Who were the twelve disciples?

The Last Supper, depicted above the altar in Westminster Cathedral, shows Jesus and the 12 disciples the evening before his death The Last Supper was the final meal Jesus and 12 disciples shared together

The twelve disciples, also known as the twelve apostles, were Jesus's closest followers. Disciple is a Biblical term meaning learner or pupil.

They were men who travelled with Jesus and learned from him. The twelve and Jesus ate together at the Last Supper on the night before Jesus was executed. After Jesus's death, they separated and began to spread his teachings.

Disciple was also used to refer to other followers of Jesus - but the 12 apostles were Jesus's closest companions before his crucifixion.

There is some disagreement among Biblical scholars as to who exactly should be counted as an apostle. Paul of Tarsus called himself an apostle. He was active in the early Christian church but did not meet Jesus while he was alive - but Paul argued that he received revelation from the risen Jesus directly. Mary Magdalene, a female follower of Jesus, is often referred to as a disciple. She is also sometimes called the apostles' apostle.

This article uses the names listed in the Gospel of Matthew, of the 12 main followers of Jesus during his lifetime.

The Twelve Disciples

Name

Who were they?

What are they famous for?

What did they do after Jesus's death?

How did they die?

Peter, originally called Simon

Peter was a fisherman who was called to be a disciple by Jesus at the start of his ministry. This took place at the Sea of Galilee according to the first three Gospels, or in Judea according to the Gospel of John. Peter's original name was Simeon or Simon, and he is also referred to in John's Gospel as "Simon, son of John". His brother Andrew was also a disciple.

Peter is usually regarded as the leader of the disciples. He was singled out by Jesus to found his Church. On the night of his arrest, Jesus predicted that Peter would deny knowing him three times before the cock crowed in the morning. This happened as Jesus predicted.

Peter was the leader of the early church. He appointed Matthias as an apostle to replace Judas. Peter allowed non-Jews to join the church without first having to convert to Judaism. He was arrested and imprisoned by Herod Agrippa I around AD44. An angel released him from his chains and he escaped. Christian tradition says that Peter went to Rome and founded a church, which became the Roman Catholic Church, but this is not directly stated in the Bible. Peter is considered to be the first Pope.

An early Christian document, the First Epistle of Clement, strongly suggests that Peter was martyred (killed for his faith) in Rome c AD64. The Church History, a fourth-century text, says Peter was executed by being crucified upside down. Reportedly, Peter requested this because he did not consider himself worthy of dying in the same way as Jesus. Roman Catholics believe Peter is buried in the catacombs under the Vatican but there is some theological disagreement as to the location of Peter's last resting place.

Andrew

Andrew, a fisherman, was the brother of Peter. Jesus called them both from their boats, telling them he would make them fishers of men. This is recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke's Gospels.

According to John's Gospel, before Andrew joined Jesus's disciples he was a follower of John the Baptist, the Jewish prophet (a person who speaks messages from God) who baptised Jesus.

Legends of the early church place Andrew in the area around the Black Sea, where he spread the teachings of Jesus. Church History says he preached in Scythia, a region covering eastern Europe and western Asia.

The Bible does not describe how Andrew died, but later accounts dating from the fourth century to medieval times say he was crucified on an X-shaped cross. This became known as the St Andrew's Cross. The Catholic Encyclopaedia says that his execution was ordered by Aegeas, the Roman governor of Patras in Greece, and that Andrew was tied to the cross, not nailed. His remains were taken from Patras and moved several times, eventually being brought to Rome. In 1964 AD Pope Paul VI gave Andrew's head back to Patras.

James (the Greater)

James was also known as James the Greater. He was the elder brother of John. Matthew's Gospel also calls him "James the son of Zebedee".

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus nicknames James and John the "sons of thunder" for their tempers.

Spanish tradition reported in the Catholic Encyclopedia says that James went to preach in Spain.

James is the only apostle whose martyrdom is recorded in the New Testament. Herod Agrippa I had him beheaded with a sword. According to Spanish tradition, James's remains were brought to the city of Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. Christian pilgrims visit his shrine there, which by the Middle Ages was the third most important Christian pilgrimage site after Rome and Jerusalem. The pilgrimage route is now a World Heritage Site.

John

John was James's brother. He is also called John the Evangelist or John the Divine.

He is believed to be the author of both the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation, the last book in the Bible. John sat next to Jesus at the Last Supper with his head on Jesus's breast, as recorded in his Gospel. He referred to himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved" rather than by name. John was present at the crucifixion and afterwards took on the care of Jesus's mother Mary.

Not much is known for certain about John's life after Jesus's death. An early Church father, Irenaeus, wrote in Against Heresies c AD180 that John wrote his Gospel at Ephesus, in modern-day Turkey. John's official shrine is found there. John spent time in exile on the island of Patmos, according to a line in Revelation, which he wrote there. A book called The Acts of John contains further stories about him, but it is considered apocryphal (of doubtful accuracy, not part of official scripture) by churches.

