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

Last week, “What happened to Jesus’ disciples? Part I” answered the questions about what happened to St. Bartholomew; Judas, Iscariot; and James, the brother of John? What about the other identifiable Apostles?

This answer includes the best information the Church has, with a bonus Apostle at the end.

Simon, bar Jonah, brother of Andrew (aka Peter): According to the Acts of the Apostles, Peter’s post-resurrection life was devoted to Jerusalem. His appearances to the world end in chapter 12 of the Book of Acts. We turn instead to Clement of Rome who was born circa 35 AD and died circa 99 AD. In his letter to the church in Corinth know as 1 Clement, he stated that Peter “came to his death in Rome.” The approximate date was 66 AD. Eusebius of Caesarea, writing his Ecclesiastical History in the late 3rd Century tells us Peter was crucified head downward. So, Peter’s work is better attested than most of the disciples. The Church holds to his having been an apostle in Jerusalem and the earliest head of that community, later replaced by Jesus’ brother James, he later traveled to Rome, where he is held to be the first Bishop of that community (i.e. Pope), and was crucified upside down in the persecutions of emperor Nero.

St Peter crucified upside down in the persecutions of emperor Nero.

Andrew, bar Jonah, brother of Simon (aka Peter): Not much is known about Andrew after his discipleship. He is among the disciples sent after Jesus’ ascension. There is an account of his death in an Apocryphal book of the Acts of Andrew. According to tradition, he is crucified on an X-shaped cross in Patra around 60 AD. He was said to have preached in Asia.

St Andrew crucified on an X-shaped cross in Patra around 60 AD

John, brother of James, son of Zebedee: The synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, portray varying levels of discipleship intimacy with Jesus. There are the seventy who go off on an extended mission of healing, proselytizing, and exorcising, there are the twelve, and within the twelve there is the group of four who are closest to Jesus—Peter, Andrew, James, and John. This group is at the raising of Jarius’ daughter from the dead, and they are on the mountaintop for the transfiguration. These four are among the first followers of Jesus. John is traditionally held to be the youngest of the group, and may, from Gospel accounts, have been a cousin of Jesus. If John, the brother of James and son of Zebedee, is also the Evangelist of the fourth Gospel, and this is by no means certain, then according to tradition, he wrote the fourth Gospel (i.e. John), three letters (1 John, 2 John, and 3 John), and the Book of Revelation. If this identification is accurate then he is the disciple to whom Jesus entrusted his mother at his crucifixion (John 19:26-27), and who moved to Ephesus with her after the ascension. After Mary’s assumption, John is exiled to the island of Patmos as part of a localized persecution of the church. He eventually returns to Ephesus where he is an elder of the local church and dies of natural causes around 98 AD. This outline of his life is pieced together from traditions around Ephesus, Ecclesiastical History by Eusebius of Caesarea, and from a letter of Tertullian, a Christian writer and apologist of the late 2nd and early 3rd centuries.

In this painting by Italian artist Jacopo Vignali (1592-1664) the Apostle John is being tended by an angel on the Greek island of Patmos as he writes the Book of Revelations

Philip: The truth is, we do not know what happened to Philip, and outside of the Gospel of John, we do not have much on record about him. There are traditions that have Philip dying of natural causes, beheading, stoning, or crucifixion. These varying traditions suggest he died in around 80 AD. Our primary sources for Philip’s life after the New testament accounts are tradition. There is an apocryphal record called the Acts of Philip. Apocryphal accounts are often colorful but also historically unreliable.

By Peter Paul Rubens – Museo del Prado,
Public Domain

Thomas, the Twin (aka the doubter): Thomas, whose discipleship is highlighted in the Gospel according to John, has some written attributions with a very strong tradition, both in Syrian Christian communities and from a liturgical calendar of the 2nd century that he died on July 3. The year is held to be 72 AD. According to the apocryphal The Acts of Thomas, he was an evangelist to India and died by being stabbed to death with a spear.

Maerten de Vos / Public domain

Matthew (Levi?), the tax collector: According to the writings of Clement of Alexandria, Bishop who lived from circa 150 AD to 215 AD, quoting an early New Testament Commentator, Heraclon says he proclaimed the Gospel and died. Other church fathers claim that his death was martyrdom either by burning, beheading, stoning, or stabbing.

