The Rector’s Weekly Letter to the Congregation for Sunday, June 21, 2020
The 12 Apostles of Jesus, Part II
Last week we looked at 5 apostles of Jesus: Peter, James, John, Andrew, and Phillip. We continue this week with four more.
Bartholomew is thought by some scholars to be the Nathanael that Jesus referred to as “Here is a true descendant of our ancestor Israel in John 1:47, but others object to this. The son of Talmai, Bartholomew lived in Cana of Galilee. He took the gospel to Armenia where he is claimed to be the founder of the Armenian Church. Bartholomew was flayed (skin peeled off) while alive and then beheaded.
Thomas is often referred to as the doubting Thomas because he doubted when the other Apostles told him the Lord had risen from the dead. Perhaps he was the most educated of the disciples and did not believe things easily. He wanted hard evidence, which is a good thing. Upon being confronted with compelling evidence, Thomas believed. He is not like some whom no evidence can convince. Such just do not want to believe. Tradition has it that Thomas took the gospel to India where he was martyred with a spear. Thomas is the patron saint of India. There are also believers known as Thomas Christians in India. The late Ravi Zacharias was one of them.
Matthew was also known as Levi. He was the son of Alpheus. His father’s name is the same as James the Lesser’s, but whether the two were brothers is questionable. Matthew was a tax collector, a job that was most hated and despised by the Jews. He responded to Jesus’ call to follow him, and he did not look back. As a tax collector, he was accustomed to writing down stuff. No wonder he used his pen to write the first gospel in the New Testament. There’s a statement by the Papias of Hierapolis preserved by Eusebius of Caesarea which says, “Matthew composed the Oracles in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as he could.” Matthew took the gospel message to Ethiopia where he was martyred.
James the son of Alpheus was called the Lesser perhaps to differentiate him from James the Elder aforementioned who was the son of Zebedee. James and his brother Jude followed Jesus to the very end. Sometimes James is given the epithets the Minor, the Younger, the Little. It is possible that he was little in physical size. Some scholars identify him with James the brother of Jesus, but the Bible says that his brothers did not believe in him (John 7:5). None of them could have become his disciple at such an early stage. James the brother of Jesus must have become a believer after the resurrection and after Jesus appeared to him alive (1 Corinthians 15:7). Those scholars who identify James the Lesser with James the brother of Jesus hold that Mary did not have other children after Jesus, and actually that she and Joseph didn’t even have any conjugal union.
This understanding is not supported by scripture. It was pushed by ascetics of the early church. Asceticism arose around the 2nd century AD and thrived for several centuries. Ascetics withdrew from the normal hustle and bustle of society to be alone and engage in prayer, fasting, and other spiritual disciplines, often spending days without sleep to be with the Lord. Ascetics were mostly unmarried people, mostly virgins and monks. A general understanding arose in the society of the day that sex was the original sin of Adam and Eve, and therefore it was evil. The single life was held in high regard, and marriage was despised. The spiritually strong were seen as those who remained single, and the spiritually weak those who married. This thinking was not derived from the Bible but from the culture of the day which was mixed with Greek thinking.
The argument was that if sex is evil, then even if the Bible doesn’t specifically say it, surely the mother of the savior could not have engaged in it. Therefore, Joseph and Mary never had conjugal intimacies and no other children besides Jesus. It was put that Mary was a virgin ante partum, in partu, et post partum, that is, before, during and after the birth of Jesus. When the Bible mentions the brothers of Jesus, it causes a problem and explanations are sought to deal with it. But even in those early centuries there were some who held marriage in high honor and didn’t see any reason for Mary not to have enjoyed it with her husband and had children. But the very idea is anathema to those who view sexual union negatively.
One explanation of the brothers of Jesus is that the men referred to as Jesus’ brothers were actually Joseph’s children from an earlier marriage. That is a possibility, but the way things appear in the Bible is that Jesus was the eldest in the family and not the youngest. After the death of a father, it was the practice in those days for the eldest son to take charge of the home to provide for the mother. After the death of Joseph, Jesus as the eldest son inherited the responsibility to care for his mother. So while on the cross, Jesus tasked John to care for Mary perhaps because his younger brothers had grown and had their own homes to care for.
As for marriage and sex, the Bible does speak positively about them. It says the marriage bed should be held in honor. It is written, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Hebrews 13:4). The Bible speaks against desecrating sex through such practices as fornication, adultery, homosexuality, pornography, and the like. And when we come to think of it, the good God whom our Lord Jesus Christ came to reveal to us would not give an evil gift to his creatures.
(to be continued…)