Tertullian, a second-century Christian writer, wrote that John was plunged into boiling oil in Rome and came out miraculously unhurt. Early traditions say John did not die at all, but ascended into heaven like the Jewish prophets Enoch and Elijah, although the Catholic Church believes that he died in around AD100 "at a great age".

Philip

Philip is only mentioned in passing in Matthew, Mark and Luke's Gospels. The Gospel of John goes into more detail about him. He came from Bethsaida in modern-day Jordan and was a follower of John the Baptist before joining Jesus.

Philip was one of the disciples who took part in Jesus's miracle of the loaves and fishes.

Philip the Apostle is often confused with Philip the Deacon, another member of the early Church. Bishop Polycrates of Ephesus, writing in the late second century, claims Philip had three daughters. Another document of similar age, the Dialogue of Caius, mentions a Philip with four daughters, but this may be Philip the Deacon, or a confusion of the two.

According to Bishop Polycrates, Philip was buried in Hieropolis, in modern-day Turkey, with two of his daughters who had died of old age. This makes it likely that Philip died naturally. However, the apocryphal Acts of Philip says that he was crucified upside down in Hierapolis.

Bartholomew

Bartholomew may have been the man John's Gospel calls Nathaniel, who joined Jesus at the same time as Philip. The name Bartholomew means "son of Tolmai", so it is possible that Nathaniel was his given name. This is not accepted by all Christian scholars, but Pope Benedict XVI talks about them as the same man, for example in a sermon he gave in St Peter's Square in October 2006.

John's Gospel describes Nathaniel as being from Cana in Galilee and a friend of Philip. Although initially prejudiced against anyone coming from Nazareth, Nathaniel let Philip take him to meet Jesus. Jesus described Nathaniel as an Israelite with no guile, and proved his power by saying he had seen him in the past under a fig tree. John's Gospel does not explain what the fig tree incident was, or if it was a figure of speech, but this convinced Nathaniel, who immediately said that Jesus was the son of God.

The 4th-century bishop Eusebius, known as the "Father of Church History", records a legend that Bartholomew preached in India and gave the Church there a treasured copy of the Gospel of Matthew written in Hebrew. In the 2nd century, when St. Pantaenus of Alexandria travelled to India, he was shown the Gospel and told Bartholomew had been there before him.

Bartholomew is said to have died at Albanopolis in Armenia, where he had converted the King Polymius to Christianity and was killed by the king's brother Astyages in revenge. Most legends say his skin was flayed off his body and he was crucified upside down. Others say he was beheaded. The Catholic Encyclopedia lists both but does not give their original sources.

Thomas

Thomas is also called Didymus, meaning "the twin", and his full name is sometimes given as Judas Thomas. The Gospels do not give details of his life before meeting Jesus. An apocryphal text called The Acts of Thomas suggests that he was the twin brother of Jesus and a carpenter and stonemason by profession, but this is not widely accepted.

We know most about Thomas from John's Gospel. When Jesus planned to return to Judea, where he would be in danger of being put to death, Thomas bravely spoke up "Let us also go, so that we may die with him." At the Last Supper, Jesus announced that he was going to prepare a place for his disciples to be with him. Thomas did not understand and asked how they would know the way there, to which Jesus replied with his famous words "I am the way, and the truth, and the life". Thomas's most famous moment, and the source of his other nickname, "Doubting Thomas", came after Jesus was resurrected. When the other disciples told Thomas what they had seen, he refused to believe it until he saw Jesus and touched his crucifixion wounds for himself. Although Jesus rebuked Thomas for doubting, this event resulted in Thomas being the first to acknowledge Jesus's divinity aloud with the words "My Lord and my God!"

Eusebius recorded that Thomas preached in Syria and Persia. The apocryphal Acts of Thomas records that he travelled from there to India, where he converted the king of Mylapore, near Madras (modern day Chennai), and performed further miracles.

Thomas is supposed to have been martyred in India, but there is no support for this, even in the apocryphal Acts of Thomas.

Matthew

Matthew is introduced as Levi in Mark and Luke's Gospels. It is possible Jesus named him Matthew after recruiting him as a disciple. He is sometimes also called Matthew the Publican. Jesus met Matthew in a customs house in Capernaeum, modern-day Israel. "Publican", in a Biblical context, means a man who collected taxes on behalf of the Roman Empire. In Matthew's case, he would have worked for Herod Antipas. These tax workers were figures of hatred among the Jews of Judea, so for Jesus to recruit one as a disciple was an unpopular move.

In Matthew's Gospel, the first of the Gospels to be written, the author himself is not often mentioned. After meeting Jesus in the customs house, Matthew invited him and his disciples to his home for a meal. After this, he left home to follow Jesus.

The rest of Matthew's life is not recorded in the Bible. Irenaeus wrote that Matthew preached to the Hebrews. Eusebius recorded that Matthew wrote and distributed his Gospel in the Hebrew language wherever he travelled. He may have visited Ethiopia and Persia.

