My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about Jesus' Twelve Disciples:
Q: The Bible says that Jesus had twelve disciples, but as I read the Gospels, there seems to be a much larger group, as well as more than twelve men named as disciples. How can this be reconciled? Also, in what order did Jesus call the Twelve disciples?
In the four Gospels, there are several different ways that the word “disciples” is used. The broadest of these, is that any person who believes the message that Jesus teaches and follows Him is a disciple. There is also a group of 72 men, who Jesus sends out to preach and perform miracles who are called disciples. The narrowest sense in which the word disciple is used is in reference to the inner circle of Jesus’ twelve closest followers. The Bible also refers to this group as “the twelve” (or “the eleven” after Judas betrayed Jesus). The context in which the word is used tells us which group is word is intended to refer to.
The reason that there seem to be more than twelve names listed for Jesus’ closest disciples is that it was not uncommon in those days for men to have both a Hebrew name and a Greek or Roman name, so sometimes the Gospels use one name, while a different Gospel may use another. Lists of the Twelve are found in Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19, and Luke 6:14-16.
The list of Jesus twelve disciples below uses the names by which they are traditionally commemorated in the Church. Names in parentheses are additional names by which they are known in the four Gospels.
· Peter (Simon son of Jonah, Cephas)
· James the Elder (James Son of Zebedee, James the Greater)
· Bartholomew (Nathaniel)
· Matthew (Levi)
· James the Lesser (James Son of Alphaeus, James the Younger)
· Jude (Thaddaeus, Judas Son of James)
· Simon ( Simon the Zealot, Simon the Canaanean)
· Judas Iscariot
In Acts, chapter 1, we read that Matthias was chosen as replacement for Judas Iscariot, who committed suicide after betraying Jesus.
Regarding the order of the disciples’ calling, there are two possibilities. According to John 1:35-51, the first disciples were probably Andrew and John. Peter was brought to Jesus by his brother, Andrew, followed by Philip and Nathaniel (Bartholomew). The other three Gospels also briefly mention the calling of Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Since James and John are called together in these other accounts, it is likely that James was called either immediately before or after Peter, but before Philip and Nathaniel. There is no information given on the calling of Thomas, James, Jude, Simon the Zealot, or Judas Iscariot. Matthew appears to be the final disciple called, but this is not conclusively stated the text. The lists given in Matthew, Mark, and Luke appear in a very similar order to this, but not identical, because they are listed there according to rank (Peter first, Judas Iscariot last) rather than Chronology. We know this because Andrew precedes Peter in John's account of their calling, but Peter is listed first in the three lists.
Another reasonable conclusion regarding the order of their calling is that the twelve disciples had been individually called to the larger group of 72 or more disciples which followed Jesus, following which He called them all simultaneously, at a later time, to the inner circle of twelve with which we are familiar and who are listed in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The calling accounts that are found in the four Gospels, then, would be their calling to the larger group rather than the inner circle.