The Twelve Apostles, Part 4 – The Hellenists: Andrew, Philip, and Bartholomew

We continue our series of historical investigations into the twelve specially-chosen followers of Jesus with this look at three who bore Hellenist names: Andrew, Philip, and Bartholomew.


            Andrew is a Greek name (Andreas = “manly”). All four New Testament gospels (Matt 4:18, 10:2; Mark 1:16; Luke 6:14; John 1:40, 6:8) identity him as the brother of Peter. Peter is derived from the Greek (Petros) and Aramaic Kepha. His proper Semitic name was Simon (pronounced Shimon). It is possible that Andrew also had a Semitic name but it was soon forgotten as the Greek gospels continued to spread outside the Jewish homeland. It is not impossible that the Greek word adelphos, usually translated as brother, could mean brother-in-law, step-brother, cousin, or even close friend.

According to the Gospel of John, Andrew was once a disciple of John the Baptist (John 1:40).  In that gospel he was the first of the Twelve to discover Jesus and it was he who brought Peter’s attention to the new prophet.  The only other biographical information we can deduce from the gospels comes from information about Peter. Like his more famous brother, Andrew was a fisherman and resided on the shores of the Sea of Galilee (John 1:44 says Bethsaida but Mark 1:21, 29 gives Capernaum as their home). 

There may be a hint that Andrew was bilingual. It is found in a passage from the Gospel of John.

Now some Greeks were among those who had gone up to worship at the feast. So these approached Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and requested, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew, and they both went and told Jesus. (John 12:20–22 NET)

By “Greeks” (Hellēn), the author of John likely means Greek-speaking Jews since they are going up to worship in Jerusalem. Acts 6:1 also refers to Greek-speaking Jews as “Greeks” or “Hellenists” (Hellēnistēs). Such Jews likely came to Philip because he was bilingual. And, based on the verses above Andrew, may have been so as well. We hear no more about Andrew in the New Testament after his witness along with the eleven of the risen Jesus following the resurrection (implied in Matt 28:16, Luke 24:36, John 20:19, 25-26, Mark 16:14, and 1 Cor. 15:5; unnamed but possibly present in John 21:2).

            As we have seen before, many legends arose to account for the later lives of the apostles.  Early traditions recount how the Twelve divided up the world into twelve missionary territories possibly awarded by lot. Fourth-century church historian Eusebius reported (Church History 3.1) that Andrew’s missionary field was in Scythia (southern Russia and the Ukraine). The second-century Acts of Andrew is unfortunately incomplete and has to be patched together from various sources.  Though condemned as heretical by Eusebius (3.6), what remains of the Acts reports how Andrew was given the mission area of the Roman province of Achaia in Greece. According to the same narrative, Andrew was crucified in the city of Patras, near Corinth, by the proconsul of Achaia on charges of having converted the proconsul’s wife to Christianity. Apparently, she chose to withhold sexual favors from her husband as a result of her conversion. It should be noted that much of the apostolic teaching in the apocryphal acts promotes sexual celibacy and abstinence even within marriage as a pathway to perfect piety.

In a notoriously difficult passage, Eusebius draws upon a text written by the early first/second-century bishop of Hierapolis (in Asia Minor) by the name of Papias (3.39.4). The passage in question is as follows:

“If someone came [to me, i.e., Papias] who had followed the elders, I made inquiry about the words of the elders, what Andrew or Peter said, or what Philipp or what Thomas or James, or what John or Matthias or any other of the Lord’s disciples, or what Aristion and the presbyter John, disciples of the Lord, said.” (trans. Schott, p. 164)

It seems clear that Papias did not actually know Andrew or the other named apostles but rather had met those “who had followed” them, that is, second-generation Christ-believers. This fits with the period of Papias’s life. Papias may be inferring that he had second-hand teaching from such men including Andrew which he possibly recorded in his now-lost, five-volume work, Exegesis of the Lord’s Sayings.

            In 357 CE, the Roman emperor Constantius II (317-361 CE) deposited what were believed to be the apostle’s remains in the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople along with those of Luke and Timothy.   Eventually the Byzantine church claimed Andrew as its founder and created the legend that he had once appointed its first bishop. As Christianity spread, it was common for municipal churches to link their origins to apostolic figures of the past.

Philip (the Apostle)

            Although mentioned in all four gospels (Matt 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:14, John 1:43), Philip plays a role only in the fourth one.  There he is said to be a friend of Nathanael who tells him about Jesus. Philip’s Greek name (Philippos) means “lover of horses.” According to the fourth gospel, as we saw above, some Greek-speaking Jews attending Passover in Jerusalem approached Philip in order to meet Jesus. The Greek-named, and likely Greek-speaking, Philip discussed the request with the (Greek-named) Andrew and both informed Jesus. 

