Tag Archives: Bartholomew

Further Adventures of the Guile-less Apostle with Two Names

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.”

Theories About The Guile-less Apostle with Two Names

Theories About Nathanael

As we stated earlier in this chapter, while most Bible scholars agree than Nathanael and Bartholomew are the same person, others disagree.

The Armenian and Syriac translations of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History use the name “Tolmai” or “Bartholomew” (“Son of Tolmai”) every place where the Greek uses the name “Matthias.”  This has led to some people holding the position that Bartholomew is another name for Matthias.  Of course, that causes its own confusions, since Bartholomew was already one of the apostles when Matthias was chosen to replace Judas.1

Some have suggested that Nathanael (which means “gift of God”) and Matthew (which means “gift of God”) are two names for the same person.  However, as Barclay points out, those men in the Bible who were known by multiple names generally had a Jewish name and a Greek name (or a first name and a surname).  Nathanael and Matthew are both Jewish names, which, while not impossible, goes against the general rule regarding names.2

It’s been said that Nathanael wasn’t a real person at all, but that he was an ideal representation of the true Israelite who would accept the gospel (some have said it specifically pictures Saul of Tarsus).  In other words, Andrew, Peter, and Philip were all real people, but Nathanael was figurative, representing those who the apostles would call.  There is nothing at all in the text, nor common sense, to suggest that Nathanael wasn’t a real individual who was really searched for by Philip, and who really came to Jesus, and who really went fishing with the disciples after the resurrection.3

Various interpreters, with differing levels of evidence, have tried to identify Nathanael as John, the son of Zebedee (though that makes John 21:2 ridiculous), as Stephen, as Paul, as Matthew, as Matthias,4 and as Simon the Zealot.5

Each of these theories presents difficulties, while the identification of Nathanael as Bartholomew presents none.

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 See Dr. E. Nestle’s “Matthias=Bartholomew” in Expository Times, Vol. 9 (1898), pages 566-567.

2 See William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible notes on John 1:45.

3 Again, see Barclay’s notes on this passage.  He does not accept this interpretation, but does present it as what others have said.

4 See the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia entry on “Nathanael.”

5 See the “Genealogies of the Twelve Apostles” in E.A. Wallace Budge’s The Contendings of the Apostles, Vol. 2, page 50.  Here, Nathanael is said to be the same as Simon (the son of Cleopas), one of the twelve.

The Guile-less Apostle with Two Names (Part 3)

Bartholomew the Disciple and Apostle

Bartholomew most certainly accompanied Jesus to the wedding feast in Cana—some even believe that he was the groom!1  He accompanied Jesus into Jerusalem, heard Him teach in the temple, and baptized many people in Judea before returning to Galilee.2  Throughout the 3 ½ years that Bartholomew followed Jesus, he heard much teaching and saw many miracles that confirmed for him that his initial confession about Jesus was correct.  However, like the other men who were chosen to be Jesus’ closest associates, he abandoned the Lord and fled for his life.3

The Sunday after the resurrection, Bartholomew gathered with the rest of the apostles (except for Thomas, who was absent) in a room with the doors shut, fearful that the Jews would come after them. He had been told by Mary Magdelene that Jesus had risen from the grave, but he didn’t believe her.4  But now, gathered with nine other apostles, Bartholomew saw Jesus appear in their midst; he saw the wounds in His hands and side, and he believed.5

After that event, Bartholomew was one of the men who told Thomas about the encounter, trying to convince the doubting disciple that Jesus truly had risen from the grave.  The next Lord’s Day (though it was not yet given that designation), Jesus appeared to the eleven apostles once again, and Bartholomew must have been overjoyed to hear Thomas make the same basic declaration that he himself had made years earlier: “My Lord and my God!”6

Bartholomew, a matter of days later, decided to join Peter after hearing him say, “I’m going fishing.”  Along with Thomas, James, John, and two of the other disciples, they spent all night fishing, but caught nothing.  The next morning, they heard a man cry out to them, “Do you have any meat?”  They had to, frustratingly, admit that they had caught nothing, and then they heard the man say “Cast your net on the right side of the ship, and you shall find [fish].”  Bartholomew and the other disciples did as the man said, and caught so many fish that they weren’t able to bring up the net.

John realized it was Jesus, and told Peter, who dove in the sea and swam to shore, leaving Bartholomew and the other disciples to drag the net of fishes to shore.  When they made it to the shore, they saw Jesus had already started a fire, had fish cooking, and had bread ready for them.7

That is the last time the name Nathanael appears in the Scripture.  But less than a month later, he was standing with the other apostles, listening to Jesus speak, and watched as He ascended into heaven and was received by a cloud.  He was present when Peter stood up and explained from prophecy that Judas must be replaced.  He was in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon them all and they began to speak the wonderful words of God in foreign languages.  He spent a good portion of that day teaching and baptizing people.

Other than being arrested and beaten for preaching the word,8 being with the apostles during Saul’s persecution,9 and gathering in Jerusalem to discuss the circumcision controversy,10 we are not told anything else about Bartholomew.  But we do know that he died in faith, for his name is inscribed on the foundation of the Holy City, New Jerusalem.11

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 See McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Vol. 1, page 675.  The reason for this belief, apparently, is that John makes a special point to mention at the end of his gospel account that Nathanael (Bartholomew) was from Cana of Galilee (John 21:2).

