THE SEARCH FOR THE TWELVE APOSTLES
It has been a pleasure over the last 40 years of my life (as I
enter this I am 65 years old - 2007) to have found certain books
that I consider are "gems" in one way or another. It is a
pleasure to bring you one of those books - "The Search for the
Twelve Apostles" by William Steuart McBirnie, Ph.D
The book is "old" - finished in 1973. It is fasinating and took
much time and effort to compile and put into print.
Jesus told His 12 desciples to "Go not into the way of the
Gentiles, and into the city of the Samaritans enter you not: BUT
GO unto the lost sheep of the House of Israel" (Mat.10:6,7;
What the following book does is show you WHERE much of the so-
called "lost" house of Israel was dwelling in the first century
It is fitting I enter this book on the Website AFTER the New
Testament Bible Story - it is in many ways the continuation of
the first century Church of God, via the 12 apostles, in obeying
Jesus' command to go to the lost sheep of the House of Israel,
which James said were "scattered abroad" (James 1:1).
The combined PREFACE and INTRODUCTION to this book is LONG and
LENGTHY, but I find it is important to bring you the WHOLE book
by McBirnie - Keith Hunt
The High Adventure of Some Kinds of Research
In seeking the information contained in this book, my search
for the stories of the Twelve Apostles took me to many famous
libraries such as those in Jerusalem, Rome, and that of the
British Museum in London. For years I have borrowed or purchased
every book I could find on the subject of the Twelve Apostles. A
five-foot shelf cannot hold them all.
Three times I have journeyed to the island of Patmos and to
the locations of the Seven Churches of the Book of the
Revelation. One whole (and fruitless) day was given to a
backroads journey into the high, snowy mountains of Lebanon, up
among the famous Cedars and elsewhere, to check out a rumor that
St. Jude had originally been buried in some small Lebanese
village nearby. He was not.
I have personally viewed the many sepulchres which reputedly
contain the bones of the Twelve; not that I consider them as
having spiritual value, but because I wanted to learn, as an
historian, how they came to be where they are, hoping that local
tradition could be found in the places where the bones are
interred that had escaped the history books. This search took me
from Trier, Germany, to Rome, Greece, and to almost every Middle
The Vatican very graciously granted me special permission to
photograph in all the churches in Rome and elsewhere in Italy.
Some of the bodies or fragments of the bodies of the Apostles are
preserved in that historic land.
Particularly memorable was the awesome descent far beneath
St. Peter's Basilica to photograph the bones of the Apostle Peter
where they rest in an ancient Roman pagan cemetery. One simply
cannot imagine, without seeing it, so vast and heavy a church
building as St. Peter's sitting squarely over a cemetery filled
with beautifully preserved family tombs dating back to the first
century before Christ!
Seven times I went to Petra in Jordan, and three times to
Antioch in Turkey. I also visited Babylon and made four journeys
to Iran in search of the history of the Apostles' missions there.
Of course, there were some disappointments. For example, the body
of St. John is today nowbere to be found. I entered his tomb in
Ephesui long ago. Recently after many centuries of neglect, the
authorities have sealed it and covered it with a marble floor.
Though St. John's body has disappeared some parts of the bones of
all the other Apostles are believed to exist, and I have seen
Travelers to the "Bible Lands" so often pass within a few
yards of genuine relics of the Apostles and never know it. I had
made twenty-six journeys to Jerusalem before learning that the
head of St. James the Elder, several arm bones of James the just,
and part of the skull of John the Baptist are held in veneration
in two churches therel And, I might add, with some strong
historical records as to their authenticity.
This is not, however, a book about bones! It is about living
people who were described by St. Paul as the Founders of the
churches (See Ephesians 2:19, 20). We are interested in Apostolic
bones because they are possible clues as to the whereabouts of
the ministry and places of martyrdom of the Twelve.
Now let me face head-on a typically Protestant attitude of
skepticism concerning Apostolic remains in churches and shrines.
I used to suppose that these so called "relics" were pious
frauds, the result of the fervid and superstitious piety of the
Middle Ages. Perhaps some are, but after one approaches the whole
question with a skeptical mind, and then, somewhat reluctantly,
is forced to admit to the strong possibility of their
genuineness, it is an unnerving but moving experience.
I suppose the practice of venerating Apostolic bones
is repugnant to one who, as an evangelical Christian, sees no
heavenly merit in praying before the sarcophagi in which they
rest. Besides, it does no good to a literal mind to see the gaudy
and tasteless trappings with which the shrines are usually
But the more one reads oŁ the history of the Apostles, and
what became of their relics, and the more steeped one becomes in
the history and strange (to us) behavior of our Christian
ancestors in the Ante-Nicene and Post-Nicene eras, the more the
careful preservation of Apostolic relics seems to be perfectly in
character. To many of those who lived in those times who could
not read, an Apostolic relic was a visual encouragement to faith!