Scholars are divided as to whether Philip, member of the Twelve, is the same Philip whose mission work in Samaria and along the west coast of Palestine is described in some detail in the Acts of the Apostles. The author of Acts refers to missionary Philip as “one of the seven” (21:8) whose Greek-speaking compatriots are named at 6:5. Polycrates, second-century bishop of Ephesus, considered these Philips to be the same man.

“And in Asia two great stars have gone to their rest, and they will rise again on the last day, when the Lord returns, coming with glory from heaven to find all the saints once again. One is Philipp, one of the twelve apostles, who went to his rest in Hieropolis [sic] and two of his daughters who grew old as virgins, and another daughter of his lived in the Holy Spirit and died in Ephesus.” (Eusebius, Church History 3.31.3)

Philip’s four daughters are attributed to Philip the missionary in the Acts of the Apostles (21:9).  We’ll treat these two Philips as the same man though we cannot be certain.

Picking up the story of Philip in Acts, it was initially to Samaria that the evangelist/apostle came preaching the Christian message. Scholars are uncertain whether Philip targeted his message at Gentile Samarians concentrated around the city of Sebaste, or at the religious community of the Samaritans centered around Shechem and Sychar (or both). Some suggest that Philip concentrated his missionary efforts in the urban centers along the coast and possibly the major cities of Samaria while it was Peter and possibly John who later converted the Samaritan rural population. Regardless, it is nearly certain that Simon the magician, whom Philip confronted in Samaria, was active among the Gentiles. 

According to Acts 8:5-8, Philip began his preaching in an unnamed “city of Samaria,” possibly Sebaste, and worked many miracles including exorcisms and healing the sick. It was after this that Philip encountered Simon “who had previously practiced magic” (8:9). Simon claimed, and was acclaimed, to be a god on earth, yet he is described as being amazed at Philip’s powers.  According to Acts, Philip baptized many Samaritans including Simon.  Peter and John later arrived from Jerusalem to “complete” Philip’s baptisms possibly indicating that his baptizing did not include conferral of the Holy Spirit. There is no other evidence of any baptism in the early church that did not also confer the Spirit on the baptized. In fact, in the next episode of Philip’s story, he baptizes an Ethiopian eunuch and nothing is mentioned about the baptism being incomplete. 

The story of Philip in Samaria and that of Simon the self-professed god may have originally been independent traditions later woven together by the author of Acts.  The intrusion of Peter and John into the story may reflect older traditions but are certainly used here to show that the Samaritan Christian community was ultimately authorized by the Jerusalem apostles. 

At the urging of an angel, Philip went to Gaza where he encountered a eunuch reading from the scroll of Isaiah. A eunuch in the ancient world need not necessarily have been physically castrated.  The Greek word eunouchos can simply mean a royal official or chamberlain. Acts makes clear that he was a court official of the Kandake, the title of the queen of Ethiopia. We cannot be certain that the Ethiopian was not a Jew since he is said to have come on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Many scholars, however, suggest that this story is, in fact, the earliest account of a conversion of a Gentile to Christianity.  However, the status of the Ethiopian is left ambiguous perhaps to avoid upstaging Peter’s later conversion of the Gentile centurion Cornelius, an event the author wishes to present as the first Gentile conversion. The welcoming of a physical eunuch may be a reflection of God’s intention to welcome those who were previously ostracized from temple worship.

For thus said the LORD: “As for the eunuchs who keep My sabbaths, who have chosen what I desire and hold fast to My covenant—I will give them, in My House and within My walls, a monument and a name better than sons or daughters. I will give them an everlasting name Which shall not perish.” (Isaiah 56:4–5 JPS)

Blessed also is the eunuch whose hands have done no lawless deed, and who has not devised wicked things against the Lord; for special favor will be shown him for his faithfulness, and a place of great delight in the temple of the Lord. (Wisdom 3:14 NRSV)

Nothing is said about the Ethiopian returning to Africa to spread the Christian message.  There is no evidence for Christianity in Ethiopia, or Nubia, as it was also called, before the fourth century.

Following the baptism of the eunuch, Philip was then miraculously transported to Ashdod, a city on the Via Maris, or Sea Road, along the Mediterranean coast.  Acts records that he went about preaching in “all the towns” until he reached Caesarea Maritima, a city in which Jews were in the minority and where, according to one textual tradition of Acts (Western), Philip had his home. Caesarea Maritima was an important port on the coast of Palestine.  Herod the Great once spent a great deal of money to make it a showplace that included both an aqueduct and an amphitheater. The Roman prefects chose it for their headquarters and Pontius Pilate once had a building constructed at Caesarea in honor of the emperor Tiberius. The two Roman legions assigned to the area were stationed at Caesarea. The port was surnamed “Maritima” to avoid confusion with Caesarea Philippi twenty-five miles north of the Sea of Galilee. It is possible that on his trip along the coast, Philip founded the Christian communities in Lydda and Joppa as well.