2 These events are recorded in John 2-4.

3 Matthew 26:56.

4 Mark 16:9-11.  There are those who wish to discredit Mark 16:9-20, but the overwhelming weight of evidence proves its inspiration.  See The Last Twelve Verses of Mark by John W. Burgon for a full treatment of this topic.

5 John 20:19-20.

6 John 20:26-28.

7 John 21:1-14.

8 Acts 4.

9 Acts 8:1-4.

10 Acts 15

11 Revelation 21:14.

The Guile-less Apostle with Two Names (Part 2)

The Call of Bartholomew

Bartholomew,1 from Cana in Galilee,2 was a man who put great faith in the Scripture, and who may have understood the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah better than any of the other apostles.  He was under a fig tree when Philip approached him, probably very excitedly, and said to him, “We’ve found Him of whom Moses in the Law, as well as the prophets, did write: Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph!”3  Philip knew Bartholomew, and therefore knew that he would be extremely interested in the fulfillment of the Old Testament Messianic prophecies.

In response, Bartholomew was surprised.  He replied, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”  It could be, as some claim, that Bartholomew was prejudiced against Nazareth, and truly thought it was a place of evil—a place from which nothing good could arise.4  It could also be that Bartholomew, being well-versed in the Scriptures, knew that Nazareth wasn’t mentioned in the Old Testament,5 and was simply expressing confusion as to how the Messiah could come from there.6  It is also within the realm of possibility that, being from Cana, Bartholomew was familiar with Nazareth, and knew it wasn’t anything special, thus giving him cause to question that the King of Israel would reside there.

Regardless of the reason for his statement, Bartholomew was the kind of person who was willing to listen to the evidence.  Philip knew this, which is why his response was simply, “Come and see.”  Bartholomew, being well-versed in Scripture, would have been able to point out any ways in which Jesus didn’t fit the bill as the prophesied Messiah—if there were any.  So he got up and went.

As he and Philip are walking towards Jesus, the Lord said (loud enough for Bartholomew to hear), “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile [or hypocrisy]!” This was indeed high praise from Jesus, the one who knows the hearts of men.7  Not only is Bartholomew a physical Israelite (some early writers say he was of the tribe of Naphtali),8 but he is also of spiritual Israel, one who truly loved and followed God’s law.  Like David, Bartholomew could say, “O how I love Your Law; it is my meditation all day.”9

Bartholomew, according to Jesus, was someone who was pure in heart, with no deceit.  It’s no wonder that Philip was friends with this man, and that he had to go find him to tell him about Jesus.  After Jesus said this, Bartholomew said, “From where do you know me?”10  They hadn’t met before this moment.11  What Jesus said next was all the convincing it took for Bartholomew.

Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.12

From just this one statement, Bartholomew knew that Jesus was the one Philip was certain He was.  This shows that Bartholomew was open-minded, confident in his beliefs, but ready to accept the evidence that would prove him wrong.  He had doubted that anything good could come out of Nazareth, but with just one sentence from Jesus as evidence, he knew he had been wrong.

Bartholomew then gave the great confession—the one that years later had to be revealed by God to Peter—“You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.”  He had an insight into the nature of Jesus, the nature of the Messiah that came from proper understanding of several Old Testament prophecies.  The Jewish leadership considered such a statement to be blasphemous, but Bartholomew understood that the Messiah was the Son of God.13

Jesus’ response was one of commendation, and a prophecy of things that would cause even greater belief.

Because I said to you, “I saw you under the fig tree,” you believe?  You shall see greater things than these.  Truly, truly I saw to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of man.14

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 We have chosen to use the name Bartholomew instead of Nathanael because it is the name that appears in the listings of the apostles.

2 John 21:2 provides us with this information.

3 John 1:45.

4 See Barnes’ comments, as well as Barclay’s Daily Study Bible.

5 Matthew says that there was a prophecy, given by “the prophets” that Jesus would be a Nazarene (see Matthew 2:23), but all commentators and scholars agree that there is no prophecy that is specifically worded that way.  Instead, it is likely a compilation of prophecies about the despised and rejected nature of the Messiah.  Jesus is called the “Branch” or “Root” that grew up out of dry ground (Isaiah 53:2).  The Hebrew is “Neser,” which is where “Nazareth” apparently got its name.

6 It has been suggested that perhaps Bartholomew (Nathanael) was confused because he assumed that the Messiah would not only be born in Bethlehem, but also raised there.

7 There are some who take the position that Jesus was being sarcastic when He said this, and then let Bartholomew (Nathanael) know that He heard what he had said about nothing good coming out of Nazareth.

8 Contendings of the Apostles, Vol. 2, page 50.

9 Psalm 119:97.

10 John 1:48, Modern Literal Version.

11 This fact eliminates Simon, the son of Cleopas, from consideration as Nathanael, for that Simon was (it is believed by many) a first cousin of Jesus, and certainly would have met Him prior to this date.

12 John 1:48.

13 See John 10:31-36.

14 John 1:50-51.

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

We are continuing our free gift to you this year, giving you new sections of our upcoming book, “Who Were The Apostles” as they are being written!  We hope you’re enjoying them.

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).