Jesus’ First Disciples

11 Feb

from Google Images

When John the Baptist pointed to Jesus, saying “This is he of whom I spoke… who is preferred before me… the Lamb of God” (John 1:30, 36), two of his disciples left him and followed Jesus. One was Andrew and the other was probably the writer of the Gospel of John (John 1:37, 40). Shortly afterward, Andrew found his brother, Simon, whom the Lord surnamed Peter, and told him he had found the Messiah. On their journey back to Galilee from Bethabara, which was where Jesus was baptized and near Judea on the other side of the Jordan, Jesus also found Philip. Jesus said to Philip, “Follow me!” Immediately, Philip went and found his friend, Nathaniel, and told him he had found the Messiah. At first Nathaniel chided Philip, not believing anything of import could come from Nazareth, but when he met Jesus, he also believed.

Each of the Synoptic Gospel writers offers a list of the apostles of the Lord. Matthew’s list is found in Matthew 10:1-4

Peter,[1] Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James (the son of Alphaeus), Lebbaeus, Simon & Judas Iscariot.

Mark’s is in Mark 3:14-19

Peter, James, John, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James, Thaddaeus, Simon & Judas Iscariot.

Luke actually offers two lists. The first is found in Luke 6:13-16

Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James, Simon, Judas & Judas Iscariot,

Luke’s second is found in Acts 1:13

Peter, James, John, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James, Simon & Judas (brother of James).

This second list is without Judas Iscariot, but Luke concludes the chapter by showing us how Judas was replaced with Matthias (Acts 1:26).

John doesn’t have a list. Why? Instead of offering a list of the Twelve, the writer of this Gospel names only a few disciples at the beginning of his record, and that is all we get from him. Is there any connection? I think there is. Notice that the first, fifth and ninth positions of each list always have the same apostles listed, no matter which list is read. Secondly, although the remaining names vary in order the same names immediately follow the first, fifth and ninth names which never vary. In other words, the four lists show three groups of four apostles each. Each group has a leader: Peter, Philip and James (the son of Alphaeus), and while the apostles listed within these groupings vary in order, they do not vary from group to group.

Jesus probably had each group responsible for different aspects of his ministry. Peter and his group were particularly attentive to Jesus and were usually sent by him to prepare for the needs of the other disciples. Philip and his group may have been responsible for matters such as feeding or helping the needy outside the Twelve (cf. John 6:5-7), while James and the final group of four may have been responsible for collecting alms and making arraignments for each of the groups pilgrimages to Jerusalem and other areas of ministry. Remember, Judas was the treasurer and carried the bag and is always listed in this group (John 12:6).

How, then, does John’s account of the few disciples he lists have anything to do with the lists of twelve found in the Synoptics and Acts? Well, we need to remember that many of the disciples had surnames. For example Jesus told Simon he would be called Peter. We can identify from the lists above that Judas, the brother of James, was also called Thaddaeus and Lebbaeus. The Lord also referred to James and John, the sons of Zebedee, as Boanerges or the sons of thunder, and there may be more names that these twelve men were called. One person having more than one name was not uncommon. Understanding this, could help us see what the writer of the Gospel of John has done with the apostles he names.

We see two of the leaders of the Twelve, Peter and Philip, named among the first called by the Lord. However, Nathaniel is not named in any of the lists of the Twelve, but the writer of this Gospel seems to include him as an Apostle, because he is named again in the final chapter of his narrative with only Apostles (John 21:2).

An interesting point concerns what Jesus said to Nathaniel when they first met. Jesus drew an analogy between what Jacob saw (Genesis 28:12) and what Jesus promised Nathaniel would see. He told Nathaniel he would see angels descending from and ascending to heaven (John 1:51). The name, James, is the Greek form of Jacob, so Jesus could be using a play on the name Jacob/James, Nathaniel’s other name.

Finally, the Epistula Apostolorum, a document written probably about the middle of the 2nd century AD, names Nathaniel with the other apostles about where James, the son of Alphaeus, should be mentioned in the list of Apostles. If we can assume Nathaniel is, in fact, James the son of Alphaeus, then Jesus is recorded to have called the three leaders of the Apostles just after his baptism (anointing by God), and just before he began his public ministry in Galilee.


[1] I have emphasized the first, fifth and ninth position throughout each of the four lists.


Posted by on February 11, 2011 in Apostles, Gospel, Religion


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2 responses to “Jesus’ First Disciples

  1. meetingintheclouds

    February 11, 2011 at 16:14

    Very interesting. I had not previously considered groups within the 12 but it seems feasible. Thanks.

    • Ed Bromfield

      February 11, 2011 at 20:37

      Hi there, I forget where I first heard the idea. It may have been a sermon, but probably I read it. I know it was years ago when I was a lot younger, but I never forgot it. I keep looking for bits and pieces of information that would help put together what the different groups may have been doing. But, thank you for stopping by again. When you appear, I am reminded of Jesus’ promise to return, so I reflect a little about what that will be like. Lord bless you, my sister.



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