            Bartholomew may not be a name at all but an indication of relationship. Scholars suggest it is a translation of bar-Talmai (or Tolmai), meaning “son of Tholami” or “son of Tholomaeus.”   Church scholar Jerome (ca. 347-420 CE) suggested that this Talmai was the ancient king of Geshur and the father of one of King David’s wives, making bar-Talmai the descendant of a nobleman.  Other early traditions translated the name as “son of Ptolemy,” indicating the apostle was a descendant of royal Egyptian lineage. The Ethiopic Genealogies of the Twelve Apostles (A, fol. 18a, col. 1) records that Bartholomew was of the house of Naphtali and that Jesus changed his name from John to avoid confusion with the son of Zebedee.

            Elias, bishop of Damascus (9th cent.), seems to have been the first to identify Bartholomew with Nathanael. This may have been due to the observation that, in the lists of the Twelve appearing in the first three New Testament gospels, Bartholomew is named immediately after Philip (Mat 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:14). In the fourth gospel, it is Nathanael who is associated Philip (John 1:45-47) while Bartholomew is never mentioned (and Nathanael is never mentioned in Matthew, Mark, or Luke). Thus Bartholomew = Nathanael!

            The remaining ancient testimony regarding Bartholomew comes from later centuries and thus has dubious claims to historicity.  Eusebius reported that Pantanaeus, a Christian missionary from Alexandria, Egypt, traveled to India around 189 CE where he found the Gospel of Matthew in “Hebrew” which had supposedly been left behind by Bartholomew (Church History 5.10.3).   The Passion of Bartholomew (5th-6th c. CE) provides details of his journey to India and how he exorcised the daughter of King Polymius and overthrew several idols. Polymius’s brother Astriges had Bartholomew beheaded for destroying his idol. Other legends, including one that appears in a Coptic “Lives of the Saints,” report that Peter took Bartholomew to the oasis of Al-Khargah in Egypt where he began his mission.  Upon Bartholomew’s return to Palestine, King Agrippa had him stuffed into a hair sack filled with sand and cast into the sea to drown. That story may simply be a reformulation of events previously outlined in the Acts of Thomas. The Book of The Resurrection of Jesus Christ by Bartholomew the Apostle identifies the apostle Thaddaeus (Matt 10:3, Mark 3:18) as Bartholomew’s son.  And, lastly, Solomon, the noted 13th-century Nestorian* and metropolitan bishop of Basra in southern Iraq, gave the following biographical summary:

Bartholomew was from Endor, of the tribe of Issachar. He preached in inner Armenia, Ardeshîr, Ketarbôl, Radbîn, and Prûharmân. After he had lived thirty years as an apostle, Hûrstî the king of the Armenians crucified him, and he was buried in the church which he built in Armenia.

* Nestorians were fifth-century Mesopotamian Christians who followed the teachings of Nestorius, once archbishop of Constantinople, who essentially denied the possibility of a union between the human and the divine, i.e., Mary’s conception via the Holy Spirit, and was excommunicated.

Works consulted for this post:

Budge, E. A. Wallis, The Contendings of the Apostles (London: Oxford University Press, 1935).

Budge, E. A. Wallis, The Book of the Bee (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1886).

Fitzmyer, Joseph A., The Gospel According to Luke, 2 vols., (New York: Doubleday, 1970/1985).

Lewis, Agnes Smith, The Mythological Acts of the Apostles (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1904).

MacDonald, Dennis Ronald, The Acts of Andrew and The Acts of Andrew and Matthias in the City of the Cannibals, Texts and Translations 33 (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1990).

McBirnie, William Steuart, The Search for the Twelve Apostles (Wheaton, IL: Living Books, 1973).

Roberts, Alexander and James Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, repr. 1989).

Schneemelcher, Wilhelm, New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 2, Writings Relating to the Apostles; Apocalypses and Related Subjects, rev. ed., trans. R. McL. Wilson (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1989).

Schott, Jeremy M., Eusebius of Caesarea: The History of the Church: A New Translation (Oakland: University of California Press, 2019).

Watson, JoAnn Ford, “Philip,” ABD 5:311.

Wilkins, Michael J., “Bartholomew,” ABD 1:615.

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