The Guile-less Apostle with Two Names (Part 1)

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Identifying Bartholomew

Bartholomew is an enigma.  He was trusted by Jesus, given miraculous gifts, preached on Pentecost, and died faithful to his Lord, but the name Bartholomew only appears four times in the Bible—and each of those times is a listing of the apostles.

His name means “son of Tolmai,”1 which indicates that this isn’t his real first name.2  The question before us, then, is this: “Is it possible that Bartholomew was known by a different name in some of the New Testament writings?”3  This is a valid question, since the apostle Matthew was called “Levi” in some places, while he was called “Matthew” in others.4

Let us first point out some facts:

  • Bartholomew is mentioned in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts—but not in the Gospel of John.
  • John does not give a listing of the apostles (so we can’t appeal to that).
  • John, it is generally agreed, wrote his gospel account last, supplementing the other three, adding some details that weren’t covered (such as the introduction of Peter, Andrew, and Philip to Jesus).
  • There is a prominent supporting character in John’s gospel who is not mentioned by name in the other three accounts—Nathanael.

The general consensus among Bible scholars is that Bartholomew and Nathanael are the same person. The reasons for this conclusion are:

  1. Nathanael’s call is given by John immediately after the call of Andrew, Peter, and Philip—all of whom became apostles.5 Thus, it would be strange for John to include Nathanael here if he wasn’t an apostle.
  2. Jesus tells Nathanael that he will see “greater things…heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of man.”6 Thus, we have Jesus’ confirmation that Nathanael was going to be a close associate of our Lord.
  3. Nathanael was the first to recognize Jesus for who He really was: “The Son of God…the King of Israel.”7 It would be odd if this man was not included among the apostles.
  4. John spends more time discussing Nathanael’s introduction to Jesus than he does on Peter, Andrew, or Philip’s introduction to the Lord,8 indicating that Nathanael was an important person. This makes no sense if he wasn’t one of the apostles.
  5. Jesus appears to the apostles twice in John 20, and then He “showed Himself again” to them in chapter 21—and Nathanael is named as one of those present.9 Logic, then, dictates that Nathanael was one of the apostles.
  6. Philip brought Nathanael to Jesus, and Bartholomew is usually placed right after Philip in the listings of the apostles. This may point to the relationship those two men had.10
  7. Philip and Nathanael are connected in John 1, and it is Philip and Bartholomew who are connected in many of the extra-biblical Acts of Philip.11 Thus, it would appear that these men who John connected were the same men connected in extra-biblical writings as well.12
  8. Possibly the most conclusive piece of evidence is that in Acts 1, in order to choose a replacement for Judas Iscariot, Peter said they had to choose someone who had been with them from John’s baptism (Nathanael fits that description) and who had seen Jesus after the resurrection (Nathanael fits that description as well). Two men were nominated that fit that description: Justus and Matthias.  The only reasonable conclusion as to why Nathanael wasn’t nominated was that he was already an apostle.

Not everyone agrees with this connection, 13 but there is no biblical evidence against it, and much to be said in its favor.  Thus, we will continue with this section under the belief that Bartholomew and Nathanael are two different names for the same man.

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 See McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Vol. 1, page 675.  See also Eberhard Nestle, Ph.D., D.D.’s article “Matthias=Bartholomew” in Expository Times, Vol. 9 (1898), pages 566-567.

2 Simon was called “Simon Bar-jona,” meaning “Simon, son of Jonah”; “Barnabas” means “Son of Consolation.”  Though Barnabas was known by that name, it wasn’t his given name.  It was a name taken on by him later, a nickname which stuck.

3 Dr. Nestle says “There is another tradition among the Syrians, that the original name of the Apostle Bartholomew was Jesus, and that the disciples did not call him by his own name because of the name of the Master, but called him after his father (the same case as with Barabbas of the Passion, who is also said to have been called originally Jesus).” Expository Times, Vol. 9 (1898), page 567.

4 Compare the calling of the tax collector “Matthew” (Matthew 9:9-13) with the calling of the tax collector “Levi” (Mark 2:14-17).  See also the chapter on Matthew later in this book.

5 John 1:35-51.  It is possible (some would argue probable) that the call of John, the son of Zebedee, is also included in those verses, making this argument even stronger.

6 John 1:50-51.

7 John 1:49.

8 The introduction of Peter covers two verses (John 1:41-42).  The introduction of Philip covers two verses (John 1:43-44).  The introduction of Andrew covers six verses (John 1:35-40).  The introduction of Nathanael covers seven verses (John 1:45-51).

9 John 21:1-2.  It should be noted that John never uses the word “apostles” in his gospel account, but only the word “disciples.”

10 This argument is given by almost all Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias.

11 See the Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, page 497-510.

12 As we will see in the “Traditions” section of this chapter, Bartholomew was supposedly paired up with several of the apostles as well.

13 McClintock and Strong, in their Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature (Vol. 6, page 859), state:

“St. Augustine not only denies the claim of Nathanael being one of the Twelve, but assigns as a reason for his opinion that whereas Nathanael was most likely a learned man in the Law of Moses, it was, as Paul tells us (1 Cor. 1:26), the wisdom of Christ to make choice of rude and unlettered men to confound the wise (in Johan. Ev. Ch. 1, Section 17).  St. Gregory adopts the same view.”

Such a view ignores that Philip was one who was well-versed in the Law of Moses (John 1:45).

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