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Jesus and the Apostles by FedorZubov
After Jesus's death, the Disciples became known as the Apostles and Matthias was chosen by lot to replace Judas Iscariot. Peter, James the Elder and John are regarded as the Apostle inner circle. They were present during many of Jesus’s miracles. Paul is often included in the Apostles, because it was said that his deeds and passions equaled that of the original twelve. The title Apostle has also been given to Barnabas, Paul’s traveling companion, Luke, the author of one of the Gospels.

The remaining 11 original disciples that became Apostles were: 1) Peter (originally known as Simon and Simon Peter); 2) Andrew (Simon’s brother); 3) James the Elder (the “disciple that Jesus loved”); 4) John (James the Elder’s brother); 5) Philip; 6) Bartholomew; 7) Matthew (or Levi); 8) James the Less (or James the Younger, possibly Jesus’s brother); 9) Thaddeus (or Jude or Judas, brother of James the Less); 10) Thomas (“Doubting Thomas”); and 11) Simon Zelotes. The original 12th, Judas Iscariot, committed suicide after his betrayal after the Last Supper.

The earliest church seems to have regarded Peter as the leader of the 12 apostles, a duty prescribed by Jesus. Several passages in the New Testament suggest a unique role for him (Matthew 16). Roman Catholicism asserts that Peter was the first pope. Paul (or Saul of Tarsus) did more than anyone else to spread and defibe the Christian message and establish new communities. Early traditions assert that both Peter and Paul died as martyrs in Rome under Emperor Nero around 64 A.D. James, known as the "brother" of Jesus — variously understood as a kinsman (Roman Catholicism), stepbrother (Orthodoxy), or half brother (Protestantism) of Jesus — was a leader among Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. [Source: Michael J. McClymond, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”, 2000s, Encyclopedia.com]

The Acts of the Apostles describes the arrival of Holy Spirit at a meeting of the disciples after Jesus’s Death and Resurrection: “Suddenly there came from heaven a sound as if it where a violent wind...and there appeared to them tongues as of fire, these separated and came to rest on the head of each of them.” The Holy Spirit gave the disciples the ability to speak a number of different languages, allowing them to spread the words of God and Jesus, and thus ushering in the Christian era. This is regarded as the day of the inception of the Christian church.

Websites and Resources: Early Christianity: PBS Frontline, From Jesus to Christ, The First Christians pbs.org ; Elaine Pagels website elaine-pagels.com ; Sacred Texts website sacred-texts.com ; Gnostic Society Library gnosis.org ; Guide to Early Church Documents iclnet.org; Early Christian Writing earlychristianwritings.com ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; BBC on Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity ; Candida Moss at the Daily Beast Daily Beast Christian Classics Ethereal Library www.ccel.org; Saints and Their Lives
Saints' Books Library saintsbooks.net ; Saints and Their Legends: A Selection of Saints libmma.contentdm ; Saints engravings. Old Masters from the De Verda collection colecciondeverda.blogspot.com ; Lives of the Saints - Orthodox Church in America oca.org/saints/lives ; Lives of the Saints: Catholic.org catholicism.org

Followers of Jesus

When he was alive, Jesus was often accompanied by 70 or so followers, with the core group being his 12 disciples: Describing why the assertion that Jesus had 12 disciples was a myth, Reza Aslan wrote in the Washington Post, “This myth is based on a misunderstanding of the three categories of Jesus’s followers. The first was made up of those who came to hear Him speak or to be healed by Him whenever He entered a village or town. The Gospels refer to this group as “crowds.” [Source: Reza Aslan, Washington Post, September 26, 2013]

The second category was composed of those who followed Jesus from town to town, village to village. These were called disciples, and according to the Gospel of Luke, there were 70 or 72 of them, depending on which version of the text you believe.

The third category of Jesus’s followers was known as the apostles. These 12 men were no mere disciples, for they did not just follow Jesus from one place to another. Rather, they were given permission to go off on their own and preach His message independently and without supervision. They were, in other words, the chief missionaries of the Jesus movement.

Apostles and Disciples

The Twelve Apostles were the disciples of Jesus sent out after Christ's Crucifixion to spread word of the newborn faith. They were instrumental in spreading his teachings and the Christian religion after his death. The word “apostle’ is derived from the Greek apostolos, or messenger.

