Even though there are two important believers named Philip in the New Testament, it’s a little surprising that the early church mixed them up. In Acts, Philip the Evangelist is clearly distinguished from the Twelve:
“So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.’
This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.” —Acts 6:2–6
Later, Philip, the Evangelist is referred to as “one of the seven” (Acts 21:8), not an apostle or one of the Twelve. Still, the early church mixed them up, and their mistakes were often passed down, making it difficult to be sure which traditions actually apply to Philip the Apostle.
Philip in the Bible
One of the few details the Bible gives us about Philip the Apostle is that like Peter and Andrew, he comes from Bethsaida, a town near the Sea of Galilee (John 1:44). Later, when some Greek men from Bethsaida want to see Jesus, they come to Philip first, presumably because they knew he was from the same town as them (or possibly because he spoke Greek the best).
Philip’s most notable moment in the gospels is his role in bringing Nathanael to Jesus. Nathanael is only mentioned in the Gospel of John, but many assume this is another name for Bartholomew because:
- John appears to consider him one of the Twelve (John 21:2).
- Bartholomew is never mentioned in John.
- Philip and Bartholomew are almost always listed together, and they’re closely associated with church tradition.
In any case, Nathanael follows Jesus as a result of Philip’s invitation to “come and see” him, “the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote” (John 1:45–46).
The only other mentions of Philip in the Bible occur in John:
- Jesus tests Philip by asking him where they should buy bread to feed the crowd of 5,000 people (John 6:5–7).
- Philip asks Jesus to show them God the Father, and Jesus responds by saying “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father (John 14:6–10).
According to Clement of Alexandria, who lived in the second and third centuries, Philip is also mentioned one other time (though not directly).
In Luke 9:57–62 and the parallel passage in Matthew 8:18–22, an unnamed person asks to bury his father before he follows Jesus, and Jesus replies: “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:60).
Clement writes in his book, Stromata:
“If they quote the Lord’s words to Philip, “Let dead bury their dead, but do thou follow me . . .’”
How did Philip die?
Philip likely died in the first century, possibly around 80 AD, but traditions vary widely as to how he died—at least partially due to the confusion with Philip the Evangelist. One tradition says he died of natural causes. But others suggest he was stoned to death, beheaded, or crucified upside down.
The earliest account comes from Acts of Philip, which contains legends about Philip’s ministry. According to this text, he was crucified upside down with Bartholomew. Philip preached to the crowd while hanging on the cross, and they wanted to release the two disciples, but Philip told them to free Bartholomew and leave him hanging there.