The Twelve Disciples

The main NT Sources for the list of disciples are:

(Matt 10:2-4;  Mark 3:14-19;  Luke 6:13-16;  John 1:35-49 & 21:2; Acts 1:13).

Jesus’ designation of a group of followers as ‘the twelve’ was probably intended to symbolize the restoration of the twelve tribes of Israel that he hoped to effect.  Indeed, Jesus is portrayed as promising his disciples that they will judge the twelve tribes of Israel in Matt 19.28 and Luke 22.30.” [Bdict, the twelve, pp.1073-4]  Mark 3.14-15 says “And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons.”  Both John the Baptist and the Pharisees also had disciples [Bdict, disciple, 198].

The Twelve Disciples (listed in the most common order) including alterative names, are:

1)       Simon Peter  (Mark 3:16 “Simon whom he surnamed Peter.”)
In John 1:42 Jesus tells Simon “You are to be called ‘Cephas,’ (which is translated Peter).” The Bible footnote says “rock” is kepha in Aramaic and petra in Greek.

2)       Andrew,  Peter’s brother, a Bethsaida fisherman (Jn 1.44), and a former disciple of John the Baptist (Jn 1.35-40) .

3)       James, son of Zebedee, brother of John, sometimes called James the Great or Greater (decapitated by Herod Agrippa I in 44 CE, Acts 12.2).

4)       John, son of Zebedee, brother of James.  Mark 3:17 says Jesus called the brothers James and John by the Aramaic word ‘Boanerges,’ or ‘sons of Thunder.’

5)       Philip.  Also from Bethsaida in Galilee (Jn 1.43-51).  Not to be confused with Philip the evangelist who only appears in Acts.

6a)     Bartholomew, Not mentioned again in the NT; sometimes identified with

6b)     Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, (John 1:45-51; 21.2).  Bartholomew follows Philip in the lists of Mt,, Mk and Lk, and Philip brings Nathanael to Jesus in Jn 1.45-51, so scholars think Bartholomew and Nathanael may well be the same person. [Bdict, Bartholomew, 81], [Bdict, Nathanael, 690].

7a)     Matthew (the tax collector in Matt 10.3) or

7b)     Levi, son of Alphaeus (Mk 2.13-14).  See notes.

8)       Thomas, called the Twin (Greek Didymus, John 21:2); the “doubting” Thomas.

9)       James, son of Alphaeus.

10a)   Judas, son of [another] James (Lk 6.16) (or possibly the brother of James in the footnote to Acts 1.13).  (this Judas is listed in Luke & Acts but not in Matt & Mark).  He is also mentioned in  Jn 14.22, where he is called “Judas (not Iscariot).”  [Bdict, Judas, 499].

10b)   Thaddaeus (listed in Matt & Mark, but not in Luke & Acts)  The footnote to Matt 10.3 says “Other ancient authorities read Lebbaeus, or Lebbaeus called Thaddaeus.”

11)      Simon, ‘who was called the Zealot’ (Luke 5.15), the Cananaean (Matt 10.4, Mk 3.18)

12)      Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon Iscariot (John 6.71) who betrayed Jesus (Matt 10.4) and was replaced by Matthias (Acts 1.21-26).

Notes on the Disciples

There is confusion about some of the names.  “It is possible that some of the persons listed went by more than one name, or that membership among ‘the twelve’ varied over time.” [Bdict, apostle, 40]

Simon Peter, is listed first in all four reference lists.  In Matt 16.18-19, Jesus says to Peter “…you are Peter [Gk Petros], and on this rock [Gk petra] I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Peter & Andrew, and also James the Greater & John were the two pairs of brothers.  All four were fishermen.

It appears that the three most important disciples were Peter, James the Greater and John, as only these three witnessed three key events:  the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Mk 5:21-24, 35-43; Lk 8.51); the transfiguration of Jesus (Mt 17:1; Mk 9.2; Lk 9.28);  and Jesus’ final prayers at Gethsemane  (Mt 26.27; Mk 14:32). Furthermore, in Gal 2.9, Paul refers to those three as “acknowledged pillars” of the church.

