Matthew 10:1-4. The Twelve Apostles
As if in answer to Jesus’ prayer for workers for the Lord’s harvest, the twelve disciples are gathered together and given authority by Christ to say the words and do the works of their Master. Then Matthew gives his list of the twelve, which varies little from the lists the other Gospel writers give us. Peter always heads the list of disciples, and is followed by his brother Andrew. An early tradition recorded in the Muratorian Fragment,no doubt garbled as it was passed down through the decades, credits Andrew with encouraging his fellow apostle, John, to write his Gospel. James – the first of the apostles to be martyred — and his brother John, come next in the list. Peter, James, and John are considered Christ’s inner circle, and either all three or Peter and John by themselves are present at every major event in Christ’s ministry.
Friends Philip and Bartholomew come next in Matthew’s list. Philip is the fifth apostle listed in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, though they offer little more about him than his name. It was left up to John’s Gospel to give us a few stories about Philip, who appears to have been a devout, helpful man full of gentle questions. Little is known about Bartholomew, but he appears to be the same apostle as Nathaniel. Bartholomew – bar Tolmai – would have been his family name. Thus, Nathaniel son of Tolmai. In the first chapter of John’s Gospel, we’re told that Philip brought Nathanael to meet Jesus, and Jesus recognized Nathanael as a man in whom there was no guile, or falsehood. Quite a high honor.
Thomas is the seventh apostle listed, and his personality is known to us primarily from John’s Gospel. He is remembered today as “Doubting Thomas,” because a resurrected Christ seemed to be too fantastic to believe (John 20:25). Nevertheless, at the sight of the living Jesus, he made his profession of faith. A persistent tradition throughout history makes Thomas the apostle to India, and the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church is the largest of these St. Thomas churches today. Next in the list of apostles is Matthew, who is no longer using the name Levi. Matthew’s name means “God’s gift,” which is an interesting change for someone who spent his life before Christ receiving tax payments. Scripture says very little about Matthew, but if the Gospel gives us any indication about his character, it is that his was a very organized, analytical, devout mind.
James the son of Alphaeus is the ninth apostle in Matthew speaks of. Fragment X from the works of Papias of Hieropolis identifies this James with James the Less, often known as James the Lord’s brother. Given that the term “brother” could also mean cousin or relative in Jewish culture, it’s possible, but is by no means definite. Papias would have learned what he knew about James between twenty and thirty years after James’ death. If this is the same James, then he would be the apostle who became the leader of the Jerusalem church, and one of the first apostles Paul would have met (Gal 1:18-19).
Thaddeus is mentioned together with James, and is usually understood to be the alternate name of Jude, James’ brother (Jude 1), and the author of the New Testament book which bears his name.
Simon the Cananean is the same as Simon the Zealot in other lists of apostles in the New Testament. “Zealot” is how his Hebrew name, “Qanai,” should be interpreted – not as a Canaanite or a citizen of Cana in Galilee. It is very probable that Simon had been a member of the Jewish nationalist party known as the Zealots. The party was founded when Simon was a boy and reached its height just before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. If he was such a Zealot for Israeli religion, culture, and independence, then it is a genuine miracle that he and Matthew, a traitor to his people as an employee of the Roman state, could even sit in the same room together. Such is the miracle of God’s grace. Simon has at times been identified with Simeon, the second bishop of the Jerusalem church (Eusebius, Church History, III.11.2).
Judas Isacariot is the last apostle Matthew names, and Matthew makes no secret as to his identity – he is the one who betrayed Jesus (Matt. 10:4). “Iscariot” links him to the city of Carioth in Judah. The Catholic Encyclopedia notes, curiously, that Judas was the only apostle who did not come from Galilee.