The 12 Apostles: Listing the Names of the Apostles of Jesus

Marko Marina Author Bart Ehrman

Written by Marko Marina, Ph.D.

Author |  Historian |  BE Contributor

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Date written: November 28th, 2023

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily match my own. - Dr. Bart D. Ehrman

In the annals of history, the term "apostle" transcends linguistic nuances and theological discourse. It stands as a testament to a select group of 12 apostles who walked the dusty roads of ancient Judea, chosen by a charismatic teacher whose words would echo through centuries.

From the shores of the Sea of Galilee to the cobbled streets of Jerusalem, we unveil the story of the apostles of Jesus who bore witness to miracles, heard parables from the source, and ultimately, shaped the foundations of Christianity. 

Prepare to traverse the epochs, as we uncover the men who became legends, whose stories are intertwined with the inception of a religion that would leave an indelible mark on human history.

Let’s embark on a historical journey and uncover who were the 12 apostles! 

The 12 Apostles Listing the Names of the Apostles of Jesus

Define Apostle: Meaning Behind the Etymology

As is the case with many historical inquiries, this one begins in the world of etymology. What does the word “apostle” mean? In other words, what is an apostle?

The word has its roots in ancient Greek. It comes from the Greek word ἀπόστολος (Apostolos) which literary means “one who is sent off” or a “messenger”. The apostle is a noun derived from the verb ἀποστέλλειν (apostellein) which means to “send off”.

In the Graeco-Roman world, the term ἀπόστολος denoted someone who was sent on a mission or dispatched with a message. In a more specialized sense, the term was used to describe an envoy, ambassador, delegate, or even (in a military context) a commander of a naval force. 

However, with the emergence of Christianity, the word “apostle” gained a slightly different meaning. In the New Testament, the term “apostle” is used primarily to refer to the twelve specially chosen disciples of Jesus Christ

The author of the Gospel of Matthew (10:1-2), for instance, notes that “Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles (δώδεκα ἀποστόλων)…”

But the word “apostle” was expanded after Jesus’ death to those who personally met the risen Jesus who then commissioned them to spread the good news of his death and resurrection. Paul and Barnabas, for example, were also called apostles (Acts 14:4). 

The expansion, however, had its limits! Despite their importance within the world of early Christianity, Timothy and Apollos aren’t called apostles. Precisely because they don’t share with the rest of the group the experience of the risen Lord. 

Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, therefore, conclude: “Apostles, then, are not officials of the church but officers of Christ for its upbuilding, and in this sense, they are comparable to the Old Testament prophets.”

That, of course, begs the question of the difference between apostles and disciples. The latter is a more broad term encompassing all those who followed Jesus while the former is a more distinct group of people.

Did You Know?

You may think of apostles as only males. However, in the early years of Christianity, things were not that simple. Writing to the community in Rome, apostle Paul greeted Andronicus (male) and Junia (female) whom he called “outstanding among the apostles” (Rom 16:7). However, during the Middle Ages some scribes, not satisfied with the idea of a female apostle, changed the name to Junias.

To put it more bluntly, the disciples accepted Jesus’ message and chose to follow him during his public ministry. The apostles, on the other hand, were a designated group that Jesus himself sent out as missionaries to spread the good news. 

To find out more about this interesting difference between the “apostles” and “disciples” in the New Testament period, check out this article!

Let’s now turn our attention to the list of the apostles. Who were the 12 apostles? What can we know about them? 

Who Were the Apostles? List of the 12 Apostles’ Names

Synoptic Gospels list the names of Jesus' apostles. However, there are interesting variations. Check out the table depicting the 12 apostles that Jesus appointed

The Gospel of Mark (3:16-19)

The Gospel of Matthew (10:2-4)

The Gospel of Luke (6:13-16)

Apostle Simon/Peter

Apostle Simon/Peter

Apostle Simon/Peter

Apostle James, the son of Zebedee

Apostle Andrew

Apostle Andrew

Apostle John, the son of Zebedee

Apostle James, the son of Zebedee

Apostle James

Apostle Andrew

Apostle John, the son of Zebedee

Apostle John

Apostle Philip

Apostle Philip

Apostle Philip

Apostle Bartholomew

Apostle Bartholomew

Apostle Bartholomew

Apostle Matthew

Apostle Thomas

Apostle Matthew

Apostle Thomas

Apostle Matthew

Apostle Thomas

Apostle James, the son of Alphaeus

Apostle James, the son of Alphaeus

Apostle James, the son of Alphaeus

Apostle Thaddaeus

Apostle Thaddaeus

Apostle Simon the Zealot

Apostle Simon the Zealot

Apostle Simon the Zealot

Apostle Judas, the son of James

Apostle Judas Iscariot

Apostle Judas Iscariot

Apostle Judas Iscariot

There is one major difference between these accounts. Luke includes “Judas, the son of James” instead of Thaddeus. Who is this apostle Judas and what is his relationship to Jesus? Is he the brother of Jesus identified with the Epistle of Jude? 

