The following was originally written for Gants Hill United Reformed Church in June 2020.
According to the New Testament Bible, Jesus appointed twelve primary apostles or disciples during his ministry in the 1st century AD. The three Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, record the commissioning of the Twelve Apostles. They are as follows:
1. Saint Peter
Saint Peter, also called Simon Peter, Simeon, Simon, Sham’un al-Safa, Cephas, or Peter the Apostle, was one of the first of the disciples Jesus called during his ministry. Born in around 1 AD to a man called either John or Jonah, Simon, as he was originally named, was a fisherman from the town of Bethsaida. Most of what we know about Simon/Peter is inferred from the Bible. We know, for example, that he was married because the Synoptic Gospels record Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law:
“When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him.” (Matthew 8:14-15)
Peter/Simon is first mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew when he is called to be Jesus’ disciple. “As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’” (Matthew 4:18-19) According to Matthew, the brothers left their nets and followed Jesus, no questions asked. The Gospel of Luke, on the other hand, contains a more detailed story.
“One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.” (Luke 5:1-3)
After speaking to the crowd, Jesus told Simon to cast the fishing nets. Simon revealed they had been fishing all night yet did not catch a single fish, yet, he obeyed Jesus’ instruction. The nets were soon full, and Simon was astonished and afraid, but Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” (Luke 5:10)
The Gospel of John adds a few more details to the story. Simon and Andrew were both disciples of John the Baptist before they met Jesus. They had heard about the Messiah from John, which is why they followed Jesus when they first met him. It is then that Jesus renamed Simon. “Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas’ (which, when translated, is Peter).” (John 1:42)
Despite becoming a disciple, Peter continued to use fishing boats, such as the one he and the other disciples were in when they saw Jesus walking on water. Naturally, the sight terrified the disciples, who believed Jesus to be a ghost. Once realising it was Jesus, Peter decided he too would walk on water. “Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” (Matthew 14:29-30)
During the Last Supper, Peter is mentioned by name more times than any other disciple. According to the Gospel of John, Peter initially refused to let Jesus wash his feet. “He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus replied, ‘You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ ‘No,’ said Peter, ‘you shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’” (John 13:6-8)
When Jesus predicted his betrayal, it was Peter who asked who Jesus thought was going to betray him, or at least he told another disciple to ask. “Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.” (John 13:24) Shortly after this, Peter claimed he would lay down his life for Jesus, to whom Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!” (John 13:38)
Just as Jesus had predicted, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times after his arrest. Before this, Peter made one final attempt to prevent Jesus’ arrest and inevitable death. When the soldiers and chief priests arrived, “Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)” (John 18:10)
Peter frequently features in the Acts of the Apostles. After Jesus had risen from the dead, the Disciples began to spread the Christian message throughout the Roman Empire. The Book of Acts records:
- Acts 3: Peter healed a lame beggar.
- Acts 4: The Sanhedrin “seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day” for speaking to the crowds.
- Acts 9: Peter took a missionary journey to Lydda where he healed a man named Aeneas, then travelled to Joppa where he raised a woman named Dorcas from the dead.
- Acts 10: Peter had a vision from God telling him that there were no “unclean” foods.
- Acts 12: Peter was arrested by King Herod Agrippa and imprisoned, however, during the night, an angel helped him to escape.
Peter is largely regarded as the most prominent Disciple and the first leader of the early Church. He is often referred to as “the rock” upon which the Church was built. Peter is always listed first among the Disciples and was present and appeared to be the spokesman on most occasions. Peter’s importance is also suggested by Paul in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, in which he lists Peter as the first person (or man) to see the risen Christ. Before this, Peter had been the first disciple to enter the empty tomb. “So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally, the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.” (John 20:3-8)
In the final chapter of the Gospel of John, it is to Peter that Jesus asks, “do you love me?” three times. This balances out the three times Peter had previously denied Jesus. Jesus instructed Peter to “Feed my lambs”, “Take care of my sheep”, and “Feed my sheep”. He also foretold Peter’s death by saying, “when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18)
Some scholars interpret John 21:18 as a sign that Peter was crucified (“stretch out your hands”). His death was not recorded in the Bible, although some believe the angel releasing Peter from prison in Acts 12 was a metaphor for his crucifixion. Traditionally, some Christians believe Peter was sentenced to death at the age of 64 during the reign of Emperor Nero. It is said he was crucified upside-down. The Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican is said to have been built on the location of Peter’s burial site.
