Among the most significant events in Jesus' ministry is his choosing of the
twelve disciples, also called apostles, to be with him and share his ministry.
The nucleus of the group was two brother pairs, Simon Peter and Andrew and the
sons of Zebedee, James and John. These four worked together in a prosperous
fishing business, thus they were by no means poor — Mark indicates that when
James and John went to join Jesus, they left their father "in the boat with the
hired men." (Mark 1:20)
The disciples according to Matthew's Gospel
"Simon (who is called Peter) and
his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and
Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and
Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him."
According to Mark
"Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James son of Zebedee
and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of
Thunder); Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus,
Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him."
"Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip,
Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the
Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor."
John (Greek Ioannes, from Herbrew Yowchanan, meaning "Jehovah is a gracious
giver") - John was originally a disciple of John the Baptist. According to some traditions he lived to a ripe old age in Ephesus (in
modern Turkey) and is credited by some with writing the Fourth Gospel, also
three epistles (1st, 2nd and 3rd John) and Revelation. However, if he did write
all the letters and books attributed to him, he did so in three different styles! He is
commonly thought to be the "disciple whom Jesus loved" in John's Gospel (though
many modern scholars doubt this). He was known to the high priest and was able
to enter into the high priest's courtyard during Jesus' trial. He was also
entrusted by Jesus with the care of his mother at the Crucifixion. Later,
according to tradition, he took her to Ephesus. Reportedly he died at a very old
age and was buried in Ephesus, where visitors are shown his grave in the
partially restored remains of the Church of St. John on a hill above the ancient
Andrew (from Andreas; a distinctly Greek name meaning "manly")
- Like John he was originally a disciple of John the Baptist,
and brought his brother Simon to Jesus: "The first thing Andrew did was
to find his brother Simon and tell him, 'We have found the Messiah'
(that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus." (John 1:41-42).
Apparently he was older than Peter, because he is mentioned
before his brother in John 1:44: "Andrew and Peter..." He figures prominently in
several early church traditions and is believed to have been crucified on an
X-shaped cross, thereafter called a St. Andrew's Cross.
James (Greek Iakobos, the same as Iakob, from Hebrew Yaaqob, meaning "heel
catcher" or "supplanter") - Son of Zebedee and older brother of John, he was
executed at the command of Herod Antipas — the first of the twelve to suffer
martyrdom — in 44 AD. Perhaps because of his and John's fiery fanaticism in
wanting to call down fire from heaven to destroy a Samaritan village for
refusing to receive Jesus and the disciples (Luke 9:52-54), Jesus called the
brothers "Boanerges" or "sons of thunder." (Mark 3:17)
Simon (Hebrew Shimown or Simeon meaning "[God] has heard")
- A son of Jonah
(Matthew 16:17) or John, he was given the Greek name Peter ("Petros" meaning
"rock or stone") by Jesus after he confessed that Jesus was the Christ (Greek
"Anointed One," same as Hebrew "Messiah"). Paul calls him Cephas, also meaning
"rock." His name always appears first in the list of disciples. He and his
brother Andrew came from Bethsaida, near the place where the Jordan River
entered the Sea of Galilee. Also, he was married (his wife is mentioned in 1
Corinthians 9:5, while Mark 1:30-31 tells of his mother-in-law being cured of a
fever by Jesus; neither are named). He is noted in the Gospels for his
impetuous, impulsive nature, often speaking without thinking.
Philip (another distinctly Greek name, derived from Philippos meaning "lover of
horses") - He, like Simon Peter and Andrew, was from Bethsaida. It was Philip
who brought Nathanael/Bartholomew to Jesus, saying, "We have found the one Moses
wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote — Jesus of
Nazareth, the son of Joseph." This prompted Nathanael's cynical reply:
"Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" (John 1:46) He was among the
disciples at Jerusalem after the ascension and on Pentecost. Everything else
said about him is uncertain. According tradition he preached in Phrygia, and
died at Hierapolis (both in modern Turkey).
Four of the other disciples' names are Greek in form but of Semitic origin:
Bartholomew (Greek Bartholomaios, from Aramaic bar and Talmay ["furrowed"],
meaning "son of Tolmai," possibly derived from his father or an ancestor; also
said to mean "inhabitant of Ptolemais," a port city north of Caesarea;
modern Akko) - In John 1, the account of Philip's call
to discipleship by Jesus is closely related to that of a person called
Nathanael, leading to the traditional identification of Bartholomew with
Nathanael (possibly Nathanael was Bartholomew's personal name, but this is by no
means certain). John (21:2) reports that "Nathanael from Cana in Galilee" was
among a group of disciples fishing on the Sea of Galilee who saw Jesus after his
resurrection. According to John, Jesus first noticed Nathanael as he sat beneath
a fig tree. It may have been a rather warm day and the future disciple was
either studying or praying in a shady spot:
"How do you know me?" Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, "I saw you while you were
still under the fig-tree before Philip called you" (John 1:48).
Matthew (Greek Matthaios, meaning "gift of Jehovah") - The same as the tax
collector Levi ("joined") mentioned in John's Gospel. He lived in Capernaum and
his tax office was located on the road known to the Romans as "Via Maris" ("Way
of the Sea"), the main highway from Damascus to Egypt. Employed by Herod Antipas, it was his duty to collect toll or
transport taxes from merchants and farmers carrying their goods to market; also
from caravans passing through Galilee. Tax collectors were called "publicans"
because they handled public money (thus "Publican" in the KJV; Matthew 10:3). In Mark 2:14 Levi is called a "son of Alphaeus" which means he may
have been a half-brother of James the Younger (see below). Tax collectors were
seen as Roman collaborators and traitors; they were hated officials who cashed
in on the misfortunes of their fellow countrymen. No wonder they were classed
with Gentiles, sinners and prostitutes (Matthew 21:31 and Mark 2:16). In
Matthew's Gospel, the Pharisees chastise Jesus and the disciples for dining at
Matthew's house in Capernaum with "many (other) tax collectors and sinners."
