The Twelve

“Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days– You would not believe if you were told. Look, you scoffers, be astounded and perish; for I am doing a work in your days, a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.”

Matthew 10:1-4, et al

“And having summoned His twelve disciples, He gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax-gatherer; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him.”

Apologetics is the art of using words to defend Biblical beliefs. As we have discussed briefly before, many, if not most, men, had different names in the first century epoch of Roman rule over the land of Israel. Others had nicknames on top of the names given to them. We see a similar situation when Babylon occupied Judah. We all know Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, but do we realize that these were their Babylonion names? If I were teaching teenagers I would say, “Pop quiz!” What were Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s Hebrew names? Can you name them? I will admit that I have to look up the spelling of said names; Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. For extra credit, can you name Daniel’s Babylonion name? Again, I know it but I had to look up how to spell it; Belteshazzar. I, also, have names based upon the culture and language of which I am in. In the United States, I am called Russ, Rusty or Russell P (I Can’t spell what my grandmother calls me), to name a few. Yet while in a certain communist country in the Caribbean, me llamo Felipe, o Mamut, porque soy alto y grande y muy guapo, también, muy humilde. We should understand that many people have many different names, and those names often correspond to culture, tongue, personal traits or physical attributes among many other things. We should not have to use apologetics to defend the different names of the twelve disciples, yet here we are. Like in the days of Noah, and in the days of Christ, we see scoffers. They look for anything in the Bible that seems to contradict. Believers are not immune either, we want to know why the names of the twelve disciples appear to be different. We will use the CAGED method to unlock the caged names of the twelve disciples. Context is king–we will begin there.

Mark 3:16-19

“And He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter), and James, the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means, “Sons of Thunder”): and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot; and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him.” We are already noticing nicknames.

Luke 6:13-16

“And when day came, He called His disciples to Him; and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles: Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James and John; and Philip and Bartholomew; and Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot; Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.” We see similar names with slightly different descriptions. The son of James is called Judas, not Thaddaeus, But the greatest difference is seen in John. John doesn’t enumerate the twelve with a list, but throughout his composition, many of them are named with different names. The question is why? And it is unlocked by using the CAGED method.

The authors’ aspirations to their audience is the key. However, on the very face of the discussion we find a bit of irony. People claim that Luke and Matthew’s accounts copy Mark, and suggest they are not authentic but plagiarism yet then they see the slightly different angles and names. Nevertheless, then they claim, error, error, look at the differences! It’s ignorance at its apex. One expects the testimony of two or three to be similar but from different angles and descriptions. The easiest way to tell if two witnesses are lying is for their testimonies to match verbatim, it shows rehearsal. People use different vocabulary, vernacular, grammar and call things by different names. And everyone has different details and aspirations when testifying. Even baby boomers and millennials, or as I call them, the “literally” generations, because they see things in black and white, still use metaphors, hyperbole and similes when speaking, yet not understanding. Such as, “it’s like, literally the first time a huge hurricane hit Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico, like never, gets hurricanes.” And you know my response, “except that they do, literally.” Much of this is SMS, short memory syndrome, probably caused by the idiot box. Nevertheless, my generation gets blamed for everything, so I feel that it is necessary to point out the shortcomings of other generations. This is an example of…you guessed it, the author’s aspirations to his audience. My generation does not get blamed for everything, that’s use of hyperbole. But my aspiration is for people to stop saying literally, when they mean, figuratively and to understand the difference. I choose my words and examples to demonstrate my desires to my audience, the same way the Gospel writers did. I am not generationaphobic (Portmanteau: a literary device combining two words to create a new word), I use hyperbole to demonstrate the need for a literary interpretation of the Bible and in my experience, the baby boomers and the millennials, in general, see things through a black and white lens of Biblical hermeneutics, or lack thereof.