Let it be clearly understood, this book is an adventure in
scholarship, not dogmatism. I am keenly aware that absolute proof
of every detail recorded here is not possible. But when a
researcher checks many sources against each other, when he visits
the places mentioned for himself, and when he finds many new
documents which are not in books, or not commonly found, then he
develops a "feel" for the probable or possible.
This book has been an ever growing labor of love. I became
more emotionally committed to the task as the years progressed.
On several occasions during the laborious research, arduous
journeys, and interminable writing and rewriting, I have had
occasion to compare notes with scholars who have written about
some of the Apostles, and have found not only a gracious
willingness to discuss my conclusions but to accept some of them
instead of those they had hitherto held.
How does one express an adequate word of appreciation to the
many who were so kind in their cooperation, without whom this
study could not have been completed? My secretary, Mrs. Fred
Pitzer, made this project her own and has saved it from worse
faults than those it still may have. My students at the
California Graduate School of Theology in Glendale have assisted,
and quotations from their research appear often. The same is true
of Mr.and Mrs.Robert Schonborn, and of Dr.Miriam Lamb, who is
head of research for our Center for American Studies. Mrs.
Florence Stonebraker, Betty Davids and Richard Chase assisted,
with Italian translations by Mrs. Marie Placido.
In Jerusalem the libraries of the American School of
Oriental Research, the Coptic Church, the Patriarchate of the
Armenians (Church of St. James), the Ecole Biblique of the
Dominicans, were most helpful in opening their archives for
research. In Rome the full cooperation of Monsignor Falani opened
many otherwise closed doors. How kind they all were, and many
others as well!
Naturally, any errors are not theirs, but mine. Hopefully,
if there are any egregious mistakes, some kind correspondent will
write to me so that any future editions may be corrected.
A final word about the style of this book: At first I thought to
write it for scholars, tearing apart the documentation of every
source quoted. But that makes for so dull a book that I was
afraid few would read it. I found to my dismay that most
"critical" scholars could hardly care less about the
post-Biblical story of the Apostles.
Then, I thought to write it as a narrative with few
quotations and little attention to my sources. But in that case
scholars would ignore the book as having no proper foundation and
being without concern for crittcal and historical problems.
As the Senior Minister of a busy church, I considered writing for
pastors. These ministers might appreciate a homiletical boost for
a series of sermons on the Apostles that might attract the people
we are all trying to persuade to attend the church. I have not
abandoned this approach altogether, but I did not do much
sermonizing in this book.
It even occurred to me that the historical novel might also
provide a viable format. But I tend to think as a historian and
as a preacher, I lack the imagination to write a novel. Besides,
what this book has to offer is analysis, fact and hopefully,
So the book is in the form of an interpretation or critical
analysis of every bit of knowledge I can find on the subject of
the Twelve Apostles. Mostly I wrote it to become more familiar
myself with the Apostles and to share that knowledge, and some
conclusions drawn from it, with as many people as I can;
scholars, church members, young people, historians, ministers,
and all those who feel as I do, that we need to find ways to make
the Apostolic age become more alive for us today.
I earnestly hope the reader will find it as interesting and
enlightening to read as I found it to write.
William STEUART McBirnie
What follows in this book is that which can be known from an
exhaustive and critical study of the Biblical, historical and
traditional records of the Apostles. The author has tried to
reduce the legendary to the probable or likely, justifying it
with the known historical facts concerning the state of the world
in the first century and the documents of subsequent church
history, local history, and relevant secular writings.
There is a great deal more information about the Apostles
available than the casual student might guess. Ten years ago this
writer produced a mono graph called What Became of the Twelve
Apostles? Ten thousand copies were distributed. In that
publication I made the following observations:
"Someday a critical scholar needs to take a good look at the mass
of legend which has come to us from early medieval times, and
even from the last days of Roman power. He needs to try to
separate the historical germ from the great over-growth of pure
fantasy which one finds in those stories. in a word, a higher
criticism of medieval legends needs to be made, and that
criticism needs to be carried over into early church history.
"I find myself disappointed in the writings of recent church
historians who seem to pass over the era of the early church and
say only what has been said in a hundred other books on church
history written during the past four centuries. It has been so
long since I have seen a new fact in a book of church history
about the Apostolic Age and the Age of the Church Fathers, that I
would be mightily surprised if I saw one! But perhaps someday
someone will find the probable basis of truth amidst the
legendary; and upon this, with perhaps the discovery of new
manuscripts, we shall be able to piece together a better history
than we now possess."
