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The word “apostle” comes from the old Greek noun apostolos which meant something like “messenger” or “representative”. That noun was related to the verb apostellô which meant “to send off”, “to despatch”, and so on. God had sent out his son Jesus as his messenger. Jesus in his turn sent out certain men as his messengers, representatives. Putting that in other words: Jesus alone was God’s apostle. The twelve and Paul and others were Jesus’ apostles.
Matthew 10:2–4, Mark 3:16–19, Luke 6:14–16 and Acts 1:13 contain lists of the twelve apostles’ names. In certain New Testament passages, some of the twelve are called by varying names. Details:
That gives us this list:
See also the name-table in the appendix at the end of this article.
The following headings contain some examples of what we can learn about the twelve apostles in the four Gospels, and what they are called there. After this, there are some notes on Matthias, Paul, Barnabas and certain others.
Below, the twelve are mentioned in the same order as in Matthew 10:2–4.
In the four Gospels, he is called Simon or Peter. Matthew 10:2 has “Simon who is called Peter”. The name Peter, in the Greek NT text Petros, meant “stone”. (The corresponding Aramaic name is Cephas which likewise meant “stone”.
The Greek text of Matthew 16:17 and John 1:42 has Simôn Bariônas and Simôn ho huios Iôna, both meaning “Simon the son of Jona”. The latter passage contains also the word Kêphas. In Acts 15:14 the spelling is “Simeon”, in the Greek text Sumeôn.
Peter and his brother Andrew were fishermen, sometimes apparently together with James and John, see Matthew 4:18–21 and Luke 5:10. See even Luke 5:3. John 1:44 shows that Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, and Philip, had lived in Bethsaida, a town on the western shore of the lake of Gennesaret.
In the four Gospels, he is called Andrew, in the Greek text Andreas. Matthew 10:2, Luke 6:14 and John 1:40 state that Andrew was the brother of Simon Peter. Andrew and Simon were fishermen. John 1:44 mentions that they had lived in Bethsaida.
In Matthew, Mark and Luke, he is called James, in the Greek text Iakôbos. In the book of John, the name James is not mentioned, but he is nevertheless mentioned in John 21:2, together with his brother John, under the name “the sons of Zebedee”. Mark 3:17 records that on one occasion, Jesus called James and his brother John, as the Greek text has it, boanerges, apparently an Aramaic word, some have interpreted it as “sons of thunder”. Matthew 4:18–21, Mark 1:20 and Luke 5:10 show that James and his brother John were fishermen, sometimes working with their father Zebedee, and with Simon Peter. James’ death is recorded in Acts 12:1–2.
In Matthew, Mark and Luke, he is called John, in the Greek text Iôannês. John wrote what we today call “the Gospel of John”, but he did not mention his own name there. (The John who is mentioned in that book, is John the Baptist.) But, the book of John mentions even John himself; see such passages as John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2 and 21:2, 7, 20 and 24.) Matthew 10:2 and Mark 3:17 state that John was the brother of James. Matthew 4:18–21, Mark 1:20 and Luke 5:10 show that John and James were fishermen, sometimes working with their father Zebedee, and with Simon Peter. Mark 3:17 records that on one occasion, Jesus called John and James boanerges, apparently an Aramaic word, some have interpreted it as “sons of thunder”.
In the four Gospels, he is called Philip, in the Greek text Philippos.
John 1:44 states that he had lived in the town Bethsaida.
In Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:14 and Acts 1:13, he is called Bartholomew. The book of John does not contain the name Bartholomew, but it is likely that he is the same person as the disciple who in John 1:45–49 and 21:2 is called Nathanael, and that “Bartholomew”, in the Greek text Bar-Tholomaios, “son of Tholomaios”, was his patronymic name.
John 21:2 connects Nathanael with the town Cana in Galilee.
In the four Gospels, he is called Thomas. John 11:16, 20:24 and 21:2 have “Thomas called Didymus”.
In the Greek text, the spellings are Thômas and Didumos.
In Matthew, Mark and Luke, he is mostly called Matthew, in the Greek text Matthaios. A comparison of Matthew 9:9, Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27 leads to the conclusion that Matthew the tax-collector must have been the same person as the tax-collector Levi.
A study of Mark 2:1–14 shows that he had worked in Capernaum and that his father’s name was Alphaeus. The names Matthew and Levi do not appear in the book of John.
In Matthew, Mark and Luke, he is called James [the son] of Alphaeus. In the Greek NT text, the spellings are Iakôbos and Alphaios.
The name James does not appear in the book of John.
Acts 1:13 and Luke 6:16 have “Judas of James”, John 14:22 has “Judas (not Iscariot)”. In Matthew 10:3 we find an apostle called Lebbaeus. (In that verse, some Greek manuscripts have Lebbaios ho epikalêtheis Thaddaios, “Lebbaeus who is called Thaddaeus”, but some have only Lebbaios, “Lebbaeus”.) Mark 3:18 has “Thaddaeus”.
Since there really are no other alternatives, [a] Lebbaeus/Thaddaeus must reasonably be the same person as “Judas (not Iscariot)” of John 14:22 and the in Acts 1:13 and Luke 6:16 mentioned “Judas of James” (either “the son of James” or “the brother of James”).
a This can be seen more clearly in the name-table in the appendix at the end of this article.
