The list of the twelve disciples are found in various verses in the New Testament. They are usually referred to as disciples but occasionally called “apostles” (in fact, only once in Matthew, once in Mark, and six times in Luke). Their designation “apostles” (which means “ambassador” or “one who is sent away”) occurred after Jesus instructed the disciples to travel throughout the region spreading the new message of God.
Details about the twelve disciples are scarce since the New Testament did not always delve into their personal histories. But the apostles are mentioned in other, non-canonical historical writings from the 1st and 2nd century. Since the veracity of these early authors cannot be proven, some of the disciples’ history remain questionable.
Here is what is generally known about the twelve disciples (and a few others who were close followers of Jesus).
Simon (also called Peter or Simon Peter)
Peter’s original name was “Simon”. Later he was known as Peter (Kepha in Aramaic and Petrus in Latin). Simon Peter held a special position in the early church. Catholics traditionally count him as the first Bishop of Rome (or pope) and in all lists of the disciples in the New Testament, he is always mentioned first. He held a prominent position among the twelve disciples.
Simon Peter hailed from the village of Bethsaida in Galilee where he was a fisherman. His father is named as John (or Jonah or Jona). His brother Andrew was also an apostle.
Simon Peter was one of Jesus’ “inner circle” but also is the disciple who “thrice denied Jesus”. Surprising to many, the verses clearly depict he was married (1 Corinthians 9:5 shows he took his wife with him as he travelled as a missionary). He participated in several notable biblical events including the healing of his mother-in-law at Capernaum (Matthew 8:14, Mark 1:29, Luke 4:38), his attempt to walk on water to get to Jesus (Matthew 14:22, Mark 6:45, John 6:16), the cutting off of Malchus’ ear, and the thrice-denial of Jesus when pressured by Jesus’ opponents. He was witness to the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 6:37, Luke 8:51) and the transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17, Mark 9, Luke 9). From his actions, we can deduce he was courageous, frank, but sometimes rash and impulsive.
Simon Peter was the “rock” among the disciples, the one Jesus proclaimed the church would be built upon. He is mentioned in several early historical texts, often noting that he was based in Rome. Although not documented in the Bible, tradition holds that he was crucified in Rome under Emperor Nero Augustus Caesar as early as 44 AD. His remains are said to be contained in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Simon Peter is generally credited as the author of the books of First and Second Peter.
Andrew, brother of Peter
We only know Andrew’s Greek name. No Hebrew or Aramaic name is mentioned in the Bible. The Bible tells us he was the brother of Simon Peter and thus also the son of John or Jonah. He was born in Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee and at a later time, lived with his family at Capernaum. Like his brother, he was a fisherman by trade. He was the first to be called by Jesus to become a disciple.
Prior to meeting Jesus, Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist (as were several of the first disciples). He was present at some of the most important occasions including the feeding of the five thousand (it was Andrew who noticed the lad with five loaves of bread and two fishes).
Tradition holds that Andrew was born to Joanna and was a member of the tribe of Reuben. He was crucified at the city of Patras in Achaea and his remains preserved there. A book titled Acts of Andrew was penned around 260 AD but is considered apocryphal and is not officially recognized by the church.
James, son of Zebedee
It is noted in both Matthew and John that James was one of the “sons of Zebedee” and he is sometimes referred to as such. His mother was likely Salome who some believe was Jesus’ aunt (his mother’s sister). Outside historical sources propose James’ father Zebedee was of the house of Levi while his mother was from the house of Judah.
James’ name derives from Iacobus in Latin and Lakobos in Greek. He is sometimes referred to as James the Greater or James the Great to distinguish him from James, son of Alphaeus and James the Just, brother of Jesus. He is the (likely elder) brother of John the Apostle.
Notably, James was the first apostle to be martyred and the only disciple whose martyrdom is recorded in the New Testament. Acts of the Apostles records James was executed by sword around 44 AD on the command of Herod the King (traditionally identified as Herod Agrippa). The site of his execution is located with the Armenian Apostolic Cathedral of St. James in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem.
John (brother of James, son of Zebedee)
John the Apostle was the brother of James the Greater, son of Zebedee and Salome (who some believe was Jesus’s aunt). Like his brother James, they were portrayed as calm and gentile but with occasional fiery tempers – thus Jesus’ reference to the pair as “sons of thunder”. John was called by Jesus along with his brother James as they were mending their fishing nets with their father Zebedee. Given the verses tell us their father had “hired servants” with him, we can infer that their family had considerable wealth.
