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Excerpt: The Apostles of Jesus Christ

CAN YOU name the thirteen Apostles of Jesus Christ? I asked a
Presbyterian clergy colleague of mine, Dr. Alan Minarcik, that question
and he responded in a matter of fact blasé manner, “Sure!”
Then he confidently began to rattle off their names: “Matthew, Mark,
Luke, John . . .”
He paused for a moment, puzzled and bewildered, and then
continued . . .”Happy, Dopey, Grumpy, Doc, . . . Donder, Vixen,
Blitzen, . . . and Rudolph!”
We both burst out laughing at his comical answer!
Obviously, Alan’s memory had gone blank on him, but undaunted he
rattled off the first names that came to his mind to complete his attempt at
naming the Twelve Apostles.
He was wrong on more than one account, however: Matthew and John
were indeed among the Twelve, but Mark and Luke were not! Alan, with a
knee-jerk automatic response, had given the names of the four Evangelists:
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These are the men who are credited with
having written the four Gospels. But if Dr. Minarcik had intended to list
the Apostles in the sequence by which they were called or even to have
listed the four Evangelists in the chronological order in which they wrote
the four Gospels, Matthew would not have been the first in the list. It was
John Mark—a disciple of Barnabas—who is credited with having written
the earliest or first of the Gospels which bear the Evangelists’ names. And
it was Andrew and John who were the first disciples of Jesus, not Andrew’s
brother Simon Peter.
Then we both seriously tried to recall the names of Jesus’ Apostles.
We included in our list the name of Matthias who was chosen to fill the
vacancy left by the suicide of Judas Iscariot, and we added Saul [Paul] of
Tarsus, who referred to himself as “the Apostle born out of season”—the
Johnny-come-lately who considered himself one of the true Apostles of
Jesus Christ. There are others who might well be included in the list of
Jesus’ apostles: remember, he called and commissioned/ordained “the
seventy-two” whom he sent out as his representatives/apostles (the sent
ones) to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God. The Greek word
apostelo means “to send forth.” Apostles are those persons who are
commissioned/ordained and “sent forth” to represent another and to carry
forth and proclaim the message of the one who sends them.
There were others, like Barnabas and Silas, both of whom were
missionary co-workers with Paul, who were equally commissioned/
ordained by the early Christian Church. There were those like John Mark
and Timothy who also traveled on missionary journeys with Paul. And
there was John the Baptist, who was the forerunner, the herald, the advance
public relations agent who was the first to point to Jesus as the Messiah.
There were also other evangelists, like the Deacon Stephen—the first
martyr—and the Deacon Philip who was the evangelist whom God used to
bring a spiritual awakening and religious revival to Samaria. There were able
witnesses like the eloquent young Greek preacher, Apollos. And there were
teachers and exponents of the Holy Scriptures, like Aquila and Priscilla.
There were other missionary apostles like Epaphroditus, Erastus, Luke the
Greek medical doctor and historian of the early church who accompanied
Paul, and others whose names are recorded in the New Testament. There is
a whole list in the New Testament and in the annals of early church history
of persons who were able witnesses to the new religious faith that developed
around Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, whose teachings, miraculous
deeds, death and resurrection were to forever change the world.
All of these early Christian witnesses are worthy of our efforts to
know them better through study and reflection upon their lives. In this
study, however, we will limit our focus to fourteen of the New Testament
Christians whose lives have had a powerful influence upon the Church and
the world. We will look also at a thumbnail encapsulation of the person and
ministry of Jesus of Nazareth—after all, he is the central figure in the entire
drama, and he is the focus around which all else evolves and revolves.
It is not by accident that the first Chapter begins with an examination
of the life and ministry of John, The Baptizer, rather than with the life of
Jesus. John’s life and mission was a Preface to the life and ministry of Jesus
and His Apostles. So the Chapter on “John, The Shouting Prophet from the
Wilderness” is really the “Preface” to the rest of the book. At the end of
his life John asked the searching salient question: “Is Jesus really the Christ,
or shall we look for another?” Jesus gave him the same answer that we
will find if we really look carefully at His life, His teachings, His miracles,
His death, resurrection and ascension, and the testimony of the Christian
Church down through the centuries and now, today.
So we will begin by asking the questions: “What was there about this
single man, Jesus the carpenter, that first caused John the Baptist, then some of
John’s disciples to follow Jesus?” “What motivated the Twelve, and the Seventy
and the three thousand at the birth of Christendom on that first Pentecost
festival in 30 AD to become followers of Christ?” And finally, “What could
