Who were Jesus’ 12 apostles? Can you name them all? If we’re honest, most of us can’t.
After getting through Peter, James, and John many of us rack our brains before coming up with Paul, George, and Ringo as our next best guesses.
While some apostles are featured prominently throughout the New Testament, others are merely mentioned in passing. Although these men lived and ministered with Jesus we often have a difficult time remembering much about them.
While the following outlines won’t give you a complete view of each of these men, they will help you understand more about these men and keep track of who wanted to sit at the right hand of Jesus, who was present at the transfiguration, and who thought it would be wise to start cutting off ears when Jesus was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane.
“And He appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with Him and He might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons. 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, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him.”
(Click a name to learn about each apostle)
As recorded in John 1:42, Simon was given the name Cephas by Jesus, which is the Aramaic equivalent of Peter. The son of Jonah, or Jonas (Matthew 16:17; Bar means ‘son of’) he was from the city of Bethsaida (John 1:44). He worked as a fisherman with his brother Andrew (Matthew 4:18). Mark 1:21-31 tells us that Jesus came to his home and miraculously healed Peter’s mother-in-law, so we know that this apostle either had a wife or had at least been married previously.
Peter is considered the leader of Christ’s apostles, and as such there is a wealth of information regarding his life and ministry recorded in the New Testament. Below are some of Peter’s highlights (and lowlights) as recorded in Scripture.
Matthew 14:22-33 | Here we see Peter step out in faith to step out of the boat and walk on water towards Jesus. However, when he took his eyes off of the Lord, and noticed the wind and waves, he began to sink. Jesus caught him with His hand and said to Peter, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Matthew 16:13-20 | When Jesus asked the apostles who people thought He was, they replied that some thought He was John the Baptist, some thought he was Elijah, and still others believed Him to be one of the prophets. When the Lord asked Peter directly who he thought He was, Peter boldly and truthfully proclaimed that “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Keep in mind that Christ is not a name, but a title identifying Jesus as the Messiah. Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah is profound.
To this Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”
Luke 22:31-34 | While the previous passage is certainly a high point of Peter’s faith, this section of Luke shows Jesus telling Peter of an upcoming low point. Jesus tells Peter that Satan has desired to “sift [Peter] as wheat,” to which Peter states “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.” However, Christ informs Peter that he will deny the Him three times before the rooster crows.
John 18:10-15 | We see some of Peter’s characteristic rashness in the garden of Gethsemane after Jesus is arrested. It is Peter who deems it best to take up his sword and cut off the ear of one of the high priest’s servants. This earned him a rebuke from Jesus, who did not resist His captors, but willingly went to the cross.
Mark 14:66-72 | This passage, and a parallel in Luke 22:54-61, records a terrible lapse in Peter’s faith. Here we see Jesus’ words come to fruition that Peter would deny Him three times. Not only did the apostle deny following Jesus as a disciple, he denied even knowing Him at all. Once this had occurred, and Peter heard the crow of the rooster, he recalled Jesus’ words and wept.
John 21:15-19 | After having witnessed the empty tomb, Peter returned to fishing. It was while doing so that he encountered the resurrected Christ. As Peter previously had denied Jesus three times, the Lord asks Peter three times, “Simon, son of Johnah, do you love Me?” This incident is often referred to as the restoration of Peter.
From here Peter would return as the leader of the apostles and of the early church. Many of the apostle’s sermons are recorded for us in the book of Acts, in passages such as Acts 2:14-47 and Acts 3:11-26. Acts also records for us Peter’s extensive ministry, his brief arrests (Acts 4:1-22; 12:1-19), and miraculous healings (Acts 3:1-10).
John Foxe records that Peter met his death by crucifixion at the hands of the Roman Emperor Nero. It is reported that he asked to be, and was, crucified upside down as he felt unworthy to die in the same manner as his Lord (Foxe’s Book of Martyrs).
The apostle Peter was a man of great range and passion, and his life exhibits both failures and successes throughout the New Testament narrative. This apostle is the author of the New Testament books 1 and 2 Peter.
Was Peter the first Pope? Nope. See an article on this Catholic tradition at GotQuestions.org
James the son of Zebedee
This apostle has the honor of being among Jesus’ “inner circle” of apostles, along with his brother John and the apostle Peter. He also has the dubious distinction of being the first apostle to suffer martyrdom and the only one whose death is recorded in Scripture.