In 1950, human bones were discovered under St Peter’s Basilica. After forensic examination, they have been identified as belonging to a man of roughly 61 years of age from the 1stcentury AD. In 1968, Pope Paul VI announced they were most likely the remains of the Apostle Peter.
Since no one knows the date of Peter’s death, the Roman Catholic Church has assigned the 29th June as the Feast of Saint Peter. The day is celebrated as a public holiday in Rome, where Peter is one of the patron saints as well as in parts of Switzerland, Peru, Malta and the Philippines. As well as being the patron saint of Rome, Saint Peter is the saint of bakers, bridge builders, butchers, fishermen, harvesters, cordwainers, horologists, locksmiths, cobblers, net makers, shipwrights and stationers.
Andrew the Apostle or Saint Andrew was the brother of Simon Peter. It is estimated Andrew was born in Bethsaida, Galilee, between 5 and 10 AD and died around 62 AD in Greece. His name is neither Hebrew nor Aramaic but Greek, meaning “brave”.
In some traditions, Andrew is known as “the First Called” (Prōtoklētos) due to the Gospel of John’s version of Jesus calling his first disciples. Matthew and Mark tell us, “As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.” (Matthew 4:18) John, on the other hand, provides more detail.
“Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed 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 1:40-42)
The Gospel of John explains that Simon and Andrew were originally disciples of John the Baptist. Although the other Gospels suggest Jesus spoke to Simon first, John claims Andrew led his brother to the Messiah; hence the Orthodox churches argue Andrew was the first to be called.
The Gospels suggest Andrew and his brother were very close since they lived together. “As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew.” (Mark 1:29) Not only that, they lived with Simon’s mother-in-law and presumably his wife. When Jesus and the disciples arrived at their house, they found Simon’s mother-in-law in bed with a fever, which Jesus immediately healed.
Unlike his brother, Andrew is mentioned less frequently in the Bible, although his presence is recorded at the most important occasions, including the Last Supper. Andrew played a prominent role in the Feeding of the Five Thousand. A great crowd had come to visit Jesus, but the disciples did not have any food to feed them. One of the disciples exclaimed that it would take half a year’s wages to provide enough food, yet Andrew spoke up, saying, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” (John 6:9) Nevertheless, it was more than enough for everyone.
Andrew was one of the disciples present when Jesus predicted his death. The other was Philip, who had been approached by some Greeks asking to see Jesus. Rather than going straight to Jesus, “Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip, in turn, told Jesus.” (John 12:22) What this signified is uncertain. Perhaps Philip and Andrew were close friends, or Philip did not want to go alone.
During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple and the signs of the End Times. “As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?’” (Mark 13:3-4)
The final time Andrew is mentioned in the Bible is in the Acts of the Apostles. “When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.” (Acts 1:13) By this time, Jesus had died, risen and been taken up into heaven, and the disciples had returned to Jerusalem. They were about to make an important decision about who to elect as the twelfth apostle to replace Judas Iscariot. After casting lots, a man named Matthias was chosen.
