Bones of Contention: Have Paul’s Bones Been Discovered in Rome?

Bones of Contention, PDF Format

Have Paul's bones been discovered in Rome?

The Vatican is in a froth of excitement. The pope of Rome, Benedict XVI, announced in June that the remains of Paul the apostle may indeed be inside what Rome has for centuries claimed to be the tomb of Paul, known as the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. In 2006 excavations in the basilica brought to light a marble sarcophagus which had been resting on a layer of clay floor dating from 390 AD. Tests were conducted on the sarcophagus.

Presiding at the “Feast of Saints Peter and Paul”, which marked the conclusion of Rome’s “Year of St. Paul”, with the celebration taking place at the basilica, this is what Benedict XVI jubilantly announced:

“An authentic scientific analysis seems to confirm the unanimous and uncontested tradition that these are the mortal remains of the Apostle Paul.

“A tiny hole was drilled into the sarcophagus – which over many centuries had never been opened – in order to insert a special probe, which revealed traces of costly purple coloured linen fabric, laminated with pure gold and a blue fabric with linen filaments. Grains of red incense and protein and chalk substances were also discovered. There were also tiny bone fragments, which were sent for carbon-14 testing by experts who were unaware of their origin. These were discovered to belong to a person who had lived between the first and second centuries.”i

Following Benedict’s announcement, the media, ever on the lookout for sensational news stories, were quick to report that the remains of Paul have been authenticated in the sarcophagus, with headlines such as, “Tests verify bones are those of apostle Paul”.ii But is this true? And is it even what the pope of Rome said? He certainly wants the world to believe that Paul is really buried there; but even so he chose his words carefully – speaking in such a way that the casual reader will be given the impression that Paul is really buried there, but nevertheless leaving himself with a bolt hole out of the difficulty should it ever become necessary to admit that the bones are not those of the apostle. Let us analyse Benedict’s words:


He said, “An authentic scientific analysis seems to confirm” that Paul’s remains are there. Even he doesn’t come out and claim it as an absolutely proven scientific fact! Something that “seems” to be confirmed is not, in fact, confirmed. He then immediately goes on to speak of “the unanimous and uncontested tradition that these are the remains of the Apostle Paul.” In other words, he is saying that although the scientific analysis seems to confirm it, Roman Catholic tradition categorically confirms it! It is unanimous and uncontested! In wording it like this, Benedict is making it clear that even if the scientific evidence does not definitively support the tradition that Paul is buried there, he definitely is buried there because the tradition of him being buried there is unanimous and uncontested! Rome has followed a similar “logic” with regards to the famous Shroud of Turin, which it continues to claim is the authentic shroud in which Jesus was buried even though scientific analysis has conclusively shown that it is not, and in fact cannot be.

As for the “unanimous and uncontested tradition” that Paul is buried there, tradition, quite simply, is not evidence. Furthermore, the fact that there may be no other contestants for the burial site, because none have been found which are supported by any evidence, does not give any credibility whatsoever to the basilica site. The basilica site is not automatically the correct one by default, merely because no others have been put forward as possibilities!