By Rembrandt – Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork, Public Domain,

James, son of Alpheus (the Just? Brother of Jesus): Church tradition holds that James, the son of Alpheus and James the brother of Jesus are the same person. This is especially part of the Roman catholic tradition because it maintains that Mary was perpetually virgin and the reference to Jesus’ brother and sisters in the Bible refers to his cousins. Whether half-brother or cousin (remember James father was either Joseph or Alpheus depending on one’s reading of Matthew 12.46-50 (and parallels in Mark and Luke), James comes to be the leader of the Jerusalem community, supplanting Peter. Hippolytus, a writer of the late 2nd and early 3rd Centuries, says James preached in Jerusalem and was stoned to death by the Jewish inhabitants of that city. There is a tradition he was beaten with a fuller’s brush by someone from the crowd before his stoning.

© Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main, Foto: U. Edelmann

Jude: There are three sources for what happened to Jude, who, other than being in the list of disciples, does not really come into the Gospel story. Those sources are tradition and a text of legendary stories known as the Acts of Jude, and another text of legendary stories called The Golden Legend. According to all of these sources, Jude and Simon the Zealot travel on missionary journeys together and died as martyrs in Syria.

The Martyrdom of St. Simon and St. Jude Thaddeus by Hendrik Goltzius, c. 1577-82, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, the Netherlands

Simon the Zealot: The traditions and stories of Simon the Zealot vary. Although Jude is partnered with him in the Jude stories, there are independent stories of Simon having him in places as varied as Syria, Iberia, Samaria, and Britain. These traditions also give varying accounts of his death from crucifixion, to being sawed in half, to dying of old age.

By Peter Paul Rubens Public Domain

Matthias: This is the disciple chosen to replace Judas Iscariot among the twelve (Acts 1.12-14). There are traditions of his being martyred by stoning, beheading, or crucifixion, or that he died in Jerusalem of old age.

Wood engraving from the book Legend of the Dear Saints of God (1863)

Paul (Saul) of Tarsus: While Paul was not one of the twelve, or even among those who followed Jesus at any point in his lifetime, he is by his own words (Galatians) and Luke’s (Acts of the Apostles), an Apostle to the Gentiles. He traveled extensively throughout the Roman Mediterranean, evangelizing Jews and especially Gentiles to follow Jesus. According to Clement of Rome both Peter and Paul were martyrs, whose cause of martyrdom is not disclosed. Tertullian claims that Paul was beheaded, a death consistent with his self-proclaimed Roman citizenship, since crucifixion was for slaves or conquered peoples.

‘The Beheading of St. Paul’ by Simon de Vos (1603-1676). https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Simon_de_Vos_-_The_Beheading_of_St._Paul.png

Mary of Magdala: Again, like Paul, Mary does not appear among the twelve but she does deserve notice because it is held that she is the apostle to the Apostles because she is the one to whom Jesus first revealed himself after the resurrection and commanded her to tell the disciples. From this point on we really have no firm tradition of what happened to Mary. This is possibly because in a very male oriented society, the early church wanted to know what happened to the men. And, no, the legends that were the core of Dan Brown’s wildly successful page turner, The Da Vinci Code, are have neither historical nor ecclesiastical purchase.

By Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov – Public Domain

This overly brief romp through the evidence and traditions surrounding the disciples after their lives recorded in the New Testament demonstrates that we really do not know much about the life and times of the disciples, Certainly, their witness was essential to the early proclamation of the gospel of Jesus. We have Jesus’ life on record, and we have the earliest theology about what his life meant. Therefore, the focus of the early church was on Jesus as it knew him from eyewitness encounters and through the power of the Holy Spirit working through the earliest followers. The best and strongest tradition that we have is that disciples got the message out. Their individual stories were not as important as the message they proclaimed, and we also learn that the early church suffered to make that proclamation, often enduring death at the hands of the authorities. As important as the disciples were, they are not the subject of the Church’s story. Jesus was, and still is.

Photo credit: Cover Photo; St Mark’s Basilica / Public domain 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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