As you know, Platinum members on the blog are allowed to publish posts for other Platinum members, who then vote on one to be included on the entire blog.  I’m pleased to publish this guest post by Douglas Wadeson, on an unusually intriguing and important topic.  Did Jesus twelve disciples stay committed to the movement after his death, as everyone assumes?  Or are there reasons to think that most of them actually abandoned the cause?

Read this challenging post and let us know what you think!

(And think about moving up to the Platinum level yourself: along with being allowed to publish your own posts, you will be invited to a special quarterly webinar with just the Platinums and me).


Early Christianity had many stories about the adventures of the Twelve Apostles after the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Thomas is tricked into becoming a missionary to India.1 John travels about evangelizing while demonstrating control of bedbugs!2 Andrew was said to travel to the area now known as Ukraine to evangelize there – I’ve been there several times and a statue of Andrew is seen outside their parliament building and elsewhere.3 The vast majority of these stories are so fanciful and written so late that scholars do not take them as factual, but they have worked their way into Christian traditions. What did the Apostles do after Jesus? Did they even remain faithful, let alone evangelize?


All four Gospels hint at doubts among the Apostles, even after Jesus’ reported resurrection appearances. Mark, our earliest gospel, portrays the Twelve as mostly clueless throughout Jesus’ ministry. At Jesus’ arrest “His disciples all left Him and fled” (Mark 14:50). In the original ending, at 16:8, the women flee the tomb and do NOT tell the other disciples about the resurrection, leaving the reader to wonder what happened.  I have long thought that this ending was to explain why Jerusalem was not filled with reports of Jesus’ resurrection right away. Could it be that the real reason for the so- called Markan Mystery is that most of the apostles apostatized? They never did “get it” and they left the movement. Luke says that when the women reported the empty tomb (despite what Mark said) “these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe the women.” But Luke then has Jesus appear and prove Himself to the doubters. Matthew is most explicit: even after seeing the resurrected Jesus “some were doubtful” (Matthew 28:17). Tough audience! John has the famous story of “doubting Thomas,” but as with Luke, Jesus has to appear on the scene to dispel the doubts.  However, in chapter 21, which may have been a later addition to the gospel, “Simon Peter, Thomas who was called Didymus, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples” appear to have returned to their occupation of fishing and seem surprised when Jesus shows up.


Of course, in the book of Acts, the follow-up to the Gospel of Luke, all of the Twelve, including a replacement for Judas, join in preaching the good news of a resurrected Jesus. However, after chapter 2 the only apostles mentioned are Peter, John and James (whose only noted accomplishment is being killed by Herod, Acts 12:2). Instead, you have newcomers doing the evangelizing, such as Stephen, Philip and of course, the enormously influential Paul.


Paul mentions the Twelve as witnesses of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:5.4 However, just as with the mysterious 500 who saw Jesus, he provides no names or details. This may have been reported to him and he passes it on, without having personal knowledge of these events. In his letter to the Galatians he tells of going to Jerusalem but only mentions Peter/Cephas, and James the brother of Jesus, not the brother of John who was among the Twelve (Galatians 1:18, 19). Fourteen years later he reports meeting with “James and Cephas and John” (Galatians 2:9). In none of his other letters does he mention any of the Twelve by name, except for “Cephas,” possibly another name for Peter.5 Granted, we seem to have only seven authentic letters from Paul, so we have to be careful in drawing inferences from limited material.


So, in Acts and the letters of Paul we only hear stories of Peter, James, and John; nothing about the rest of the Twelve.6 Going back to the Gospels, who were portrayed as the closest disciples of Jesus, his inner circle? Those three. For example, when Jesus is transfigured it is those three He takes with Him (Mark 9:2f, etc.). I suggest that after the reported resurrection of Jesus these were the only three who remained faithful and continued the work of Jesus’ ministry. Perhaps they were the only three of the Twelve who had personal visions of Jesus after His death. They were then thought of as those closest to Jesus, while the others left the movement. So those three became the inner circle of Jesus in the Gospels.


One could argue that Paul did not meet the rest of the Twelve simply because they were already out evangelizing. After all, Thomas was in India, and Andrew in Ukraine, etc.  Possible, but I find it curious that if the rest of the Twelve were out evangelizing we have no credible reports of it. Only entertaining but hard-to-take-seriously stories. Why only invented stories rather than authentic stories of their work on behalf of Jesus? We have reports of their martyrdoms, but perhaps that was a way to explain their absence from the Christian movement. It serves the Christian mission to portray them as martyrs.


Another possibility was that the rest of the Twelve did carry on what they thought to be Jesus’ ministry: teaching the Jews to repent and get ready for the coming kingdom of God. As such they would blend into the ongoing history of the Jews without creating a new religion, as happened with those who proclaimed a resurrected divine Jesus whose sacrifice for sins was the key to salvation. In fact, those preaching what came to be the Christian gospel would have looked down on and dismissed those who were preaching a lesser understanding of Jesus and His message. Perhaps they would have even been thought of as “false apostles” by Paul and others (2 Corinthians 11:13, Galatians 1:6-8). That may be one reason Paul seems to distance himself from the original Twelve in Galatians 1 & 2 (especially 2:6). Perhaps in Galatians 2:9 when Paul says that James and Cephas and John gave him “the right hand of fellowship” he is implying that the remainder of the Twelve, if they were still around, did not. They had a different understanding of Jesus’ message and mission.


So, those of the Twelve who did not remain faithful to the work, or who preached a Jewish rabbi Jesus rather than a divine savior of the world get written out of the picture in favor of those like Paul in an increasingly Gentile church. Instead, they become martyrs of legend who promoted what became “true” Christianity.7 The three who remained faithful become Jesus’ inner circle of closest disciples. If you think it unlikely that some of the Twelve would have left the movement, keep in mind that one of the disciples went so far as to betray Jesus and turn him over to the authorities. Is it such a stretch to think that some of the others also turned away after the death of Jesus? Is it possible that Judas better represents the prevailing attitudes among the Twelve than the surviving Three?


I realize this is heavy in speculation and it is difficult to make an argument from silence, but what is your explanation for the lack of substantive information about the work of the Twelve after the time of Jesus, in addition to clear indications of doubt among them?8 Well, if someone eventually invents a time machine perhaps one day we will know for sure.




1 The Acts of Thomas, written in the early 3rd century.

2 The Acts of John, ca. 180 CE.

3 Apparently it didn’t take: Christianity did not become established in Kievan Rus until Price Vladmir was baptized near Sevastopol in 988. I have visited the baptismal pool that was supposedly used, a beautiful site overlooking the Black Sea.

4 Note that he mentions the Twelve, and then also “the apostles.” Paul mentions a number of apostles in his letters other than the Twelve, but it seems they all were, or claimed to be, witnesses of a resurrected Jesus. Perhaps like Paul, through visions?

5 Dr. Ehrman has some posts on the blog addressing the question of whether Peter and Cephas were the same person.

6 Of course, there are books supposedly written by James and Jude, but those are generally thought to be referring to brothers of Jesus, not members of the Twelve, and pseudepigraphic (forged).

7 Not that the apocryphal stories are all thoroughly orthodox. For example, some promote complete abstinence from sex even among married couples, which did not become standard doctrine.

8 Granted, even what we know about the Three is sketchy, but at least we have Acts and Paul’s testimony.