We all know that Jesus had 12 disciples or apostles, and many of us can name all or most of them. In this post, we talk a bit more about each disciple, what their name means and some of the notable things they did.
What You'll Learn Today
What Are The Names Of The Twelve Disciples?
To start, let’s list all the names of the apostles.
- Simon (who is called Peter),
- and his brother Andrew
- James son of Zebedee,
- and his brother John
- Matthew the tax collector
- James son of Alphaeus
- Simon the Zealot
- Judas Iscariot
I’ve taken this list from Matthew 10:2-4. But the 12 names also appear in Like and Mark as well as the book of Acts (which, for obvious reasons, doesn’t mention Judas Iscariot).
You can see the other lists in Mark 3:16-18, Luke 6:14-15, and Acts 1:13.
Interestingly, the gospel of John never lists the 12 disciples and doesn’t mention them all by name.
In the four books where the full list appears, it’s always presented in three groups with one man always appearing at the top of each group.
Simon, also called Peter, always appears first, perhaps signaling his leadership position among the twelve.
Philip always appears at the top of the next group of four names, and James son of Alphaeus always leads the last group of four.
Each group has the same four names, though the order of the names preceding the first one changes in different books of the Bible. Interestingly, though, Judas Iscariot always appears last.
These arrangements probably mean something. Maybe the three men were leaders of smaller groups of apostles and Judas Iscariot appearing last shows how people regarded him after he betrayed Jesus.
Or maybe the authors were reading from the same list of apostles that was passed around. Either way, it’s interesting.
The 12 Disciples
Now, let’s look at each disciple in a bit more detail.
Peter was the most prominent apostle, and is considered a leader of the early church. In the Catholic Church, he is regarded as the first Pope.
His original name was Simon or Simeon which means ‘hearing’, ‘to be heard’ or ‘to hear’. Jesus gives him his new name, Peter or Cephas.
John 1:42: …Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).
Jesus re-affirms the new name in Matthew when he promises to build the church on Peter.
Matthew 16:18: And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
Peter means ‘rock’ or ‘stone’.
Andrew was Peter’s brother. Jesus called both at the same time while they were fishing, telling them that he would make them fishers of men.
Andrew is a Greek name meaning ‘brave’ or ‘manly’.
Andrew is also known as ‘the first called’ since he was the first disciple to follow Jesus after he heard John the Baptist proclaim him as the Lamb of God.
By the time Jesus called Andrew and Peter while they were fishing, both had already met Jesus and heard his teachings. That probably explains why they instantly dropped their nets and followed him.
3. James, Son of Zebedee
The other pair of brothers among the twelve is James and John, the sons of Zebedee.
Also known as James the Great (to distinguish him from James the Less, another disciple), James was one of the first disciples to be called by Jesus along with his brother John.
James comes from the Hebrew name, Jacob, and means ‘supplanter’.
James and John were known for their fiery tempers (they once wanted to call down fire on a Samaritan village), which is probably why the two were called the ‘sons of thunder’.
James was the first apostle to be martyred. He died by beheading at the order of Herod Agrippa.
John was the other half of the ‘sons of thunder’. He is also known as Saint John the Beloved, John of Patmos, and John the Elder. He is likely the author of the book of Revelation.
The Gospel of John refers several times to the Beloved Disciple, whom many scholars believe is John. He was the closest apostle to Jesus.
John comes from the name Yohanan and it means ‘graced by God’.
Philip was among the people who heard John the Baptist point out Jesus. When Jesus tells Philip to follow him, he finds Nathanael/Nathaniel (also called Bartholomew) and introduces him to Jesus.
Philip does not feature very much in the Gospels, though he appears a bit more frequently in John. Notably, in John 6:6, Jesus tests him by asking him how they would feed 5,000 people.
Philip is a name with Greek origins. It means ‘a lover of horses’.
Bartholomew followed Jesus the same time that Philip did. After the death and resurrection of Jesus, he went on to preach in India, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The name Bartholomew means ‘Son of Talmai’ or ‘Son of the Farrows’.
Yes, this is the famous ‘doubting Thomas’ who questioned whether Jesus had really risen from the dead.
Thomas rarely appears in the Gospels. In fact, the first time he speaks is in John 14:5 when he tells Jesus that he doesn’t know the way to where Jesus is going. Jesus replies with the well known words, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”
The next time he is mentioned is when he doubts the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus appears to him and proves to him that he is the resurrected Jesus by showing him the holes in his feet and hands.
Thomas comes from the Hebrew word, ta’om, which means ‘Twin’. In Greek, it’s translated to Didymos, which is why Thomas is sometimes known as Didymus.
Jesus calls Matthew while he is sitting at a tax collector’s booth. Tax collectors were despised at the time, so it was a shock when Jesus dined at Matthew’s house.
Jesus replies to the Pharisees telling them, “For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
By the way the apostle Matthew is likely not the same person who authored the Gospel of Matthew.
Matthew comes from the Hebrew name, Mattityahu, which means ‘gift of God’.
9. James son of Alphaeus
This James is often referred to as James the Less or the Younger, to distinguish him from James the Great or the Elder. He was probably shorter, younger or smaller than James the Great.
Some scholars believe he is the same person as ‘James the brother of Jesus’, though he was likely a cousin to Jesus, not his brother.
The gospels of Matthew and Mark use the name Thaddeus for this apostle. The books of Luke and Act refer to him as Judas.
But to distinguish him from Judas the betrayer, he is called Judas son of James.
Other names include Jude, Lebbaeus, and Jude of James. Thaddeus was likely a nickname meaning ‘breast child’. Lebbaeus is also possible a nickname meaning ‘heart child’.
His original name was likely Judas, which comes from the Hebrew name Judah, meaning ‘God is thanked or praised’.
The only recorded words of Thaddeus in the entire new Testament is in the book of John during the Last Supper.
John 14:22 Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”
11. Simon the Zealot
To distinguish him from Simon Peter, this Simon was also called Simon the Zealot or Kananaios, which is Greek for zealot. He is also sometimes called Simon the Canaanite.
It is likely that Simon for the ‘Zealot’ nickname for his strict observance of Mosaic law.
12. Judas Iscariot
Judas Iscariot, or Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, is the most controversial of the 12 apostles. He betrayed Jesus, but on the other hand, he set in motion events that led to the salvation of humanity.
As I explained above, Judas comes from the Hebrew word Judah, which means ‘praise’. Judas was actually a pretty common name at that time and there are several people in the Bible with the name Judas or Jude.
After he hangs himself, Judas is replaced by Matthias among the twelve apostles. Matthias, like Matthew, means ‘gift of God’.