I love stories about people, and one of the most fascinating groups of people is the apostles. We’ve probably heard stories about Peter, and James, and John, but there are also lesser-known men whose stories – as short as they are – are equally inspiring.
For the next two weeks, I’d like to share ten of their stories. Let’s begin with their names. If you compare the four different lists, you might notice something interesting. There are twelve men, but within the twelve, there are three groups of four. Let’s begin with the list in Matthew 10:2 – 4.
The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
Mark gives the list as:
He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him (Mark 3:16–19).
The first four are always “Peter, Andrew, James, and John.” The second four are always “Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, and Matthew,” and the last four are always James, the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot.” However, within each of those groups of four, the order varies. For example, in Matthew’s account, Andrew is second, but in Mark’s account, Andrew is fourth. Likewise, in Matthew’s second group, Matthew is fourth in the second group but third in Mark’s group.
Note too, Bartholomew appears in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but Nathaniel does not. However, in John’s gospel, Bartholomew doesn’t appear, but Nathaniel does. The answer is simple. The prefix “bar” means “son of.” Thus “Bar-tholomew” is a last name meaning “son of Ptolemy.” So, we know his full name: Nathaniel Bartholomew. (Since the Ptolemies were the Greek rulers of Egypt – Cleopatra was a Ptolemy – a legend grew up that Nathaniel Bartholomew as royalty.)
Our “question to cogitate” today is “What binds the apostles together into three groups?” The first one is easy. Peter, Andrew, James, and John were business partners (Mark 1:16 ff.). The next group: Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, and Matthew, is more complicated. We know Philip and Bartholomew were close friends (John 1), but that is all. The last four, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, are intriguing. The Zealots were Jewish revolutionaries, but what about the other three? Did political affiliations bind them?
The epitaph, “Iscariot,” may provide an answer. “Ish” is the Hebrew name for “man.” William Barclay believes “Scariot” refers to the dagger the Zealots carry. (The Zealots were also called the “Scarioti” or “dagger-men.” If that’s true, Judas “Iscariot” could be “Judas the dagerman.”) If Barclay is correct, then perhaps these last four apostles were Zealots – men who wanted to change the world by any means necessary. The fact that Jesus has Zealots and Matthew the tax-collector both in his band of apostles is an important lesson.
However, it is equally possible “Iscariot” means a man (“Ish”) from Kerioth, a village in Judea. If that is true, the rest of the apostles were probably Galilean, and Judas would have been the only outsider. That is an intriguing possibility we’ll explore when we study him further.
We know for sure that these men were faithful witnesses to Jesus the Messiah, and we would do well to follow their examples.