Since no one else seems to have done the work of producing a
critical study of the Twelve, it has become a challenge to me to
do so, for the sake of a renewed interest in the Apostolic church
to which I hope this study can contribute.
The source of our material in that earlier publication was
mostly that obtainable by anyone who would take the trouble to
look into the standard books on the subject, such as church
histories, sermonic literature, encyclopedias, etc., plus the
observations of a few journeys to Rome, Athens and the Holy Land.
But that book was frustratingly limited and incomplete, not
to mention its obvious lack of original research.
Recently, the writer completed his twenty-seventh journey to
the Middle East. Ten years of further study and research have
revealed much light on the lives of the Twelve Apostles. Most of
these insights have come in very small packages, a bit here, a
bit there. Ten years ago I had not even considered writing a
subsequent book to the former monograph, but the importance and
volume of the material since gleaned from the many personal
visits to the places of the ministries and deaths of the
Apostles, plus their burial sites or tombs, has increased the
conviction that this enlarged study must be offered.
Here for the first time in any one volume the preponderance
of information concerning the histories of the Apostles is now
No scholar would dare suggest that anything he has written
is the last word on any subject, nor indeed that his writings are
the complete story. Yet these ideals have been the goals toward
which we have moved.
INSIGHTS INTO THE APOSTOLIC AGE
There are several insights which the reader should have
firmly and constantly in mind as the following chapters unfold.
The early Christians did not write history as such.
(1) Interest in the Apostles has waxed and waned in various
periods of Christian history. For that reason at certain times
more information has been available than at others. New
discoveries of historical information are made, then lie dormant
in out of print books until a reawakening of interest at a later
time brings them to light.
At first, in the Apostolic Age, the Apostles themselves and
their converts were too busy making history to bother writing it.
Hence, their records are fragmentary. Further, until the
Ante-Nicene Fathers, history as such was not written at all. Even
The Acts by St.Luke was not a general history but a polemic
written to show the emergence of a Gentile Christian movement
from its Jewish matrix, with divine authority and approval.
Surely St.Luke wanted to defend and validate the ministry of St.
Paul, his mentor. His themes, the Acts of the Holy Spirit, the
inclusion in God's redemption of the Gentiles, the gradually
diminishing role of Jews in the churches, the universality of
Christianity, were all the concerns of Luke. It probably did not
occur to him that he was writing the prime source of church
historyl Hence, to a historian of the early church, Luke is both
the welcome source of his main knowledge and of his despair at
its fragmentary nature.
There were periods of silence in early Christian history.
(2) After Luke and the other Biblical writers (such as St.
Paul who left us a considerable knowledge of early Apostolic
activities) there is for a time, silence. It is as if the
Christian movement were in a tunnel, active, but out of sight for
This is not as strange as it may seem. First, the early
Christians did not really have a sense of building a movement for
the ages. To them the Return of Christ might well be expected
during their generation. They certainly spoke of it often, so
they must have looked for the Return of Christ daily - at first.
To see this, study carefully the difference in tone between
First and Second Thessalonians. In his First Epistle to the
Thessalonians, Paul seemed to dwell at great length upon the
imminence of the Second Coming. In the Second Epistle he rebukes
those who are over-eager by reminding big readers of certain
events which must precede or accompany the Second Coming.
It was as if he had looked again at the enormous task of
world evangelism and had seen that it would take more than one
generation. It was not that St.Paul last his faith in the Second
Coming, but that he balanced his faith with practicality. In any
case, the early Christian movement was in a tunnel and out of
sight as far as the recording of history is concerned. They were
doing not writing.
The Apostles were not considered prime subjects for
biography by the early Christians.
(3) The Twelve Apostles were important in the thinking of
the early Christians, but were not considered to be more than
leaders, brothers and dearly beloved friends at first. We look
upon them as the founders of churches. It took some time for
their spiritual descendents to see them as the Fathers of the
whole church movement. Their authority at first was in the
anointing of the Holy Spirit, not in ex cathedra pronouncements
True, the first council of Apostles in Jerusalem gave
authoritarian pronouncements concerning the admittance of the
Gentile converts into the Christian move ment. Yet this did not
seem to have the ecclesiastical authority then that we attach to
it now. We could, in fact, wish there had been more such
pronouncements; say, concerning heresy, forms of church
government, social matters, etc. But there was nothing much that
came collectively from the Apostles. They simply proclaimed
individually what they had heard from Jesus Christ.