John is known commonly as the “disciple whom Jesus loved” or “beloved disciple”. He was present at the raising of the daughter of Jairus (Mark 6:37, Luke 8:51) and at the transfiguration (Matthew 17, Mark 9, Luke 9) and with his brother James the Greater, famously suggested fire be brought down from heaven to consume those who were inhospitable to Jesus (Luke 9:54). He is frequently found in the company of Peter (Acts 3:1, Acts 8:14, Galatians 2).
Christian tradition holds that John outlived all other disciples and was the only one to die of natural causes. John is considered to have been exiled to the island of Patmos under Emperor Domitian. He is generally believed to be the author of the Gospel of John, the three Epistles of John, and the Book of Revelation, all of which were written near the end of his life (although some may have been written in pieces over a long period of time). A debate over his identity often centers around the identity of the various “Johns” mentioned in the New Testament, specifically whether the “Johns” are one and the same person – John the Apostle, John the Evangelist, John of Ephesus, and John of Patmos.
During his elder years, John trained Polycarp, a second-century Christian bishop of Smyrma considered one of three early Apostolic Fathers, important to Christianity because he carried John’s message to future generations.
Philip’s name is consistent throughout all the gospels. He is described as a disciple from the city of Bethsaida and is connected with Andrew and Peter who were from the same city. It was Philip who introduced the disciple Bartholomew (aka Nathanael) to Jesus. Along with Andrew, he journeyed to Bethany to hear the teaching of John the Baptist. The next day, Jesus asked Philip to follow him.
Later Christian tradition describe him as the apostle who preached in Greece, Syria, and Phrygia. The apocryphal book Acts of Philip indicate Philip converted the wife of the proconsul of Hierapolis. This enraged the proconsul who had Philip and Bartholomew tortured and then crucified (upside down). According to the non-canonical rendition, Philip continued to preach from the cross prompting the crowd to demand his release. Bartholomew was released but Philip refused the crowd’s assistance.
With any non-canonical resource, readers should take care to understand that Philip is sometimes confused with Philip the Evangelist.
In 2011, archaeologists unearthed a tomb beneath a newly discovered church in Hierapolis (located just outside the city of Denizli in Turkey) that bore many indications the tomb belonged to the martyred Apostle Philip.
In Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts, he is referred to as Bartholomew. The Gospel of John however, calls him Nathanael (there is some debate whether they are the same person). Rarely mentioned in the New Testament, he was introduced to Jesus by Philip.
Tradition holds he was from the house of Naphtali and acted as a missionary in Ethiopia, Mesopotamia, Parthia, Lycaonia, Armenia, and India. A non-canonical historical reference from Genealogies of the Twelve Apostles claims his name was formerly John.
There is some debate regarding his death. A few historical accounts indicate he was crucified along with Philip but other accounts hint he may have escaped. According to The Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew, he was placed in a sack and cast into the sea.
Thomas (also called Didymus)
Thomas is referred as such in all the gospels except for the Gospel of John where it is noted that he was also called Didymus (which means, “the twin”). In some instances, he has been referred to as Judas Thomas.
Thomas is mentioned in detail in the Gospel of John. When the other eleven disciples discussed dissuading Jesus from going to Bethany to heal Lazarus, it was Thomas alone who protested saying, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” After the crucifixion, there is little mention of Thomas among the other disciples hinting that he may have disappeared for a time following Jesus’ death. He has come to be known as “Doubting Thomas” because he was not convinced of Jesus’ resurrection until personally meeting the risen king (to which Jesus replied, “Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed. Blessed are they that have not seen, yet have believed.”
Tradition holds that he was from the house of Asher and settled in India to help spread the Christian faith. St. Ephrem, a doctor of Syriac Christianity wrote that the Apostle was put to death (“pierced with a lance”) in India and that he remains were buried in Edessa. However, the oldest known apocryphal works say he died a natural death.
Several apocryphal works originating from India claim to document his activities in the area. An apocryphal work, called the Acts of Thomas, was written around 180-230 AD. The book describes his travels to India (he was assigned to India after the disciples cast lots).
From his documented actions, we can see that Thomas was often serious, skeptical, taking a practical look on life. His bravery however, was unapparelled.
