Nicknames, Surnames, Code Names and Aliases:
Exactly Who Were Jesus’ Disciples?
Her name was McGill, and she called herself 'Lil'. But everyone knew her as Nancy.
After these learnings, go to "Unearthing the Family of Jesus."
Texts: Mark 3:13-19; Gen 17:1-5, 15-17; 1 Peter 2:4-9
3:13. [Yahshua] goes up in the mountain and calls those whom he wanted to him,
and to him they went. 14. And he
(epoinhsen) twelve so that they might be with him, even that he
might send them to preach 15. and have
authority to cast out the demons. 16. And he appointed the twelve and he added
a name to Shimon (Simon) ie “Kefa” (Peter); 17. as for Yahqov (James) of Zavdai
(Zabad, Zebedee) and Yah’annan (John) the brother of Yahqov, he also added a
name to them – “Benim Regesh” (Boanerges) – that is, “Sons of Thunder
[Commotion],” 18. and
Andreas and Philippos and Bar Talmai (Bartholomew) and Mattityah (Matthew) and
Toma (Thomas) and Yahqov of the Halfai (Alphaeus) and Taddai (Thaddeus) and Shimon the Canaanite 19. and Yahuda
“Sicarius” (Judas Iscariot) who even
In the study of the Bible, names mean a lot. The Almighty said that his name was to be remembered in all generations (Exodus 3:15) and those who take his name in vain will be held accountable (Exodus 20:7). That’s why I use the Almighty’s name in all my teaching.
In many cases, we only get a small glimpse of Bible people, but we find a great wealth of information in their names. As we read in our Old Testament lesson, Yahweh changed the names of both Abram (high father) and Sarai (my lady) to Abraham and Sarah, which means, “Father of a Multitude” and “High Lady / Princess,” names that are in accordance with Yahweh’s great promises.
In the Gospel text, Yahshua is picking out his twelve men who would continue the apostolic ministry and tradition that he started. Some of these men we know about from their letters or acts as recorded in the Bible. But of others we know little or nothing. Yet if we make a study of their names, we can learn a lot about them because, in several cases, these disciples’ names were added to their common names as descriptions of their mission or character. In fact, some of these men are not known by their names at all, but by nicknames only. What can we learn about them by these aliases?
(In the translation above great care was taken to render the names in both the original tongues and in English. In translating these New Testament Bible names, five languages may be involved, including Aramaic, which was the common tongue of the disciples; Hebrew which was the language of their faith; Greek, the language of the world at the time; and Latin, the language of the Romans. The fifth language is English, which is our tongue; for without an excellent translation, how would we understand?)
Let’s start with Jesus’ name. His name is a Hebrew combination of words
meaning, “Yah is salvation” and is pronounced “Yahshua.” “Yah” is the sacred name of the Almighty in
its poetic form. In Yahshua’s day,
pronouncing the name of G-d meant a death sentence. So Jesus’ name, Yahshua, was
commonly pronounced Yeshua so as to avoid saying Yah. This is still the case today. Jewish believers call him Yeshua instead of
“Christ” is not a name but a title. It comes from a Hindi
(Indian) root meaning, “Anointed.” The Hindu god-name
Peter’s given name was Shĭmōn. This was the most popular name in Israel
in his lifetime. Shimon is familiar now because that’s the name of
James and John of Zebedee
James’ given name was Yahqov; Aramaic meaning, “Yah is protection.” How “Yahqov” got to be translated to English as “James” is a long story. (It came to be through the Latin “Iacomus,” though King James I might have had something to do with the use of the substitute name “James.”) Yahqov’s (James’) brother is Yah'anan (John), which means, “Yah is merciful.”
