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

Next, consider the traces of clothing found in the sarcophagus: costly purple coloured linen fabric, laminated with pure gold and a blue fabric with linen filaments. Although not conclusive evidence in itself, such clothing hardly seems to fit with what we know of the apostle to the Gentiles, who was far from being a wealthy man, nor with the likely burial customs of the early Christians, who were mostly poor.

As for the bone fragments which tests showed to belong to a person who had lived between the first and second centuries, well, that really narrows it down! What kind of pathetic “evidence” is this? What does it prove, even if accurate? (and carbon-14 dating is notoriously inaccurate). This is the sum total of what it actually proves: that a person who lived at some point during those two centuries is buried there! Millions of people lived and died during the first two centuries AD. And yet Rome wants us all to believe that these bones belonged to Paul? That is stretching credulity as if it were a giant elastic band!

In addition, although the Roman pope’s words were designed to give the masses the impression that the remains of Paul had definitely been found, Vatican officials were far more candid, and even contradicted what their pope had claimed. They said that although the investigation into the tomb does not contradict the tradition that it is in fact Paul who is buried there, it also does not confirm it!iii

According to tradition, Paul was beheaded in Rome, and then supposedly buried at the place where, at a later date, the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls was erected. But although superstitious pilgrims used to visit the supposed original tomb of Paul (which may or may not have been authentic – there is just no way of knowing), over the centuries it disappeared from view and eventually could no longer be identified. So then there is absolutely no way whatsoever of being certain that the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls is built over the authentic spot where he was buried!

When the basilica was being reconstructed after being destroyed by fire in 1823, two marble plaques were found beneath the “confessio” altar, dating from the time of the pope, Leo “the Great”, who reigned in the fifth century (440-461). These plaques contained the inscription “Paolo Apostolo Mart” (“Paul the Apostle Martyr”). But does this prove anything at all? No. These plaques were inscribed in the fifth century AD, centuries after Paul had died! Of course it is possible that, in the fifth century AD, there was still real, solid evidence of where the apostle had been buried; but only possible, not certain. It is equally possible that nothing but very shaky tradition was behind the identification of his burial place back then. It is also equally possible, in fact very likely considering the greed of Roman popes, that nothing but the pope of Rome’s own desire for a great pilgrimage-site, which would attract large numbers and thus do much to fill the Papal coffers, was behind the establishment of this place as the supposed burial place of Paul.

It is certainly very likely that Paul was martyred in Rome under the emperor Nero. That he himself, in his old age and in prison in Rome, expected to be martyred there, is clear from 2 Tim. 4:6-8,16-18. And if he died in Rome, he would have been buried in Rome. But as to where he was buried, there is simply no strong historical evidence.

Tradition also holds that bone fragments from Paul’s head are in another basilica in Rome, St. John Lateran. Gruesome fellows, those relic-collectors of old. Dishonest, too, as there are so many “relics” of parts of various apostles’ and others’ bodies that, with all those superfluous body parts, they must have been frightening to behold! For example, in times past there were at least six locations in Roman Catholic places of worship where “genuine” heads of John the Baptist were supposedly deposited, with each one guaranteeing its authenticity by Papal bulls; at least six right index fingers of John the apostle; etc. And apparently each of the twelve apostles had at least two bodies apiece, if we were to go by the places where their bodies were supposedly kept as relics!