His 12 disciples were: 1) Peter (originally known as Simon and Simon Peter); 2) Andrew (Simon’s brother); 3) James the Elder (the “disciple that Jesus loved”); 4) John (James the Elder’s brother); 5) Philip; 6) Bartholomew; 7) Matthew (or Levi); 8) James the Less (or James the Younger, possibly Jesus’s brother); 9) Thaddeus (or Jude or Judas, brother of James the Less); 10) Thomas (“Doubting Thomas”); 11) Simon Zelotes; and 12)Judas Iscariot. After Jesus's death, the disciples became the Apostles (a Greek word that means “ones sent forth”) and Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus, was replaced by Matthias.

Jesus' Exhortation to the Apostles

According to Luke VI 12-13: Jesus “went out into a mountain to pray and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve.” All of Jesus's disciples were males and Jews. Four were fishermen, including Peter, James and John, and one, Matthew, was a toll collector. When Andrew and Peter joined up they were disciples of John the Baptist. Jesus told them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Some of Jesus's disciples were militant Jewish freedom fighters. James and Mark were described as "the fierce, wrathful ones." Judas of Galilee was guerilla leader who, Josephus said, was "a very clever rabbi" who "aspired to royalty." We know nothing of his death, but we do know that his sons continued the struggle against Rome, two were crucified and another claimed to be a Messiah. At least one of Judas's offspring died at Masada.

Andrew Todhunter wrote in National Geographic: “As the Bible tells it, most knew more about mending nets than winning converts when Jesus said he would make them "fishers of men." Thomas, or Doubting Thomas as he is commonly known,was one of the Twelve Apostles. He was joined by Peter, Andrew, James the Greater, James the Lesser, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thaddaeus, Simon—and Matthias, who replaced the former disciple and alleged traitor, Judas Iscariot. In time the terms "apostle" and "apostolic" were applied to others who spread the word. In the case of Paul, he claimed the title of apostle for himself, believing he had seen the Lord and received a spiritual commission from him. Mary Magdalene is known as the apostle to the Apostles for her role of announcing the resurrection to them. Although only two of the four Evangelists—Matthew and John—were among the original Apostles, Mark and Luke are considered apostolic because of the importance of their work in writing the New Testament Gospels. [Source: Andrew Todhunter, National Geographic, March 2012 |~|]

“In the first years after the Crucifixion, Christianity was only the seed of a new religion, lacking a developed liturgy, a method of worship, and a name—the earliest followers called it simply "the way." It was not even a formal sect of Judaism. Peter was the movement's first champion; in the Acts of the Apostles we hear of his mass conversions and miraclemaking—healing the lame, raising the dead—and in an un-Christian flourish, calling down a supernatural death upon one couple who held back a portion of their donation to the community.” |~|

Apostles Spread Christianity After the Death of Jesus

The Acts of the Apostles describes the arrival of Holy Spirit at a meeting of the disciples: “Suddenly there came from heaven a sound as if it where a violent wind...and there appeared to them tongues as of fire, these separated and came to rest on the head of each of them.” The Holy Spirit gave the disciples the ability to speak a number of different languages, allowing them to spread the words of God and Jesus, and thus ushering in the Christian era. This is regarded as the day of the inception of the Christian church.

The Apostles spread Christianity from Jerusalem to Damascus, to Antioch, to Asia Minor, to Greece, and finally to Rome. Although there is little evidence to back up the assertion, some people believe that James the Elder went to Spain, St. Thomas went to India, Saint Matthew went to Ethiopia and Saint Bartholomew to Armenia.

After Jesus’s death John was busy winning converts in Jerusalem. For his missionary efforts in the Aegean Andrew was said to have been crucified on an X-shaped cross in Patras Greece (the source of St. Andrew’s Cross). Little is known what to happened to the others, There are stories that James the Younger was stoned to death, allegedly for proselytizing among Jews, and Bartholomew was tortured and crucified while on a missionary trip in India.

Little is known about the lives of the Apostles. The New Testament has only fragmentary information about them. Traditions have grown up around them, the most well known of which is the Apostle’s Creed, a short profession of faith said to have used by the Apostle, which began to be used in the Roman Church in the 3rd century.

