A Disciple with “Horse” in His Name (part 1)

We hope you have been enjoying reading these sections of our upcoming book, “Who Were The Apostles?”  Today, we begin talking about a man named “Philip,” whose name in Greek literally means “Lover of Horses.”

Philip the Disciple

Like Andrew, Philip is known by a Greek name, which means “Lover of Horses.”1  Philip was a Jew,2 a native of the fishing village of Bethsaida like Andrew and Peter,3 which possibly means that these men were already acquainted with each other before they were called.  He was one of the earliest disciples of Jesus, joining the band of followers just one day after Andrew and Peter.4

That day, Jesus planned to go to Galilee, and He searched for Philip.  The Greek word used by John (from which we get our word eureka!) indicates that Jesus found him after searching for him.5  When He found Philip, He said, “follow me.”6  What kind of a man must Philip have been that Jesus would actively search him out to be one of His disciples! Since Philip was from the same city as Andrew and Peter, it’s quite possible that they were the ones who suggested that Jesus find him. 7  Given the quickness with which Philip followed Jesus, and the fact that he knew where He was from and who His earthly father was, it is possible that Philip already knew Jesus, or at least knew of Him.8

Philip’s immediate response was two-fold.  First, he accepted the call to be one of Jesus’ disciples.  Second, he searched out his friend Nathanael9 and told Him they had found “Him, of whom Moses in the Law and the Prophets did write.”10  This shows that Philip had a very high regard for the inspired word of God, and that he was awaiting the advent of the Prophet like Moses.11  After Nathanael expressed doubt because of Jesus’ hometown (“can anything good come out of Nazareth?”), Philip encouraged him to “come and see” for himself, showing that Philip had confidence in who Jesus was.12  Philip then led Nathanael to Jesus, where the Lord convinced the doubter with His greeting.13

The day after he was called by Jesus, Philip accompanied Him to the wedding feast in Cana where Jesus turned water into wine, increasing his faith in Jesus as the Messiah.14  Afterwards, Philip accompanied Jesus into Jerusalem, where the Lord overturned the tables in the temple, sending animals and greedy money-exchangers running.15  Philip watched in awe as Jesus performed miracles on the Passover in Jerusalem.16  Some time afterwards, they went out of Jerusalem, and Philip began to baptize many people.17

After returning with Jesus to Galilee, Philip apparently resumed his regular occupation while the Lord traveled around the area, preaching.18  But after Jesus returned to Capernaum, calling Andrew, Peter, James, and John, Philip must have re-joined Him, for it is thereafter that Jesus and “His disciples” ate with a tax collector named Levi, causing consternation among the Pharisees and scribes.19  Some time later, Philip and the other disciples walked with Jesus through some fields, picked some wheat, and ate some of it—all on the Sabbath—again causing the Pharisees to be very upset.20

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 Philip was a common name both then and now.  The popularity of the name likely originated with Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great.  As Alexander conquered cities and areas, new names were occasionally given, which led to the city called “Philippi” (in Macedonia), the city of Caesarea Philippi, etc.  There were three men mentioned in the Bible who had this name: (1) Herod’s brother, whose wife had been stolen from him by Herod (Matthew 14:3-4); (2) Philip the evangelist, “one of the seven” who was chosen to assist the widows in Jerusalem (Acts 6:1-6; 8:5-40; 21:8), and (3) Philip the apostle, one of “the twelve” chosen by Jesus (Luke 6:13-16).  As such, it is unlikely that we can gain any insight into the character of Philip or his family through the name he was given.

2 James Hastings, in his Dictionary of Christ in the Gospels, states that Bethsaida had a mixed Greek population, and suggests that this is possibly Andrew’s background.  While possible, such a background would almost certainly have been used as a reason by the Jews to reject the apostles, having a “half-breed” in their midst.  Since there is no hint of such an objection, this theory is highly unlikely.

3 John 1:44.  As seen in our chapter on Andrew, this verse does not necessarily mean that he still lived in Bethsaida, but that it is where he originally came from.  Andrew, according to Mark, lived in Capernaum with Peter, though John said they were from Bethsaida.

4 John 1:40-43, especially verse 43.  It seems probable that John, the son of Zebedee, was also called to follow Jesus the day before the Lord called Philip.  See John 1:35-40, and remember that John never mentions himself by name in his gospel account; the other unnamed disciple may well be the author himself.

5 Ευρισκει.  See Thayer’s definition.

6 John 1:43.  Vincent’s Word Studies points out that this word is often used when Jesus was calling disciples after Him.

7 A.T. Robertson, in his Word Pictures, makes this suggestion.  Herbert Lockyer, in his All the Apostles of the Bible, boldly jumps from suggestion to an all-out declaration, embellishing the gospel narrative by saying that Philip “owed his soul to Andrew…his father in the faith” (page 155).

8 It is not outside of the realm of possibility that these two religiously-minded men (Jesus and Philip), both growing up in Galilee, would have met each other.  If this is the case, then Philip would have known the impeccable character that Jesus had.  It is also possible that Philip’s quick acceptance of Jesus as the promised Messiah had to do with Jesus’ choice of words (saying “follow me” as a disciple) and the presence of Peter and Andrew, whom he apparently already knew well, saying they had already become His disciples.  If Philip was at all aware of the teachings of John the Baptizer, he would have been looking for the “greater” One that would come; and when Jesus called him to follow, he knew he’d found the One.

9 Lockyer, in All the Apostles of the Bible, states that “There are those expositors who suggest that Philip and Nathanael, or Bartholomew, were brothers” (page 156), though he does not state who.

10 John 1:45.  John uses the same word for Philip’s “finding” of Nathanael as he does for Jesus’ “finding” of Philip.

11 Deuteronomy 18:18.

12 John 1:45-46.

13 We will delve into this in more detail in the chapter on Nathanael/Bartholomew.

14 John 2:11.

15 John 2:13-17

16 John 2:23

17 John 3:22; 4:1-2.  There is no telling how many people were baptized at this point, and no names are given.  It has been suggested in the chapter on Andrew that it is perhaps at this time that Mary, Martha, Lazarus, and even Judas Iscariot were baptized and made disciples of Jesus.

18 There is no mention of the disciples in the travels of Jesus from John 4:43 through the end of chapter five.  It is after this preaching mission that He returned to Capernaum and called Peter, Andrew, James, and John—all of whom had resumed their fishing trade.  It is, therefore, logical to conclude that Philip would have resumed his trade as well during this time.

19 Luke 5:27-33.

20 Luke 6:1 (KJV) says that these events took place on the “second Sabbath after the first.”  The meaning of this phrase, and even its validity, is in question.  Some have suggested that it is a reference to the Sabbath after that which is described in Luke 4:31-41.  However, that ignores verse 44, which entails weeks, if not months of preaching after that event.  Others have suggested that this took place on the Sabbath of Pentecost, which was the second most important day on the Jewish calendar, thus literally in Greek, Luke would be calling it the “second-first” Sabbath.  Others relieve themselves of the difficulty by pointing to some of the ancient manuscripts which don’t contain the word at all, and simply record Luke saying “on a Sabbath.”  In short, there’s nothing from this passage which will give us a more exact idea of when Philip rejoined Jesus.


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