The Bible doesn’t say that James and John
are sons of Zebedee, only “of”
him. “Zebedee” is from the Hebrew name
(Zebedee, Zabad, Zabdi, Zabud), which means “endowment.” In the Old Testament, there were two men with
this name. The first was David’s
fighting man ranked right alongside of Uriah the Hittite
Chronicles 11:41: “Zabad”). The other was a
Furthermore, Yahshua gives a collective title to these men, calling them “Benim Regesh” (or Boanerges, interpreted as uioi bronthV in Greek), which means “Sons of Thunder” or "Contention" or "Competition." These fellows were outspoken, perhaps powerful, but always aggressive men. (Refer to Job 37:5 and other places where Elohim “thunders wondrously with his voice; he does great things which we cannot comprehend.”) This James may have spoken too loudly, for he was beheaded by King Herod (Acts 12:2). John, on the other hand, may have been the longest-lived of all the disciples.
However, it is hard to imagine a contentious trouble-maker as an author of the spiritual history of the movement (The Good News According to John, the title was probably added much later to the text) or to the letters attributed to John. The Revelation bears little literary resemblance to the others, and may well have been recorded by a "Son of Thunder," since thunders speak throughout the Apocalypse (and especially in 10:1-4, where the content of the voices of seven thunders must be kept a secret).
From earliest times, three Johns known in Nazorean history. My own "contention" is that the John called "Apostle" dictated the Revelation but not the other books and letters published under that name. For my reasons, see my Commentary Revelation Uncloaked.
Additionally, some important modern scholarly work finds this James to be a semi-fictional substitute for James the brother of Yahshua in order to diminish the work of Yahshua's brother for one reason or another. See my commentary, "Redating James" for more on this subject.
Modern scholars are making novel yet convincing, Scriptural, and logical arguments about the identities of the disciples and brethren of Yahshua. Their conclusions should not be dismissed lightly, especially for religious or traditional reasons. (I am referring to the later writings of James Robinson, Richard Painter, Robert Eisenman, and James Tabor.)
Unlike the others, Andrew (or Andreas) is a Greek name meaning simply “a man” or “a mighty man” or even “a husband.” “Man” is a funny name for a person. The Hebrew form might be Adam or Enosh, both of which mean "man." Matthew says “A Man” is Peter’s brother. It seems unusual that Shimon Kefa’s brother would have a foreign / Greek name - I doubt that Andrew was his name at all.
With a little letter play, we can get Ananyahu / Oniyah / Daniyahu - or maybe the editors wanted to hide his real name.
We don’t hear much about Andrew in the Bible. However, The Acts of Andrew has surfaced, and we can read about Andrew leaving town to become a missionary to the Greeks, performing incredible miracles and influencing high-ranking officials. Andrew might simply be a nickname. The Greeks who knew him might have simply called him, “da Man!”
Philippos is also a Greek name, meaning,
“horse lover.” Philip was in charge of
the provisions (John 6:5), so the “horse lover” must have been a good
administrator. We find him again in the Acts
appointed as a “deacon” and seeing to the provisions and welfare of the
community of faith
(Some see this as another Philip, but
why?) We remember that Philip stepped out to become
a mighty preacher, bringing light to the Ethiopian eunuch and the
Samaritans. Maybe Philip rode a horse
Bartholomew is Bar Talmai in Aramaic, which
means “son of Talmai.” Talmai is a
Hebrew word that means, “a heap of water.”
We’d say he was “a tall drink of water.”
Talmai is also a Bible name. He
was a descendent of the giants of
Church history tells us that Bartholomew was
also called Nathaniel
(also Nathanael), the man Yahshua met under the fig
tree. Nathaniel is a real name and means
“gift of the Almighty.” Yahshua saw
Nathaniel under the fig tree, which is a symbol for the
The Aramaic books of Volume VIII of the so-called Church Fathers include stories about Bartholomew's mission travels in the East through Asia, and his martyrdom of being crucified by townspeople upon the side of a barn. There may be some history in these stories. On the other hand, some of the Apocryphal books from the west tell us of the gross visions of Bartholomew and his battles with a monstrous huge antichrist.
