How many disciples did Jesus have? The official record says that he had twelve disciples. However, A thirteenth personality joined the group after Judas’s betrayal.
The twelve disciples of Jesus, often referred to as the twelve apostles, were twelve of Jesus’s closest companions. As such, these twelve personalities had a significant role in the history of Christianity and the spreading of the Gospel. Many even wrote several sections of the Bible. Today, Christians hold these names in very high esteem, with Judas Iscariot being, perhaps, the only exception.
Many of these apostles are characters in well-known stories of the bible, while others are only mentioned by name in the list of apostles. There are four passages of the Bible in particular that list the twelve disciples of Jesus. These are Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:13-16, and Acts 1:13. The last one, however, mentions only 11 of the disciples, since Judas Iscariot had died by then.
The names of the apostles, as mentioned in passages of the Bible, are Simon (Peter), James (son of Zebedee), Andrew (Peter’s brother), John (brother of James), Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew the tax collector, James (Alphaeus’s son), Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot.
Since many of these disciples went by multiple names, the matter of pinning them down has been a little tricky for scholars. For this reason, in part, it is difficult to answer the question, ‘how many disciples did Jesus have?’ Many people, however, have received the legend via Church traditions which are clear on who’s who, whereas historical evidence is scarce. To know how many disciples did Jesus have, read on ahead.
How many disciples did Jesus have?
Although the twelve disciples were very close to Jesus, three were particularly close to him. Peter, James, and John were among the earliest of Jesus’s followers. They had been with him the longest and formed the ‘inner circle.’
The three were Jesus’s closest friends and witnessed his miracles, his moments of glory as well his moments of weakness and trials. They were there during the time of Jesus’s transfiguration.
The three were also present when Jesus raised Jairus’s daughter from the dead. James and John were brought to Peter’s house by Jesus when he healed Peter’s mother-in-law. The three were also there with Jesus when he was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The answer to the question “how many disciples did Jesus Have?” cannot be answered without Peter. Simon Peter was the son of Jonas and also went by the name Cephas, a nickname given to him by Jesus himself. Cephas translates to ‘rock’. According to the Catholic canon, he was also the first pope. He wrote two epistles of the new testament in his own name. Incidentally, Peter is the first name mentioned in all the lists of the apostles. He was a married man and his home was in Capernaum. Peter was the first one to recognize Lord Jesus as the ‘Messiah.’ He was also the only disciple who was married.
Simon Peter has been described as being outspoken and bold, impulsive and emotional, loyal, and was also the leader and spokesperson of the twelve disciples. Perhaps the reason why the twelve are held in such high regard is simply the fact that, unlike Jesus, they were human beings with flaws.
Thus Every Christian can relate to these men and learn from them. In many ways, Simon Peter is the most relatable of all. As is the case with many of us, there were moments when Peter’s faith was so strong that we even walked on water (Matthew 14:28-23). On the other hand, he also denounces Jesus to avoid persecution (Luke 22:54-62). He also addressed the crowd at Pentecost, as mentioned in the Book of Acts.
After the Resurrection, he became an evangelist and a missionary and was one of the greatest leaders to have led the early church. Although scholars believe that he did not write any of the four Gospels, the role he played in all of them is undeniable.
Despite his moments of doubt, he was one of Jesus’s closest friends and is regarded as the epitome of faith. He was crucified by Emperor Nero in AD 64. The legend says that Peter asked that he be crucified upside down because he didn’t believe he was worthy of dying the same way as Jesus.
2. James The Elder
James, the son of Zebedee, was also known as James the Elder and was the brother of John. Like many disciples, he too, was a fisherman before he started following Jesus. He lived in Bethsaida, Capernaum, and Jerusalem. In the book Mark, it is said that Jesus named both James and his brother John as ‘sons of thunder.’ However, the reason behind the nickname is not known. There is very little information about James in the New Testament.
Luke 9:54 tells us that when a village did not offer hospitality to Jesus and his disciples, James asked Jesus if he and John should bring down fire from heaven to destroy them.