As they went forth into various parts of the world they
carried, no doubt, the authority of their Apostolate, but they
were not the church. They founded congregations which were
churches. Ecclesiasticism in the highly organized and
authoritarian forms it later took was almost unknown to them. The
Apostles were evangelists and pastors, not ecclesiastics. Their
histories, then, are the histories of evangelists, not of
preates. History does not deal as much with evangelists as with
rulers. Hence, we have little knowledge about their careers
before or subsequent to the dispersion of the Jerusalem Church in
A.D.69, and by this time most of them had left Jerusalem to go on
their various missions and many had died.
Secular history largely ignored Christianity in the early
(4) Almost all history in the first few centuries of the
Christian era which has survived is secular, military or
political. Josephus did not pay much attention to Christianity
though he mentions the death of St.James. Roman history, except
for the writings of Pliny the Younger, hardly notices
Christianity until long after the Apostolic Age. It remains for
churchmen such as Hegesippus and Eusebius to give us further
details of the travels and history of the Twelve.
The early Christians were humble folk, with some exceptions.
Who writes a history of the meek? Therefore we are left with
little information about Christianity in general secular history,
except for valuable insights as to the world in which the
Apostles lived. The average reader, however, would be amazed at
how very much knowledge we do have on that portion of the human
story. Roman history is already well known and more knowledge is
daily pouring in from the archeologists who dig into the
artifacts of that great epic.
To the avid student of Roman affairs the world of the
Apostles is as familiar as the world of a hundred years ago. This
does not itself tell us about the actual story of each Apostle
but it certainly tells us what was possible or even likely, as
well as what was unlikely or impossible.
The Roman world was, during the Apostolic Age, a relatively
safe world in which its citizens traveled widely and often. Read
in the book of Romans, written by Paul in Corinth, the many names
of people whom he knew in Rome, a city which at that time he had
not visited. Read the travels of Cicero, sixty years before
Christ. Recall the Roman invasions of Britain by Caesar, five
decades before the birth of Jesus, and of Claudius in A.D.42.
The Roman Empire was a family of nations with a common
language under the protection of one government, with roads
leading everywhere, from Britain to Africa, from what is now
Russia to France, from India to Spain. St.Paul himself, in the
book of Romans, expressed a desire to evangelize Spain which had
been conquered by Rome long before Caesar took it over in 44 B.C.
In the era of the Apostles there was a wide area of
civilization awaiting them, civilized, united, and tied together
by transportation and tongue. On that vast stage, and beyond it,
we can easily visualize the farflung Apostolic labors. But Roman
historians pretty well ignored Christianity in its early days.
The "Search for the Twelve" was at first political or
(5) Long after the Apostolic Age there arose a conflict
between the Greek and Roman divisions of Christianity as to what
they called "Primacy". The Pope claimed it and so did the leader
of the Eastern churches. An issue, for example, was one of
Christian art. One group, the Romans, used images in the round as
the objects of religious veneration. The Eastern Greeks preferred
ikons; images-on-the-flat. There were other differences,
including the removal of the capital of the Roman Empire from
Rome to Byzantium, but mainly it was a political power struggle
which led to the great schism that divided eastern and western
Christianity, as the Roman Empire itself was divided.
At this time, and even before, as the schism was building,
both sides sought Apostolic identification with their own
So a great search was made for the relics of the Apostles.
Emperor Constantine wanted to construct what he called, "The
Church of the Twelve Apostles" in Constantinople. In this
structure he intended to house the remains (such as bones or
parts of bodies) of the Apostles. He succeeded in securing the
remains of St.Andrew, and also St.Luke and St.Timothy. (The
latter two, while not of the Twelve, were close to them.)
