Episco-fact: What happened to Jesus’ disciples? Part I

This coming Monday, August 24, is the feast of St. Bartholomew, the Apostle. Who is he? What did he do? How did he die? For that matter what happened to the disciples after Jesus’ arrest?

The story of St. Bartholomew is somewhat obscure, and we will get to it. It might help to review who the twelve disciples were. Immediately below is a chart with the list of the disciples. As we can observe it is not a consistent list:

Chart with the list of the disciples.

Simon, aka PeterSimon, aka PeterSimon, aka PeterSimon, aka Peter, of BethsaidaPeter
Andrew, br. of SimonAndrewAndrew, br. of SimonAndrew, br. of Simon, of BethsaidaAndrew
James, br. of John, son of ZebedeeJames, br. of John, son of ZebedeeJamesJames, son of ZebedeeJames
John, br. of James, son of ZebedeeJohn, br. James, son of ZebedeeJohnJohn, son of ZebedeeJohn
PhilipPhilipPhilip Philip
BartholomewBartholomewBartholomew Bartholomew
ThomasThomasThomasThomas, the twinThomas
Matthew, the tax collectorMatthewMatthew (Levi?) Matthew
James, son of AlphaeusJames, son of AlphaeusJames, son of Alphaeus James, son of Alphaeus
Simon the CananaeanSimon the CananaeanSimon(?), the Zealot Simon, the Zealot
Judas IscariotJudas IscariotJudas IscariotJudas, son of Simon Iscariot 
  Judas, son of James Judas, son of James
   Philip, of Bethsaida 
   Nathanael, of Cana in Galilee 
   The disciple whom Jesus loved. (John br. of James?) 
    James, the br. of Jesus, the Just
    Paul of Tarsus
Table of Disciples referenced in Bible

The table shows all of the traditionally held disciples, who became apostles, except of Judas Iscariot who dies before the Apostolic Era begins. As is evident, the list of disciples/apostles is closely aligned but not entirely consistent.

Because of the length of the list, this question is a two-part answer, with some of the answers provided this week and some next week.

We will begin with Bartholomew, around whom the question was framed. Bartholomew is named among the disciples in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts. Some traditions hold that Nathaniel and Bartholomew are the same person, although there is nothing in the Bible or in early accounts of the new church to make this application hold. According to tradition (more about tradition following), he was martyred for preaching the Gospel, probably in India, and was either crucified upside down, or he was flayed and beheaded.

Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew

What is tradition? Tradition is made up of a great deal: oral histories, bits and pieces of writings, the historic Creeds, and more. In the case of the disciples, we have some stories and writings which have some reliability. Accounts from the Bible, though not rigorously historical, have greater veracity than apocryphal writings from the second and third centuries.  Some of the accounts to which we give greater credence, in addition to the Bible, are the letters of Clement of Rome, the writings of Hippolytus, the writings of Tertullian, and Church History by Eusebius of Alexandria. These texts, though certainly not without inaccuracies, are written much closer to the time and place of the events they record, and they are included among the libraries of the main-stream organizations of their times. Tradition sometimes means much later writings recording details long after they could have happened and yet, are acknowledged by churches of the Roman Catholic or Orthodox traditions, the oldest continuing traditions in Christianity. In relaying what happened to the disciples, it is a mixed bag.

Are there any Bible stories that tell us what happened to the disciples? From the list above, only two disciples have their deaths recorded in the Bible. The first is Judas Iscariot. He dies by hanging himself in the account of Matthew, seemingly not long after his betrayal of Jesus (Mt. 27.3-5). In the Acts of the Apostles, the sequel to the Gospel of Luke, the gospelist records that Judas’ internal organs burst out of him at his death. This does not directly conflict with suicide by hanging. This act, too, occurs not long after Jesus’ arrest at the direction of Judas.

The Gospel of Matthew describes him hanging himself after realizing the depths of his betrayal. The Book of Acts, on the other hand, describes his death more like a spontaneous combustion.
Culture Club/Getty Images

The other Biblically recorded death is James, the brother of John, apparently the sons of Zebedee (i.e. the sons of thunder, Mk. 3.17). In Acts 11.27-12.3 it records the circumstances around James’ death. It was during the reign of Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, Emperor 41-54 AD. During this time, Herod Agrippa I (grandson of Herod the Great) began a persecution of the Church. Most persecutions of the church were local until empire-wide persecutions began in the 3rd century under Diocletian. James was killed by the sword and Peter was arrested.

James was beheaded by order of King Herod Agrippa I

These are the sum total of the direct Biblical references to the deaths of the disciples. In the next Episco-fact; “What happened to Jesus’ disciples? Part II”, we will run through the other members of these lists and the sources by which we know about them.

Photo credit: … cover by John Mathews Digital Paintings All rights reserved.

Published by fr.david

Rector of St. Francis Church. Adopted son of the Old Dominion--Hampden-Sydney loving, Red Sox supporting, Burkean.

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