In the Book of Mark (Mark 10:35-45), James asked Lord Jesus if he and his brother could sit on either side of Jesus’s throne in heaven. At this, the others got angry until Jesus explained to them that to follow him meant not prestige and honor but service to others. On being asked by Jesus if they were ready to follow him blindly, they said yes, not knowing that they promised Jesus into following him into martyrdom.
James the Elder has been described as a man of forgiveness, with not an ounce of jealousy in him. James represents the divine power of discernment and discrimination accorded to human beings. He was the first of the twelve apostles to be martyred and is the only disciple whose martyrdom is recorded in the Bible, in the Book of Acts (Act 12:2). He was killed by Herod by a sword.
John is the son of Zebedee and the brother of James. Like his brother, he was also named by Christ as the ‘son of thunder.’ John was known as the beloved disciple. Although it is not known if he was the younger brother or the older brother, it is believed that since he is mentioned after James, he might be younger than him.
He was known for his fiery temperament (perhaps that’s why the name, ‘son of thunder’) and his devotion to Jesus, which is evident from the fact that he was a part of the inner circle. He and his brother were from more affluent families than the rest of the apostles, which has been seen as a reason for his ambitious and fiery nature. However, an incident seemed to have occurred that changed him greatly. An attempt on his life was made by giving him a chalice of poison. God spared him and henceforth he became wholly devoted to the Lord.
John is said to have taken care of Jesus’s mother, as is mentioned in John 19:26-27, and has been called a ‘pillar’ of the church. The Gospel of John, I John, II John, and III John have been ascribed to John. John lived a full life and outlived all other apostles. He died in Ephesus where he taught the gospel of love.
Andrew was the brother of Simon Peter (this fact is mentioned in all the four Gospels), and like his brother, was a fisherman. Mark 1:16-18 tells us that he was originally a disciple of John the Baptist. Andrew was the one who brought Peter to Jesus and told him that he was the Messiah.
There isn’t much said in the New Testament about Andrew, unfortunately. Andrew’s mission seemed to have been to bring the other disciples to his lord, and he seemed to be content with just that. Church traditions tell that he was sent to Scythia to preach.
It was in the town of Patra in Greece that he was condemned to die by the Governor, Aepeas because governor Aepeas’s wife and brother converted to Christianity. Aepeas wanted to crucify him on a cross similar to Jesus’s. However, He believed himself unworthy of dying in the same manner as his savior and was therefore crucified on an X-shaped cross. Today, an X-shaped cross is recognized as Saint Andrew’s Cross.
He is the patron saint of Russia, Scotland, and Greece.
Bartholomew (also called Nathanael), son of Talmai, lived in Cana of Galilee. There are hardly any texts or descriptions on Bartholomew nor has he been given any titles. Although scholars are still not sure if Nathanael and Bartholomew are names of the same person, the church assumes they are. The gospel of John tells us that Phillip first tells him of the messiah, he is quite skeptical.
“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46)
However, when he sees the divinity in Jesus, Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.” (John 1:49)
It is speculated that Bartholomew, like most of the disciples, he too, was martyred. There are different several explanations of his death, but no way of ascertaining the truth.
6. James The Younger
James is the son of Alphaeus and Mary and lived in Galilee. According to the Catholic canon, he was the writer of the Epistle of James and he preached in Palestine and Egypt. He was also crucified in Egypt.
Very little is known about James the Younger, though some claim that he is the brother of Matthew the tax collector. Some argue that he was Jesus’s half-brother. Yet others believe that he was both.
7. Judas Iscariot
Judas the Betrayer, son of Simon, lived in Kerioth of Judah. He is perhaps the most well-known of the apostles. He betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. His betrayal led his lord to his crucifixion. For this reason, many people wonder whether he should be one of the names included in the answer to “how many disciples did Jesus have?” Yet, Judas’s betrayal, it seems, was part of the Lord’s grand plan. For Jesus of Nazareth to take on all the sins of humanity, Judas’s betrayal was necessary. Therefore, the question, “how many disciples did Jesus have?” cannot be complete without inclusion of Judas Iscariot in it.
