Who Were the Apostles of Jesus?

Leonardo da Vinci/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Apostle is an English transliteration of the Greek apostolos, which means "one who is sent out." In ancient Greek, an apostle might be any person sent out to deliver news — messengers and envoys, for example — and perhaps carry out other instructions. Because of the New Testament, however, apostle has acquired a more specific usage. The word now refers to one of the elect disciples of Jesus. Apostolic lists in the New Testament all have 12 names, but not always the same names.

According to Mark

And Simon he surnamed Peter; And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder: And Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Canaanite, And Judas Iscariot, which also betrayed him: and they went into an house.

Mark 3:16-19

According to Matthew

Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.

Matthew 10:2-4

According to Luke

And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles; Simon (whom he also named Peter), and Andrew his brother, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called Zelotes, And Judas the brother of James, and Judas Iscariot, which also was the traitor.

Luke 6:13-16

Acts of the Apostles

And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James.

Acts 1:13

Judas Iscariot was gone by this point in the story, and not included in the list.

When Did the Apostles Live?

The lives of the apostles appear to be more legendary than historical. Reliable records of them outside the New Testament are almost nonexistent. It is plausible to assume that they were supposed to be around the same age as Jesus and thus lived primarily during the first half of the first century.

Where Did They Live?

The apostles chosen by Jesus appear to have all been from Galilee — mostly, though not exclusively, from the region around the Sea of Galilee. After Jesus was crucified, most of the apostles stayed in or around Jerusalem, leading the new Christian church. A few are thought to have traveled abroad, carrying Jesus' message outside Palestine.

What Did They Do?

The apostles chosen by Jesus were meant to accompany him on his journeys, watch his actions, learn from his teachings, and then eventually carry on for him after he was gone. They were supposed to receive additional instructions not meant for other disciples who might accompany Jesus along the way.

Why Were They Important?

Christians regard the apostles as the connection between the living Jesus, the resurrected Jesus, and the Christian church that developed after Jesus ascended to Heaven. The apostles were witnesses to Jesus' life, recipients of Jesus' teachings, witnesses to appearances of the resurrected Jesus, and recipients of the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. They were authorities on what Jesus taught, intended, and desired. Many Christian churches today base the authority of religious leaders on their supposed connections to the original apostles.