Choosing the Twelve (Matthew 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16)

The mountain that Jesus ascended and where he spent the entire night in prayer before choosing the “twelve” may have been located near the Sea of Galilee, as there is no indication in Mark’s account that Jesus left the general area around the seashore. In the morning he called the twelve to him, empowering them to expel demons and to cure sicknesses and infirmities. He also commissioned them to proclaim the glad tidings (the message about gaining divine approval and having God as the Sovereign of one’s life). To the twelve, he gave the name “apostles,” meaning “ones sent out.” (Matthew 10:1; Mark 3:13-15; Luke 6:12, 13) The twelve apostles were Simon, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus (Judas the son of James), Simon the Cananaean, and Judas. (Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-16)

All of them appear to have originally been disciples of John, as the qualifications for a replacement for Judas included being a witness respecting Jesus’ baptism by John. (Acts 1:21, 22) Only John could have provided firsthand testimony to his disciples about what he saw and heard on that occasion.

John the Baptist specifically pointed Jesus out to Andrew and John (who does not identify himself in the gospel attributed to him). Andrew introduced his brother Simon to Jesus, and at that time Jesus gave him the name Cephas or Peter, meaning “rock.” (John 1:35-42)

Although not mentioned in the biblical record, John likely was instrumental in leading his brother James to Jesus. If Salome was indeed Mary’s sister, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were Jesus’ cousins. To them, Jesus gave the name “Boanerges” (“sons of thunder”), which designation perhaps described their fiery disposition. (Mark 3:17)

In John’s account (1:44-47), Philip is mentioned as introducing Nathanael to Jesus. The fact that Philip and Bartholomew are linked in the lists of the apostles in Matthew, Mark, and Luke suggests that Nathanael is another name for Bartholomew.

Not until later did Jesus invite the tax collector Matthew or Levi to be his follower. (Matthew 9:9; Mark 2:14) As to Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus (Judas the son of James), Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the biblical record provides no information at what point before their selection as apostles they had become close disciples of Jesus. If the designation “Iscariot” is correctly understood as meaning “man of Kerioth,” this could mean that the betrayer Judas was from the Judean town of Kerioth. All the other apostles were Galileans. (Compare Acts 1:15; 2:1, 6, 7.)


The term Cananaean appears to be a transliteration of an Aramaic word meaning “zealot” or “enthusiast.” Luke’s account uses the Greek term zelotés (“zealot”). This may well mean, as many have concluded, that Simon had formerly been associated with the political faction known as the Zealots.

Another possibility is that the appellative describes Simon as a person of exemplary zeal.