Jesus' Companions

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: New Testament


Was the group of people that traveled with Jesus more than the 12 regulars (apostles)? Some indications are that more than the 12 (70 to 120?) were constant companions through his entire (or most of his) ministry (be it 1 year or 3).


This is a very good question. All three synoptic Gospels have a list of twelve apostles, but they don't all have the same names on the list. If the Gospel of John is included, which only lists nine persons, there are essentially fifteen different names for twelve spots. Now some will argue that several people have two names (i.e. Bartholomew/Nathanael; Matthew/Levi; Thaddeus/Judas), but this is speculative. Additionally, the word "Thomas" in antiquity meant twin, and wasn't considered a name at all.

The word "apostle" means "one who is sent out." It was someone who was commissioned to carry a message or instructions on behalf of someone else. In the case of the New Testament, these were individuals who were closely connected with Jesus, who received his teachings (sometimes privately), who watched him in his ministry, and who were commissioned to carry on after his ascension.

The fact that there were "twelve" of these men harkens back to the Old Testament references to the twelve tribes. These were God's elect, His chosen people, who were rescued from the bondage of Egypt and resettled in the land of Canaan. In Matt 19:28, Jesus explicitly states, "You who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." So it was that when one of the apostles betrayed Jesus and killed himself, they needed to find a replacement, to keep the number at twelve. Interestingly, the main qualification for this new member was that he had been an "eyewitness from the beginning." So we know that others were always around – and some were there from the very beginning. This is made even more explicit in Luke 10, where Jesus appointed seventy (or seventy-two, depending on the translation) to go "before his face into every city and place." These unnamed individuals were sent forth as laborers into his harvest, as lambs among wolves. They were instructed to take nothing along, but to rely upon the hospitality of others while they fulfilled their mission of healing the sick and preaching that "the kingdom of God is near you."

None of the other evangelists mention this event, limiting this commissioning only to the Twelve.

Nonetheless, it seems that at least twelve were especially chosen by Jesus to help him further his ministry, but we have no additional information about most of them other than having their names on a list. Moreover, by the morning of Pentecost (fifty days after Jesus' resurrection), the number of followers gathered in the upper room had grown to 120. This number also has special significance in the Old Testament. At the time when Solomon's temple was dedicated, it says, "120 priests were blowing trumpets... then the house, the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God" (2 Chron 5:12, 14). And by the end of the day of Pentecost, another 3000 had been added to their numbers as the result of Peter's stirring speech.

The early apocryphal writings that bear some apostolic names are not considered to be historical accounts. And the early Church Fathers only mention a few apostles by name -- Peter, James, John, and the twin. Paul wasn't considered an apostle, though he claimed that office for himself. James, the brother of our Lord, was called an apostle, but he probably wasn't on the original list. Since the Synoptics and Acts were written a generation or two after Jesus, it is not surprising that there is some diversity among the lists and the traditions, but the symbolism of the number twelve was maintained.

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