4 Facts to Know about Bartholomew in the Bible
- Amanda Idleman Contributing Writer
- 2021 6 Jul
The Bible shares that Jesus had 12 primary followers while he was on Earth that are known as his disciples and were sent out as apostles. All of these disciples witnessed the ministry and life of Jesus. Once Jesus ascended to Heaven, these men were the ones that spread the Good News of the Gospel with the world. Most of these men gave their lives for the sake of the gospel. They knew deep in their bones that Jesus was the way, truth, and life. Some of these men we know so much about because the New Testament shares details about their lives and ministry. There are others from this group that have little documented information about who they were and what they did after Jesus left this Earth.
Bartholomew was one of the disciples of Jesus, and, therefore, is an important figure in History. He had the privilege to walk alongside the Son of God during his ministry. Though his presence and willingness to share the gospel is so important, there are not a lot of details in the New Testament about who he was. Let’s explore some of the things we do know about Bartholomew’s life and death.
Who Is the Apostle Called Bartholomew?
Bartholomew was one of the twelve main disciples that followed Jesus while he was on Earth. Bartholomew is only mentioned in four lists of the twelve apostles (Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:14-16), and Acts 1:1-13). There is little additional information provided about Bartholomew in the New Testament so readers of the Bible don’t know much about him. The apostles were the men who were the primary witnesses of Jesus’ ministry. They are also known as the “ones who were sent.” After Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and then resurrection the disciples were those who shared the good news of Jesus with the world. They are responsible for the movement that later became known as Christianity. Bartholomew’s role as a member of this group means he was a significant leader in the early church. He worked hard to help spread the gospel during the first century but he is not explicitly mentioned in the New Testament books.
Four Facts about Bartholomew
1. Bartholomew was one of the twelve apostles.
There are only four passages in the Bible that list out the names of all the twelve apostles (Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:14-16, Acts 1:1-13). Bartholomew is listed in each of these passages of Scripture. Bartholomew would have been present as a witness to Jesus’ ministry as recorded in each of the Gospels. The writers of the Gospels referred to the disciples as a group rather than listing them out by name. Their presence is implied from the time Jesus selects them to be his followers.
2. Bartholomew’s father’s name was likely Talmai.
The name Bartholomew probably came from the Aramaic (Bar-Talmai) which can be translated as “son of Talmai.” Names derived from the name of a person’s father were very common in ancient Israel. These are called Patronymic names.
3. Bartholomew and Philip are traditionally associated with one another.
Three of the four lists of the apostles, we see that Bartholomew is listed right after Philip. This suggests a close connection between the two men. Some traditions also describe the two men working together in their ministries. In the apocryphal text Acts of Philip, these two men are both crucified upside down. In the text Philip’s preaching convinces those around to free them. Strangely, Philip asks to remain bound on the cross but Bartholomew is freed. This connection could mean nothing but many scholars believe they worked together to spread the gospel.
4. Bartholomew was likely a missionary.
Jesus sent out the apostles to different specific regions in groups of two (Mark 6:7-13). Jesus charges them to “go and make disciples of all nations” before he ascends to Heaven (Matthew 28:19). There is no specific record in the Bible that tells us to which nations they all went to. There are some traditional understandings about where Bartholomew may have traveled to. Eusebius of Caesarea, recorded that he preached to India. He was a man with access to many historical resources but also did make mistakes in his writings. The Acts of Philip state that Bartholomew preached in places such as Armenia, Ethiopia, Lycaonia, Mesopotamia, and Parthia.
Are Bartholomew and Nathanael in John's Gospel the Same Person?
Bartholomew is not mentioned in the Gospel of John but a man named Nathanael is mentioned as one of the apostles (John 21:1-2). Nathanael does not appear in the other synoptic gospels. Many traditions believe that Bartholomew is the Nathanael that is mentioned in John. Some more modern scholars do not believe this is the case and maintain that these men are two different people. It was not unusual for people in the first century to have two names. For example, Simon was also known as Peter and sometimes called Simon Peter. At times they would have one name in Hebrew and a different one in Greek. Paul was also known as Saul and John was called Mark. It is possible that Bartholomew was Nathanael Bartholomew but there is nothing that lets us know this for sure.
New Testament scholar Michael Wilkins says: “Since the identification of Bartholomew with Nathanael is not conclusive, to assume it without question is to go beyond the evidence. Certainty is unattainable with the present evidence, but to reject categorically the identification is likewise unwarranted.”
There are some good reasons to believe that the two men are the same. If this is the case then we know a lot more about Bartholomew because there are a lot more details recorded about Nathanael than Bartholomew in the New Testament. Nathanael was a skeptic of Jesus, who did not like the fact that Jesus was from Nazareth (John 1:46). After seeing Jesus do miracles, he changes his mind. He declares that Jesus is the Son of God (John 1:49). When Jesus appears to his disciples to go fishing, Nathanael is included (John 21:1-3).
How Did Bartholomew Die?
Most likely Bartholomew was martyred. There are several accounts of how he may have actually died. The one that is most common is that he was flayed and then beheaded. This is why art commonly shows him wearing his skin or connecting him to knives.
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs says that he was killed in India; he was first beaten and then crucified. Another book called The Golden Legend has several stories around his death; it says that he preached in India and died in Alban (a city in Armenia). He was crucified head down, but St.Theodorus said he was flayed while still other accounts note he was beheaded only. There is an additional tradition that says he was beaten unconscious and drowned in the ocean. No matter which is true, all connect his death to his ministry. It is clear that he gave up his life for the sake of sharing the gospel with the world.
Each of the disciples played important roles in spreading the good news to the world! We owe our faith to their heroic efforts to share the truth of Jesus with the nations. While many of the details of Bartholomew’s life were not recorded, we do know for sure that he was a witness to Jesus’ life and gave his own life because he loved him.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/sedmak
Amanda Idleman is a writer whose passion is to encourage others to live joyfully. She writes devotions for My Daily Bible Verse Devotional and Podcast, Crosswalk Couples Devotional, the Daily Devotional App, she has work published with Her View from Home, on the MOPS Blog, and is a regular contributor for Crosswalk.com. You can find out more about Amanda on her Facebook Page or follow her on Instagram.