Apparently Constantine felt he must leave the bones of St.Paul
and St.Peter in Rome though he may have had designs on the bones
(The teaching that Peter's bones were in and are in Rome is a
false teaching from the Roman Catholic church. It is not true -
He gladly built a basilica to honor the bones of St.Paul in
Rome. But, one may speculate, the Roman church was also reluctant
to part with the bones of St.Peter. Constantine apparently did
not press the matter, but he built a church over St.Peter's
resting place, hoping perhaps to later move his body to
Constantinople. In any case, he did not live long enough to
collect all the relics of the Apostles for his Church of the
Twelve Apostles. That church building remained
(Constantine celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of his
accession in the summer of 335. Probably the most significant
ceremonies at Rome that year were those accompanying the solemn
translation of the bones venerated as relics of the Apostles St
Peter and St.Paul from the catacombs of St.Sebastian, where they
had been venerated since 258, to the basilicas built to honour
them at the traditional sites of their martyrdoms, at the Vatican
and on the Ostian Way." (Constantine The Great, John Holland
Smith, p 288; also cf. Liber Pontificalis, ed. Duchesne, vol. 1,
unfurnished except for his own tomb. (Some evidence exists that
he sought to place the Apostles' bodies around him in twelve
niches while his own body would he in the midst as "The 13th
Apostle"!) Eusebius tells the story in "The Last Days of
"All these edifices the emperor consecrated with the desire of
perpetuating the memory of the Apostles of our Saviour before all
men. He had, however, another object in erecting this building
(i.e., the Church of the Apostles at Constantinople): an object
at first unknown, but which afterwards became evident to all. He
had, in fact, made a choice of this spot in the prospect of his
own death, anticipating with extraordinary fervour of faith that
his body would share their title with the Apostles themselves,
and that he should thus even after death become the subject, with
them, of the devotions which should be performed to their honour
in this place, and for this reason he bade men assemble for
worship there at the altar which he placed in the midst. He
accordingly caused twelve coffins to be set up in this church,
like sacred pillars in honour and memory of the apostolic band,
in the centre of which his own was placed, having six of theirs
on either side of it. Thus, as I said, he had provided with
prudent foresight an honourable resting-place for his body after
death, and, having long before secretly formed this resolution,
he now consecrated this church to the Apostles, believing that
this tribute to their memory would be of no small advantage to
his own soul. Nor did God disappoint him of that which he so
ardently expected and desired." (A New Eusebius, J. Stevenson, p.
"Planning the Church of the Apostles, Constantine had dreamed of
resting there forever in the midst of the Twelve, not merely one
of them, but a symbol of, if not a substitute for, their Leader.
During the months of the church's construction, his agents had
been busy in Palestine collecting alleged relies of the apostles
and their companions, to be laid up in the church with his body,
awaiting the general resurrection." (Constantine the Great, John
Holland Smith, pp. 301-302).
"At Easter in A.D.337 the emperor dedicated the Church of the
Holy Apostles in Constantinople, but soon thereafter he was
overcome by a fatal ailment. He visited the baths at Helenopolis
in vain, and then proceeded to confess his sins in the Church of
the Martyrs. At Ancyrona near Nicomedia, he prepared his will,
leaving the empire to his three sons, and in the presence of a
group of local bishops he was baptized by the bishop with whom he
had fought so often, Eusebius of Nicomedia. To this prelate was
entrusted the will, with instructions to deliver it to
Constantius, Caesar of the east. Wearing the white robe of a
neophyte, Constantine died on Pentecost, May 22.
"... Upon Constantius's arrival the coffin was carried to the
Church of the Holy Apostles and placed among the sarcophagi
dedicated to the Twelve. In the presence of a vast throng the
bishops conducted an elaborate funeral with a requiem eucharist.
... His body rested, however, not in any Flavian mausoleum or
with any of the great pagan emperors before him but, by his own
choice, among the memori als of the twelve apostles." (Augustus
to Constantine, Robert M. Grant, p.277).
The project was started but not completed. However, an
official search was made for the locations of the bodies of the
Apostles, and this official search was possibly the precipitating
cause for the inventory which was made for the Apostolic remains
After this time there arose the practice of the veneration
of relics. The superstitious awe which these relics evoked was
carried to extremes. The bodies of the Apostles, the bodies of
other "saints", and the various holy relics such as fragments of
"the true cross" came into great demand. Healings were claimed by
merely touching or kissing these relics and naturally they came
to be considered of great value by both the churches and
governments of the Middle Ages.
As for a knowledge of the lives of the Apostles, this
search for relics both helped and harmed a true history. The
major relics, including the bodies or portions of bodies of the
Apostles, give us some hints of the places of the death and
burial and hence by tradition or association, the locale of their
ministries. We perhaps have successfully traced the history of
some of these Apostolic remains or relics in the following
chapters, up to their locations today.
On the other hand we must recognize that some of these
Apostolic relics may not be genuine, since wishful thinking or
simple mistakes may have led the devout of other, less critical
ages than ours, to go astray. This was especially so since there
was great church prestige, political preferment, and often much
money involved in securing what were believed to be genuine
Partisans in the great church schism between the east and
west undoubtedly sought to associate their possession of
Apostolic relics as proof of the blessing of the Apostles and God
upon them, as witness the fact that they had the original and
often miracle-working relics in their exclusive possession.