Apostles Movement

Andrew Todhunter wrote in National Geographic: “In the early days, Columba Stewart, a Benedictine monk and historian at Saint John's Abbey in Minnesota, told me, "the organizational structure, the great institution of the church—signified for Roman Catholics today by the Vatican and its complex hierarchy—simply wasn't there. There was an apostolic band of followers. There were missionary efforts in major centers, first in Jerusalem, then Antioch, then Rome, but certainly no sense of a headquarters. Instead you had this tiny, vulnerable, poor, often persecuted group of people who were on fire with something." [Source: Andrew Todhunter, National Geographic, March 2012 |~|]

“The Apostles were the movement's cutting edge, spreading the message across the vast trade network of the ancient world and leaving small Christian communities in their paths. "To study the lives of the Apostles," Stewart said, "is a bit like what we've been doing with the Hubble telescope—getting as close as we can to seeing these earliest galaxies. This was the big bang moment for Christianity, with the Apostles blasting out of Jerusalem and scattering across the known world." |~|

“Thomas the Apostle went east, through what is now Syria and Iran and, historians believe, on down to southern India. He traveled farther than even the indefatigable Paul, whose journeys encompassed much of the Mediterranean. Of all the Apostles, Thomas represents most profoundly the missionary zeal associated with the rise of Christianity—the drive to travel to the ends of the known world to preach a new creed.” |~| According to the BBC: “Nobody knows for sure just how long Jesus' ministry, teaching and travelling throughout the Holy Land, lasted. Some say three years, others as little as one. That Christianity grew, after such a brief inception, into the world religion we know to today is testimony to the power of the message Jesus preached. But it is also due to a much simpler and often over-looked fact. He had more than a little help from his friends. [Source: BBC, June 21, 2011 |::|]

Apostle at Saint Augustin in Paris

“Jesus chose his closest followers very carefully. He needed people he could trust to send out his message and to continue the work when he was no longer around to lead the nascent Christian movement. They were Jesus' most familiar allies and companions, but what do we really know about the lives and personalities of the twelve disciples?” |::|

Backgrounds of the Apostles

According to the BBC: “We know that Jesus recruited from the community he grew up in, an environment with a simple but mixed economy where jobs were specialised and survival was all-important. At least four of the disciples, James, brothers Peter and Andrew and John, were fisherman whose livelihood consisted of taking their boats out onto Lake Galilee to catch fish such as sardine and carp. It could be a hard existence at times. They may have had to take out loans to pay for equipment and had to hand over much of their catch in taxes to the Roman authorities who held considerable political and economic power over the entire region. [Source: BBC, June 21, 2011 |::|]

“The paying of taxes may well have been a source of tension between the fishermen and the local individuals the Romans employed to perform the unenviable, but highly lucrative, job of collecting the taxes. By choosing one such tax collector, Matthew, as part of his close following, Jesus may have brought together a volatile combination of forces. Matthew's fellow disciples would have had to wrestle with difficult emotions when dealing with someone they would have been accustomed to treating with suspicion. |::|

“They may well have been other factors to upset the group dynamics of Jesus' team. The brothers James and John, also known as the 'sons of thunder', appear, according to the biblical account, to have had short, even violent, tempers. They also coveted the idea of being Jesus' deputies, which could have provoked disquiet amongst the other disciples.” |::|

Persecution and Martyrdom of the Apostles

Andrew Todhunter wrote in National Geographic: “In its earliest days the movement was too insignificant to attract wide-scale persecution, and Christians, as they came to be called, had more friction with neighboring Jewish sects than with the Roman Empire. The faith's first martyr, according to the Bible, was St. Stephen, a young Christian leader who enraged a Jewish community by suggesting that Christ would return and destroy the Temple of Jerusalem. After he was tried for blasphemy, around the year 35, his accusers dragged him out of the city and stoned him to death while he prayed for them. The young Saul—who would soon become Paul in his celebrated conversion on the road to Damascus— observed Stephen's execution, minding the cloaks of those who stoned him. [Source: Andrew Todhunter, National Geographic, March 2012 |~|]

Nero and the Christain martyrs

“In the year 44 King Herod Agrippa I imprisoned and beheaded James the Greater, the first of the Apostles to die. In 64, when a great fire in Rome destroyed 10 of the city's 14 quarters, Emperor Nero, accused by detractors of setting the fire himself, pinned the catastrophe on the growing Christian movement and committed scores of believers to death in his private arena. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote: "An immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind … Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired." In the year 110 Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, was arrested by the Romans under Trajan, shipped to Rome, and condemned to death ad bestias—by beasts—at the public games. Bloody episodes like this would recur sporadically for the next two centuries. |~|

