Bartholomew is one of the most obscure apostles. His name only appears in the four lists of Jesus’ 12 main disciples, and he’s never listed with any titles or descriptions. All we really know is his name, and that he’s closely associated with Philip (aside from the list in Acts 1:13, Bartholomew is always listed alongside Philip, which perhaps indicates some sort of relationship).

Is Bartholomew the same person as Nathanael?

Bartholomew’s name most likely comes from the Aramaic name, Bar-Talmai, meaning “son of Talmai.” If that’s the case and this is a patronymic name (meaning a name that derives from a person’s father), it stands to reason that Bartholomew would’ve been known by another name.

In this case, most would argue that this other name is Nathanael since Nathanael appears to be an apostle in the Gospel of John, and is closely associated with Philip (Philip calls him to meet Jesus, after all), and Bartholomew doesn’t appear in John.

But others argue that Bartholomew is a standalone name and that the Greek text normally represents patronymic names differently:

“The name ‘Bartholomew’ may stand by itself in the apostolic lists as a proper name. It is not necessarily a patronymic. The patronymic is normally expressed in the lists by the Greek genitive, not by the Aramaic bar.” —Professor Michael Wilkins, Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary

That’s not to say Bartholomew was not also known as Nathanael, just that this isn’t necessarily why he would’ve been known by two names. Many modern scholars prefer to take a neutral stance on Nathanael and Bartholomew, suggesting that it’s possible, but not verifiable.

If Bartholomew is Nathanael though, John gives us two additional passages to learn about this disciple. When Philip first tells Nathanael about Jesus, he’s sceptical:

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46)

But after seeing Jesus demonstrate his divinity, he says:

“Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel” (John 1:49)

Toward the end of John’s gospel, Nathanael comes up again. This time, he’s merely listed among seven disciples who went fishing (John 21:1-3). We know several of these disciples are fishermen—Peter, James, and John, plus Andrew if he’s one of the unnamed disciples in the passage—so either Nathanael was a fisherman, too or he’s just taking the opportunity to learn a new trade since at this point it seemed like the whole disciple thing didn’t work out.

How did Bartholomew die?

Like most of the apostles, Bartholomew was probably martyred. But there are several explanations for his death.

The most popular is also the most gruesome: Bartholomew was allegedly flayed alive and then beheaded. Most art that portrays the apostles includes some iconography related to their death, and so Bartholomew is often portrayed wearing his skin, or in the less grotesque portraits, holding a flaying knife.

Other accounts suggest he was:

  • Beaten and then crucified
  • Crucified upside down
  • Crucified and taken down before he died, then flayed and beheaded
  • Just beheaded
  • Beaten unconscious and tossed in the sea to drown

No one claims he died of old age or natural causes, though.

Author: Patriarch Gregg

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