Bartholomew, According to Tradition
With some of the apostles, tradition is generally in agreement. With Bartholomew, the traditions are all over the place. He is said by some “ancient authorities” to have been a nobleman in Galilee prior to becoming a disciple of Jesus.1 He is said to have worked in India, Phrygia, and Armenia.2 Others place him side-by-side with Peter, Andrew, and Matthew around the Black Sea.3 Traditionally, it is believed that Bartholomew took the gospel also to Arabia.4 There is a work entitled “The Acts of Andrew and Bartholomew” placing the two working among the Parthians, and includes Jesus telling Bartholomew “Rise up, O good Bartholomew, and go to the countries of the Greeks…”5
One of the many stories surrounding Bartholomew actually records a demon describing his appearance:
He has black hair, a shaggy head, a fair skin, large eyes, beautiful nostrils, his ears hidden by the hair of his head, with a yellow beard, a few grey hairs, of middling height (neither tall nor stunted, but middling), clothed with a white under-cloak bordered with purple, and on his shoulders a very white cloak; and his clothes have been worn twenty-six years, but neither are they dirty, nor have they waxed old. Seven times a day he bends the knee to the Lord, and seven times a night does he pray to God. His voice is like the sound of a strong trumpet…his face, and his soul, and his heart are always glad and rejoicing.6
According to The Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew in Naidas, the apostle angered a king by converting his wife to Christ, resulting in his death:
It came to pass that when Akrepos heard these words from him, he was angry with a great anger, for he had kept in his mind how his wife had separated herself from him. Then he commanded the officers of his guards to fill a sack with sand, and to put Saint Bartholomew therein and to cast him into the sea; and they did as the king commanded them. Now he died on the first day of the month Maskarram, and afterwards the waves of the sea cast him up, and on the day following, certain believing men, who had confessed the faith God through him, swathed him in swathings and laid him in a fair place.7
But, according to another work with a similar title, a king in India was upset because his idols had been broken:
The king…ordered the holy apostle Bartholomew to be beaten with rods; and after having been thus scourged, to be beheaded.
And innumerable multitudes came from all the cities, 12,000 in number, and they took up the remains of the apostle with singing of praise and with all glory, and they laid them in the royal tomb, and glorified God. And the king Astreges, having heard of this, ordered him to be thrown into the sea; and his remains were carried into the island of Liparis.8
Herbert Lockyer gives some other traditions, including that Bartholomew was murdered in Armenia in AD 44,9 and that he was either “crucified with his head downwards, of flayed to death at Albanopolis or Urbanapolis in Armenia at the command of King Astyages after the conversion of King Polymios.”10 Coxe says that “the general tradition is that he was flayed alive, and then crucified.”11
Perhaps the most interesting of the stories surrounding Bartholomew is that he went into India with a Hebrew copy of the gospel of Matthew,12 which was found around AD 170 by Pantnus, who was sent to India as a missionary.13
One ancient writing called the “Gospel of Bartholomew” is no longer in existence, but it was labeled as heretical by the Catholic Church.14
-Bradley S. Cobb
1 Whyte, Alexander, Bible Characters, chapter 22.
2 See Zondervan’s Bible Encyclopedia, entry “Bartholomew.”
3 See The Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, Ecclesiastical History (Eusebius), Book 3, part 1, footnotes 1.
4 International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Arabia.”
5 See Budge, Contendings of the Apostles, Vol. 2, Pages 183-184.
6 Martyrdom of the Holy and Glorious Apostle Bartholomew, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, page 553.
7 Budge, Contendings of the Apostles, Vol. 2, pages 109-110.
8 Martyrdom of the Holy and Glorious Apostle Bartholomew, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, page 557.
9 Lockyer, Herbert, All the Apostles of the Bible, page 58. Unfortunately, Lockyer did not state where this date or the traditions originated, leaving us to wonder if this is one of his many “embellishments” from this book.
10 Lockyer, Herbert, All the Apostles of the Bible, page 250.
11 The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Book 5, page 255, footnote 2.
12 Hippolytus, Hippolytus on the Twelve Apostles. See The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5, page 255.
13 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book 5, chapter 10; see also International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Matthew, The Gospel of.”
14] International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Apocryphal Gospels.”