“Tradition holds that 11 of the Twelve Apostles were martyred. Peter, Andrew, and Philip were crucified; James the Greater and Thaddaeus fell to the sword; James the Lesser was beaten to death while praying for his attackers; Bartholomew was flayed alive and then crucified; Thomas and Matthew were speared; Matthias was stoned to death; and Simon was either crucified or sawed in half. John—the last survivor of the Twelve—likely died peaceably, possibly in Ephesus, around the year 100.” |~|

Cooperation by the Early Christian Community

According to the BBC: “Despite all the potential problems they faced, somehow the Jesus movement managed to pull together in the same direction. They were sent off, probably in small groups, to preach and to perform, on a smaller scale, many of the miraculous things Jesus did. They healed people of physical and psychological illness, perhaps utilising the reputation of their remarkable leader to gain the acceptance and belief of converts. [Source: BBC, June 21, 2011 |::|]

“They suffered great hardships and dangers in a region controlled by Roman authorities, who had a nasty habit of brutally snuffing out political rebellions and messianic movements. They would have left the comfort of their family homes to hit the road, often sleeping rough and relying on the hospitality of locals for food and shelter. Travelling from village to village in Galilee and beyond to Jerusalem, they may have encountered bandits on solitary mountain tracks. |::| “It was a difficult existence. There must have been arguments, jealousies and in-fighting along the way but the disciples were held together by the power of their charismatic and determined leader. They may not have always understood what his message was and their faith may have wavered at times but all of them, apart from the tragic case of Judas, stuck with him until his death. |::|

“After Jesus' crucifixion the disciples were left rudderless and disorientated but his appearance to them and the intensely motivating events of Pentecost rallied their spirits. From this point they found the strength to push forward with keeping Jesus' message alive carrying Christianity through the Near East and beyond. They may have started out as a modest group of everyday fisherman, local officials and artisans, but they went on to become the driving force, keeping alive a small religious movement which flowered into a world religion. |::|

St. James

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Saint James
St. James was one of Christ's 12 apostles. According to legend he sailed to Spain to preach the Gospel and then returned to Jerusalem, where he was beheaded in 44 AD. for preaching and converting on the orders of Herod Agrippa and was thought to have been buried in Jerusalem. Because St. James was the first apostle to be martyred after Christ's crucifixion, many consider him the most senior and most important of all the martyred disciple-saints of the Roman Catholic Church.

In Spain, St. James is variously as Jacobus, Iago, Jacùme, Jaime, Diego, Jacques and Santiago. According to legend, when St. James first came ashore onto Spanish soil he stepped on a thorn which he took out with the help of an angel holding a lantern. Santiago de Compostela (in northwestern Spain), one of Europe's most enduring and famous pilgrimage destinations, became a major pilgrimage center after the discovery of the body of St. James in 810 in field not far from town. The shrine and cathedral built to house the tomb became one of the holiest churches in the world.

So how did St. James end up in Spain. There are three theories. One is that James was never executed in Jerusalem and died in Spain. There is little evidence to back up this assertion other than a vague hint in Book of Acts. According to second theory, St. James body was exhumed in Jerusalem by disciples who had followed James from Spain. They reattached the head and carried the body in a ship made of stone from Jaffa (in present-day Israel) to the Galician harbor of Padrón in Spain. He was then reburied in a Roman burial ground several miles inland.

According to a third story, Charlemagne had a dream shortly before he died in the 9th century in which he saw a star-lit road leading from France and Spain to the as yet undiscovered tomb of St. James. In the dream, God told Charlemagne it was duty to lead his army across the Pyrenees to free northern Spain from Moorish-Muslim rule. Carrying banners with the scallop shell symbol, Charlemagne's armies marched to Spain threw the Muslims out of Castile and León, Galicia. Navarre and La Rioja. This assertion isn't backed up by any historical evidence.

Discovery of St. James’s Body and the Santiago de Compostela Pilgrimage

In A.D. 812, after Charlemagne's victory, the story continues, a normally-reclusive hermit-monk named Pelagius emerged from his cave to collect grasses and honey to eat and noticed a bright star hanging over a spot in a field. He reported the phenomena to his superiors, who then gave him permission to dig up the spot. Pelagius dug and unearthed a perfumed body with a reattached head and a note attached to the body that read: "Santiago, son of Zebedee and Salome, brother of John, whom Herod beheaded in Jerusalem."

Ossuary of James determined to be a fraud

The phenomena was reported by King Alfonso II of Asturias to the Pope, who endorsed the finding of St. James body as an “inventio” (the discovery of a tomb or relic after a miraculous revelation) which is similar to an apparition (miraculous vision) like the ones that took place at Lourdes and Fátima. The Vatican then ordered a “translation” (the removal of a relic a suitably holy site). The bones were placed in a crypt in a chapel called Campus Stella ("Field Star") built on the field. Later the chapel was ensconced inside a huge cathedral that was built up over the centuries.