Fortunately that competition has ebbed with the centuries. In
quite recent times Pope Paul VI has returned to Greece the head
of St.Andrew, to be housed in a new church in the place of his
martyrdom in Patras, Greece, under the care of the Greek Orthodox
Church. This was a highly conciliatory gesture on the part of the
Pope since St.Andrew, having been martyred in Greece, is
meaningful to the Greek Orthodox Church. It reduces by one the
Apostolic relics in Rome, but increases the chances of unity
between Rome and Athens very markedly, for whatever that may
prove to be worth to those involved.
If one can cut through the maze of the history of relics and
trace the presence of fact back to the genuine tradition of
Apostolic associations in the places of their original martyrdoms
and burials, then there is great hope that this may open up the
way to confirm or even discover more light on the histories of
Apostolic labors. This we have here attempted to do where
possible. Admittedly this task and its results are open to
scholarly criticism and interpretation.
The motivations of the Apostles are now more clearly
(6) One great truth about the Apostles is unassailable. It
has been strengthened by every bit of tradition and history we
have studied. That is, most of the Apostles took seriously the
great commission of Jesus (as recorded in Matthew 28) and went
forth to "Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the world"
to evangelize the nations with the Christian gospel. The story of
the Apostles is thus mainly the story of evangelism in the early
church. They set an example for all subsequent Christians that is
clear, unmistakable and unswerving. They challenged commoners and
kings alike. They did not become salaried ecclesiastics but often
worked with their hands to support themselves, so that by any and
all means they might share the good news in Jesus. Most, like St.
Paul, sought to preach Christ, "not building upon other men's
foundations, but going to the regions beyond."
There was an Apostolic strategy of missions.
(7) The lives of the Apostles, especially that of St.Paul,
reveal an unusual and brilliant concept of missionary strategy.
They always went first to the great cities located on the trade
routes. From these centers their disciples and converts then
traveled out to the towns beyond and there established churches
which in turn established still others. The Apostles knew the
secret of strategic locations and of delegating responsibility to
others, thus multiplying themselves more rapidly than is the case
in many modern missionary enterprises.
THE APOSTLES WERE CHURCHMEN
Above all, they founded congregations. Some modem day
evangelism is so apart from the churches that the churches must
feed the evangelistic effort, rather than for the evangelistic
effort to build the converts firmly into the churches or to give
impetus to new churches. This was never the Apostolic principle,
which is why Apostolic evangelism lasted and some modem
"populist" evangelism soon passes away.
The Apostles enjoined upon their converts the responsibility
to become the church. Surely this is one lesson that needs to be
re-learned today. It was St. Paul who wrote, Jesus loved the
church and gave himself for it (Ephesians 5:25).
WHY THE TWELVE?
The Apostles of Jesus Christ are heroes whose portraits, as
Christians have come to know them, are "larger than life." The
Roman and Greek Catholic bestowal of the title, "Saint", upon
each of the Twelve (and thereafter upon a flood of others) was
partly responsible for making them into demigods. But long before
the time the New Testament was collected into one volume (the
Canon) the figures of the Twelve had assumed commanding respect.
John, in The Revelation of Jesus Christ, speaks of the New
Jerusalem which is to have the names of the Twelve inscribed in
its foundations. (Incidentally, that inclusion settles the issue
of whether Matthias was, after the defection of Judas Iscariot,
truly considered by the other Apostles as one of the Twelve.)
Why did Jesus choose only twelve chief Apostles? Obviously
to correspond to the twelve tribes of Israel. He, Himself, as the
new and eternal high priest, would stand for the priestly
thirteenth tribe, Levi. The function of the Apostles was to bear
witness to the resurrection of Jesus and of His teachings. For
this reason, as the election of Matthias to replace Judas
confirms, an Apostle had to have been long with Jesus and a
witness to his teachings.
Paul stoutly maintained that he also was an Apostle, since
his conversion, call, and instruction came directly from Jesus,
and the signs of an Apostle were his in abundance. Yet there is
no evidence that he was ever admitted to that inner circle of the
original Twelve. Some of the original Twelve probably never did
fully trust him, and even Peter confessed that he did not always
understand "our beloved brother, Paul" (2 Peter 3:15).
THE BOOK OF ACTS AND THE TWELVE
In a most important sense, the book of The Acts of the
Apostles, the earliest Christian book of history, is the story of
how Christianity, at first a sect within Judaism, was opened to
the Gentiles, and how in a short time it became mainly a faith of
the Gentiles. From start to finish, The Acts shows Christianity
as a minority movement among the Jews, soon rejected by most
Jews, becoming Gentilized as the illustrious Paul became the
European leader of the Christian movement. Peter remained for a
time as the most prominent Jewish-Christian leader, but
Christianity after the first century gradually died down among
The Acts carefully records how Peter, obviously at first
against his will, became a grudging Apostle to some Gentiles, yet
all the while endeavoring to keep Christianity as Jewish as
possible. The plan of the book of The Acts is as logically and
carefully laid out as a lawyer's brief. It proves conclusively
that Cluistianity was intended to, and slid, lose its exclusively
Jewish character. It was to be much more than a sect or another
party within Judaism, such as were the Pharisees, Sadducees, or
Those who expect The Acts to be the complete early history
of Christianity are doomed to disappointment. It is that only
incidentally and in a fragmentary way.
