12 Apostles’ Names in Order
Deciphering the Order: An In-Depth Look at the 12 Apostles’ Names in Order, Their Symbolic Significance, and Controversial Interpretations
12 Apostles’ Names in Order; The 12 apostles, chosen by Jesus Christ, hold a significant place in Christian history. Their names are often listed in a specific order that has symbolic significance. However, various historical documents and interpretations suggest alternative orders. This article will explore the 12 apostles’ names in order, delve deeper into the symbolic meanings associated with their positions, and examine other documented orders, and the controversies surrounding them.
Table of Contents
The Traditional Order of the 12 Apostles and Their Symbolic Significance
- Simon Peter: Positioned first in the list, Simon Peter was the first apostle called by Jesus and is often considered the leader of the apostles. His name, Peter, means “rock” in Greek, symbolizing his foundational role in establishing the early Church. The number one traditionally symbolizes unity and primacy, underscoring Simon Peter’s unique role as the cornerstone of the early Church. As Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
- Andrew: Listed second, Andrew was the brother of Simon Peter and also one of the first disciples called by Jesus. His position symbolizes his role as a connector who brought his brother, Simon Peter, to Jesus. The number two often represents companionship and collaboration, highlighting Andrew’s role as a bridge between people and Christ. In John 1:41, Andrew tells his brother, “We have found the Messiah”.
- James (son of Zebedee): Listed third, James, along with his brother John, were among the first disciples called by Jesus. They were even given the nickname “Boanerges,” which means “sons of thunder,” suggesting their passionate and fiery nature. The number three in biblical numerology signifies divine wholeness, completeness, or perfection. As one of the ‘inner circle’ apostles, James represents the complete faith required to follow Jesus. Mark 10:35 recounts, “Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do for us whatever we ask.'”
- John: Positioned fourth, John is traditionally believed to be the author of the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation. The number four is tied to creation and the physical world in biblical symbolism, reflecting John’s authorship of a Gospel that emphasizes Jesus’ incarnation, presenting Him as the Word-made-flesh. John 1:1 declares, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
- Philip: Philip holds the fifth position, which could symbolize God’s grace or goodness. Five can denote grace in biblical numerology, mirroring Philip’s role in spreading the good news of Jesus’ grace. He is notably remembered for his conversation with Nathanael (Bartholomew) in John 1:45-46, showcasing his evangelistic spirit. As John 1:45 records, “Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.'”
- Bartholomew/Nathanael: As the sixth apostle, Bartholomew, also known as Nathanael, might represent the imperfections of man and the sinfulness of humanity. Six is often associated with human weakness and sin in biblical numerology. His initial skepticism about Jesus being the Messiah (“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”) could be seen as a reflection of human doubt and imperfection. But Jesus saw beyond his skepticism, as John 1:47 reveals, “Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!'”
- Matthew: Positioned seventh, Matthew was a tax collector before he became a follower of Christ. Seven, a highly spiritual number, symbolizes divine completeness and perfection in biblical numerology. His position represents a profound spiritual metamorphosis—from being perceived as a tax collector, deemed a sinner and collaborator with the Roman oppressors, to becoming an unwavering disciple of Christ. Matthew’s calling is beautifully chronicled in Matthew 9:9, which recounts, “As Jesus moved forward, he caught sight of a man named Matthew, manning the tax booth, to whom he declared, ‘Follow me.’ Without hesitation, Matthew rose and faithfully pursued him.”
- Thomas: Known as “Doubting Thomas,” his eighth position could symbolize new beginnings or resurrection. Eight is the number of new beginnings in biblical numerology, reflecting Thomas’ renewed faith after his initial doubt about Jesus’ resurrection. His story reminds us that doubt can lead to deeper faith. As John 14:5 states, “Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?'”
- James (son of Alphaeus): As the ninth apostle, James’ son of Alphaeus might represent finality or judgment. Nine is associated with divine completeness or finality in biblical numerology. Not much is known about him, but his position in the list could reflect the quieter, supportive roles that help establish firm foundations for communities like the Church. Though not much is directly said about him, James son of Alphaeus’s mentioned in Mark 3:18, “and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot,” underscores his presence among the apostles.
- Simon the Zealot: Holding the tenth position, Simon the Zealot might symbolize law, responsibility, and the completeness of order in the universe. Ten is associated with divine order and law in biblical numerology, mirroring Simon the Zealot’s fervor for Jewish law and his zeal in following Christ. As Acts 1:13 lists, “When they had entered the city, they went up to the upper room where they were staying; that is, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James.”
- Judas the Greater: Placed eleventh, Judas the Greater, also known as Thaddaeus or Lebbaeus, could symbolize disorder and chaos. Eleven often indicates disorder and chaos in biblical numerology, perhaps foreshadowing the chaos and confusion that would ensue among the apostles following Jesus’ crucifixion. Despite sharing a name with the infamous Judas Iscariot, Judas the Greater remained faithful to Jesus. As John 14:22 records, “Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?'”
