Question: Why are there differences in the NT lists of the twelve disciples, and can they be reconciled??
Matt. 10:2-4 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
Jesus’ twelve disciples are listed four times: (Matt 10:2-4; Luke 6:14-16; Acts 1:13). When those lists are compared side-by-side there are two “differences” that become immediately apparent. First, there is the order in which the names are arranged, and second is the seeming confusion of a few names: Thaddeus, James and Simon.
It is significant that Peter is always mentioned first in the order of names found in each list. Not only so, but Matthew begins his list saying. “first, Simon… .” While that could simply mean ‘first on the list,’ it more likely points to Peter’s recognized leadership within the group. A good example of this natural leadership is found in Matthew 16:13-20, where Peter is singled out by Jesus for having recognized and publicly declared Jesus as the promised Messiah.
Related to this is the curious fact that when each list is divided into three groups of four names, the same three disciples are always listed at the head of each group. This likely indicates that Jesus intentionally organized the twelve into three smaller groups, with Peter, Philip and James the son of Alphaeus as group leaders.
It is also interesting as kind of a side note that the names at the top of each of the four lists are always the two sets of brothers, and the last name on all of the lists is always Judas Iscariot, Jesus’ betrayer.
Finally, the confusion of some names between the four lists is simply a matter of different designations given to the same person. Simon, for example, is called Simon the Canaanite in the two of the Gospels (Matt. 10:4; Mk. 3:18), but is elsewhere referred to as Simon the Zealot (Lk. 6:15; Acts 1:13). In fact, to clear up this confusion for English readers, the NIV calls Simon “the Zealot” in Matthew and Mark, rather than literally translating “Simon the Canaanite” from the Greek. Zealot refers to Simon’s political attachment to a revolutionary group intent on overthrowing Roman rule, whereas “Canaanite” refers to his family tree.
Likewise, Thaddeus is the same person as Judas, the son of James in Luke 6:16 and Acts 1:13. Using different names helped to distinguish one person from another, especially when so many people shared a common name such as Judas, of whom there were two in this small group of twelve. In the same way, James the son of Alphaeus was differentiated from James the son of Zebedee.
So all four accounts of the disciples are in perfect agreement and actually highlight how important it was for Matthew, Mark and Luke to convey the names of the twelve accurately—to avoid confusion!
Comments or Questions?
If you would like to leave a comment or question, please click on the “Comment” tag below, then type your comment or question in the box. Below the Comment box you will see a place to leave your name (or Anonymous) marked “Comment as.” Click on the arrows to the right of that box and choose one of the options there by clicking on it. Then click the “Publish” button below the “Comment as” tag, and you’re done!
Your comment or question will appear after I approve it as appropriate (usually within 24 hours). I look forward to your questions and comments. Thank you!