In  Lk 9.54,  James and John request that the Samaritan village which is unresponsive to their preaching be destroyed, but Jesus won’t sanction it.  In Mt 20.20-23 (also Mk 10.35-40), the mother of James and John asked Jesus to “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom,” but Jesus would not do it.

In Acts 12.1-2, “About that time [44 CE] King Herod [Agrippa I] laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church.  He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword.”

In Gal 2.9, Paul refers to John as one of the “acknowledged pillars” of the Jerusalem church.

John has traditionally been identified as the disciple “whom Jesus loved,” but this is never stated in the NT.  [Bdict, beloved disciple, p. 88]

John 1:44 says that Andrew, Peter and Philip were all from the city of Bethsaida, which is a fishing village at the north-most point of the Sea of Galilee (aka the Sea of Tiberius, Jn 6.1).

The confusion about the name of the tax collector arises from a comparison of three extremely similar passages.  Matthew, Mark and Luke have passages similar to this: “As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called/named NAME sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.  And as he sat at dinner in the [or NAME’s] house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples.”  In Matt 9.9-10, NAME is Matthew. In Mark 2.14-15, NAME is Levi son of Alphaeus,  and in Luke  5.27-29, NAME is Levi.  The name Levi, son of Alphaeus, is an indication that he is perhaps the brother of the other disciple, James, son of Alphaeus [Bdict, Matthew, 611].

Judas Iscariot is listed last in all three gospel lists, & not listed at all in Acts 1:13.

John’s gospel, which does mention ‘the twelve’ (in 6.67; 70-71; 20.24) never gives a complete list.  The names of eight of the twelve do appear individually in different passages in John.

The text starting at John 1.35 describes the first three disciples of Jesus, all of whom changed allegiance from John the Baptist to Jesus the day after his baptism.   First there were two (unnamed) disciples, one of whom is Andrew (Lk 1.40), two unnamed disciples of John the Baptist, and Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother,  all change their allegiance to Jesus, whom John the Baptist has described as ‘the Lamb of God’ and the ‘Son of God’ (John 1.29, 34).  Some think the other two were Simon Peter and Philip, in part since they were all from Bethsaida.

The Brothers of Jesus

According to the gospels, Jesus’ four brothers were not followers of him during his years of preaching.  Jn 7.5 says “For not even his [Jesus’] brothers believed in him.”  The synoptic gospels (Mt 12.46-50; Mk 3.31-35; Lk 8.19-21) tell the story of Jesus saying “Who are my mother and my brothers” etc. in response to being told that his mother and brothers were waiting to talk to him.  However, after the resurrection and ascension, Acts 1.14 reports “All these [the eleven disciples] were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.”  This implies that some of, or maybe all of, Jesus’ brothers became believers.

The risen Christ appeared to a ‘James’ in 1 Cor 15.7 – the footnote says that this James is thought to be Jesus’ brother, James.  This James, sometimes called “James the Just,” became a follower of Christ, and eventually the leader of the church in Jerusalem.  James was put to death by the priestly authorities ca  62 CE [Bdict, James, 426].  He is not to be confused with either of the two original disciples named James.

Interactions Between the Risen Christ and his Disciples

Mark 16.14 and Luke 24.36 both say that after his resurrection Jesus appeared to all eleven remaining disciples.  John 20.19 also tells of Jesus appearing to most of them.  In terms of appearances to named disciples we have the following: Jesus specifically appeared to Simon Peter in Lk 24.35,  and he specifically appeared to the ‘doubting’ Thomas in Jn 20.26-29.   Finally, he appears to seven in Jn 21.2: Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, the two sons of Zebedee (James and John) and two others.


  • Bible          Harper Collins Study Bible.  NY, NY: HarperOne an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2006.  Based on the New Revised Standard Version Bible, © 1989 . 

  • Bdict       Powell, Mark Allen, general editor.  HarperCollins Bible Dictionary, 3rd ed., New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2011.
    Articles referenced: Andrew, 31; apostle, 40; Bartholomew, 81; beloved disciple, 88; disciple, 198; James 426; John the apostle, 484; Judas, 499; Matthew, 611; Nathanael, 690; the twelve, 1073-4; Thomas, 1039.