Judas Iscariot was the treasurer of the group. This might imply that he was trustworthy, yet the same passage that tells that he was the treasurer also tells us that he was greedy and untrustworthy. (John 12:4-6)
There are different theories as to what Judas’s motivations in betraying Lord Christ were. Many agree that it was greed. He was one of the twelve apostles, witnessed Jesus’s miracles, heard his teachings, and yet, for some unfathomable reason, he betrayed his master.
Interestingly, it seems that on the day of the last supper, Jesus seemed to have known that it was Judas who’ll betray him. (John 13:27)
Perhaps that was all part of Jesus’s plan and perhaps that was Judas’s mission as well. If Judas hadn’t betrayed Jesus, there would have been no resurrection and maybe no Christianity. Judas was the first of the twelve disciples to die. Matthew 27:5 tells us that after betraying Judas, he threw the money into the temple and hung himself out of shame and regret.
However, in the Book of Acts, we are told that he bought a field from the silver he received and there he fell headfirst and died.
8. Jude Thaddeus
Jude, also called Thaddeus and Lebbeus, was the brother of James the Younger. Many people identify him as the author of the Epistle of Jude. Unfortunately, there is even less known about him than others.
John 14:22 gives us an idea of his personality. He seemed to have been ambitious and nationalistic. He wanted to make Christ, the savior, known to the world, more as a king than a savior. His chosen symbol is that of a ship.
9. Matthew The Tax Collector
Matthew, also known as Levi, was an import-export tax official in Capernaum. A tax collector was one of the most reviled professions of that time. Tax collectors were considered greedy, corrupt, and seen as sinners by the jews because they worked for Rome. Yet Jesus accepted him as a disciple. He is the author of the book of Matthew.
The account of how Matthew became an apostle is given in Mark 2:14, Matthew 9:9, and Luke 5:27-28. Interestingly, all three accounts are very similar. The story goes that after healing a paralytic in Capernaum, Jesus saw Matthew, sitting at the tax collector’s booth. He asked Matthew to follow him and Matthew did.
Jesus’s acceptance of Matthew sent a strong message, that even those whom the society considers the worst of sinners, like tax collectors, are capable of receiving forgiveness.
Although the Synoptic Gospels mention him, the Gospel of John gives a more detailed account of disciple Philip. Philip comes from Bethsaida, according to the Book of John.
It was Philip who brought Nathanael to Jesus, inviting him to see the Messiah, calling him the one who Moses and the prophets wrote about. In John 14:6-10, Philip asks Jesus to show the disciples God the Father. Jesus responded by saying that those who have seen him have seen the father.
According to historians, Philip preached in Phrygia and was martyred in Hierapolis. The manner of his death is unclear.
11. Simon the Zealot
Simon the Zealot is, again, one of the little-known apostles as his only mentions are found in the list of the apostles. However, according to the Church’s canon, he also went by the name Canaanite (from Cana, a town in Galilee).
In the Book of Acts (1:13) that he was present in the upper room of Jerusalem, along with the other apostles, during Christ’s ascension. Other than that, even the origin of his nickname, ‘the Zealot’ is unknown. Zealots, during that time, were Jewish nationalists who hated the Roman occupation of Israel. However, whatever he may have been, he emerged as a man of faith and absolutely devoted to Christ. The manner of his death is unclear, though it is believed that he was martyred.
His apostolic symbol is fish lying on a Bible, perhaps indicating that he too was a fisherman.
12. Thomas Didymus
Thomas is called ‘Doubting Thomas’ because he doubted the resurrection of Christ. In John 10:25, we see that he tells the other disciples that he will not believe that Christ returned unless he sees the nail marks and spear wound and touches the wounds himself. Then the resurrected Jesus appeared and offered to let him confirm for himself.
After having witnessed the miracle of Jesus rising from the dead, Thomas proclaimed Christ his Lord and his God. Jesus responded with a very powerful statement about faith, saying that while Thomas believes because he saw what had happened, there are those blessed people that believe even though they haven’t seen. Church legend says that he was commissioned to build a palace for the king of India and there was martyred, killed with a spear. His apostolic symbol is a group of spears, stones, and arrows.
