BR 5:06, Dec 1989
Did Paul Commit Suicide?
The question this article will explore may appear disturbing at first sight, and for good reason. Since Augustines time, the church has condemned suicide as a sina sin beyond redemption, just like apostasy and adultery. How then could Paul, the premier apostle of early Christianity, even have contemplated suicide, much less gone through with it?
Three bits of evidence suggest this possibility.
The first is contextual; it concerns how suicide was viewed in Pauls time.
I said that suicide has been condemned as a sin since Augustines time. He lived in the second half of the fourth century and the first third of the fifth century. In his confrontation with the Donatists, a powerful Christian sect in North Africa, Augustine sought to redefine the terms martyrdom and suicide. He argued that the Donatist martyrs were in fact merely suicidesthat is to say, self-murderers.1 As is well known, Augustines case against suicide was based on Plato, not the Bible. Aside from his appeal to the sixth commandment, Thou shalt not kill, Augustine took over the Pythagorean argument against suicide in Platos Phaedo: that to sever the bonds of body and soul prematurely was to usurp a privilege that belonged only to God.2