Most sources agree that Matthew died a martyr's death, but there is disagreement about how he died. The Catholic Encyclopaedia mentions burning, stoning or beheading.

James (the son of Alphaeus)

James is called "St James the Less" to distinguish him from the other Apostle James. He is called "James the brother of the Lord" (Jesus) in the book of Galatians, but despite this apparent Biblical evidence he may not have been Jesus's brother by blood or even a brother-in-law from Joseph's earlier marriage. The Catholic Church considers James, and other men referred to as Jesus's "brethren", to be his close associates rather than relatives. This is partly because tradition says that Jesus's mother Mary had no other children, and partly because at his crucifixion Jesus sent Mary to live with the apostle John, which would not have been necessary if she had had other sons to take care of her.

In the book of Corinthians, St Paul records that Jesus appeared to James after his resurrection. When Paul came to Jerusalem after his conversion, he met Peter and James the brother of the Lord. James appears to have been highly placed in the Jerusalem Church: Church History records that he was their first bishop. James supported Peter in the decision to let uncircumcised non-Jews into the Church.

The second-century Jewish Christian Hegesippus, recorded that James became known as "James the Just" and was very pious, never drinking alcohol or eating meat, and that he never bathed, shaved or anointed himself.

The early theologian Clement of Alexandria, quoted in Church History, wrote that James was thrown from the roof of the temple in Jerusalem and "beaten to death with a club by a fuller".

Lebbaeus, also called Thaddaeus or Jude

Lebbaeus is also referred to as Jude in some Gospels. Jude is clearly distinguished from Judas Iscariot, another disciple and later the betrayer of Jesus. Opinion is divided on whether Jude the apostle is the same as Jude, brother of Jesus, who is mentioned in the Gospel of Mark

The Armenian Apostolic Church honours him along with Saint Bartholomew as its patron saints. In the Roman Catholic Church he is the patron saint of desperate cases and lost causes.

According to tradition after Jesus's death he preached the Gospel in Judea, Samaria, Idumaea, Syria, Mesopotamia and Libya. He is also said to have visited Beirut and Edessa.

According to the Armenian tradition, Saint Jude suffered martyrdom about AD 65 in Beirut, in the Roman province of Syria, together with the apostle Simon the Zealot, with whom he is usually connected.

Simon

Simon is known as Simon the Zealot to distinguish him from Simon Peter. His name is sometimes wrongly translated as "the Canaanite".

The New Testament says nothing about Simon apart from listing him as a disciple.

The apocryphal Acts of Simon and Jude describes the two disciples travelling to preach in Persia.

According to his apocryphal Acts, Simon was martyred in Persia by being cut in half with a saw.

Judas Iscariot

Judas was the son of Simon Iscariot. The origin of his surname may be a place name, Karioth in Judea, making him "Judas of Karioth". Another theory is that Iscariot was derived from the Sicarii, a radical Jewish group of the time that included some terrorists who fought against Roman rule. "Sicarius" is Latin for murderer or assassin. This gave rise to a minority theory that Judas, in keeping with his radical roots, wanted to provoke a conflict so that Jesus could drive out the Romans and become the ruler of the Jews on earth. This would mean that Judas was well-intentioned but had completely misunderstood Jesus's message. However, most Christians reject this idea.

Judas is always the last to be mentioned in lists of the disciples. He was in charge of the group's funds and the Gospels say that he had a habit of stealing the money for himself. Judas is most famous for betraying Jesus, which resulted in Jesus's execution by crucifixion. Judas approached the Jewish authorities to make this offer and was paid thirty pieces of silver to reveal where Jesus was hiding and point him out to them. After the Last Supper, Jesus and some of his followers went to the garden of Gethsemane. Judas guided a group of soldiers there and identified Jesus by greeting him and kissing him on the cheek. John and Luke's Gospels say that Satan entered into Judas to make him betray Jesus. The Gospels of Matthew and Mark do not mention this, giving the impression that Judas did it purely for the reward. An apocryphal Gospel of Judas says that Judas was acting under Jesus's instructions, having had secret knowledge revealed to him that the other disciples did not know. In this version, Judas betrayed Jesus in the knowledge that his death was necessary to redeem humanity. This idea is also rejected by most Christians. Although Jesus had to die, the general view is that Judas was acting selfishly and carrying out God's plan without knowing it.

Matthew's Gospel says that Judas did not live to see Jesus's execution. After hearing of the death sentence, he was overcome by remorse and tried to return the bribe to the priests, ending up by throwing the money on the floor.

According to Matthew's Gospel, after returning the bribe, Judas hanged himself. The priests, who did not want to take the blood money back, used it to buy a potter's field for use as a graveyard for strangers. The field became known as Hacedalma, meaning "the field of blood". The book of Acts seems to disagree with this, saying that Judas himself bought the field with the money and "being hanged, burst asunder in the midst: and all his bowels gushed out".

Copyright © 2016 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.