Matthew is Mattityahu in Hebrew, which
means, “reward of Yahweh.” He’s also
(Mark 2:14), which is not only a name but a tribe of
Can you understand how Matthew’s names work
to reveal his person? His name means
“reward” and he’s a tax collector and Levite.
Levites, as servants of the
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In John 11:16, Thomas is called Didymos. Neither of these is a name; both Thomas (Toma) and Didymos (DidumoV) mean “Twin.” This man was the second born of twins. (He was someone’s twin.) In The Gospel of Thomas, which may have been written even before the Resurrection, “the Twin” identifies himself as Judas Didymos Thomas, and he is identified with as “Judas” several other places. Judas or Judah is the English translation of a Hebrew name Yahda (Yahuda, Yehuda) which means “Praise Yahweh.”
There are many stories about where Thomas went and what he did. As I mentioned, Thomas also recorded many sayings of Yahshua, quite a few aren’t found in the Bible. (Like, “Blessed is the lion which the man shall eat, and the lion become man; and cursed is the man whom the lion shall eat, and the lion become man.” Such a proverb hails back to stories like that of Samson and the lion.))
We’ve worked on eight disciples now. The next three are “shadow disciples” because so little is generally known about them. They are James Alphaeus (Yahkov Halfai), Thaddeus (Taddai) and Simon the Cananaean. I intend to bring these fellows out of the shadows and into the light. You’ll be surprised to learn who they are. But let me give you a clue: they are three brothers.
“shadow disciple” is the second James on our list. We already mentioned that the name James is
the same as Jacob or, in Aramaic, Yahqov – “Yahweh is Protection.” Some English translations say that James’ is
the son of Alphaeus, but the text simply reads that James is “of the Alphaeus,”
which, according to one source, may have been a class of holy men.*
Another source tells us that Alphaeus means “the First” or “Senior”
(from the first letter, alpha).
James was the Fourth of Scotland but the First of
Baruch Lev writes, "The same word [elef] with different vowels, is "ahloof" which means chief, or in modern Hebrew, general. James was the mebakker (chief) of the Jerusalem Assembly. John Byl writes that elef אלף also means of the troop, thousand, or family.
The church historian Tatian, who lived about a hundred years after James
(and was a student of Justin Martyr, 100-165), gives this James yet another
title – “Lebbaeus,” which means, “The Levite”
was also a Levite of the Alphaeus, Mark 2:14). So his full
appellation in English is James Alphaeus Lebbaeus. We’ll later find him to be a prominent
figure in the Acts of the Apostles, in the histories of Josephus and the writings of the third bishop of
The next shadow disciple is Thaddeus. In Luke’s list, Thaddeus is called “Judas
(not “son of James”), or James Alphaeus’ brother. Because his name is both Thaddeus and Judas,
he’s also called “Theudas”
(a combo of the two), which means, “living water.” Some versions of Matthew give him another
title, saying he is “surnamed Lebbaeus.”
So this second shadow disciple’s full appellation is Judas Thaddeus
Lebbaeus. This Theudas gets a
short but not sweet mention in the Acts.
Gamaliel: “Men of Israel, take care what you do with these men. For before these days Theudas arose, giving
himself out to be somebody...” Indeed
this Theudas was somebody.).
Theudas was known in history to
have led the Israelites back out of
The third shadow disciple is Simon the Canaanite. He has the same first name as Peter, i.e. Shimon. His title, the Canaanite (or Cananaean), comes from a Hebrew word cana, which means “zeal.” Luke calls him Simon “Zelotes” (zhlwthn) or “the Zealot” (Luke 6:15). We know that the zealots were a political movement of the first century that fought for the overthrow of authority by force. Zealots wanted to put very strict religious government in place. They were called Zealots because they were zealots for the Law.
You may remember that when Yahshua whipped the moneychangers out of the Temple courtyard, the disciples remembered what was written of him in the Psalms (69:9), "Zeal for thy house will consume me" (John 2:17). It was for this kind of violent zeal that Zealots were best known. Today we call such groups as these Zealots terrorists – but I suppose if the yoke of a foreign power were about our necks, a few of us might also become zealots.