The thirteenth apostle? How many disciples did Jesus have in total?
So, how many disciples did Jesus have, after the betrayal and death of Judas Iscariot?
Matthias is said to have replaced Judas Iscariot as an apostle (Acts 1:15-26). He wasn’t part of the original list of apostles, called upon by Jesus. Rather, he was selected by the other disciples to replace Judas. Since he wasn’t a member of Jesus’s original circle, many scholars hesitate to include him in the answer to the question, “how many disciples did Jesus have?”
He has only been mentioned twice in the Bible, in Acts 1:23 and 1:26. Acts 1:21-22 tell us that Matthias fulfilled the criteria laid out by Peter to select the replacement of Judas.
Two people were nominated to replace Judas. They were Matthias and Joseph (also known as Justus). Lots were drawn to decide who will replace Judas Iscariot, and when the results came in Matthias’s favor, it was believed that God willed him to be the replacement of Judas Iscariot.
Although the New Testament barely talks of Matthias, it is said that he had followed Jesus Christ since his baptism until his resurrection. Matthias played a prominent role in the early church and according to historians, spread the gospel on the shores of the Caspian and Cappadocia. The same sources say that he lived till 80 AD. How many disciples did Jesus have, then? Well, there’s something else that we need to account for.
What about the 72 disciples mentioned in Luke?
There are seventy-two disciples (some argue it was seventy), other than the twelve, which are mentioned in Luke 10.
So, the question naturally arises, “how many disciples did Jesus have?”
These are the disciples that Jesus called upon and sent ahead of him to all the places Jesus was going to visit, to prepare for his arrival. At the beginning of the tenth chapter of the gospel of Luke, Jesus iterates the need for evangelism. However, the names of these disciples are not mentioned anywhere.
The seventy were to divide themselves into pairs and visit all the places Jesus was supposed to go to. They were told to be wary since they were like lambs among wolves (Luke 10:3). In Luke 10:4, Jesus tells them that they were to carry no provisions and simply live simply, by faith. Carrying the word of Jesus Christ was more important than carrying material burdens.
The people who showed hospitality to the seventy were to be blessed, Christ told them. They were also told to accept whatever hospitality they received and not seek better accommodations. However, Jesus also made it clear that doing evangelistic work is indeed worthy of compensation just like a laborer is worthy of the wages earned by him.
To live as God’s servants, to live on whatever their hosts served them, and to heal illness and sickness and to cast out demons is what Christ asked of them. The message they carried was that of Jesus’s arrival and that the kingdom of God is near. They were warned that not everyone will receive them well. In such a case, Jesus asked them to wipe the feet of those who reject them publically and to proclaim the kingdom of God one more time. The seventy were to warn them of the coming judgment.
When the seventy disciples returned, they recounted their success to their lord. They exclaimed that even the demons submitted to them after hearing Christ’s name. How many disciples did Jesus have, if we include these seventy (or seventy-two) as well?
So how many disciples did Jesus have besides the twelve?
To answer the question, “how many disciples did Jesus have?”, we need to take into account all the people who followed Jesus. So the answer cannot be limited to the twelve apostles.
Well, there were the twelve apostles that Jesus appointed, thirteen if Matthias is to be considered one, along with the seventy (or seventy-two) that were sent out to do Jesus’s bidding. There were others as well, who were referred to as apostles. For example, St. Paul also claimed the title of an apostle even though he converted to Christianity a few years after Jesus’s death.
It should be noted that it is difficult to answer the question, “How many disciples did Jesus have?” for many reasons – lack of evidence, for one. The fact that many of these historical characters went by multiple, and in many cases, the same names, makes it difficult.
One thing is for sure though. All those who believe and have faith in the Lord, are disciples of Jesus, trying to follow in his footsteps. How many disciples did Jesus have, then? All those who have faith and follow his teachings are his disciples.
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