possibly have motivated all those millions since that time two thousand years
ago to have followed the lowly Nazarene carpenter turned rabbi?”
And the question that is even more important: “What is there about
Jesus that has motivated you, personally, to acknowledge him as your Lord and
And the corollary question that we all should be able to answer: “What
is there about Jesus that will attract your friends and move them to acknowledge
his Lordship over their lives and to trust and place their ultimate destiny in his
The author affirms the “plenary inspiration” of the Holy Scriptures
and regards the canon of the Old and New Testaments to be the divinely
inspired Word of God which is the supreme rule of faith and practice by
which all other extra-Biblical sources are measured. Where the Bible is
silent, we may turn to reliable sources including the writings of ancient
historians, the Early Church Fathers and the oral and written legends and
traditions of the Early Church. The further back to the Apostolic and Post
Apostolic Church such traditions and legends date, the more reliable they
are likely to be. For example, the only place in the Bible where the Apostle
St. Simon Zelotes is mentioned is in the list of the Apostles, and apart from
that we are dependent upon the oral and written traditions and legends
about St. Simon that have come down to us through the early church. In
sifting through the various traditions and legends about the Apostles, the
author has taken care to select those items of information that appear to be
the most feasible and plausible accounts and records and, where possible,
those that date back closest to the Apostolic and early Post-Apostolic
This composite of the biographies of Jesus and his Apostles was first
presented as a sermon series at the St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church
of Annapolis, Maryland beginning during Advent 1980 and continuing
through Lent the following spring of 1981. The series includes materials
from individual sermon discourses presented earlier at the Kenneydale
and Fairwood United Methodist Churches, Renton, Washington, the
Geyer United Methodist Church, Middletown, Pennsylvania, the United
Methodist Churches at White Marsh and Chase, Maryland, the St. Andrew’s
United Methodist Church of Annapolis, Maryland, the Charlestown
United Protestant Church, Catonsville, Maryland, the St. Luke’s United
Methodist Church, Baltimore, Maryland, and finally as a Bible Study
to the Senior Adult Class at John’s Creek United Methodist Church,
Duluth, Georgia, and especially to their leader, L.B. Holcombe. It is the
combination of persons from this “Good News” Sunday School Class and
“Basics” mid-week Bible Study group to whom I am especially indebted
for their prodding and participation in the writing of this book. The good
people in each of these churches who have listened to and critiqued these
sermons and studies have contributed to the development and publication
of this book.
I am most deeply indebted to my wife, Barbara Ann, who has been my
best critic, devoted supporter and my manuscript editor. My sincere thanks
to Edson C. Bates, my erudite and fastidious proof-reader for his careful
examination and corrections to the manuscript. I am also grateful to those
writers whose books and other materials are included in the Bibliography
for their invaluable contributions to this study, and most particularly to
the scholarly work of William Steuart McBirnie, PhD who authored The
Search for the Twelve Apostles. I am grateful to Zondervan Publishing House
for granting permission to quote excerpts from The NIV Study Bible New
International Version, and to Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton Illinois
for granting their permission to quote excerpts from the Living Bible
Paraphrased. I am also indebted to Dr. Maxie D. Dunnam who wrote the
“Introduction” for his participation and partnership, and to the editors and
staff at Xlibris for their assistance in the publication of this book.
Moreover, I am especially indebted to David W. Balsiger, LHD, Vice
President-Marketing/Senior Producer and Grizzly Adams Productions,
Inc. for granting authorization for me to use the bonus segment “The Life
and Legends of the Apostles” taken from the feature-length documentary
films about the Apostles entitled Twelve Ordinary Men and Miraculous
Mission. I am grateful to Barbara Rundback, Production Manager and
David Priest, Film Director at Shadow Play Films, Inc. for their invaluable
assistance in the development of the DVD which is attached to the Leader’s
Manual and which make the Leader’s Manual and its DVD such superb
teaching tools.
Hopefully, this study will not only enable us to become better
acquainted with Jesus and his Apostles, but it will also enable us to more
ably and articulately witness to God’s saving grace and goodness and to
take our places among that noble company of apostles, evangelists, and
Christian witnesses about which the Scriptures speak:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,
Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles,
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith,
Who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning the shame,
And sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men,
So that you will not grow weary and lose heart.1