Unlike Peter, whose movements are recorded, it is not certain what Andrew did next. Origen of Alexandria (184-253 AD) claims Andrew preached in the Central Eurasian region of Scythia. The Chronicle of Nestor, written in 1113, suggests Andrew also preached along the Black Sea and parts of Eastern Europe, resulting in him becoming the patron saint of Ukraine, Romania and Russia. Hippolytus of Rome (170-235 AD) mentioned Andrew preaching in Thrace and Byzantium, where he set up the See of Byzantium, which later became the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
The Acts of Andrew is an uncompleted testimony of the acts and miracles supposedly conducted by Andrew. Located in the New Testament Apocrypha with other books of the Acts of various disciples, the manuscript claims Andrew raised the dead, healed the blind, calmed storms and defeated armies simply by making the sign of the cross. Allegedly, Andrew caused the death of an embryo that would have resulted in an illegitimate child, and he rescued a boy from an incestuous mother. The latter act landed Andrew in trouble when the mother began accusing him of false claims, but God caused an earthquake to free Andrew and the boy.
Everything written in the Acts of Andrew is open to speculation, and many believe it is heretical and absurd. One person went as far as to claim it was a Christian retelling of Homer’s Odyssey. Regardless of whether the manuscript is reliable, it has led to the general belief that Andrew was crucified in the city of Patras in modern-day Greece. Rather than being crucified on a cross with similar proportions to the cross of Jesus, Andrew was crucified on an X shaped cross. Today, the X is a symbol of Saint Andrew and is found on the Scottish flag of whom he is the patron saint. Less accepted is the claim that Andrew was able to preach for three days whilst on the cross before he eventually died.
Due to the lack of verifiable knowledge about Andrew’s life, many cultures have developed myths and traditions. In Georgia, for example, Andrew is considered the first preacher of Christianity and the founder of the Georgian church. The people of Cyprus claim Andrew’s boat ran aground on their shores, where he caused springs of healing water to gush out of a rock, which restored the sight of the ship’s half-blind captain.
Legends state Andrew’s relics were brought by divine guidance from Constantinople to a town in Scotland, now known as St Andrews. Reports of X shapes in the sky during battles in the 9th century AD led people to believe Andrew was on their side. King Óengus II of the Picts said he would appoint Saint Andrew as the patron saint of Scotland if they won a battle, which they did. Later, the X symbol was used as a hex sign in fireplaces to prevent witches from flying down the chimney. The National Day of Scotland, 30th November, is celebrated as the feast of Andrew within the church.
3. James the Great
James the Great became the third (or fourth) disciple alongside his brother John. He is known as James the Great to distinguish himself from James the Less, although it is believed “great” meant older or taller rather than more important. James was born in around 3 AD to Zebedee and Salome in Bethsaida, Galilee, and died in 44 AD.
“Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets.” (Matthew 4:21) After calling Simon Peter and Andrew to discipleship, Jesus came across James and John fishing with their father. All three Synoptic Gospels mention Zebedee was their father, but only Luke indicates that they were also Simon’s fishing partners. Jesus called to them, saying, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” (Luke 5:10) So, they returned to shore and went with Jesus.
The Gospels record the names of all twelve of the disciples, but Mark goes a step further, revealing that Jesus gave James and John a nickname. “James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means ‘sons of thunder’)” (Mark 3:17) This is indicative of their hot-headed temper as evidenced in Luke 9:54 “When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’” Jesus had sent his disciples to a Samaritan village to prepare them for his arrival, yet the villagers did not want to welcome him. James and John’s immediate response was total destruction, but Jesus rebuked them and went to a different village instead.
James and John are always mentioned as a pair in the Bible, so they must have been very close as brothers. They also experienced things that some of the other disciples did not, for example, the Transfiguration. “After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.” (Matthew 17:1-2) Afterwards, Jesus told them not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
““He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James.” (Mark 5:37) The same three disciples were the only ones who were allowed to come with Jesus to the home of Jairus, the Synagogue leader whose child had just died. In front of Peter, James and John, Jesus raised the girl to life but told them not to let anyone know what he had done.
“As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the Temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?’” (Mark 13:3-4) Once again, it was the same trio, James, John and Peter, who approached Jesus on the Mount of Olives. They wished to know when the destruction of the Temple would occur and how to read the signs for the End Times.
“He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.” (Mark 14:33) Finally, Jesus called the same three disciples to follow him after the Last Supper, asking them to keep guard whilst he prayed. Peter, James and John fell asleep and were woken by Jesus on his return. He asked them twice more to keep guard, and they fell asleep both times.