Thomas (Hebrew Taowm, meaning "twin") - He was also called by the Greek name Didymus, also meaning "twin." According to Eusebius, his real name was Judas. If
so, than Thomas may have been a surname, used to avoid confusing him with Judas
Iscariot. He had a complex personality revealing pessimism mixed with devotion
and courage. Usually we remember him for doubting Jesus' resurrection ("Unless I
see the nail marks in his hands..." John 20:25 ), but when convinced of the
miracle he made a historic confession: "My Lord and my God!" to which Jesus
responded, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who
have not seen and yet have believed." (John 20:28-29)
Thaddaeus (Greek Thaddaios derived from Hebrew or Aramaic meaning "large
hearted, courageous") - A comparison of the lists of disciples in Luke 6:16 and
Acts 1:13 leads to the conclusion that Thaddaeus and "Judas son of James" were
the same person. In John 14:22 he is referred to as "Judas (not Judas
Iscariot)." Also called Jude, another form of the Hebrew name Judah, whicn in
Greek is "Judas." Another cousin to Jesus, he was not a prominent figure among
the disciples, and little is known of him.
The other disciples:
James (Greek Iakobos, the same as Iakob, from Hebrew Yaaqob, meaning "heel
catcher" or "supplanter") - Referred to in the Synoptic Gospels as "James son of Alphaeus," he was probably a (half?) brother of the tax collector Matthew (Levi)
and Joses; sometimes identified as "James the Younger." His mother Mary was
among the women at Jesus' crucifixion and tomb.
Simon the Zealot (or Zelotes according to Luke) - Scholars disagree as to
whether this should be interpreted as meaning that he was a member of the
radical group called the Zealots, Jewish nationalists willing to resort to
violence against Roman rule rather than violate the Torah, or simply a zealous
person. In the King James Version, Matthew 10:4 describes him as "the Canaanite"
(Greek Kananites). It has been suggested that the term Canaanite is not a
geographic designation but is derived from the Hebrew qanna, meaning "zealous
Judas Iscariot (Greek form of the Hebrew Judah)
- We know absolutely nothing of
his life before the appearance of his name in the lists of Jesus' disciples.
But, the fact that his name is on the list shows that he had previously declared
himself a disciple, drawn, as the others were, either by the preaching of John
the Baptist, or his own Messianic hopes, or the words of Jesus to leave his
former life. Several times he showed a tendency to selfishness. Usually he is
named last because of his later betrayal, but he held the privileged position of
treasurer of the group and sat in the seat of honor next to Jesus at the Last
Supper. His father was Simon Iscariot (John 6:71); their surname "Iscariot" may
indicate they were from Kerioth in southern Judea ("Kerioth Hezron" in Joshua
15:15; exact location unknown).
Salome (Greek, probably from Hebrew shalowm, meaning "peaceful") - Among the
many who contributed to the ministry of Jesus, she was the wife of the wealthy
Galilean fisherman, Zebedee, who hired men to work his boats. She was also the
mother of the disciples James ("the older" or "the great") and John. The only
events recorded about Salome are her request that Jesus grant her two sons seats
of honor in the kingdom of heaven, also that she was among those who kept watch
at the crucifixion of Jesus and she bought spices to the tomb to anoint his
Mary Magdalene (from Hebrew Miryam, or Marah; Greek Mariam or Maria, meaning
"rebellious" or "bitter") - Magdalene was not her family name but the name of
her hometown. In the same manner as Jesus was identified as a Nazarene (from the
town of Nazareth), Mary Magdalene came from Magdala, on the west shore of the
Sea of Galilee, two miles north of Tiberias and on the southern edge of the
Plain of Genneseret. She first appears in Luke 8:2| among the women who traveled
with Jesus. She and the other women must have been comparatively wealthy and
helped support Jesus' ministry; in Mary's case it was out of gratitude his
having cured her of "seven demons." She was present during the closing hours of
the agony on the cross and waited until Jesus' body was taken down and placed in
the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea. On Easter Sunday she was the first person to
whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection.
Mary "the mother of James the younger and of Joses (Joseph)"
- The wife of Alphaeus (also called Cleopas or Clopas), she is first mentioned among those
keeping watch at the foot of the cross; that same evening we find her sitting
disconsolate at the tomb with Mary Magdalene (Matthew 27:61) and on Easter
morning she, with Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James, came to Jesus'
tomb to anoint his body and found the stone rolled away. The women informed the
eleven disciples, "but they did not believe the women, because their words
seemed to them like nonsense." (Luke 24:11) She had four sons and at least three
daughters. The names of the daughters are unknown. According to John (19:25) she
was the sister of the Virgin Mary and thus, Jesus' aunt.
Joanna (Greek Ioanna, the feminine equivalent of John, meaning "Jehovah is a
gracious giver") - The wife of Chuza, the manager of the household of Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee; another of the women healed of evil spirits and
infirmities by Jesus.
Susanna (Hebrew derived from Greek shuwshan, meaning "lily")
- One of the women
who provided for Jesus and the disciples "out of their own means;" nothing else
is known about her.