We will also by the eye of imagination travel back across the centuries
to visit the shores of the Jordan River where we will see and hear John
the Baptist as he cries out his warnings against the unrepentant. We will
hear him as he calls out to all who will heed his voice, urging them to be
baptized as a symbolic gesture repudiating sinfulness and seeking cleansing
in their hearts and minds. We will follow his ministry, visit him in his jail
cell during his captivity, and ask the question he asks: “Is Jesus really the
Christ?” “How can we be certain?”
Among the crowd standing along the banks of the Jordan River, we
will spot two of John’s disciples and quietly we will watch and follow them
after John points out Jesus, the carpenter, as the Messiah. We will observe
them as they follow Jesus to discover his place of residence, and listen in on
their first conversations with this new Messiah. We will discover how they
spread their curiosity and enthusiasm among their friends, and watch as
one after the other of the Apostles are drawn to Jesus, challenged and called
by him to become his disciples, and how they respond as they enter upon
the adventure of their lives.
The names of the original Twelve Apostles are listed for us in each of
the first three Gospels and in the Acts of the Apostles, but the order is
not identical in each listing. Here the list is arranged in a particular order
chosen for reasons that will become more obvious to the reader as each
successive Chapter unfolds:

These are the names of The Twelve Apostles:
First, Andrew Bar (son of ) Jonas
and his brother, Simon Bar-Jonas [to whom he gave the name Peter];
James Bar-Zebedee, and his brother John Bar-Zebedee
[to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means the Sons of Thunder];
Philip, the noble Greek; and the Rabbi Nathanael
Bar-Tholomew; Jude [aka: Thaddaeus Lebbaeus Judas] Bar-James;
Thomas the Twin [the carpenter & shipwright];
Matthew Levi Bar-Alphaeus [the tax collector],
and James Bar-Alphaeus;
Simon [who was called the Zealot],
and Judas Iscariot [who became a traitor]2.
It is worth taking the time to review carefully the instructions Jesus
gave to his apostles when he commissioned them. We may ask ourselves,
“If someone tried to recruit me to go to work for them and offered to me
the kind of conditions of employment that Jesus gave to his apostles, would
I be willing to accept such a job—under any similar circumstances?”3
How do these conditions of employment compare with most executive/
sales positions today? Draw up a list of the normal conditions of employment
and compensation for a corporate position today and contrast it with the
conditions of employment and compensation of the apostles.
Following the suicide of Judas, the vacant apostleship forfeited by
the Son of Perdition was filled by the election of Matthias, who became
the Thirteenth Apostle.4 Although Saul of Tarsus was never considered
among the apostles, this great theologian of the early church became the
great Christian missionary to the Gentiles and deserves to be recognized
for his outstanding apostolic ministry. Although Paul claimed for himself
an apostleship to the Gentiles, he was never accepted as a true apostle
nor numbered among the Twelve. One of the reasons that Paul was never
considered by the early Church or even by the modern church as qualifying
for membership among the Twelve Apostles is because it was held that in
order for one like Matthias to be elected an Apostle, he must have been
among the first followers of Jesus and to have heard him preach and teach
and to have observed his miracle working ministry, and to have witnessed
first-hand the resurrected Christ and his ascension. Those qualifications are
stated as part of the criteria for the two candidates considered to take the
place vacated by the death of Judas Iscariot.5
Not a great deal is known about some of the Apostles. They were
too busy making history to write much about themselves. Most of them
were not recognized as the great leaders and saints they became until later
generations looked back upon their lives and ministry. Then their relics
(their bones) became prized possessions as symbols of the Christian faith.
One of the things we will do is to construct a sociograph or chart showing
the possible familial relationships and group dynamics which were at play
within the cadre of the Apostles. It will be fascinating to envision how the
various influences of family blood-ties, tribal influences, political ideologies,
personality traits, special favors, positions of responsibility, assigned
tasks, seating arrangements at meals, parental relationships, business and
vocational interests, social and cultural backgrounds, financial resources,
and the opportunities afforded by fate and/or divine providence influenced
the Apostles as individuals and as a functioning group.
The emperor Constantine, following his conversion to Christianity,
aspired to be counted among the Apostles of Christ. We will learn more
about him later in our study. Constantine’s ambition to be one of Christ’s
Apostles was a noble one, and one that he tried with all of his imperial
might to accomplish. Indeed, it was Constantine who was the first Roman
emperor to declare Christianity the official religion of the empire. It
was he and his pious and devout Christian mother, Queen Helena, who
were instrumental in preserving many of the holy places in and around
Jerusalem and who contributed a great deal in establishing Christianity as
the predominant religion of both the Eastern and Western civilizations.
Constantine built a shrine to the Twelve and desired to be buried with
them as “The Thirteenth Apostle.” He actually succeeded in gathering
what were relics of St. Andrew, St. Luke and St. Timothy. He was buried
in “The Church of the Twelve Apostles” in Constantinople in AD 337,
having died on Pentecost Day, May 22, of that year. It was after this that
the veneration of relics arose as a practice, and great prestige and power
were attached to those who possessed any of these relics, for many miracles
of healing were attributed to the supernatural power of faith inspired by
these memorials.
Christian missionaries today, persons like David Livingstone who
opened the Dark Continent of Africa to Christianity, and E. Stanley Jones,
the United Methodist missionary to India, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta,
and Nate Saint who gave his life in an endeavor to carry the Gospel of
Christ to the headhunters of Ecuador, are all modern day apostles. And you
and I are also called to be witnesses. We have been sent forth by Christ into
the world around us to bear testimony to God’s love and grace.

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you;
and you will be my witnesses
in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth.6

1 Hebrews 12:1-3
2 Matthew 10:1-40; Cf. Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:6-14; Acts 1:13
3 Vide: Mt. 10:3-40
4 Acts 1:15-26
5 Acts 1:21, 22
6 Acts 1