On one occasion, James and John approached Jesus without Peter, saying, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” (Mark 10:35) They wanted Jesus to “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” (10:37). Jesus informed them that it was not for him to grant who sat in those places. When the other ten disciples heard about their request, “they became indignant with James and John.” (Mark 10:41) To them, it may have appeared James and John thought they were better than them and more worthy of a place by Jesus’ side. Jesus kept the peace by saying that anyone who wishes to be great must first be a servant. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (10:45)
James’ impertinence and fiery temper may have led to his downfall. According to the Acts of the Apostles, “King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword.” (Acts 12:1-2) It does not mention why James was killed, but we know Peter had a different fate, imprisonment, suggesting Herod had not intended to kill them all. King Herod has been identified as Herod Agrippa, who was King of Judea from 41 to 44 AD. James’ date of death is estimated as 44 AD since the Bible reports Herod died soon after.
According to legend, James’ remains are held in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, northwestern Spain. Santiago means Saint James in Spanish, and James is the patron saint of Spain. Yet, as the Bible tells us, James was martyred “with the sword” in Jerusalem. Many believe he had been beheaded, and a legend states his head is buried under the altar of the Armenian Apostolic Cathedral of St. James in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem. So, if James was killed in Jerusalem, how and why did he end up in Spain?
The 12th-century bishop Diego Gelmírez claimed James once preached in Spain and, after his death, the disciples carried his body by sea to the coast of Galicia, where they buried him. An ancient Galician tradition says the Virgin Mary appeared to James when he was preaching the Gospel on the banks of the Ebro River in Spain. Mary was still alive and living in Jerusalem, and the reason for the supernatural visitation is either lost or unknown. Following this, James returned to Jerusalem and his death.
Other traditions claim James’ link to Spain to be false. According to the history of the early Church, James never left Jerusalem. In the book of Romans, which was written after 44 AD, Paul visited Spain or “Illyricum”, where he claimed Christ was not known, thus suggesting James had never been there.
Another legend states James appeared to fight during the legendary battle of Clavijo, which took place 800 years after his death. He was subsequently named Saint James the Moor-slayer and made Spain’s patron and protector. In the 12th century, the military Order of Santiago was founded in his name and is recognised by its insignia, which represents a sword. The sword symbolises James’ death, but his emblem is also a scallop shell, which is represented by the shape of a fleur-de-lis on the insignia. Pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela often wore scallop shell symbols on their clothing. In French, a scallop shell is known as coquille St. Jacques (cockle of St. James), and in German, Jakobsmuschel (mussel of St. James).
As well as Spain, James the Great is the patron saint of Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Guayaquil, the second-largest city in Ecuador. His feast day changes depending on whether you are part of the Western Church (25th July), Eastern Church (30th April) or Hispanic Church (30th December). Several professions also claim James the Great as their patron, including veterinarians, equestrians, furriers (people who make fur clothing), tanners (leather producers), pharmacists, oyster fishers, and woodcarvers.
John the Apostle was the brother of James and the youngest of the disciples. Scholars continue to debate whether this is the same John who wrote several of the books of the New Testament, and others have tried to identify him as John of Patmos, John the Evangelist and John the Elder. The Bible claims John was a fisherman and became a disciple at the same time as his brother. According to the Gospel of John (1:35-39), James and John were originally the disciples of John the Baptist, but the other Gospels do not record this.
“Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets.” (Matthew 4:21)
John and James were the sons of Zebedee and Salome, although some churches call her Joanna. Presumably, Zebedee was a fisherman because he was in the boat where John and James were preparing their nets. When they left to follow Jesus, “they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men”. (Mark 1:20) The fact they could afford hired men implied Zebedee had some wealth, but little else is known about their father.
