The 12 Apostles of Jesus, Part I

June 14, 2020

The Rector’s Weekly Letter to the Congregation for Sunday, June 14, 2020

The 12 Apostles of Jesus, Part I

Jesus chose 12 men to be his disciples. These later came to be called apostles a term which we can take to simply mean a person who initiates a major work of reform in society, a pioneer, a vanguard. Indeed the 12 apostles were the starters of the Christian “movement.” Under very difficult circumstances they spread the message of Jesus to the then known world.

It was the practice in those days for a rabbi to choose men to be his followers so that he would train them to pass on his teaching to future generations after he was gone. The normal practice was for people to apply to a rabbi. The rabbi would pick the best of the best from the applicants. The rabbis chose those whom they perceived as possessing the potential to become the rabbi himself. The rabbis intended to reproduce themselves in their disciples so that the disciple would live and act and teach as the rabbi. Jesus went counter to that practice. His disciples did not apply to be his students. Jesus chose them himself. Neither were they in religious circles seeking to become future rabbis. Jesus picked them from the crowd, and he picked not the best of the best but the riff-raff, namely, tax collectors, fishermen, and the like.

Who were these men that Jesus selected out of so many to convey his message to the world and to be the ones to receive training from him so as to become reflections of himself? Their names are given in the gospels as Peter, James, John, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James, Thaddeus, Simon, and Judas. They were all Jews, ordinary men minding their own business, hassling with the duties of daily life, and living far from the religious elite. Jesus intruded into their lives.


On every list of the apostles, Peter’s name appears first. The Jews often listed names by rank starting with the most important to the least. This listing of Peter first might mean he was considered the leader of the group. Peter was the son of Jonas. His name originally was Simon, but Jesus changed it to Cephas. Sometimes Peter is called Simon Peter. He was a fisherman by profession. He was a married man (1 Corinthians 9:5), although the name of his wife is not mentioned in Scripture. Peter died by crucifixion. Tradition has it that he requested to be crucified upside-down not the right side up as his master. His request was granted.


James the Elder was the son of Zebedee. His mother was Salome. He was a fisherman from Bethsaida. He and his brother John were given the name Boanerges by Jesus which means sons of thunder. Apparently the two brothers were prone to outbursts of anger. James was a member of the inner circle of Jesus which comprised Peter, James, and John. James was murdered by beheading by Herod Agrippa in AD 44 (Acts 12:2).


John was the son of Zebedee. His mother was Salome. He was a fisherman. He and his brother James were the Boanerges, sons of thunder. John worked with his father and his brother James. He is sometimes referred to as the beloved disciple. He is the author of the fourth gospel as well as the three letters of John and the book of Revelation in the New Testament. He was the last to die of the apostles. Later in his life, he refused to worship Emperor Domitian as a god and was arrested. But because he was old and about to die anyway, Domitian decided not to kill him, for that would make him a martyr in the eyes of the people. So, he banished him to the prison island of Patmos where he died of natural causes.


Andrew was the son of Jonas and was Peter’s brother. He started out being the disciple of John the Baptist and later switched allegiance to Jesus after John the Baptist pointed Jesus out as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Andrew brought his brother Peter to Jesus. He also brought Nathaniel. Andrew spread the message of Christ in Greece. The conversion of the governor’s wife to Christ and later the governor’s brother precipitated Andrew’s arrest and subsequent death. He was crucified on an X-shaped cross because he begged not to be crucified on the same-shaped cross as his Master.


Phillip was from Bethsaida. It is thought that he too was a fisherman. He is one of the disciples that asked Jesus questions to clarify things. He took the message of Jesus to Phrygia. He was martyred in Hierapolis by hanging.

To be continued.

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