I was born in Massachusetts in the 1970’s, not one person in my high school had only one name. It goes to our culture. It may be unfamiliar to most of my audience due to geography or generational divides, but the fact that no young person living in Massachusetts in the 1990’s was called by their given name, was so we’ll known, that the long-running, sketch-comedy show Saturday Night Live did a sketch on it. And you know what? We weren’t offended–we laughed because it was true. All of this is to demonstrate that people don’t all write the same and names can be different in similar testimonies. Like I said, I have many names, so many that I don’t remember them all. Each of my names goes to the aspiration of the one using said name. People will modify my name to fit their own aspirations, usually to be playful. There is even irony in my name. If one doesn’t know what the “P” stands for in Russell P. I tell them to guess– Peter and Paul being the most often guessed. That’s because people think in a caged box. The “P,” phonetically speaking, is like the “P” in “phonetically.” It’s not a hard “P” but “PH,” or an “F” sound. Our brains don’t think that way. Russell P. is short for Russell Philip, hence Felipe en Espanol. The aspiration to my Spanish-speaking friends is to use a name they can pronounce, Russell, in a Spanish speaking culture, is difficult to pronounce and sounds nothing like Russell. It would sound like, rewsail. What’s in a name, anyway? I could go on but I hope this jumbled mess is proof that testimony and names don’t have to be verbatim and we would be very suspicious if they were.

The testimony of the Gospel writers is inspired by the Holy Spirit, yet the author’s aspirations, flavor, vocabulary and personality show through the text. We actually get to know Matthew through his writing. Matthew is passionate about Jesus being the long-awaited Messiah. He uses the Old Testament tutor more than the others, more than twice as much as his closest contemporary. Yet he is not as detailed as Luke, the physician, who was very detailed about the historicity but less detailed concerning the Old Testament tutor. Matthew, while definitely driven and determined in his composition, also seems to have a certain sense of humor but not with the names of the disciples–he is very concise and straightforward. Therefore, when we look at the names of the numbered disciples, we must consider the author’s aspiration to his audience. Problem: the many early manuscripts of Matthew differ in the enumerated names. That is, copies of copies ignored Matthew’s aspiration and changed the name of Judas, not Iscariot, to Thaddaeus. Solution: More Vitamin A, Matthew writes in the Jewish custom to the Jewish people (it’s even possible he wrote in Hebrew-Aramaic), therefore we are not surprised that as the Greek culture prevailed, and the Greek language was used more and more, that the Gospel copiers would be more likely to insert a Greek name, as is the case with Luke. One must also realize that the names in English translations have been anglicized. Peter is Petros, or Cephas, or Petra, depending upon one’s language.

Consider my upbringing in the land of nicknames: If I wrote a missive on the adventures of Slappy, Beatle, Bowser and Stake-Head, but never named their given names, would I not expect another one telling the same story to include their given names? Otherwise​, why retell the story? Or can names and stories be approached from different angles? And if Slappy, who had moved from Massachusetts to Arkansas 15 years ago and has picked up the Southern-United States vernacular, told my missive to the native-born, would I not expect him to change the name of Stake-Head to Stob-head? Because that’s what they call stakes in Arkansas, stobs.