Salome, like her sons, was a follower of Jesus. She is recorded as one of the women present at Jesus’ crucifixion. “Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome.” (Mark 15:40). According to medieval tradition, Salome’s full name was Mary Salome and was one of the three daughters of Saint Anne. This would make her Jesus’ aunt and John and James his cousin. This legend is based upon the Gospel of John’s version of the crucifixion, which substitutes the name Salome with Mary, the wife of Clopas. “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” (John 19:25)
As previously mentioned, John and James asked Jesus to let them sit on either side of him in the kingdom of heaven (Mark 10). The Gospel of Matthew, on the other hand, records Salome making this request. “Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favour of him. ‘What is it you want?’ he asked. She said, ‘Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.’” (Matthew 20:20-21)
Throughout the Gospels, John and James are often mentioned together. They were present at the raising of Jairus’ daughter, a witness of the Agony in the Gethsemane, and given the nickname “son of Thunder” after suggesting Jesus call down heavenly fire on an inhospitable town. There were times when John was mentioned without his brother; for example, on the day of Unleavened Bread, “Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.’” (Luke 22:8)
In the Gospel of John, the phrase “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is used at least five times but does not appear in the other Gospels. As a result, the scholars who believe John the disciple wrote John’s Gospel also believe John was the disciple Jesus loved. “Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them…This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.” (John 21:20-24)
The references to “the disciple whom Jesus loved” are as follows:
- John 13:23-25: One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”
- John 19:26-27: When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
- John 20:2: So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
- John 21:7: Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.
- John 21:20: “Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is going to betray you?’)”
John was born around 6 AD and died around 100 AD, almost a generation after the death of his brother James, the first disciple to die a martyr’s death. A remark made by Jesus about the disciple he loved, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” (John 21:22), led to rumours that he would never die. This turned out to be untrue, although he did outlive all the other disciples, dying at Ephesus in old age.
John’s activities after his brother’s death are not mentioned in the Bible, but it is assumed he was forced to leave Judea due to Herod Agrippa’s persecution of the Christians. Tradition says John went to Ephesus where looked after a church founded by Paul. If scholars are correct in assuming John was the same John who wrote three epistles, then it is likely he wrote them at this time. Allegedly, John was then banished to the Greek island of Patmos after being plunged into a vat of boiling oil and suffering no consequences.
According to the theological work Against Heresies by Irenaeus, the bishop of Lugdunum (now Lyon in France) written in 180 AD, John taught Polycarp, the future Bishop of Smyrna, about Jesus. In turn, Polycarp taught Irenaeus about Jesus and John. It is claimed Ignatius of Antioch was also a student of John.
The Feast Day of Saint John the Apostle is traditionally celebrated on 27th December, but there was once another feast on the 6th May, Saint John Before the Latin Gate. This celebrated the legend that he was miraculously preserved from the vat of boiling oil during the reign of the anti-Christian Emperor Domitian. A legend from the apocryphal Acts of John claims he was challenged to drink a cup of poison to demonstrate the power of his faith, from which he survived unharmed. As a result, he is the patron saint of burn and poison victims. John is also the patron saint of love, loyalty, friendship, authors, booksellers, art dealers, editors, publishers, scribes, examinations, scholars and theologians.
“The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’” (John 1:43) Not much is known about Philip’s origins other than he came from Bethsaida in Galilee, the same place as Andrew and Peter. Having a Greek name, Philippos, suggests Philip may have originally come from Greece. Although there is no evidence to support this, when a group of Greeks wanted to visit Jesus, it was Philip they approached. “They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we would like to see Jesus.’” (John 12:21)
Philip only gets a brief mention in the Synoptic Gospels, and it is only in the Gospel of John that his presence is recorded at certain events. Not only was Philip present at the feeding of the 5000, but it was also Philip Jesus turned to ask, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” (John 6:5) Philip thought the task was impossible, replying, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” (6:6) John’s Gospel reveals Jesus already had a plan and was testing Philip’s faith.