Some scholars believe that Judas is the same person as Thaddeus. In that case, the latter name would be a nickname inserted by both Mark and Matthew because Judas Iscariot tarnished that name. 

Others, however, are not that sure. John P. Meier, for instance, has argued against it. In his words: “The replacement of Thaddeus by Jude of James finds no explanation in the theological program or stylistic preferences of Luke. Hence I think it most likely that Luke 6:14-16 represents a tradition of the names of the Twelve that is independent of the list in Mark 3:16-19.”

If Luke had inherited a different list of 12 apostles, we need to question the causes for this discrepancy. Unfortunately, we can only speculate. Meier suggests that a replacement of one for another took place during Jesus' ministry possibly because of the death or even apostasy. 

E. P. Sanders proposed that Jesus was interested in the symbolism of the number 12 (twelve tribes of Israel). In that case, he could have had more than 12 apostles but chose to use this number to convey theologically symbolic message Jews in Palestine would be aware of.

What about the other apostles of Jesus? What can we know about them?

Holy Apostles: History, Tradition, and Legend

1) Apostle Peter

Apostle Peter is a prominent figure and one of the closest disciples of Jesus. He is initially introduced in the Gospels as a fisherman working with his brother Andrew on the Sea of Galilee (Mk 1:16). Jesus calls them to follow him and they accept it thus becoming Jesus’ first apostles. 

Among the 12 apostles, Peter is known for making the profound declaration of faith in Matthew 16:16. When Jesus asks the apostles “Who do you say I am?”, Peter is the one who finds the right words: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

One of the most well-known episodes involving Peter, however, is his denial of Jesus three times during the night of Jesus' arrest (Mk 14:66-72; Mt 26:69-75; Lk 22:54-62; John 18:15-18, 25-27). 

After Jesus' resurrection, there are several accounts of Jesus appearing to Peter specifically. In contrast to the Gospel accounts (Mt 28:1-0; Lk 24:1-8) where women first receive the news of Jesus’ resurrection, Paul emphasizes the role of the apostle Peter as the one whom Jesus first appeared (1 Cor 15:5). 

In the Book of Acts, Peter plays a crucial role in the early Christian community, especially in the events surrounding Pentecost and the initial spread of "good news" among the Jewish community in Jerusalem.

Later tradition claims that Peter was killed by crucifixion but he requested that the cross be turned upside down as he believed that he wasn’t worthy of being crucified as Jesus did. Needless to say, these later legends, as Dr. Ehrman explains in his book Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene, have no supporting evidence in the earlier sources.

2) Apostle Andrew

Apostle Andrew is often mentioned in the Gospels as the brother of Simon Peter (also known as Peter). They were both fishermen by trade, working on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 1:16; Matthew 4:18; Luke 5:10).

The author of Matthew (4:19) describes how Jesus called Andrew and Peter to follow him while they were fishing. He said to them: “Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people.” They, of course, immediately left their nets to follow Jesus.

According to tradition, Andrew faced martyrdom by crucifixion. In the apocryphal Acts of Andrew, apostle Andrew was bound to the Latin-shaped cross where he died as a martyr. Later on, a tradition developed according to which Andrew was crucified on an X-shaped cross - today known as the Saint Andrew's Cross. 

3) Apostle James, the son of Zebedee 

The apostle James was also a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee when Jesus came along. As soon as he heard his call, he decided to follow him (Mk 1:16:20; Mt 4:18-22). 

Furthermore, James is frequently mentioned as part of the inner circle of Jesus' disciples, along with Peter and John. These holy apostles are present at some key scenes from Jesus' life such as the Transfiguration and the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mk 14:32-42; Lk 22:39-46).

Only Luke’s account gives us the powerful scene of Jesus sweating blood as he prays to God for strength. Did you know that scholars believe that this part of the text wasn’t in the original Gospel of Luke? While copying the gospel, a later scribe changed the text! Join Dr. Bart Ehrman’s new captivating course “The Scribal Corruption of Scripture” and find out more!