- Judas Iscariot: Positioned twelfth, Judas Iscariot is infamously known for betraying Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Twelve is a number of perfect governmental foundations, an ironic position considering Judas Iscariot’s betrayal led to the ultimate sacrifice that established the New Covenant. His story serves as a stark reminder of the consequences of betrayal and the profound mercy and sovereignty of God, who can bring good out of even the darkest situations. As Matthew 26:14-15 recounts, “Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, ‘What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?’ So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver.”
Other Documented Orders of the Apostles and Their Implications
The New Testament presents multiple lists of the apostles, with slight variations in order and even names. These variations may reflect different traditions, theological perspectives, or narrative purposes of the authors. Here are the four main lists presented in the New Testament:
- Matthew 10:2–4: Simon Peter, Andrew, James (son of Zebedee), John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James (son of Alphaeus), Lebbaeus, Simon the Zealot, Judas Iscariot. In Matthew’s list, Andrew is listed second, following his brother Simon Peter. This could be due to Matthew’s emphasis on familial relationships and the significance of kinship in the Kingdom of Heaven.
- Mark 3:16–19: Simon Peter, James (son of Zebedee), John, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James (son of Alphaeus), Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot, Judas Iscariot. Mark’s list differs from Matthew’s by placing James and John before Andrew. This might reflect Mark’s emphasis on the “inner circle” of Peter, James, and John, who are often depicted together in Mark’s Gospel.
- Luke 6:14–16: Simon Peter, Andrew, James (son of Zebedee), John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James (son of Alphaeus), Simon the Zealot, Judas (son of James), Judas Iscariot. Luke’s list replaces Thaddaeus/Lebbaeus with Judas (son of James). This may suggest a different tradition or source used by Luke. Moreover, Luke’s listing of Simon the Zealot before the two Judases might reflect his interest in social and political dynamics, as Simon’s designation as “the Zealot” suggests political activism.
- Acts 1:13: Simon Peter, James (son of Zebedee), John, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James (son of Alphaeus), Simon the Zealot, Judas (son of James). The list in Acts, also written by Luke, does not include Judas Iscariot due to his death. Instead, Matthias, who was chosen to replace Judas Iscariot, is implied to take the twelfth spot. This reflects the early Church’s effort to maintain the symbolic number of twelve apostles.
Note that Judas Iscariot, known for his betrayal, is consistently listed last. After his death, he is replaced by Matthias in the list in Acts. These variations suggest that while the 12 apostles held ordered positions in the early Church, the exact order may not have been rigidly fixed. The differences could reflect the evangelists’ theological emphases, their sources, or the traditions of the communities for which they wrote.
Interpretations and Controversies
The order and composition of the apostles have been subjects of interpretation and controversy across different Christian traditions, reflecting the complex history and diversity of Christianity.
- Order of Apostles: According to Eastern Orthodox tradition, Andrew is often recognized as the first-called apostle, revered for his steadfast commitment as the initial disciple to follow Jesus. Conversely, in the Western tradition, Peter holds precedence as the first apostle, attributed to his influential role in the New Testament and his leadership within the early Church. The contrasting ordering of these apostles reflects divergent theological emphases; the Eastern tradition places significance on personal discipleship while the Western tradition emphasizes ecclesiastical authority.
- Inclusion of Judas Iscariot: The inclusion of Judas Iscariot, famously known for his infamous betrayal of Jesus, has been a subject of substantial controversy in biblical discourse. While he is initially listed among the twelve apostles, his tragic demise on account of suicide results in his replacement by Matthias, as documented in the book of Acts. This intriguing turn of events raises profound questions regarding the criteria for apostleship, as well as the intriguing possibility of loss and subsequent restoration of such a revered status.
- Paul as an Apostle: Some argue that Paul, who was not one of the original 12 but had a significant impact on early Christianity, should be considered an apostle. This stems from Paul’s own claim in his letters that he is an apostle called by the risen Christ. However, others contest this, arguing that apostleship is confined to the original 12, thereby excluding Paul.
- Apostolic Identities: The names and identities of some apostles are a matter of debate, adding another layer of complexity. For instance, Thaddaeus is sometimes referred to as Lebbaeus or Judas (son of James), which can lead to confusion. This could reflect variations in ancient source materials or differing traditions.
- Symbolic Significance of the Order: Moreover, the symbolic significance attached to the order of the apostles is subjective and can vary among different sects and scholars. Some see the order as indicative of their roles or importance, suggesting a hierarchy or specific roles within the group. In contrast, others view it as arbitrary or incidental, cautioning against reading too much into the order.
- Replacement of Judas Iscariot: Another controversy revolves around the replacement of Judas Iscariot. Some argue that the decision to replace him with Matthias was premature, given that the apostle Paul’s dramatic conversion and significant contributions to Christianity came later. Others maintain that the replacement was necessary to maintain the symbolic number of twelve, representing the twelve tribes of Israel.
These differing interpretations and controversies underscore the richness and complexity of biblical interpretation and Christian tradition. They invite us to engage more deeply with the apostolic narratives and their ongoing impact on Christian faith and practice.
The order of the apostles’ names provides a unique lens to interpret their roles and significance. While the traditional order is most commonly used, other documented orders present different perspectives, enriching our understanding of the apostles and their contributions to Christian history. The differing interpretations and controversies surrounding the apostles, coupled with the deep symbolic significance attached