Matthew was one of Jesus’ earliest followers, choosing the leave the life of a tax collector (aka “publican”) to follow Jesus. As such, he would have been literate in both Aramaic and Greek. Matthew 9:9 reveals his name was Levi.
He has been attributed as the author of the Gospel of Matthew as early as 100 AD although whether his account is a first-person account of the events or an interpretation of the Hebrew/Aramaic oracles collected by others is debated. It is generally accepted that the book of Matthew was written in Greek, not translated from Aramaic or Hebrew (the book of Matthew bears no telltales signs of being a translation).
Many of the non-canonical references to Matthew are considered questionable, particularly because of frequent confusion between Matthew and Matthias. Tradition holds that he preached in Pal for more than a dozen years and afterward continued witnessing in Ethiopia, Macedonia, Syria, Persia, Parthian, and Medes. Some references say he died a natural death in Ethiopia or Macedonia.
James (son of Alphaeus)
Often referred to as James the Less (to differentiate him from James, son of Jebedee and James the Just, brother of Jesus). He is mentioned only a few times in the Bible, each time in the list of the twelve disciples or in passing, likely because he remained a non-believer for a time before ultimately accepting Jesus as the Messiah and committing to discipleship.
His father was Alphaeus and his mother is said to be “Mary” (called the wife of Cleophas or Clopas who is in turn, identified as Alphaeus). The later attribution of Mary as his mother has led to debate over whether James the Less is the same person as James the Just (the brother of Jesus). Given Matthew’s attribution as a son of Alphaeus, James may have been the brother of Matthew. From 1 Corinthians 9:5, it is inferred that he was married.
James was one of the first witnesses to the resurrection. He is often paired with Peter in biblical events hinting they may have been close friends.
Later historical works claim James was stoned to death in Jerusalem by the Jews and was buried there beside the temple – the same fate met by James the Just (and thus further confusing his identity with James the Just).
Thaddaeus (aka Lebbaeus or Judas Thaddeus/Jude)
Thaddaeus’ name varies across translations. This is because the phrasing of this name changed in later versions of the scripture. The most ancient copies refer to him simply as “Thaddaeus”. Later writings began to incorporate the name Lebbaeus as in “Lebbaeus, who was called Thaddaeus”. It is unclear why the name Lebbaeus began to appear in later versions. It could be that his surname was Thaddaeus.
Three biblical books that mention Thaddaeus refer to him as Judas or Jude while taking extra precautions to ensure he is not confused with Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus. In the Gospel of Luke he is referred to as “Judas, son of James”, in the Gospel of John as “Jude, not Iscariot”, and in Acts as “Judas, son of James”.
The non-canonical Genealogies of the Twelve Apostles says he was of the house of Joseph but according to the Book of the Bee, he was of the tribe of Judah.
Tradition holds that Thaddaeus preached the Gospel in Judea, Samaria, Idumaea, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Libya. According to legend, Thaddaeus was the son of Clopas and his mother Mary, a cousin of Jesus’ virgin mother. It is believed Thaddaeus was executed about 65 AD in Beirut in the Roman province of Syria together with the apostle Simon the Zealot. Sometime after his death, his body was brought from Beirut to Rome and placed in a crypt in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Simon the Zealot
Simon’s name varies across translations. In some he is identified as “Simon the Canaanite” while in others (the majority) he is called “Simon the Zealot”. The later is likely the most accurate. The original Hebrew refers to Simon as “Simon the Cananean” which prompted some to associate him with Cana or Canaan. Scholars now believe “Cananean” has nothing to do with the region of Canaan and instead, is derived from the Aramaic word for “enthusiast”. Thus, most translations render his name as “Simon the Zealot”.
The term “Zealot” could refer to a Jewish national party known as the Zealots but historians believe the party may not have been in existence in Simon’s time. Others think “Zealot” could have been applied to Simon’s name to indicate his strong support of Jewish independence from Rome.
Little is known about Simon. He is mentioned in each list of the disciples without further details. He was called to the apostleship along with Andrew and Peter (the sons of Zebedee), Thaddaeus, and Judas Iscariot. He was likely a Galilean.
Judas Iscariot is the disciple who betrayed Jesus. The meaning of the term “Iscariot” is unknown. It may have been Judas’ proper name or it could indicate his homeland. At this time, no region known as Iscariot has been discovered. However, some theorize “Iscariot” could refer to “Kerioth”. There were various villages known by that name.