At the last supper, Philip said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” (John 14:8) Jesus’ response suggests he was not pleased with Philip’s request: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?” (14:9) Yet, this prompted Jesus to teach his disciples about the unity of the Father and the Son: “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.” (John 14:11)
The final time Philip is mentioned in the Bible is in the Acts of the Apostles, shortly after Jesus had been taken up to heaven. The apostles met up to talk, pray and decide who would replace Judas Iscariot as the twelfth disciple. After this, Philip is never mentioned again by name, but in Acts 6, “the twelve” came together to appoint seven men to help spread the ministry of the word of God. Whenever the apostles are referred to as “the twelve”, it is safe to assume Philip was amongst them. Confusingly, one of the men chosen was also called Philip (the Evangelist), who continues to feature in the Book of Acts.
Some extra-canonical texts mention Philip, but scholars have difficulty differentiating between Philip the Apostle and Philip the Evangelist. Some historians even suggested they were the same person, so many texts cannot be fully trusted. The non-canonical Acts of Philip is allegedly an account of the preaching and miracles of Philip after the resurrection of Jesus. The text claims Philip and Bartholomew, one of the other twelve, were sent to preach in Greece, Phrygia and Syria. It also says Philip’s sister Mariamne went with them. The name Mariamne was commonly used in the Herodian royal house, so the author may have confused Philip the Apostle with Philip the Tetrarch (26 BC-34 AD).
Whilst Philip was preaching in Hierapolis in Phrygia, he converted the wife of the proconsul. The act angered the proconsul, who ordered Philip to be tortured and killed. There are two versions of his death. One is he was beheaded and the other, according to the Acts of Philip, claims Philip was crucified upside-down. He continued preaching whilst nailed to the cross, which converted a few more people who tried to release him. Philip insisted they leave him and eventually died. His year of death is recorded as 80 AD.
Due to his crucifixion, Philip is associated with the symbol of the Latin Cross. He is also symbolised by two loaves of bread or a basket filled with bread because of his role in the feeding of the 5000.
Another extra-biblical text, known as the Letter from Peter to Philip, suggests Philip departed on a solo mission at some point between Jesus’ resurrection and being taken up into heaven. The letter from Peter asks Philip to re-join the disciples at the Mount of Olives, presumably so they could appoint a new disciple.
In 2011, Turkish archaeologists claimed to have discovered the tomb of Saint Philip in the ancient town of Hierapolis, near the modern town of Denizli. Writings on the wall of the tomb provided enough evidence for other archaeologists to agree that it was the final resting place of the apostle. Saint Philip’s relics are kept in the crypt of the Basilica Santi Apostoli in Rome.
The Roman Church venerated Philip, and 1st May was designated as his feast day, although this has now changed to 3rd May. Eastern Orthodox churches, on the other hand, celebrate Saint Philip on 14th November. Saint Philip is listed as the patron of Cape Verde, hatters, pastry chefs, San Felipe Pueblo in New Mexico, and Uruguay.
Bartholomew became a disciple at the same time as Philip, although he is named Nathanael in the Gospel of John. “Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘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.’” (John 1:45) Little is known about Bartholomew/Nathanael, except at the end of John’s Gospel, he is referred to as “Nathanael from Cana in Galilee” (John 21:2), implying he lived fairly locally to Jesus.
It is not certain why Bartholomew has two names, but the meaning of the names may give us some indication. Bartholomew is an anglicised version of Bar Talmai, which means either “Son of Talmai” or “Son of Furrows”. Possibly, Bartholomew’s father was called Talmai, which was an Aramaic form of the name Ptolemy. Nathanael, on the other hand, means “God has given”. Whether he had this name before he met Jesus is unknown, and why it was only John’s Gospel that used it is another mystery.
When Bartholomew/Nathanael was first called to be a disciple, he was sceptical, asking, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46) Nazareth was not a particularly well-off place at the time, and Nathanael could not believe the true Messiah would come from such a place.