Its main argument is that God, Himself, tore Christianity
loose from its Jewish foundations and made it universal. To do
this He used Peter at first, then Paul. The other Apostles played
only incidental roles in the story of The Acts, since it is not a
history of the Apostles but a history of the emergence of Gentile
As valuable and as liberating as this emphasis is, the Bible
student is soon, and perhaps unconsciously, caught up in the
personal ministry of Paul. Peter, though prominent at first, is
later ignored, as The Acts unfolds for the reader the story of
Paul and his friends, Timothy, Luke, Barnabas, Silas and others.
The Acts, having shown Peter and the rest of the Twelve as
having launched the Christian movement, and as having blessed the
admission of believing Gentiles into the churches, then portrays
again and again the fact that only some Jews around the Roman
world accepted Christ. As others rejected Christ, in each
instance Paul is shown as turning to the Gentiles who seemed much
more willing to receive the gospel than the majority of the Jews.
This historical insight is necessary to know if we are to
understand why we have a great deal of information about John and
Peter, and even more about Paul, but know really very little of
the other Apostles.
Roman and Greek Christianity early became dominant over
Judaistic Christianity. Western Christians of the Roman Empire,
treasured and preserved the writings of these three Apostles who
worked among the Gentiles. The other Apostles did not write much,
with the exception of Matthew. But Matthew's personality does not
come through clearly in his gospel. The writings, if any, of the
remainder of the Twelve are lost.
Mark was the helper and writer for Peter, but Mark was not
considered an Apostle but an Apostolic assisttint, as were
Timothy, Titus, Epaphroditus, Luke, Barnabas, Silas, Acquilla,
Priscilla and Erastus. Luke wrote about Paul in The Acts, and
about the Apostles and Jesus in his gospel. But Luke was not
himself an original Apostle. Hence, the New Testament as we have
it is the product of Matthew, an Apostle, Peter, an Apostle,
John, an Apostle, and Paul, an Apostle. Other New Testament
authors such as Mark and Luke, were not Apostles, but assistants,
and Jude and James were not of the original followers of Jesus,
but brothers of the Lord, who did not believe until after the
Resurrection of Christ.
As for the history of the Apostles after the first few years
in Jerusalem, except for brief references to them in The Acts, we
must look into the Epistles, the book of The Revelation of Jesus
Christ, the histories and traditions or legends of the early,
post-Apostolic Christian writers, and to the local traditions of
the Christian movement in the places where the Apostles labored
or died. It is this latter research than has had the least
historic treatment and which we will attempt to explore, along
with those early Christian traditions and Scriptural accounts
which are fairly well (but not universally) known.
LEGEND, MYTH AND TRADITION
The word legend is today in better standing than it was a
short time ago. 'Legendary' has often been a word of ill repute
for it has meant "mythical" to most people. The word "tradition"
stands far higher in the estimation of historians. Scholars
today, thanks to literary criticism, historical research, and
archeological observations, have more confidence in the existence
of a residue of fact amongst the legends and traditions about
well-known historical or Biblical figures. Blown up and fanciful
they may be, but legends and traditions are often the
enlargements of reality, and traditions may not be exaggerations
at all, but actual fact We have attempted to squeeze some of the
water out of those legends which exist about the Apostles and
find the elements of the reasonable and possible which are in
traditions. Dogmatism is impossible in our subject, but surely a
fuller knowledge of the lives of all the Apostles can now be
acquired than has hitherto been generally known.
THE RELEVANCE TODAY
But why should the Christian reader, or the reading public,
be interested in the histories of the first Apostles of Jesus
For one thing, any increase of knowledge about the Apostles
will greatly illumine the power-filled early days of
Christianity, and perhaps help to recover the secret of the
primitive dynamic of the early Christians.
Christians today know, or can know, more about many things
than any other generation of believers. Archeology is a
relatively modem science. Textual criticism has secured a clearer
Biblical text than was ever available before. Yet, unfortunately,
much of the power and spirit of New Testament era Christianity is
obviously missing in today's churches.
