This apostle is known by three different names; in fact, Jerome later called him “trinomius” (“three names”),1 but we are told very little else about him. His name, according to Matthew, was “Lebbaeus,”2 the meaning of which is not certain,3 though some say it means “courageous”4 or “man of heart,”5 while others say it means “beloved child.”6 This same inspired writer says that his surname was “Thaddaeus,” which is also of unknown origin, but some dictionaries have said it means the same: “man of heart” or “courageous.”7
But, taking the list as Luke gives it, we find that this disciple had another name: Judas.
The Other “Judas”
In the place where Matthew and Mark place “Thaddaeus,” Luke puts “Judas of James.” Almost all translations insert either “the son of” or “the brother of” in this description.8 So, which one is it supposed to be?
Some translations read “Judas, the brother of James” because the author of Jude (also named “Judas”) calls himself “the brother of James.” As such, the translators assumed that they must be the same person, laboring under the idea that only the apostles were inspired.9 If this were the case, then Thaddaeus was the brother of James and Matthew, and was also a son of Alphaeus.10 There are those who, because they insist that James the son of Alphaeus must also be the “brother of Jesus,” believe that Thaddaeus is also Jesus’ brother, Judas, mentioned in Matthew 13:55.11
Most translations, however, read “Judas, the son of James.” This is because it is the same Greek structure as “James, the son of Zebedee,” and “James, the son of Alphaeus.”12 This presents no theological problems, no contradictions with the biblical text. It does, however, show that the author of Jude was not one of the apostles.
Why the Different Names?
It has been suggested by at least one writer that Matthew and Mark were trying to make certain there was no confusion between the faithful Judas and the wicked Judas Iscariot,13 while Luke, being the historian, gave his actual name.14 John used the name “Judas,” but followed it immediately with “not Iscariot.”15 Another said that Thaddaeus was chosen to be an apostle, but that he died during Jesus’ ministry and was replaced by Judas, the son of James.16 Obviously, that can’t be the case, for Luke and Mark record the same event—the choosing of the apostles—and one lists “Thaddaeus” while the other lists “Judas, the son of James.”17
The first of these two suggestions seems most likely.18
The Recorded Words of Thaddaeus
The only specific action of Thaddaeus, apart from the other apostles, is recorded in John 14:22. The Lord’s Supper has concluded, Jesus has announced His departure, but told the apostles that He would not leave them comfortless. He tells the apostles that He will manifest Himself to them, even though the world will not see Him. This is when Thaddaeus (a.k.a., Judas, the son of James) speaks:
He, Judas (not the Iscariot), speaks to Him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, but not to the world?”
Literally, he asked Jesus, “what has happened that you are about to manifest yourself to us, and not the world?”19 Thaddaeus didn’t understand what Jesus was talking about, but the Lord had reference to the sending of the Holy Spirit.20 This is something that would not be given to the world, but only to those who kept Jesus’ commandments.
1 See J.G. Tasker’s article on “Judas” in James Hasting’s Dictionary of Christ in the Gospels.
2 Matthew 10:3. There is a debate as to the validity of this reading, as a very small minority of manuscripts are missing the name “Lebbaeus.” For more information about these variants, see Nestle’s article in James Hasting’s Dictionary of Christ in the Gospels, “Lebbaeus.”
3 See Nestle’s article in Hasting’s Dictionary of Christ in the Gospels, “Lebbaeus.” Also, McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Vol. 5, page 315, gives several possibilities that have been argued for the meaning.
4 Easton’s Bible Dictionary, “Lebbaeus.”
5 Smith’s Bible Dictionary, “Lebbaeus.”
6 Vincent’s Word Studies, note on Mark 3:18.
7 See Thayer’s dictionary, “Lebbaeus” (G2280). However, Easton’s Bible Dictionary (“Thaddaeus”) says that the name means “Breast,” and Nestle (Hasting’s Dictionary of Christ in the Gospels, “Lebbaeus”) records the theory that a scribe made a slight alteration (the extra “b,” apparently) so as to not give the apostle an “undignified” name that meant “mamma” (as in “mammogram”).
8 Compare the King James’ Version with most modern translations in Acts 1:13.
9 N.T. Caton, in his Commentary on the Minor Epistles, took the position that only the apostles were inspired, and that Luke and Mark received their information from apostles (primarily Paul and Peter, respectively).
10 See chapters on Matthew and James, the son of Alphaeus, for more discussion on their relationship.
11 Most Catholics seem to take this position, though the New American Bible (which is a Catholic production) translates Acts 1:13 as “Judas, son of James,” which opposes their traditional view.
12 See Matthew 10:2-4 in Greek. Young’s Literal Translation says “James of Zebedee” and “James of Alphaeus.”
13 Nestle, “Lebbaeus” in James Hasting’s Dictionary of Christ in the Gospels.
14 I could find no sources that stated this part of the theory, but it seems to be the best explanation as to why Luke would differ from the other two lists.
15 John 14:22
16 See International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Judas of James.”
17 Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16.
18 In addition to this name confusion, there are also several manuscripts of Latin and Syrian origin that read “Judas Zealot” or “Judas Thomas” in place of “Thaddaeus” in Matthew and Mark’s accounts. These most likely stem from traditions about the apostles that were assumed to be true, and thus placed in the text itself. See James Hasting’s Dictionary of Christ in the Gospels, “Lebbaeus.”
19 Modern Literal Version. See also Vincent’s Word Studies at this passage.
20 John 14:17.