A son of Zebedee and Salome, he and his brother John were fisherman with their father on the Sea of Galilee. Since James is always mentioned first, he is likely the older of the two brothers.
“And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.”
Jesus gave James and John the nicknames “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17), possibly in recognition of their temperament. For example, after receiving a less than warm welcome in a Samaritan village, they asked “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” (Luke 9:51-56).
James was with John and Peter at the Transfiguration of Jesus (Mark 9) and witnessed the healing of Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:40-56). James and his brother had asked Jesus if He would “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”
This exchange earned them a gentle rebuke from the Lord and some indignation from the other apostles (Mark 10:35-45).
Acts 12:2 tells us that he was King Herod “killed James the brother of John with the sword.” This is the only New Testament record of the death of an apostle. For all of the others we must rely solely on the traditions of the early church for sometimes differing accounts.
John, Brother of James
No, not John the Baptist. The man who would become perhaps the second most prominent apostle lived with his brother and father as a fisherman. When Jesus came and called the two brothers to follow Him full time they immediately left their father and their livelihood behind (Matthew 4:18-22).
Also a member of the inner circle, John was present at the Transfiguration of Jesus (17:1-12). Luke 22:8 tells us that it was John and Peter who were sent by Jesus to make preparations for the Passover meal and John 13:23 reveals the close relationship that this apostle had with the Lord, as it was he who leaned upon Jesus’ chest during the meal.
When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, he confided in His inner circle that His “soul [was] exceedingly sorrowful, even to death” and asked that they watch and pray (Matthew 26:36-46). When all of the other apostles fled after Christ’s arrest it was John, the “disciple whom He loved” who was to be found at the foot of the cross during the crucifixion. Here Jesus would place His earthly mother to John’s care (John 19:25-27).
Upon hearing of Christ’s resurrection, it was the apostle John who outran Peter to see the empty tomb (20:1-10). Called one of the “pillars of the church” in the Book of Galatians, the apostle John contributed several writings to the New Testament: the Gospel which bears his name, three epistles, and the book of Revelation.
Andrew had initially become a disciple of John the Baptist. He would begin to follow Jesus after John declared Him to be the “Lamb of God” (John 1:35, 40) making him one of the first named followers of Christ. John 1:41-42 tells us that after coming to the Lord he immediately went to find his brother Simon, bringing him to see the Messiah.
After returning to his work as a fisherman when Jesus went to Galilee, he was formally called along with Simon (Peter), James, and John to become “fishers of men” in Matthew 4:18-22.
Tradition holds that Andrew was crucified on an X-shaped cross under the Governor Aegeas of the Edessenes. He is recorded as having said “Oh cross, most welcome and longed for! With a willing mind, joyfully and desirously, I come to you, being the scholar of Him which did hang on you, because I have always been your lover and yearn to embrace you.”
It is reported that he preached the Gospel to his killers during the two days that it took him to die (Foxe’s Book of Martyrs).
Philip was from Bethsaida (John 12:21), as were the apostles Andrew and Peter (1:44). The nature of his name suggests that he was a Hellenistic Jew, with Philip being a common Greek name. Early church tradition maintains that it was Philip who asked permission to first bury his father before following Christ in Matthew 8:21 (Clement of Alexandria).
Eusebius records that Philip ministered in Asia and was buried at Hierapolis with his daughters. Although tradition differs as to the manner of his death, many accounts report that he was stoned and crucified.
Bartholomew (Also known as Nathanael)
While the Gospels of Mathew, Mark, and Luke make no mention of Nathanael, the Gospel of John does not mention an apostle named Bartholomew. However, since we know that there are twelve disciples, it is likely that these two names indicate the same individual.
From Cana of Galilee (John 1:45), it was this disciple that cynically asked “Can anything good come from Nazareth” (1:46) after being told about Jesus by Philip. However, after Christ ensured Nathaniel that He had seen him “when [he was] under the fig tree” (1:48), Bartholomew proclaimed Him to be the Son of God and King of Israel.
Tradition holds that he preached in India and translated the book of Matthew into their language. Although traditions vary, it appears that he was beaten, crucified, and beheaded in Sebastopolis, Ethiopia in AD 80. Another early church tradition maintains that he was flayed to death by a whip.
“[Jesus] saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And He rose and followed him” (Matthew 9:9). It is important to note that when this incident is repeated in Luke’s account this apostle is given the name Levi (Luke 5:27).
