Home » Early Church » What Ever Happened to the Apostles? – Saint Bartholomew

What Ever Happened to the Apostles? – Saint Bartholomew

New Testament Data

Unless he is to be identified with Nathanael (see below) we know nothing outside of his listing in the Twelve.[1]

Apocryphal Literature

In the Genealogies of the Twelve, Bartholomew was of the house of Naphtali. Now his name was formerly John, but Our Lord changed it because of John the son of Zebedee, His beloved.”[2] In the apocryphal “Preaching of St. Andrew and St. Bartholomew,” he is said to have worked among the Parthians.” While the “Preaching of St. Bartholomew in the Oasis,” says that preached in what was likely the Oasis of Al Bahnâsâ.[3]

“The Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew,” relates that he was “placed in a sacked and cast into the sea.”[4]

Patristic Tradition

Of the Patristic evidence, Gelasius relates that tradition says he carried the Hebrew gospel of Matthew to India.[5] Eusebius, mentions in his Church history, that Pantaenus of Alexandria visited India somewhere around 150-200 AD and there found the Hebrew version of Matthew’s gospel (H.E. 5.10.3).[6] Another tradition says that after he went to India, Bartholomew eventually reached Greater Armenia.[7] Church tradition also relates that he faced martyrdom in Albanopolis, Armenia, where he was flayed alive.[8] Afterwards it is said he was beheaded.[9]

Identification with Nathanael

Bartholomew appears in every listing of the Twelve, but nowhere else in the New Testament.[10] John’s gospel, however, outside of the listing never mentions Bartholomew, but does mentioned a person by the Nathanael, who is unmentioned by the Synoptics.[11]

From the ninth century and onward, moreover, Bartholomew was increasing identified with Nathanael. Where it is argued that Bartholomew is actually a surname, “Bar-Tholami.”[12] Bar-Tholami means literally son of Tolmai and so it seems likely that Bartholomew had another name.[13] It is also argued that the two are one in the same due to the nonappearance of each other in the Synoptic and johannine traditions.[14]

John suggests a close relationship with Nathanael and Philip (Jn 1.43-51), the rest of his companions are Disciples (Jn 1.35-51), he appears later in a grouping of disciples (Jn 21.1-2), and finally the promise given to him by Christ in John 1.50-51 suggests an apostolic function.[15]

If all of this is correct then we know that Philip brought Nathanael to Christ (Jn1.45), that he was a native of Cana of Galilee(Jn 21.2), that he saw Jesus as the Messiah early (Jn 1.45-46) and that Christ described him as “an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!”, and a promise of greater miracles.[16]

(As an aside, Nathanael has also been identified with Matthew, since Matthew means “Gift of Yahweh,” and Nathanael “God has given”).[17]

Patristic View of Nathanael

Earlier Patristic view saw Nathanael “as a disciple of Jesus standing outside the twelve apostles,” where it found support among such writers as Chrysostom and Augustine.[18]

““Behold, truly an Israelite in whom there is no guile” is something said neither to Andrew, nor Peter nor to Philip. It was said to Nathanael.… What do we make of it then, brothers? Ought he to have been first among the apostles? Not only is he not found to be first among the apostles, but Nathanael is neither in the middle nor last among the Twelve, Nathanael, to whom the Son of God bore such great witness, saying, “Behold, truly an Israelite in whom there is no guile.”

Is the reason asked? As far as the Lord makes known, we find a probable answer. For we ought to understand that Nathanael himself was educated and skilled in the law. Therefore the Lord did not wish to place him among the disciples because he chose unlearned men whereby he might confound the world.”[19]

In the Eastern Church, from the ninth century, Nathanael was identified with Bartholomew, as mentioned above, particularly by Elias of Damascus, Ebedjesus, and others.[20] This identification doesn’t appear in the west until the 12th century when Rupert of Deutz mentioned it.[21]


[1] M.J. Wilkins, “Disciples,” in DJD, 180

[2] C.M. Kerr, “Bartholomew,” in ISBE, 1:433.

[3] Kerr, 1:433.

[4] Kerr, 1:433.

[5] Kerr, 1:433.

[6] “Bartholomew, St.” s.v. ODCC

[7] Wilkins, “Bartholomew, “AYBC, 1:615.

[8] “Bartholomew, St.” s.v. ODCC

[9] Wilkins, “Bartholomew, “AYBC, 1:615.

[10] Wilkins, DJD, 180.

[11] Wilkins, DJD, 180.

[12] Wilkins, DJD, 180.

[13] V.R. Gordon, “Nathanael” in ISBE, 3:491.

[14] Wilkins, DJD, 180.

[15] Wilkins, DJD, 180..

[16] Wilkins, DJD, 180.

[17] Gordon, 3:491.

[18] Gordon, 3:491.

[19] Augustine, Tractates on the Gospel of John 7.16.2-17.2, quoted in ACCS John 1-10, 85

[20] s.v. “Nathanael,” ODCC

[21] s.v. “Nathanael,” ODCC


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