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see apostleapostle
[Gr.,=envoy], one of the prime missionaries of Christianity. The apostles of the first rank are saints Peter, Andrew, James (the Greater), John, Thomas, James (the Less), Jude (or Thaddaeus), Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon, and Matthias (replacing Judas Iscariot).
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The Last Supper of Jesus and his disciples on the eve of his betrayal by Judas Iscariot and condemnation by the Romans. Fortean Picture Library.


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Immediately after Jesus' baptism and period of temptation in the wilderness, he chose twelve followers—called disciples or apostles—to accompany him and witness his resurrection. One of his favorite teaching methods was to tell parables, short stories with a message. Often the crowds didn't understand what he was getting at, but in private he would explain to the disciples what he meant (Matthew 12:34-36).

The word apostle comes from the Greek word apostolos, meaning "one who is sent." Frequently it is used interchangeably with the word "disciple." But technically any follower is a disciple. Buddha had disciples. So did the founders of all the great world religions. Apostle is the word used in the Bible specifically to refer to the twelve followers of Jesus who became the patriarchs of the Church.

As in all things biblical, there are problems trying to determine exactly who the twelve were. Different books of the Bible list different names. Still, a consensus developed very early in Church history as to who they were.

The Inner Circle

Peter, James, and John were present for some very special events in Jesus' ministry. By being invited to witness the raising from the dead of Jairus's daughter (Luke 8:51), the transfiguration on the mountain (Matthew 17), and Jesus praying in the garden before his death (Matthew 26:37), they seem to have been his most intimate associates. Although Peter was given the top leadership position in the early Church (Matthew 16:17), all three figured prominently in the new movement. John is credited with being the author of five books of the New Testament, James with one, and Peter with two. Peter preached the first Christian sermon (Acts 2). Although it is a matter of dispute, James might have been Jesus' brother or, more correctly, given the fact of the virgin birth, half-brother. At least his name appears in the list of his brothers and sisters given in Matthew 13:55.

The Undisputed Five

Andrew is the apostle who is always pictured bringing people to Jesus. He first followed John the Baptist, but he left with John's blessing to become an apostle of Jesus. Tradition says he later became an elder in the Jerusalem church.

Thomas, also called Didymus, was the doubter. His second name means "twin," but we have no idea who the other twin was. He became famous by refusing to believe Jesus had risen from the dead until he had seen the evidence with his own eyes, earning him the dubious title Doubting Thomas. But this seems to have been a part of his personality. In John 11 and 14, and twice in John 20, we are given evidence that he was a man who seemed to struggle with his faith.

James, sometimes called "the younger" or "the less" to distinguish him from James of the inner circle, seems to have been Matthew's brother. But because he is often identified with the Zealots, a radical group of Jewish patriots, he must have completely disagreed with his brother's politics, because Matthew was one of those "despised tax collectors" who were so hated by the common people.

Philip is the only apostle with a Greek name, probably indicating a rather liberal family upbringing.

Simon is known as "the Zealot." It follows that he was a Jewish idealist. Legend says he took the Gospel to England and preached there until the Romans crucified him.

The Apostles with Many Names

The name Bartholomew appears in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In John, it suddenly changes to Nathaniel. If we accept the fact that there were only twelve apostles, a safe assumption given the number of times the group is referred to as "the Twelve," we have to conclude that Nathaniel and Bartholomew are one and the same. If this is the case, he was the oldest apostle and seems to have a delightful way of putting the

"young whippersnapper" Jesus in his place. In John 1, Philip finds Nathaniel and announces they have found the promised Messiah. He is Jesus of Nazareth.

We can almost hear old Nathaniel say, "Humph!" "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" he mutters. Jesus must have liked him, though. When he first sees Nathaniel, he says, "Behold—an Israelite in whom there is no guile!"

Jude's real name is even harder to pin down. "Jude" is the Latin form of "Judah." But Matthew calls him "Lebbaeus" and Mark calls him "Thaddaeus." Luke tells us he is called "Jude, son of James."

Maybe Saint Jerome had the right idea. He referred to him as "Trionius," the "man with three names." Of all the apostles, he is the man we know least about. He makes only one statement in the entire Bible (John 14:22), but it elicits the longest, most detailed response Jesus gives to any question ever asked him. Perhaps besides being a man of many names, he is a man of few words.

Matthew is also hard to pin down. In every list of apostles given in the Gospels he is called Matthew the tax collector. But in Luke 5, when Jesus calls a tax collector to be his apostle, he calls a man named Levi. Is "Levi the tax collector" the same as "Matthew the tax collector"? Again, by a process of elimination, we have to say, probably. At least that's how most commentators down through the ages have answered.