Since the early Middle Ages, millions of pilgrims from all Europe, have converged on Santiago de Compostela to pay their respect to St. James. They have traveled on foot, on horseback, in carriages and in donkey carts. Today, around 100,000 pilgrims and tourist each year follow the same route on foot, on horseback, with donkeys and on bicycles. Slightly more than half say they are walking for "religious reasons" and most are Spaniards or Germans.

Pilgrims are often identified by a talisman or badge bearing a scallop shell, the coquille St. Jacque, or symbol of Saint James. No one is sure why the scallop shell was chose as the symbol for St. James and his pilgrims. Many pilgrims claim the shell was first used by Charlemagne's armies but scholar it may have originated with a pre-Christian Venus cult of sexual gymnast who used to hold orgies at Stonehedge-like standing stone temples.

Junia — the Highly-Esteemed Female Apostle?

One woman — Junia — was mentioned by Paul as not just an “apostle” but “highly esteemed among [them].” Candida Moss wrote in the Daily Beast: If you’re thinking, "I don’t remember Jesus meeting a Junia," then you’re correct; she is never mentioned in the Gospels. But the status of Paul in the history of Christianity shows that you didn’t actually have to know Jesus when he was alive to hold the rank of apostle in the early church. It’s an open secret that Paul calls Junia an apostle and yet she is rarely mentioned in histories of Christianity. A new article by Yii-Jan Lin, a professor at Yale Divinity School, published in the Journal of Biblical Literature, sets out to examine the ways in which people have tried to push Junia out of the spotlight by claiming either than she was male or that she wasn’t really an apostle. [Source: Candida Moss, Daily Beast, May 17, 2020]

These debates are comparatively recent. For the first millennium of the Common Era nobody doubted that Junia was a woman and an apostle. As Lin told me, “Junia was understood—without debate—to be female.” There are even some ancient manuscripts that mistakenly changed her name to “Julia” an indisputably female name. The argument that she might have been male first appeared in the writings of 13th century scholar Giles of Rome, who read her name as the masculine ‘Junias.’ As Eldon Epp argued in his brief book on Junia, the controversy began with a change of accent: if you replace the acute accent over the ‘i’ (´) with a circumflex (˜) over the ‘a’, you change Junia’s name from female to male. Giles was followed by the widely influential protestant reformer Martin Luther, who used a masculine form of her name in his German translation of the Bible. Luther’s actions, Lin told The Daily Beast, “really set the stage for the next few centuries, in which scholars and church leaders increasingly interpreted the person to be a man. By the 20th century, ‘Junias’ was the predominant translation used, with the assumption that the person was a man.”

We don’t know much about the historical Junia. She is mentioned only once in the section of greetings that conclude Paul’s famous Letter to the Romans. In Romans 16:7 Paul sends his regards to “Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” We learn here that Junia was imprisoned with Paul (presumably for being a Jesus follower/agitator); she and Andronicus were followers of Jesus before Paul was; and that she was highly regarded “among the apostles.”

End of the Apostles

Professor L. Michael White told PBS: “We don't know precisely what happened to either Peter or Paul. Tradition holds that they were both martyred in Rome in around the year 64. This was after the great fire, and the emperor Nero seemed to have wanted to blame the fire on a variety of groups in Rome such as Jews and Christians. Now what really happened to Peter and Paul, we can never say for sure but by the mid sixties, say between 62 and 64, it does appear that both Peter and Paul have died. About the same time Josephus tells us that James, the brother of Jesus at Jerusalem, has also been killed. All in about the same two or three year period, so by the mid sixties the original first generation of leadership of the Christian movement has passed away and this is going to set the stage for an important shift that will occur within the next few years. [Source: L. Michael White, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]

“We also shouldn't minimize the level of expectation that was going through their minds at that time because ... with the passing of this first generation, the expectation that all of those coming events must be closer to hand probably was a concern for a lot of people. At the same time the situation in Jerusalem itself was becoming a good bit more tense...

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible, biblegateway.com; Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) ccel.org , Frontline, PBS, Wikipedia, BBC, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Live Science, Encyclopedia.com, Archaeology magazine, Reuters, Associated Press, Business Insider, AFP, Library of Congress, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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