In Matthew 10:4 and Mark 3:18, he is called “Simon the Canaanite”. In Luke 6:15 and Acts 1:13, he is called “Simon called Zelotes”. (The word Zelotes appears only in those two verses.).
In the four Gospels, he is called “Judas Iscariot”, in the Greek text Ioudas Iskariôtês.
Judas Iscariot was the one who betrayed Jesus, for thirty pieces of silver. His death is recorded in Matthew 27:3–10.
On an occasion which is recorded in Acts 1, a disciple called Matthias was selected to replace Judas Iscariot, “as a witness”. He was then in that way “numbered with the eleven apostles” (Acts 1:26). But, it is not clearly stated whether he was considered to be an “apostle” (a messenger of Jesus), or merely “a witness with us of his resurrection” as Acts 1:22 has it. Acts 6:2 talks about “the twelve”, which logically ought to include Matthias, but it is not fully clear whether that means “twelve apostles” or something else.
Then there was the apostle Paul, even he personally chosen, called and taught by the Lord Jesus, see Romans 1:1, 1 Corinthians 1:1, 2 Corinthians 1:1 and 11:5, Galatians 1:1, Ephesians 1:1, Colossians 1:1, 1 Timothy 1:1, 2 Timothy 1:1 and Titus 1:1. Paul was sometimes called Saul. In the Greek text, the spellings are Paulos and Saulos.
Acts 14:4 and 14 give the impression that also Barnabas was an apostle. Does that mean that even he was a messenger (apostle) of Jesus, or does it instead refer to the fact that the saints in Antioch had sent [b] him on a mission, as Acts 13:3 records? This is not fully clear.
b The noun apostolos, from the verb apostellô, “to send”, simply meant “messenger” (sent by someone), or “representative”.
In Philippians 2:25 and 2 Corinthians 8:23, some translators have interpreted the word apostolos in the Greek text in the general meaning “messenger” (“your messenger” and “messengers of assemblies”). But, some others have put into those verses the word “apostle”. If that is a correct interpretation of what Paul wrote in Greek, then even Titus and Epaphroditus were apostles.
There is also 1 Thessalonians 1:1 which, when read together with 1 Thessalonians 2:6, gives the impression that even Silvanus (Silas) and Timothy were viewed as “apostles”.
Romans 16:7 mentions Andronicus and Junia. Some bible-translators have made it seem that they were “apostles of note”. The Greek text of that passage says that they were “noted among the apostles”, but that does not have to mean that they themselves were apostles. Consider this translation:
Romans 16:7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. (ESV01)
What about James, Jesus’ (half-)brother? (Not the same as the apostle James who was the brother of John.) The way some bible-versions render Galatians 1:19, might cause the reader to think that even Jesus’ brother James was an apostle. But, consider this translation:
Galatians 1:18 Then, three years later I went to Jerusalem to become personally acquainted with Cephas. I stayed with him for fifteen days. 19 I didn’t see any other apostle. I only saw James, the Lord’s brother. (GWV)
So, that verse does not have to mean that the James who was the Lord’s brother, was an apostle. It could also be that the apostle Paul was merely saying that on that occasion he saw none of the other apostles except Cephas (Peter), and that at that time, he even saw Jesus’ brother James.
Revelation 21:14, perhaps symbolically, places “the twelve” in a unique category among the saints. Since Judas Iscariot was excluded, someone must have replaced him. Was that Matthias, or someone else? The answer is that we do not know.
And again: Only Jesus was God’s apostle. The twelve and Paul and others were Jesus’ apostles. The article naa080.htm has some notes on this.
See also the “recommended reading” section, after the appendix below.
In the table below, the names are in all columns given in the same order as in Matthew 10:2–4.
|Matthew 10:2–4||Mark 3:16–19||Luke 6:14–16||Acts 1:13||Notes|
|Simon Peter||Simon Peter||Simon Peter||Peter||Also called Cephas, see John 1:42.|
|James the son of Zebedee||James||James||James||–|
|Bartholomew||Bartholomew||Bartholomew||Bartholomew||Also called Nathanael (John 1 and 21).|
|Matthew the publican||Matthew||Matthew||Matthew||Also called Levi (Mark 2:14, Luke 5:27).|
|James the son of Alphaeus||James the son of Alphaeus||James the son of Alphaeus||James of Alphaeus||–|
|Lebbaeus [who is called Thaddaeus]||Thaddaeus||Judas of James||Judas of James||–|
|Simon the Canaanite||Simon the Canaanite||Simon Zelotes||Simon Zelotes||–|
|Judas Iscariot||Judas Iscariot||Judas Iscariot||–||–|
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Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters
An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → nsa090.htm
The apostle Paul and his teachings. → noa111.htm
What does the word “righteous” really mean? What does the Bible say about righteousness? → nga081.htm
What does the Bible say about religious titles, such as “apostle”, “bishop”, “evangelist”, “father”, “pastor” and so on? → naa080.htm
Easy keys to deeper understanding of the Scriptures. → nga020.htm
Table of contents – Key-word index – Search function – On the goal and purpose of this site
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