“When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, ‘Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.’” (John 1:47) Nathanael was surprised that Jesus knew him, so Jesus clarified, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” (1:48) At that moment, Nathanael believed Jesus was the Messiah, but Jesus told him, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that … Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (1:50-51)
Bartholomew’s life after the death and resurrection of Jesus has been pieced together by a variety of sources, none of which are completely reliable. The Christian historian Eusebius (c.260-340) claims Bartholomew went on a missionary trip to India, where he left a copy of the Gospel of Matthew. Saint Jerome (347-420) agrees with this claim, but other sources record Bartholomew serving as a missionary in Ethiopia, Mesopotamia, Parthia (Iran), Lycaonia (Asia Minor), and Armenia.
Popular legend says Bartholomew travelled to Armenia with the apostle Jude where they preached about the life of Jesus. It was also in Armenia where he met his death, either being flayed alive and beheaded, or crucified upside down. Bartholomew had reportedly converted Polymius, the king of Armenia, to Christianity which enraged his brother Prince Astyages. Yet, this does not match historical records of Armenian kings; there was no King Polymius. Yet, in India, there was an official named Polymius, and some scholars state Bartholomew most likely died there in the town of Kalyan.
A few texts record the miracles Bartholomew may have performed before and after his death. The two most popular post-death miracles occurred on the Aeolian island, Lipari. On Bartholomew’s feast day (24th August), the people of Lipari were taking part in an annual procession from the Cathedral of St Bartholomew to the main part of the town, carrying a golden statue of the saint. The statue was usually easy to carry, but on this occasion, it was too heavy, and the bearers had to stop and rest a couple of times, delaying the procession. Whilst resting at the top of a hill, the walls of the town downhill started to collapse. If the people of Lipari had been in the town at the time, they would all have been killed. They believed Saint Bartholomew had saved their lives by making the statue too heavy to carry.
The second miracle on Lipari occurred much later during the Second World War. Fascist leaders needed money, so ordered a silver statue of Saint Bartholomew to be melted down. When it was weighed, they discovered it was only a few grams and not worth the effort. The statue was returned to the cathedral, but locals knew it weighed several kilograms. Once again, they believed Saint Bartholomew had altered the weight of the statue.
Despite not much being known about Bartholomew, he has become a popular figure in art. In a biography of the disciple by Jacobus de Varagine (1230-1299), Bartholomew’s supposed appearance was described in detail. “His hair is black and crisped, his skin fair, his eyes wide, his nose even and straight, his beard thick and with few grey hairs; he is of medium stature…” Many artists have since used this description when depicting Bartholomew in their paintings. He is also often depicted as being flayed alive. Contemporary artists have been inspired by Bartholomew’s fate, including Damien Hurst and Gunther Von Hagen, the developer of the exhibition Body Worlds.
Due to the legends, Bartholomew became the patron saint of the Armenian Apostolic Church. He was also celebrated in England at the Bartholomew Fair, which was held in Smithfield, London, during the middle ages. St Bartholomew’s Street Fair continues to be held annually in Crewkerne, Somerset and is believed to date back to Saxon times.
The nature of Bartholomew’s death led him to become the patron saint of tanners, plasterers, tailors, leatherworkers, bookbinders, farmers, house painters, butchers and glove makers. Other things and places that have claimed him as their saint include Florentine cheese and salt merchants; Gambatesa, a commune in Italy; Catbalogan, the capital of Samar in the Philippines; Magalang, a province in Pampanga, Philippines; Metro Manila, the National Capital Region of the Philippines; Nagcarlan, a municipality in Laguna, Philippines; San Leonardo, Nueva Ecija, Philippines; Gharghur, Malta; Neurological diseases; Shoemakers; and Los Cerricos, Spain.
To be continued…
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Such an interesting and in depth account of Jesus’ followers. Can’t wait for the next instalment.
Gosh, so much work has gone into this blog, it’s breath-taking. Really detailed and fascinating it’s a joy to read. I particularly like the research into the traditions of the disciples beyond the bible references. It’s a masterpiece thank you for sharing your skills.
What a tour de force! So much work must have gone in to putting
all this information together. Can,t wait for the next part.