Who Were the 12 Apostles in the Bible?

The word "Apostle" means "messenger; one who has been sent." The 12 Apostles were messengers sent into the world for a fixed purpose, with specific instructions from the Lord. Jesus called them, ordained them and sent them into the world even as His Father had sent Him.

Ashley S. Johnson
the apostles, apostles in the bible

The word "Apostle" means "messenger; one who has been sent." The 12 Apostles were messengers sent into the world for a fixed purpose, with specific instructions from the Lord. Jesus called them, ordained them, and sent them into the world even as His Father had sent Him (John 17:6-18).

What’s the Difference Between “Disciple” and “Apostle”?

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia notes a significant difference between “apostle” and another commonly associated word, "disciple," which means "a learner."  

The 12 disciples are first called “apostles” in Matthew 10:2. According to John Gill’s Commentary, “they were learners before; now being instructed, they are sent forth to preach publicly, and therefore are called apostles, or messengers.”

Jesus Calls His Apostles

“And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons. He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him” (Mark 3:13-19).

Judas Replaced by Matthias

After betraying Jesus and turning Him over to the religious leaders, Judas eventually committed suicide. The apostles then had to decide whether to replace Judas restoring the number to twelve. The apostles prayed that God would reveal His choice based on the hearts of the men. To surely give the judgment up to God, they renounced authority over the decision: “And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles” (Acts 1:26). Matthias was ordained, and there were twelve apostles once again.

What Happened to the Apostles After Jesus' Resurrection?

Simon Peter: Spread the Gospel in Jerusalem and abroad including Antioch. He died by crucifixion, and according to tradition, he asked to die upside-down. His death was prophesied by Jesus in John 21:18.

Thaddeus also called Jude: Crucified at Edessa.

Bartholomew: Said to have translated the Gospel of Matthew, is believed to have been beaten then crucified.

Thomas also called Didymus: Went to Parthia and India, where he is believed to have been martyred.

Simon the Zealot: Went to Africa and may have gone as far north as Britain, where tradition holds he was martyred.

John: Travelled and spread the Gospel till he was sent to Rome. They attempted to boil him in oil which failed so he was banished to Patmos, where he wrote the Book of Revelation.

James the son of Zebedee: His death was the second account of martyrdom in the Bible, James was executed in Jerusalem for his faith, as recounted in Acts 12:1-2.

Philip: Served the cause of Christ until his death in Heliopolis.

Matthew: It is believed much of Matthew’s ministry was in Africa, including modern-day Ethiopia, and that he was killed with a halberd.

James the son of Alphaeus: He served until he was stoned for his faith.

Matthias: Not much is known of his ministry, though tradition holds he was stoned and then beheaded.

Andrew: Preached in what is now the middle east and was crucified.

(Sourced from Biblestudytools.com)

What Did the Apostles Do?

The first time Jesus sent the apostles to preach, He restricted their labors to the "lost sheep of the house of Israel", and their preaching to the simple announcement that the kingdom of God was at hand (Matthew 10:1-7).

After Jesus had broken down the middle wall between Jew and Gentile by his death on the cross, He gave His apostles a new commission – preaching the good news of reconciliation with God to both Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 2:11-16).

The apostles went forth under the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 10:16-20; Acts 2:6-8); and they spoke as He gave them utterance (Acts 2:1-4).

According to Matthew, this commission embraced:

- the announcement that all authority in heaven and in earth had been given unto Him;

- the command to go and teach;

- the command to baptize those who were taught;

- the command to continue to teach the baptized disciples;

- the assurance that He would be with them to the end (Matthew 28:18-20).

According to Mark, it embraced:

- the command to preach the gospel to the whole world;

- the promise of salvation to those who believe and obey it (Mark 16:15).

According to Luke, it embraced:

- the command to preach repentance in His name;

- to begin at Jerusalem;

- the assurance that the apostles were witnesses of these things (Luke 24:45-48).

According to John, it embraced, under the condition laid down by Jesus, the power to remit and retain sins (John 20:21-23).
This article was adapted from “Christian History: The Twelve Apostles” by Ashley S. Johnson.


BibleStudyTools.com, Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete), Matthew 10.

NIV Zondervan Study Bible (2015), Matthew 10.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Originally published March 06, 2019.