God’s People, part 170: Bartholomew

Read Acts 1:12-14

“Here are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (also called Peter), then Andrew (Peter’s brother), James (son of Zebedee), John (James’s brother), Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew (the tax collector), James (son of Alphaeus), Thaddaeus, Simon (the zealot), Judas Iscariot (who later betrayed him).”  (Matthew 10:2-4, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 170: Bartholomew. In the last devotion, we spoke of Nathanael who at first was skeptical with regard toward Jesus ’identity. Jesus was from Nazareth, a tiny Galilean village with maybe a 150 people living in it. What good could possibly come from that little village, which was made up of known troublemakers at odds with the political and religious institutions of their day? If God was going to send the Messiah, it was far more likely that God would stick to what had been prophesied and have him come from King David’s hometown of Bethlehem. What’s more, the Messiah would come from a people who could gain the support of the religious and political establishment, and someone from Nazareth was the least likely to do that.

As was mentioned, Nathanael was only ever mentioned about in the Gospel of John; however, Philip is mentioned in all four Gospels. In John’s Gospel, which is the latest of the four Gospels to be written, Philip is close to and paired with Nathanael. In the Synoptic Gospels (e.g. Mark, Matthew, and Luke), Philip is close to and often paired with Bartholomew. On top of that fact, Bartholomew is never mentioned in the Gospel of John, but is only present in the Synoptic Gospels.

What does this tell us? This tells us that it is possible, perhaps even probable, that Bartholomew and Nathanael are the exact same person. What we do know is that Nathanael is a Hebrew name meaning, “God has given.” We also know that John’s Gospel originated from a Jewish disciple of Jesus’ known as “the Beloved Disciple”, who may or may not have been the Apostle John. It was completed in the 90s CE by a Jewish Christian community originally founded by that disciple. We know they’re Jewish by the intra-Jewish dialogue found throughout John’s Gospel and through the the Johannine writings altogether (e.g. Gospel of John, the letters of John, and Revelation).

The name for Bartholomew is Aramaic for bar Talmai, or son of Talmai. In the Synoptic Gospels we do not know Bartholomew’s first name, only that he is the son of Talmai. In the Gospel of John, we do not know who Nathanael is the son of, just that his name is Nathanael. It is possible, reasonable even, to draw the conclusion that the two are one and the same person, especially when we see that they are both linked with the Apostle Philip.

We do not know much beyond that regarding Bartholomew. We know that, given John’s account, he was skeptical at first of Jesus; however, his skepticism didn’t last long. Once Jesus revealed himself to Bartholomew, he became one of the twelve and was among those who even witnessed Jesus’ ascension following his resurrection. What’s more, Bartholomew went on to preach the Good News in India and, eventually, in Armenia where he was martyred. Current scholarship, however, does not believe he made it to Armenia, but that he was martyred in India. According to ancient tradition, Bartholomew was martyred for his faith by being flayed (aka skinned) alive, hung upside down, and beheaded.

As grisly as that is, it begs of us this question: how unwavering is our faith? Do we believe that Christ is who he said he is? Are we so convinced that we’re willing to risk it all to bring Christ’s Gospel to the lost, the hurt, and the broken? Christ expects no less of us and, no matter where our skepticism may or may not lie, Bartholomew’s faith gives us hope that we, too, can grow in our faith and make an impactful difference for God’s Kingdom.

Martyr, in Greek, means witness. Let us witness to the love, the grace, the resurrection and the life found in Jesus Christ.

Lord, I submit myself to your will. Reign in me your love, grace, resurrection and life. Amen.

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