tax collectors in this era were viewed with suspicion and disdain as they were seen as collaborators with the Roman authorities. They also had a reputation for collecting more taxes than required from their fellow Jews on behalf of the Roman authorities (Luke 3:12-13). As such, Jesus’ association with Matthew was frowned upon. In fact, when Matthew dined with Jesus, the Pharisees disapproved of His company (Matthew 9:10-13).
The calling of Matthew to become a disciple is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 9:9). When Jesus called Matthew he responded immediately, left his work, and followed Him to become one of the 12 disciples. Three out of the four synoptic gospels describe Jesus calling a tax collector to come and follow him (Matthew 9:9, Mark 2:14, and Luke 5:27). However, the last two scriptures mention a tax collector called Levi.
So, are Matthew and Levi the same person?
The four gospels list Matthew as one of the twelve disciples. Matthew’s calling is primarily found in the Gospel of Matthew. However, the Gospel of Mark and Luke have a nearly identical calling narrative about a tax collector named Levi.
In all instances, they talk about Jesus meeting a tax collector and telling him, “Follow me.” This shows that the two names refer to the same person. Besides, it was common for disciples to have or take two names. For instance, Saul became Paul (Acts 9:1-19), and Simon’s name became Peter (Matthew 16:17-18).
Matthews’s Contribution to the New Statement
Matthew’s encounter with Jesus led to a transformative change in his life. He followed Jesus and learned from Him. After his resurrection, Jesus commissioned His disciples, including Matthew, to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). This commission motivated Matthew to share the good news with a broader audience and he became one of the four evangelists who went on to proclaim the good news. In addition, the first book of the New Testament is considered the most important of the four Gospels. It covers the story of Jesus’s miraculous conception and explains the importance of liturgy, law, discipleship, and teaching. It also gives an account of Jesus’s life and death.
Matthew’s ministry is not detailed in the Bible, however, hints are buried within the New Testament. For instance, Matthew is listed among the apostles who gathered to appoint Judas’ replacement after returning to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:12-13).
Disciples faced persecution and, in some cases, martyrdom for their faith. This included figures like Matthew, James (son of Zebedee), and Stephen. While the nature of suffering may differ, the underlying principle is a willingness to endure hardship for one’s beliefs. So even though Mathew faced a horrendous death, it was not unique to him because all the other apostles (except for John) faced a similar fate.