As a tax collector, Matthew would have been deeply mistrusted and despised by his fellow Jews. This low status is alluded to in Matthew 21:28-32 where Jesus places tax collectors in the same class as harlots. Despite this fact, Jesus chose him to be one of his closest followers.
When the Pharisees looked down upon Jesus’ association with “tax collectors and sinners,” Christ replied that He did “not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:27-32).
Matthew wrote the gospel that bears his name, although the date of this writing is sometimes debated among scholars. A range is typically given between A.D. 50 and A.D. 70 for Matthew to have recorded his gospel. The apostle is said to have been killed by a spear at the direction of a king named Hircanus, after having ministered to Ethiopia and Egypt. Other accounts of his death claim that he died from a sword wound.
Also called Didymus, which is Greek for twin (John 21:2), this apostle is often referred to as ‘Doubting Thomas,’ as it was he who demanded evidence for the other apostles’ claim that Christ had risen from the dead (20:25).
It would be rather uncharitable to remember him solely for this incident, however, as he also demonstrated faith and courage. For example, it was Thomas that was prepared to die with Christ when the apostles were convinced that Jesus would be killed at the hands of the Jews (11:16).
The tradition surrounding Thomas’ later life indicates that he ministered to India. While some believe that he was killed in Calamina, India by a spear during a missionary trip to establish the church there, Clement of Alexandria records that Thomas died a natural death and was not killed as a martyr.
James, son of Alphaeus
Also known as “James the Less,” which distinguishes him from James the son of Zebedee, this apostle is mentioned in each Gospel’s list of the 12 apostles (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13). It is also important to distinguish him from James, the brother of Jesus, and the author of the book of James.
Aside from being recorded in the Gospels as one of Christ’s apostles, there is little mention of this James. Outside of Scripture, it is held that he was buried in Jerusalem after being stoned or beaten to death by the Jews for preaching about Jesus.
Thaddaeus may have also been known as Judas, son of James (Luke 6:16) and Labbaeus (Matthew 10:3). There is very little in the New Testament about this apostle. Tradition holds that Thaddaeus was martyred in Beruit by an axe.
Simon the Zealot
Also known as Simon the Cananaean, this apostle was a Zealot, a political group which did not shy away from using violence in pursuit of its goals (Acts 1:13). Strongly opposed to Roman rule over Israel, this movement was known to not pay taxes and to murder foreign leaders and soldiers, among other things. Learn about the Zealots at GotQuestions.org
Aside from being mentioned in the Gospel accounts as an apostle of Christ, there is next to nothing to be found in the New Testament regarding Simon. As with other extra-Biblical traditions, there are conflicting accounts of how Simon died. However, many sources claim that he was crucified.
Throughout Scripture, Judas Iscariot’s name is accompanied by a clear reference to his eventual betrayal of Jesus into the hands of His enemies (Matthew 10:4). Aside from this pivotal and terrible role in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, the New Testament offers a few other glimpses of who Judas was.
For example, it is revealed that he was a thief; his objection to Jesus’ feet being anointed with expensive oil was an indication of his desire to have instead sold it and kept the money for himself (John 12:4-6).
In Matthew 26:14-16 we read of Judas’ agreement with the chief priests to betray Christ for thirty pieces of silver, after Satan entered into him (Luke 22:3). This eventuality was not unknown to Christ, as He clearly had knowledge that one of the 12 apostles was “a devil” (John 6:70).
After Jesus was condemned to death, Judas was overwhelmed by his remorse. He tried unsuccessfully to return to the chief priests the money he was paid by them (27:3-8). Matthew tells us that Judas hung himself, while Acts 1:16-19 describes that this resulted in a fall and caused gruesome harm to his body.
Maintaining a group of 12 apostles was important, as Christ taught that these men were to sit upon 12 thrones in Heaven, each judging a tribe of Israel (Matthew 19:28).
In the surrounding verses we read that he had been among the apostles “all the time that the Lord Jesus was among [them]” (Acts 1:21-22).
With a choice between Matthias and “Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus,” lots were cast in order to select Matthias the twelfth apostle.
After his appointment, he is never again mentioned in Scripture. Some traditions record him being martyred by being stoned and then beheaded, possibly in Judea.
There is much that can be learned about how to walk in faith by considering the lives and ministries of these individuals.
In them we find examples of strong faith and, at times, failure.
Christ took ordinary men and placed them in an extraordinary circumstance when He chose them to be His apostles.
12 Ordinary Men by John MacArthur