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The Blue Letter Bible

Don Stewart :: What Do We Know about the Twelve Disciples?

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Don Stewart

The Bible says that Jesus personally handpicked twelve men to be His inner core of disciples. They are as follows.

Simon Peter

Simon is a Greek name, but in the New Testament, it is probably a contraction of Simeon. Interestingly, the reference of Peter being first among the apostles is not found in Mark. Since Mark wrote his gospel from Peter's perspective it is understandable why this reference would be omitted.

Peter is first in every list of the apostles (first among equals) and plays a prominent role in the gospels. His father's name was Jonah or John. He was a native of Bethsaida a town on the Sea of Galilee.

Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida (John 1:44).

Jesus condemned Bethsaida.

Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes (Matthew 11:21)

He and his brother Andrew were fisherman on the Sea of Galilee. They were disciples of John the Baptist before coming to know Jesus.

The next day John was there again with two of his disciples . . . Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus (John 1:35,40).

Jesus gave to Simon when he first approached Him the surname Cephas which in Aramaic signified a rock or a stone.

He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas" (which is translated Peter) (John 1:42).

This was translated into Greek as Petros, which means the same thing. The Latin form is Petrus, and in English it is Peter. The Aramaic form of his name, Cephas, is always used by Paul and nowhere else in the New Testament except John 1:42.

Peter wrote two New Testament books (First and Second Peter) as well as being the source for the Gospel of Mark.


He was introduced to us in chapter four and is not referred to again in this gospel. His name is Greek meaning "manly." The facts concerning his parentage, residence, occupation and early discipleship are mentioned in connection with Peter.

His life, however, has a great lesson for believers. He was the one who brought to Jesus his own brother Simon. Thus the usefulness of Simon Peter is, in one sense, due to the brother who told him of Jesus. And so, many a one in every age, little known himself, and of no marked influence otherwise, has been among the great benefactors of mankind by bringing to Jesus some other person who proved widely useful.

Jacob (James) The Son Of Zebedee

James (Jacob) was the brother of John. He was probably the elder since he is usually mentioned first. John is sometimes placed first (Luke 9:28; Acts 12:2) probably because he was more prominent. Jacob (James) was the first martyr among the apostles

And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword (Acts 12:2).

James is originally the same name as Jacob being written in Greek Iacobos, and transliterated into Latin, as Iacobos. In the 1611 King James Version of the Bible that was published in England an extraordinary thing occurred with respect to the New Testament. Whenever the name 'Jacob' occurred it was replaced by the King's name, 'James.' James is not a Jewish name, it appears nowhere in the Old Testament and there is no mention in the New Testament of the common Jewish name Jacob (other than quotations from the Old Testament). Therefore, we have an example here of the translators making alterations to suit their own purposes.

John The Son Of Zebedee

John, the son of Zebedee, was the author of the fourth gospel.

This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true (John 21:24).

James and John, with Peter make up a kind of inner circle of the disciples. They both appear together with Peter in the transfiguration

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves (Matthew 17:1).

James and John also appear in connection with their mother's special request.

John wrote five books that make up the New Testament - the gospel of John, 1,2,3 John, and Revelation.


This name Philip in Greek means "lover of horses." He must be distinguished from Philip the evangelist, of whom, we read in Acts.


Nathaniel is probably the same person mentioned in Matthew as Bartholomew. Bartholomew is not a name. He is actually Bar Talmai (the son of Talmai).


The famous "doubter." The name Thomas means "twin" as does the Greek Didymus

Therefore Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, so that we may die with him" (John 11:16).

Thomas is famous for doubting the disciple's testimony of seeing the risen Christ.

Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it" (John 20:24,25).


Matthew was author of the first gospel. He is known as the tax collector.

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him (Matthew 9:9).

James The Son Of Alphaeus

The "son of Alphaeus" distinguishes him from the other James, the brother of John. He may have been the brother of Matthew who was also a son of Alphaeus.


Thaddaeus is only mentioned in Matthew's gospel. He is probably to be equated with Judas the son of James in Luke and Acts. The name Judas may have been superseded by a new one, Thaddaeus, in order for there to be one Judas among the twelve. It is also possible that after the betrayal of Judas Iscariot that he did not want the stigma that would be attached with the name Judas.

Simon The Cananean

This word is not derived from Canaan nor Cana but from the Aramaic word qanan meaning "zealot" or "enthusiast" The name is thus equivalent to the label "zealot" given to Simon in the lists of Luke and Acts and may refer to his intense nationalism and hatred of Rome. This is the only mention of him in Matthew.

Judas Iscariot

Judas is mentioned more often than any of the other disciples except for Peter. The name "Iscariot" is the Greek equivalent of the transliterated Iscarioth (man from Kerioth). Kerioth is located in southern Judea, twelve miles south of Hebron. Judas would betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.

Judas hanged himself in remorse.

So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself (Matthew 27:5).

They Were A Diverse Group

Notice the diverse character of the twelve. They include: fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot, and a traitor. The twelve represent the core of the new movement that will reveal the new activity of God. They were not taken from the elite of society neither from the lowest levels.


While here on earth Jesus chose twelve disciples to be His intimate pupils. However not all of them were prominent. We know almost nothing about Simon the Cananean, Thaddaeus, Nathaniel and James the son of Alphaeus. The New Testament gives us more information about the others. We do know that they were a diverse group of individuals coming from different walks of life.

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