This apostle, in the catalogue of our Lord’s chosen disciples, is styled “Simon the Canaanite,” whence some are of the opinion that he was born at Cana in Galilee; and it is generally thought that he was the bridegroom mentioned by St. John, at whose marriage our blessed Saviour turned the water into wine.
The name of this apostle is derived from the Hebrew word knah, which signifies zeal, and denotes a warm and sprightly disposition. He did not, however, acquire this name from his ardent affection for his Master, and the desire of his advancing his religion in the world, but from his zealous attachment to a particular sect of religion before he became acquainted with his great Lord and Master.
In order to explain this matter more clearly to the understanding of our readers, it is necessary to observe, that as there were several sects and parties among the Jews, so there was one, either a distinct sect, or at least a branch of the Pharisees, called the sect of the Zealots. This sect took upon them to inflict punishments in extraordinary cases; and that not only by the connivance, but with the leave both of the rulers and people, till, in process of time, their zeal degenerated into all kinds of licentiousness and wild extravagance; and they not only became the pests of the commonwealth in their own territories, but were likewise hated by the people of those parts which belonged to the Romans. They were continually urging the people to shake off the Roman yoke and assert their natural liberty, taking care, when they had thrown all things into confusion, to make their own advantage of the consequences of arising therefrom. Josephus gives a very long and particular account of them, throughout the whole of which he repeatedly represents them as the great plague of the Jewish nation. Various attempts were made, especially by Ananias, the high-priest, to reduce them to order, and oblige them to observe the rules of sobriety; but all endeavors proved ineffectual. They continued their violent proceedings, and, joining with the Idumaeans, committed every kind of outrage. They broke into the sanctuary, slew the priests themselves before the altar, and filled the streets of Jerusalem with tumults, rapine, and blood. Nay, when Jerusalem was closely besieged by the Roman army, they continued their detestable proceedings, creating fresh tumult and factions, and were indeed the principal cause of the ill success of the Jews in that fatal war.
This is a true account of the sect of the Zealots, though, whatever St. Simon was before, we have no reason to suspect but that after his conversion he was very zealous for the honor of his Master, and considered all those who were enemies to Christ as enemies to himself, however near they might be to him in any natural relation. As he was very exact in all the practical duties of the Christian religion, so he showed a very serious and pious indignation toward those who professed religion, and a faith in Christ, with their mouths, but dishonored their sacred profession by their irregular and vicious lives, as many of the first professing Christians really did.
St. Simon continued in communion with the rest of the apostles and disciples at Jerusalem, and at the feast of Pentecost received the same miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost; so that he was qualified with the rest of his brethren for the apostolic office. In propagating the gospel of the Son of God, we cannot doubt of his exercising his gifts with the same zeal and fidelity as his fellow-apostles, though in what part of the world is uncertain. Some say that he went into Egypt, Cyrene, and Africa, preaching the gospel to the inhabitants of those remote and barbarous countries; and others add, that after he had passed through those burning wastes, he preached the gospel to the inhabitants of the western parts, and even in Britain, where, having converted great multitudes, and sustained the greatest hardships and persecutions, he was at last crucified, and buried in some part of that island, but the exact place where is unknown.
Resources: This story is adapted from John Kitto's 1870 History of the Bible and represents the commonly accepted views about this apostle among rank and file believers in the late 19th century.