The Betrayer

The final apostle, of course, is Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. John calls him "the son of perdition" (John 17:12). Matthew says he would have been "better off not to have been born" (Matthew 26:24). The lists in all four Gospels add to his name the description, "the one who betrayed him."

Perhaps surprisingly, Jesus had made him the group's banker. What does this tell us? That money corrupts? That Jesus was trying to redeem him by giving him responsibility? The Bible is silent.

For two thousand years people have wondered. Did Judas have any choice? Did God foreordain him to be doomed? His betrayal had been prophesied. The prophet Zechariah had even foretold the amount of the betrayal, thirty pieces of silver.

As late as the 1960s, the staged opera Jesus Christ, Superstar pondered Judas's fate. Without him there would have been no betrayal, no cross, no resurrection— indeed, no Christianity. Was he the antihero? Or was he just a wicked sinner?

Even his death is a disputed one. In Matthew 27:3-10, we are told he "went out and hanged himself." In Acts 1:18-20, the story is that he took the silver, bought a field, "fell headlong, his body burst open, and his bowels spilled out." This discrepancy illustrates the lengths people will go to harmonize Bible stories. It is often said that Judas hung himself, but the rope broke and he fell forward, and so on—a conflation of the two versions of his death.

The Thirteenth Apostle

However Judas died, it left a vacancy. The remaining eleven members felt so strongly about filling the position that they immediately called a committee meeting in the first chapter of the book of Acts. They elected a man named Matthias and caused no end of controversy.

Matthias was never heard from again, prompting many to believe that in typical committee fashion they elected the wrong man. If they had waited patiently, the argument goes, they would have discovered God's real choice was a man who, at the time of the election, wasn't even a Christian. He was a fire-breathing Jewish patriot named Saul, and he even attended the trial of the first Christian martyr, "aiding and abetting" in his death.

When Saul converted and changed his name to Paul (see Paul, Saul of Tarsus), he apparently came to believe he was the man who was meant to be Judas's successor. Calling himself "the apostle abnormally born" (1 Corinthians 15:7) he went on to become the young Church's first missionary and greatest theologian.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.


1. a follower of the doctrines of a teacher or a school of thought
2. one of the personal followers of Christ (including his 12 apostles) during his earthly life
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in classic literature ?
Whether his disciples have turned out well or ill, he cannot justly be charged with the result, for he never promised to teach them anything.
But his death 'will be the seed' of many disciples who will convince them of their evil ways, and will come forth to reprove them in harsher terms, because they are younger and more inconsiderate.
The lama tried to rise, but sank back again, sighing for his disciple, dead in far-away Kulu.
And, too, I think that so old a man as thou, speaking the truth to chance-met people at dusk, is in great need of a disciple.'
I do not retract the assertion that if virtue is knowledge it may be taught; but I fear that I have some reason in doubting whether virtue is knowledge: for consider now and say whether virtue, and not only virtue but anything that is taught, must not have teachers and disciples?
But Dom Claude, who stood in terror of some new freak on the part of Jehan, reminded his worthy disciple that they had some figures on the façade to study together, and the two quitted the cell, to the accompaniment of a great "ouf!" from the scholar, who began to seriously fear that his knee would acquire the imprint of his chin.
Thus in a succession of characters Plato represents the successive stages of morality, beginning with the Athenian gentleman of the olden time, who is followed by the practical man of that day regulating his life by proverbs and saws; to him succeeds the wild generalization of the Sophists, and lastly come the young disciples of the great teacher, who know the sophistical arguments but will not be convinced by them, and desire to go deeper into the nature of things.
Waldman, "to have gained a disciple; and if your application equals your ability, I have no doubt of your success.
Several of the audience, not being much interested in the missionary's narrative, here left the car; but Elder Hitch, continuing his lecture, related how Smith, junior, with his father, two brothers, and a few disciples, founded the church of the "Latter Day Saints," which, adopted not only in America, but in England, Norway and Sweden, and Germany, counts many artisans, as well as men engaged in the liberal professions, among its members; how a colony was established in Ohio, a temple erected there at a cost of two hundred thousand dollars, and a town built at Kirkland; how Smith became an enterprising banker, and received from a simple mummy showman a papyrus scroll written by Abraham and several famous Egyptians.
I recognized the old picture in a moment--the Saviour with bowed head seated at the centre of a long, rough table with scattering fruits and dishes upon it, and six disciples on either side in their long robes, talking to each other--the picture from which all engravings and all copies have been made for three centuries.
This terrible event clothed the archangel with added influence; because his credulous disciples believed that he had specifically fore-announced it, instead of only making a general prophecy, which any one might have done, and so have chanced to hit one of many marks in the wide margin allowed.
It is not easy to forbear reflecting with how little reason these men profess themselves the followers of Jesus, who left this great characteristic to His disciples, that they should be known by loving one another, by universal and unbounded charity and benevolence.