Jesus' Disciples: Bartholomew / Nathanael

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, September 7, 2020 0 comments

by Katie Erickson

So far as we’ve looked at Jesus’ disciples, we’ve discussed the most commonly known ones: Peter, James, John, and Andrew. Today, we start getting into some of the lesser-known ones. Why are they lesser known? We simply don’t have as much recorded about them in the gospels, and because of that, we don’t have as much information on them. But they are still important for us to learn about because they were part of Jesus’ twelve disciples, so I will share with you what I can find on them.

Today, we’re looking at Bartholomew. One interesting thing about Bartholomew is that he was also likely known by the name Nathanael. He goes by the name Bartholomew in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, while in the gospel of John we see him known as Nathanael. So there isn’t a place where the Bible equates these two names as being the same person, but that can be inferred by the context of the passages. It’s generally assumed that Bartholomew and Nathanael are the same person, though some Biblical scholars reject that theory.

First, here’s some gospel information. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are known as the synoptic gospels. In the Greek, ‘syn’ means ‘together’ and ‘optic’ means ‘seen,’ so the word synoptic means they are ‘seen together.’ Generally speaking, these three accounts are pretty similar to each other in the stories they choose, their general structure, etc. The gospel of John was believed to be written much later and it has a different general setup than the synoptic gospels.

So, in the synoptic gospels, we always see Philip and Bartholomew mentioned together. There is no mention of Nathanael in the synoptic gospels. In the gospel of John, we always see Philip and Nathanael mentioned together. There is no mention of Bartholomew in the gospel of John. Therefore, it seems very likely that Bartholomew and Nathanael are the same person.

It was common in Biblical times that Jews would go by two different names. For example, Jesus’ disciple Simon also went by the name Peter. Names often carried important meanings in those days, so sometimes a person’s name would be changed depending on what happened in their life.

The name Bartholomew is from the Aramaic and means “son of Tolmai.” Tolmai was clearly the name of Bartholomew’s father, but what does his name mean? It could mean furrows, like the farming term relating to land, or it could be a version of the Greek name Ptolmy. So Bartholomew’s name could mean “son of furrows,” meaning he is rich in land, or it could simply mean Tolmai/Ptolmy’s son.

What about the name Nathanael? Nathanael originally comes from the Hebrew, and it means “God has given” or “given from God.” The Hebrew verb “natan” means “he gave”, and El is one of the Hebrew words for God. The spelling of Nathanael is actually the Greek form of the Hebrew name.

All that being said, what do we know about Bartholomew/Nathanael? In the synoptic gospels, he is only mentioned as one member of the lists of Jesus’ disciples. You can find these in Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19, and Luke 6:12-16. We also see that Nathanael was with those who Jesus appeared to on the Sea of Tiberias after His resurrection, which you can read about in John 21:1-14.

The most significant narrative about Bartholomew (under the name Nathanael) occurs early in the gospel of John:

“The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, 'Follow me.' Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, 'We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote - Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.'
'Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?' Nathanael asked.
'Come and see,' said Philip.
When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, 'Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.'
'How do you know me?' Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, 'I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.'
Then Nathanael declared, 'Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.' Jesus said, 'You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.' He then added, 'Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man’” (John 1:43-51)

After Philip began to follow Jesus, he found Nathanael and wanted him to come along on this amazing adventure too. The Jews had been waiting for their Messiah for many years, and Philip realized they had just met him! He wanted his friend to come along and follow Jesus too. But Nathanael first doubts, simply because the Messiah is the person Jesus who came from Nazareth. Nazareth did not have a good reputation, and even people in Biblical times had prejudices about where people came from.

But Jesus knew that about Nathanael, of course, so He specifically proves Himself to Nathanael by showing how well He knew him before they had even met. Jesus showed Nathanael that He was God simply by relaying an encounter that He didn’t physically see, and that’s all it took for Nathanael to believe in Jesus and begin to follow Him. Jesus’ reply to that belief is basically, “You ain’t seen nothing’ yet!”

What can we learn from Bartholomew / Nathanael, other than interesting facts about his names? We can be reminded that Jesus is truly God, and that fact alone should cause us to give our lives to following Him, just as Bartholomew did. He was one of the Twelve and got to see amazing miracles through his faith in Jesus, and we, too, have that opportunity! We may not be able to physically follow around the person of Jesus in bodily form. We may or may not get to see miracles with our own eyes. But we need to follow Him and believe, and we know that one day we will see greater things than what we have on earth when we receive our heavenly reward.

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