Did 2 Timothy invite St Paul's martyrdom?


This pure speculation, but I read some 1st century history that makes me wonder if St Paul precipitated his own death by sarcastically lampooning the emperor.

In 66 A.D. the Emperor Nero left Rome to compete in the Olympic games and make a concert tour of Greece. At Olympia, he competed in the four-horse chariot race. The historian Suetonius, in The Twelve Caesars, reported that Nero drove his chariot with at least 10 horses. The emperor was thrown from his chariot during the race and had to be picked up and put back at the reins.

The emperor was unable to remain in his seat and gave up the race before the finish. Since he was the emperor, the judges crowned him the winner anyway. Nero generously declared the whole province a free country and gave the judges large sums of money.

This humiliation would have been fresh news when the buffoonish emperor returned to Rome and soon afterward had the apostle Paul beheaded. Could there be a connection between Paul’s execution and a letter he penned from a prison cell in Rome? The apostle wrote this in his last letter to his young friend Timothy:

An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. . . . [T]he time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day.
~ 2 Tim. 2:5, 4:6-8.

Nero the athlete had also won a crown, but he never finished the race. Nero did not compete according to the rules, yet was awarded the crown.

I think the stern apostle shows a sense of humor in combining this bittersweet farewell to Timothy with a joke at Nero’s expense. Anyone else think there is something to this?


Paul definitely knew that his death through martyrdom was imminent. I don’t think it is due to Paul’s scorn, however.

Following the burning of Rome, Nero had a huge crisis. He needed a scapegoat to avoid the wrath of the Roman people. He chose to blame the fire on the Christians. They weren’t necessarily named as starting the fire. They were accused of angering the pagan Gods by their rejection which in turn caused the gods to punish Rome.

Paul would certainly have been widely known as the leader of the Christians in Rome. He was particularly vocal in his teachings against paganism and promoting conversion. However, the scorn in his letter was nothing new. His death was going to happen because he would never forsake his beliefs.


I am not sure if he brought on his martyrdom but that is a very interesting correlation you put between Suetonius’s bio on Nero and St. Paul.


Paul likely died before Nero’s Greek adventures in A.D. 66.

By that time he had also either intentionally or unintentionally killed Poppea, his wife and mother to his child. That was in A.D. 65.

So Nero was sinking further and further into madness.

Poppea was probably the real lightening rod against Paul and the Christians. She had a fascination with religion and the occult, and held meetings in secret with similarly-minded friends.

Poppea was behind Ismael, the Second Temple High Priest, resigning his position to move to Rome and be at Poppea and Nero’s beck and call. This in A.D. 61. In A.D. 63, she was taken by the young Flavius Josephus, and made him a part of her salon for a short while.

Coincidentally or not, A.D. 63 is when the Book of Acts ends- with Paul in Rome, along, according to Eusebius, with Peter.

All hell would break loose a year later against the Christians.

Was Poppea and Ismael the real instigators?!

Interesting take on it is Hagan’s “Fires of Rome.”

But Paul didn’t have a death wish per se. He certainly fought back and escaped many dangers before finally succumbing- probably in A.D. 64 during the Rome persecutions.

After all, his role was to PREACH and not PERISH.


Paul didn’t Tweet this or post it on FB. He likely wrote a single letter, which was forwarded to Timothy in Ephesus. Secondly, Nero would have to have read the letter or had the letter read to him. Thirdly, if Nero was so offended/enraged over this supposed allusion that it caused him to have a Roman citizen beheaded, someone somewhere writing history would have noticed this centuries ago, wouldn’t they?


I appreciate all the comments, especially the skeptical ones. I offered it only as speculation or coincidence. Even if it did not contribute to Paul’s death, I see it as humor and not-so-veiled contempt for an evil ruler.

**Steve 53 **mentioned that “Paul likely died before Nero’s Greek adventures in A.D. 66.” If that were true, then Nero court hardly have been embarrassed by the apostle lampooning him. But that would make the coincidence even more remarkable, almost prophetic.

**Po18guy **also makes a good point that “Paul didn’t Tweet this or post it on FB. He likely wrote a single letter.” That does not address the issue of whether St Paul was ridiculing the emperor, but it raises the question of how quickly and widely St Paul’s letters were being passed around at the time of his death.


I wish we knew more about Paul in Rome in the years A.D. 61-64.

Acts ends in A.D. 63, and Eusebius writes that Paul died in the Neronian persecutions in A.D. 64.

In Acts and his letters, it is clear that Paul thought his destiny was to stand before Ceasar and preach.

In Rome at that time, the population was only a million or so. Plus, Nero was known to mingle with the people far more than the average Emperor, and even would give public recitals and performances.

As a Roman citizen, it would have been fairly simple for Paul to get in to see one of them.

Maybe Paul just gave Nero a “shout out” when he got close to him.

Nero’s wife Poppea was fascinated with philosophy, religion, and the occult. The Jewish offshoot religion of the Christians, based on someone who had returned from the dead, and whose central ritual sounded a lot like cannibalism, would have been utterly fascinating to her.

It is a real possibility that Poppea simply invited Paul to come to one of the Imperial feasts to discuss Christianity, or maybe to one of her secret salon meetins.

To speculate further, Paul, with his rough and abrasive edges, might have irritated Nero or worse, which later provided the rationale for blaming the Christians for the great fires of Rome in mid-A.D. 64.

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