Beyond his name and epitaphs, we know nothing about Simon except that he was an apostle. But, there is something to be said for the epitaphs themselves.
Simon the Canaanite
Most writers seem to think that the descriptive name “Canaanite” or “Cananaean”1 is a political term instead of a geographical term.2 It seems more likely that it is both. Canaan was the name of the Promised Land (Exodus 6:4; Leviticus 25:38; Acts 13:19), which was given to the Jews by God as their inheritance. But by the time of Jesus, the Jews were ruled over by the Romans. So, while the Jews still lived in Canaan, they certainly didn’t feel like it was theirs alone. But there were Jewish patriots, nationalists, who wanted to re-take control over their Promised Land—Canaan. They were called “Canaanites,” or, as Luke describes them, “Zealots.” They were very “conspicuous for their fierce advocacy of the Mosaic ritual.”3
The Cananæans or Zealots were a sect founded by Judas of Gamala, who headed the opposition to the census of Quirinius (AD 6 or 7). They bitterly resented the domination of Rome, and would fain have hastened by the sword the fulfilment of the Messianic hope. During the great rebellion and the siege of Jerusalem, which ended in its destruction (AD 70), their fanaticism made them terrible opponents, not only to the Romans, but to other factions amongst their own countrymen.4
Josephus, however, describes the Zealots who brought the wrath of Rome upon the Jews as a collection of criminals who overthrew the high priest, murdered prominent men, and falsely accused them of consorting with Rome. This group of people took upon themselves the name “Zealots,” as though they were zealous of the Law, but were really just zealous of murder and mayhem.5 This being the case, the connection between the Zealots of Jesus’ day and the Zealots of 40 years later may be one of name only.
Other Facts about Simon
Simon was a disciple of Jesus Christ who, one morning, was called to meet the Lord on a mountain. That day, Jesus selected twelve men for a special task—and Simon was one of those men chosen.6 He was given miraculous abilities to heal the sick and to cast out demons, which he used when he was sent out on the so-called “limited commission.”7 On that apostolic mission, Jesus sent them out “two by two,” or in pairs.8 When Matthew records this event, he doesn’t say “two by two,” but he does group the apostles into pairs when he lists them:
- “Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother”
- “James, the son of Zebedee, and John his brother”
- “Philip and Bartholomew”
- “Thomas and Matthew the publican”
- “James, the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddeaus”
- “Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him.”9
It seems, therefore, that when Simon was sent out on the limited commission, his preaching partner was none other than Judas Iscariot himself!10
Simon witnessed many miracles of Jesus, but it still wasn’t enough to keep him from abandoning Jesus when Judas showed up with soldiers to arrest Him.11 He ran away, and after learning that Jesus was dead, he was sad, but also scared that the Jews might come after him as well. So, when he met with the other apostles that Sunday, the doors were shut tight. The joy, surprise, and excitement must have been incredible when Jesus—very much alive—appeared in the middle of the room. Soon after that event, Simon was one of the ones who tracked down Thomas to share the news of the resurrection.12
Simon spent a large portion of the next month in the company of the resurrected Lord, trying to soak in everything that Jesus had to say to them. When He ascended into heaven, Simon was one of the ones staring up into the clouds. Just a few days later, Simon was in a room with the rest of the apostles when it sounded like a tornado blew through, and he began to speak the wonderful works of God in another language.13
After baptizing people on Pentecost, Simon also helped distribute money to the needy saints who were in Jerusalem,14 and also helped in ordaining “the seven” who would take a more hands-on role in caring for the Grecian widows.15 He remained in Jerusalem after the persecution by Saul of Tarsus began, and is again seen in Jerusalem some years later in regards to the circumcision controversy among Gentile converts.16
However, Simon didn’t stay in Jerusalem the rest of his life. He had received a commission from Jesus Christ to “go into all the world” and to “teach all nations.”17 He would have obeyed his Lord’s command and went about working as a missionary. He died as a faithful servant of Jesus Christ, whose name is on the foundation of the holy city, New Jerusalem.18 That much, we can know for certain.