John 13:2 tells us he was the son of Simon Iscariot. His unexpected betrayal of Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, has supplied much fodder for foes of Christianity, but true to the Bible’s purpose, the stories are told as they happened, warts and all. We may never know why Judas betrayed Jesus, although it was most certainly not solely for monetary reasons. Most likely it was predestined to happened as part of God’s plan.
His death is recorded in Matthew and Acts and generally accepted as a suicide (one version says he hung himself while Acts says he fell in a field and burst open, spilling his bowels). His place among the disciples was filled by Matthias.
Upon the betrayal and subsequent death of Judas Iscariot, the remaining eleven disciples cast lots in Jerus to determine his replacement. The conditions for Judas Iscariot’s replaced where that the person “accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and went out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto the day that he was received up from us.” The lot fell up Matthias. His calling is unique in that his appointment was not made by Jesus.
Matthias is not mentioned in the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) but Acts tells us that he had been present with Jesus from his baptism by John the Baptist until his Ascension into heaven. No further information about Matthias is found in the canonical New Testament.
What about “Paul the Apostle”?
Paul is often referred to as an apostle but he was not one of the original twelve disciples placing him just outside the realm of their membership. Paul was called by the resurrected Jesus during his Road to Damascus vision and given the name “Paul”. He referred to himself as the apostle of the Gentiles.
Other apostles mentioned in the New Testament
The text of Pseudo-Hippolytus’s On the Seventy Apostles of Christ, written by Hippolytus, a disciple of Polycarp and Apostle John, was long thought to be lost. In 1854, a copy was discovered at a monastery on Mt. Athos. In the book, Hippolytus identifies the names of 70 apostles.
In addition to the Twelve Disciples, other “apostles” are mentioned in the New Testament. They include the following.
Barnabas was an early Christian, a Cypriot Jew according to Acts 4:36. He undertook missionary journeys, often defending Gentile converts. His story appears in the Acts of the Apostles and is mentioned in Paul’s Epistles. Tradition holds that he was martyred at Salamis, Cyprus in 61 AD.
Andronicus and Junia
In Romans, Paul says that Andronicus and Junia were “of note among the apostles”. Although not one of the original twelve, they may have been a couple that were highly regarded in the early Christian church.
Silas is mentioned in 1 Thessalonians and Acts as a companion of Paul.
Timothy is also mentioned alongside Silas and Paul as a “son in the faith”. Timothy was from the Lycaonian city of Lystra. Born of a Jewish mother and Greek father, the Apostle Paul met him during his second missionary journey. He became Paul’s co-worker along with Silas.
1 Corinthians mentions Apollos as a person among “us apostles”. Although not one of the original twelve, he may have held prominence in the early Christian churches, particularly the churches of Epehsus and Corinth. He is mentioned several times in the New Testament as a co-worker of Paul the Apostle.
Women who followed Jesus
Various women were also mentioned in the New Testament as notable followers of Jesus. Although not members of the twelve disciples, they played prominent roles in Jesus’ story.
Mary, sister of Lazarus
Mary is mentioned in Luke and contrasted with her sister Martha. John names her as the one who anointed Jesus with perfumed oil and dried his feet with her hair.
Mary, called Magdalene
Mentioned in Luke as a woman who accompanied Jesus and the twelve disciples.
Joanna is referred to as the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza. She accompanied Mary Magdalen who went to prepare Jesus’ body in Luke’s account of the resurrection.
Susanna is among the women listed in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 8:1) as a person who assisted Jesus.
Salome was a follower of Jesus mentioned in Mark 15:40 as one of the women present at the crucifixion. In Mark, she is listed among the women who went to Jesus’ tomb to anoint his body with spices.
Salome is mentioned many times in apocryphal texts, in some instances named as a “disciples” (along with Mary Magdalene). Some suggest she may have been related to Jesus (i.e. cousin).
Mary, wife of Clopas
One of the various “Marys” in the New Testament. In John 19;25, she is mentioned as being present at the Crucifixion of Jesus.
It is unclear if she was the daughter of Clopas or his wife. She could the “other Mary” mentioned in Matthew 28:1 to distinguish her from Mary Magdalene. She is also mentioned in the apocryphal Gospel of Philip as a follower of Jesus and the disciples. She may also be the Mary referred to as “Mary, mother of James”.