I really don’t want to confuse anyone with my reputedly random ramblings, yet, I do want us to see how it’s easy to get confused. We worry too much about the miniscule and miss the greater meanings. At the risk of offending through my offering, I will be straightforward and literal. Almost every time I taught, someone would call to question something of such insignificance that I would shutter. I would think to myself, “of all we’ve seen and discussed you’re worried about that?” Even after several years of teaching two to three, and sometimes four and five times a week, I would be dumbfounded by the questions over the minor details, compared to the major themes. It is now to the point that I will say or write things such as, don’t lose sleep over this, or, don’t lose your joy over the huge for the miniscule prior to questions being asked. This missive is written for three reasons. The superlative reason is for apologetics. We must be able to defend our faith against attacks of ignorance. A second reason is so that we as Bible believing christians, won’t be ignorant ourselves. Yes, scribes and translators have changed insignificant things in the Bible for clarification. I’m not happy about it, but it doesn’t mean the Bible is corrupted. Especially considering that the basis for these diminutive deviations are from the Bible itself–it was done for clarity. Sometimes it takes away from the context and author’s aspiration to his audience but not in any major, meaningful way. We must not lose our joy over such things, and yet, many do. This is not a push for King James only–almost every translation has its flaws and strong points. It’s the spirit, not the letter. Which brings us to the third reason that I write this missive in this way. We must read the Bible how it was written. Consider context, aspirations, genre, using Exegesis and dividing rightly the word of truth. In Matthew, we are reading how Jesus is fulfilling the Law and prophets, doing similar things that Israel did, yet in perfection. We have seen many miracles and healings and unbelievable teachings. Even now, we see Jesus ordaining his disciples to do the same miracles, healings and the casting out of demons–ordinary men, sinners, given authority from the holy one. Why then do we worry about Matthew’s names of the disciples not matching completely with those of John who wrote in an entirely different style, for a different reasons–they had different aspirations to their audience. Both are Gospels and tell the story of Jesus, but Matthew’s angle is Jesus as the Messiah. John’s aspiration was Christ’s Deity. Don’t lose your joy. Based on the descriptions of the disciples throughout the Gospel accounts, we can piece together who was who and why the names are different, though it takes some deep digging.

In the days of snap-twits and face-grams, people have not only lost the ability to write but also to read. I feel as though I am preaching to the choir on WordPress. It’s one of the few places where literature isn’t dead. Anyone willing to read this far, no doubt understands these things. Yet I suppose that I write this for posterity. I have no problem doing the research and recording my findings. The problem is getting those who need the findings to read the findings. The one thing that I can do is ensure that the reader understands and is able to use their voice also to tell others. I would like to think that I am equipping the reader to defend their faith in a culture full of vultures. Regardless of the outcome, I can’t not write. I am so moved by the word of God that I have to share it. Writing is the best way for me, because I can take time to think things through before I blurt something stupid out, making a fool of myself. “It’s better to remain silent and thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.” Yet Jesus says to go and tell–we will get to that, very soon, Lord willing.

  1. Simon, son of Jonah, brother of Andrew, also called Peter.
  2.  Andrew, son of Jonah, Peter’s brother.
  3. James, son of Zebedee, brother of John. Also called son of thunder along with his brother John.
  4. John, son of Zebedee, brother of James, a.k.a. son of thunder.
  5. Philip, from Bethsaida of Galilee. John 1:44, “The next day He purposed to go forth into Galilee, and He found Philip. And Jesus said to him, “Follow Me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” And Nathanael said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” John, 12:20-21 “Now there were certain Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast; these therefore came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee.”
  6.  Thaddeas, aka, Judas, son of James, aka, Judas not Iscariot, Acts 1:13, “And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying; that is, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James.”  John 14:22 “Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, “Lord, what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us, and not to the world?”
  7.   Bartholomew, Literally, Son of Tholomew, aka Nathaniel in John 1:45-50, an Israelite in whom there is no guile; by process of elimination and context. There are 12, even after one kills himself, they added another to keep the number 12, corresponding to the 12 tribes. Acts 1:21-26.
  8. Thomas, Didymus or, twin. John 11:16, “Thomas therefore, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”  Also see John 20.
  9. Matthew, son of Alphaeus, aka, Levi, based upon the context and the description of his calling recorded in the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.
  10. James, son of Alphaeus. Brother of Matthew.
  11. Simon, aka the Zealot.
  12.  Last and definitely least, Judas Iscariot.

In conclusion, people can have numerous names. This is especially true in a culture where many people share names. Two are James, two are Simon, and two are Judas. It would be a mistake to think the gospel writers didn’t distinguish the disciples’ names. Consider Judas, not Iscariot; imagine how he felt after the betrayal. “Judas, come here.” I’m sorry, “Judas not Iscariot, come here.” Much better. Don’t lose the joy of seeing God giving great power to men! See what God is doing with these 12 men.






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