Traditions about Simon the Zealot
The apocryphal work, The Genealogies of the Twelve Apostles, identifies Simon as Nathanael, and claims he is from the tribe of Benjamin.19 Catholic Church tradition says that he is one of the “brethren of the Lord” mentioned in Mark 6:3, and that his father is Cleopas/Alphaeus.20
According to one writing, his work was among the Samaritans,21 after which he returned to Jerusalem to lead the church there following the death of James, the brother of the Lord,22 though this appears to be an instance of confusing people with the same name.23 A different tradition says he preached in “Egypt, Cyrene, and Mauritania.”24
One tradition says that he was taken by the Jews in Jerusalem and crucified, but that they also scourged him (i.e., beat him with skin-tearing whips) the whole time he was on the cross until he died.25
-Bradley S. Cobb
1 Matthew 10:4, Mark 3:13. “Canaanite” (KJV), “Cananaean” (ASV).
2 See the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Simon the Cananaean.”
3 McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Vol. 9, page 754.
4 James Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible, “Cananaean.”
5 Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 4, Chapter 3, Paragraphs 9-13. The Zealots defiled the sanctuary in the temple and had no regard for human life or the Law of Moses.
6 Luke 6:12-16.
7 Matthew 10:1-4. The phrase “limited commission” is used because Jesus sent them exclusively to the Jews (Matthew 10:5-6), whereas after the resurrection He sent them to “all nations” (Matthew 28:18-19), earning the latter the name “the Great Commission.”
8 Mark 6:7; compare Mark 6:7-13 with Matthew 10:1-42 for evidence that these are parallel.
9 Matthew 10:2-4.
10 This makes for some interesting study, since some believe “Iscariot” could be a reference to an assassin group whose name, Sicarii, translated, means “dagger bearers.” They, like the Zealots, were very interested in overthrowing the Roman government, but instead of being bold about it, they discretely murdered high-ranking officials in crowds, and were gone before anyone realized what had happened.
11 Matthew 26:56
12 See John 20.
13 These events can be found in the first two chapters of Acts.
14 Acts 4:32-35.
15 Acts 6:1-6. This group is referred to as “the seven” in Acts 21:8.
16 Acts 8:1; Acts 15.
17 Mark 16:15-16, Matthew 28:18-20.
18 Revelation 21:14.
19 See Budge, Contendings of the Apostles, Vol. 2, page 50.
20 See the previous chapter on James, the son of Alphaeus, for a fuller description of this issue and for the evidence showing it is false. Suffice it to say, Jesus had already chosen His twelve apostles prior to John’s saying that His “brethren” still didn’t believe in Him (John 6:67-7:5). Therefore, Simon the apostle cannot be the same as Simon the brother of the Lord.
21 See “The Preaching of Simon, the Son of Cleopas,” in Budge, Contendings of the Apostles, Vol. 2, pages 70-74. This tradition, while ancient, contains some obvious Catholic influence, including the ordination of “priests” and a “bishop” over the church in a certain city.
22 See “The Martyrdom of Simon, the Son of Clopas,” in Budge, Contendings of the Apostles, Vol. 2, page 75. This, like the other tradition, is highly suspect because it is also said that he commanded “churches to be built” and named one of them after the virgin Mary. Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History, Book 3, chapter 11, and Book 4, chapter 22) quotes Hegesippus in saying that a man named Simon (the son of Cleopas) succeeded James in Jerusalem, though these are certainly not the same men (Eusebius himself makes a distinction between the apostles and the brethren of the Lord in Book 3, chapter 11, of the same work. The Simon described by Hegesippus was the leader of the Ebionites, a Jewish sect which completely rejected the apostle Paul and only used Matthew’s gospel—they also rejected the possibility that Gentiles could be right with the Lord. Certainly no one could believe that this group was led by one of the apostles.
23 See the previous footnote for more information, as well as McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia under “Simon (10)” and the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Ebionism.”
24 McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Vol. 9, page 754.
25 Budge, Contendings of the Apostles, Vol.2, page 77. The problem with this is that this same writing also claims that Simon lived to be 120 years old, and that he died under the rule of Trajan—at which time Jerusalem had already been destroyed and the Jews were forbidden to enter that area any longer. McClintock and Strong reference “an annotation preserved in an original copy of the Apostolical Constitutions (viii, 27), [where Simon is said] to have been crucified in Judaea in the reign of Domitian.”