The general public needs to see afresh the dedication of the
earliest Christian leaders, and to feel the modern relevance of
their timeless methods and ideals. Christianity needs a
self-renewal, as do all institutions. From where will this
renewal come? That dynamic momentum which early Christians
bequeathed, and which has still not entirely run down, was
surely, in part, the personal and direct heritage of the Twelve
Apostles and their Christian contemporaries.
The least that a study of this kind should contribute to all
Christians is to direct our attention back to the days of a
purer, unencrusted, tradition-free Christianity. There is much
about the lives of the Twelve Apostles that can speak to us
existentially today. Indeed, to discover what the Apostles did,
or what it is claimed that they did, is to rediscover their
motivation and the life-strategy which they followed.
HOW THIS STUDY BEGAN
In a sense this book has taken thirty years of comprehensive
and intensive study to write. In 1944 the author finished a
Bachelor of Divinity at Bethel Theological Seminary, St.Paul,
Minnesota, with a major in church history which included over
sixty semester credit-hours and a thesis on the same subject. In
1952 the author submitted another dissertation on the same
subject and was graduated with a Doctorate in Religious Education
from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth,
Since that time, he has read continually in the subject of
ecclesiastical history and has traveled repeatedly to Europe (39
times) and the Middle East (27 journeys) in search of Biblical
and ecclesiastical information. This rich experience has been a
labor of love and has been highly rewarding in terms of the
discovery of new facts and fresh insights. It is a false
supposition that all useful historic knowledge is to be found
only in books, though many hundreds have been read by this writer
about the Twelve Apostles. There is much additional information
about them to, be gleaned only by travel to places the Apostles
once knew, and by conversation with people who now live there,
who know of traditions not widely found in the books which are
readily available to scholars. No one book, to my knowledge, has
ever been written that includes all known facts about the
Apostles until now.
For example: in October, 1971, the writer was an official
guest in Iran for the celebration of the 2,500 year memorial to
Cyrus the Great. Upon this occasion the opportunity arose to
interview the leaders of several of the very ancient Christian
movements of Iran who trace their spiritual descent back to the
visits to Persia in the first century of at least five of the
Apostles of Jesus! Not only was new information obtained, but a
wider understanding of the Eastern thrust of early Christianity
beyond the borders of the Roman world about which we Christians
of the Western tradition know very little. This has been our
great loss. The following observations are an illustration of an
area of Christian history about which few American Christians
"...Iran had known Christianity from the earliest times of
Apostolic preaching. When Christianity was first preached in this
part of the world, that is to say, beyond the frontiers of East
Roman Empire, namely in the easternmost regions of Asia Minor,
north-eastern regions of Ancient Syria and Mesopotamia, the
Apostles and their immediate successors did not know any boundary
between East Syria, Mesopotamia, Armenia and Persia. In fact, the
peoples of these countries lived in such a state of close
association that the first Christians all belonged to the same
stream of evangelization, they shared the same Christian
traditions handed down to them by the first Apostles and their
"Thus, beginning from the first century, the Christian faith had
been preached in Edessa, in the kingdom of Osrohene. It
penetrated also Armenia and Persia in the same century. As
Tournebize has said: 'From Osrohene the faith undoubtedly had
shown forth quite early to the East; between Edessa and Armenia
the distance was not big.' Long before Bar Hebraus, the alliances
and frequent interpenetrations between Parthians, Persians,
Edessenians and Armenians bad justified the following remark of
the famous monophysite patriarch: Parthians or Persians,
Parthians or Edessenians, Parthians or Armenians, all are one."
(The Armenian Christian Tradition in Iran, A Lecture, Interchurch
Centenary Committee, p.1).
Later, in November of 1971, the writer led a group of people
from all over America on a historic journey which was entitled,
"The Search For the Twelve Apostles." On this expedition, through
Europe and the Middle East, many more of the recorded facts in
this book emerged. It can possibly be said that no other group in
modern or ancient times has hitherto made so comprehensive a
study into the lives and burial places of the Apostles in the
actual locations indicated by history or tradition as have been
associated with the Apostles.
Possibly there is yet more light to be thrown on the subject
of the Twelve Apostles. One thinks, for instance, of the vast
archives of ancient and as yet untranslated documents in the
Greek Orthodox monasteries, or the Vatican Library in Rome. We do
not pretend to the scholarship, linguistic ability, or the sheer
time which would be necessary to dig for the needles in these
huge haystacks. We must await the happy day when others more able
will accomplish these tasks.
But within the limits of present scholarship, original
research, and the critical examination of history and traditions,
we have, we hope, amassed all that is known, or which reasonably
can now be learned about the Apostles. We can anticipate with joy
that further scholarship which will add to the body of
information here presented.
To be continued
Entered on this Website November 2007