Who are the Twelve?

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12 Apostles
Apostles of Jesus

The Twelve are listed in Mark, Matthew, Luke and Acts. Luke's two books show the most enthusiasm for this group, using "Twelve" frequently and interchangeably with "apostles." John refers to the Twelve only twice and never lists them.

The listings betray a hierarchy. Four names top every list: brothers Simon Peter and Andrew, and Zebedee’s sons James and John. Peter is always first. The other three vary. The next grouping is shuffled but consistent: Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, and Thomas. The surprise is Bartholomew, who never speaks and of whom nothing is known.

The final four are James, son of Alphaeus; a disciple known as Thaddeus or Judas, son of James; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, closing every listing as the least esteemed.

With two Simons, two James, and possibly three Judases, epithets or nicknames are added. Simon Peter is distinguished from the Zealot. Zebedee’s James is “the Greater,” and Alphaeus’ son “the Lesser.”  Thaddeus/Judas, assuming the same position on various lists, is shortened to Jude to lose the reviled name. Thomas is called “Judas, not the Iscariot” in John’s gospel and other extra-biblical texts. That identification is simply dropped.

In John's gospel, Andrew, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael are the original recruits. Nathanael? Since Philip recruits Nathanael, and Philip is paired with Bartholomew elsewhere, the idea that Nathanael IS Bartholomew is suggested. John gives Zebedee’s sons only a vague post-resurrection nod. John favors other followers: Sanhedrin member Nicodemus; Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany; Mary Magdalene, Joseph of Arimathea, and an unnamed “beloved” disciple. Thomas plays a heftier role, as does Judas. After Easter, Luke says, Matthias replaces Judas. The symbolic authority of Twelve lasts for a generation. As each is martyred, none are replaced.

Scriptures: Mark 3:14-19; Matthew 10:1-4; Luke 6:12-16; John 1:37-51; 3:1-15; 6:70-71; 11:16; 13:23; 18:15-16; 14:22; 19:26-27, 38-42; 20:1-29; 21:1-2, 7, 20-25; Acts 1:13

Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve – Tom Bissell (New York: Vintage Press, 2017)Didache: The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles – Clayton N. Jefford (Salem, OR: Polebridge Press, 2013)

Reprinted with permission from PrepareTheWord.com. ©TrueQuest Communications.

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