According to the Book of Acts, apostle James, the son of Zebedee, became the first apostolic martyr when Herod Agrippa ordered his execution (Acts 12:1-2).

The Catholic Church believes that his remains (relics) are held in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. Today, Santiago de Compostela is probably the most popular pilgrimage site within the Christian world. 

4) Apostle John, the son of Zebedee 

Apostle John, the son of Zebedee and the brother of James was also an important member of Jesus’ inner circle. He was a fisherman, just like his brother and they both accepted Jesus’ call to follow him.

In the later Church tradition, the apostle John became known as the author of the Gospel and the Book of Revelation. However, most scholars reject the idea that he wrote either of these two important books.

5) Apostle Philip 

Philip is among the 12 apostles of Jesus and he is mentioned both in the gospels and Acts. Interestingly enough, only the Gospel of John describes Jesus’ call to Philip. He was from the town of Bethsaida, the same hometown as Peter and Andrew. When Jesus called Philip to follow him, Philip, in turn, invited Nathanael to meet Jesus (John 1:43-46). 

In the same gospel, the apostle Philip is involved in the famous account of the feeding of the 5,000. When Jesus asks Philip where they could buy bread to feed the large crowd, Philip responds with skepticism: "It would take more than half a year’s wages[a] to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite (John 6:6).

His significance within the early Christian world is illustrated by the fact that later so-called Gnostic communities used the Gospel of Philip as their Scripture. Eusebius of Caesarea (4th century C.E.) suggests that Philip was killed in the city of Hierapolis in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey).

6) Apostle Bartholomew

In the lists of the 12 apostles provided in the Synoptic Gospels, Bartholomew is mentioned, though no specific details about him are given.

However, in the Gospel of John, Philip brings Nathanael to Jesus, describing him as "the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote — Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph (John 1:45)." Later Church tradition identified Nathanael with Bartholomew who traveled as a missionary as far as India. 

7) Apostle Thomas

The Apostle Thomas, often known as "Doubting Thomas," is one of the twelve disciples chosen by Jesus. In the Gospel of John, Thomas is also referred to as Didymus, which means "the Twin." The name "Thomas" itself is derived from an Aramaic word meaning "twin."

He earned the nickname "Doubting Thomas" due to an incident recorded in John 20:24-29. Thomas expressed skepticism about the possibility of Jesus' resurrection. He insisted on seeing and touching the wounds of Jesus before believing. Jesus then appeared to Thomas, who exclaimed, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28).

According to the later tradition, after the ascension of Jesus, Thomas engaged in missionary activities. Various accounts place him in regions such as Parthia, Persia, and India. Furthermore, he is also known as the central figure of an important early Christian document called the Gospel of Thomas!

Who were the 12 apostles

8) Apostle Matthew

The apostle Matthew is known as being the tax collector before Jesus’ call (Mt 9:9-13). Church tradition holds that Matthew is the author behind the Gospel of Matthew - a theory that most critical scholars reject. 

Interestingly enough, both Mark and Luke distinguish between Levi, a tax collector whom Jesus calls (Mk 2:14; Lk 5:27), and Matthew who appears in the list of the 12 apostles. How do we explain this discrepancy? Some scholars believe that these two names refer to the same person. 

In his Commentary on the Gospel of Mark, Richard T. Francis explains: “It wouldn’t be unusual for a person to have two names, whether both Semitic or one Semitic and one Greek. It’s, therefore, not necessary to assume that an otherwise unknown man named Levi has been arbitrarily identified with Matthew by the first evangelist.

Others, however, are not that sure. John P. Meier notes that “the change of names is a redactional intervention of a Christian evangelist toward the end of the 1st century and tells us nothing about an original member of the Twelve named Matthew.”

9) Apostle James, the son of Alphaeus

Synoptic Gospels mention James, the son of Alphaeus as one of the 12 apostles of Jesus. Unfortunately, the earliest sources don’t provide us with any detailed information about his life. One important note, however, is that there are two apostles named James among the twelve. James, the son of Alphaeus, and James the Son of Zebedee.

The feast day of St. James, the son of Alphaeus, is celebrated in various Christian traditions on different dates. In the Roman Catholic Church, it is often observed on May 3rd.

10) Apostle Thaddeus/Judas, the son of James

We already discussed the discrepancy between the names Thaddaeus and Judas, the son of James. Here it’s sufficient to note that the gospels provide minimal information about his background.

Later Church tradition suggests that Thaddeus may have engaged in missionary activities after the resurrection of Jesus. Different sources associate him with regions such as Mesopotamia, Persia, and Armenia. However, these stories are highly legendary and no serious historian considers them trustworthy.

11) Apostle Simon the Zealot

Synoptic Gospels include Simon the Zealot among the 12 apostles of Jesus. Some have argued that the term "Zealot" refers to Simon's previous association with the Zealots, a political movement that sought to resist Roman rule in Judea. Popular writers such as Reza Aslan have used this theory to argue further that Jesus was sympathetic to the Zealot cause.

However, these theories aren't well-founded. The organized revolutionary faction that Josephus calls “the Zealots” came into existence only during the First Jewish Revolt (c. 67. C.E.). We have no earlier records of their existence. John P. Meier, therefore, rightly concludes that to think of Simon as a "member of this organized group of armed rebels is hopelessly anachronistic".

12) Judas Iscariot - And Matthias, His Replacement

The apostle Judas Iscariot is one of the 12 apostles mentioned in the list that the Synoptic Gospels provide. His exact background isn’t known, but some scholars believe that the epithet “Iscariot” could be a Greek version of the Hebrew designation meaning “the man from Kerioth”. However, as Susan Gubar notes in her Biography of Judas, “this claim has not been fully accepted by all scholars.” 

Whatever his origin may be, the apostle Judas Iscariot became the most hateful character in the history of Christianity. The reason was simple. He was the one who betrayed Jesus. According to the Gospel accounts, he agreed to betray Jesus to the chief priests and elders for thirty pieces of silver. 

This is, as Dr. Ehrman explains in Jesus: The Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, one of the historically most secure information about Jesus’ life. To put it more bluntly, Jesus was almost certainly betrayed by one of his closest apostles. 

The gospels claim that Judas identified Jesus to the Jewish authorities in the Garden of Gethsemane with a kiss, a prearranged signal to indicate whom they should arrest (Mark 14:43-46; Matthew 26:47-50; Luke 22:47-48; John 18:2-5).

After Jesus’ death, Judas experienced remorse for his actions and killed himself. How exactly did that happen? We have two stories (Matthew and Acts) and they differ considerably. To know more about it, check out our article on the historical reliability of the Gospels

Moreover, the apostle Judas Iscariot became a prominent figure in a 2nd-century document called the Gospel of Judas. In this mysterious work, Judas becomes the hero of the story - the only one who fully understands Jesus’ message! 

Judas’ death left an empty seat on the “throne” of the 12 apostles. The Book of Acts recounts how the rest of the holy apostles chose Judas’ replacement. A necessary condition was that a candidate had to be a disciple of Jesus from the beginning of his ministry and a witness to his resurrection.

Acts 1:23-26 describes what happened next: “So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, 'Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.' Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.”

Summing up Conclusion: 12 Apostles and Their Significance

From the dusty shores of the Sea of Galilee to the cobbled streets of Jerusalem, we embarked on a historical journey, unveiling the stories of the apostles of Jesus. 

As we delved into the etymology of the word "apostle," tracing its roots to ancient Greek, we discovered its evolution from a general term for messengers to a specialized designation for the twelve specially chosen disciples of Jesus Christ whom he sent out to spread the good news. 

The list of the apostles, as revealed in the Synoptic Gospels, sparked intrigue and presented interesting variations. Each name carried a weight of historical significance, each apostle a key figure in the inception of a religion that would leave an indelible mark on human history.

The holy apostles, a designation that goes beyond mere titles, played pivotal roles in the unfolding drama of Jesus' ministry and the early Christian community: from the first call and the pivotal events such as the Last Supper through the tragic betrayal by Judas Iscariot to the appearances of the risen Jesus before their eyes.

In conclusion, we've unveiled stories behind Jesus' closest disciples thus answering the question of who were the 12 apostles. But we've only scratched the surface of what lies beneath. If you want to know more about the origins of Christianity and the mystery surrounding the earliest biographies of Jesus, join the courseThe Unknown Gospels” by Dr. Bart Ehrman!

Marko Marina

About the author

Marko Marina is a historian with a Ph.D. in ancient history from the University of Zagreb (Croatia). He is the author of dozens of articles about early Christianity's history. He works as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Zagreb where he teaches courses on the history of Christianity and the Roman Empire. In his free time, he enjoys playing basketball and spending quality time with his family and friends.

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