Having now described the three “shadow disciples,” James, Judas/Theudas and Simon, let’s find these names together in another Gospel passage:
Mark 6:1. Yahshua came to his own country; and his disciples followed him. 2. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue; and many who heard him were astonished, saying, "Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him? What mighty works are wrought by his hands! 3. Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?"
catch who is mentioned as Yahshua’s brothers?
James, Judas and Simon, the three shadow disciples – that is, Yahqov,
Yahuda and Shimon. May we conclude that three
of Yahshua’s disciples are his brothers?
His brother James Alphaeus Lebbaeus succeeded him as the Apostle and
overseer of the
When James lost his life, his younger brother Simon Zelotes (also known as Cleopas) succeeded him. In the meantime, the middle brother, Judas Thaddeus Lebbaeus went out as a missionary and was martyred somewhat early in his life (Acts 6:4). Jude left behind children that we know of who were persecuted right into the second century as ancestors of King David.
There is still one more brother of Yahshua that is unaccounted for, mentioned in Mark 6; that is, Joses. So there is still a little detective work to be done there for you serious Bible students. There is an answer to the identity of Joses! But you will have to figure that out! The identity of this man is too controversial to bring up even here in this safe place.
Nicknames, Surnames, Code Names, Assumed Names and Aliases
Why is it that Bible writers used such confusing surnames and code names when referring to the disciples of Yahshua? Why did they want to hide the fact that three of Yahshua’s own brothers were his chief apostles? Why these weird names like Alphaeus, Cananaean, Lebbaeus, Thaddeus, Zelotes? Why does James come out of nowhere in Acts to become the chief apostle of the local assembly (Acts 15)? Why underplay the importance of the chief apostles and brothers of our Master in the Acts of the Apostles? Why not just be forthright and more truthful about these men who are our heroes of the faith? I’ll tell you why.
The Roman Emperors from Vespasian (69 – 79) through Trajan (98 - 117) tried to round up and execute any descendants of King David. One example is Emperor Domitian’s (81-96) inquisition of the remaining family members of Yahuda (Jude), Yahshua’s brother. (In our text, Jude’s called Thaddeus; and this event is recorded in Eusebius.) When these family members were questioned about “Messiah and his kingdom” they replied that the kingdom was not of the earth, but of the sky. And at the end of the world, Yahshua would appear to judge everyone according to his works. Domitian considered them to be ‘simpletons’ but his successor, Trajan (98-117), had them all killed (Eisenman, James, 119).
The persecution of believers by authorities certainly led to the veiling of these heroes of our faith by eliminating them from the Gospels, replacing their stories with the idea that Yahshua was alienated from his family (like John 7). But now that we know their identity, perhaps we can seek new truths about their exploits, emulate them and go forth in our own apostolates as they did.
P. S. The Disciple I Left Off
The missing disciple would be Judas
Iscariot, the “son of perdition” (John 17:12), who “was one of us and had been
assigned a part in our work”
(Acts 1:17 JNT).
This name has been parsed many ways to derive more meaning. There was a village in the Sinai called
“Kerioth,” so some thought this Yahuda was from there, which would make him the
only Judean disciple
Years ago I parsed Iscariot as “Ish Cherith,” a “man who cuts.” My name means the same thing in
German: to schneide means to “cut.”
Most now understand that the name is derived from the Latin word “sicarius”
– an “assassin” or “murderer.” Sicarius
further breaks down to “user of the dagger.” A straight Roman dagger was called
a sica and a curved dagger was a
(From which we get “sickle.”)
Indeed, that which was cut with the sica were the throats of
Roman officials and Jewish collaborators.
(Think of “the daggers of
So following the Zealots and Canaanites comes Yahuda Sicarius (Judas Iscariot), a zealot and member of the elite sicarii units, the assassin squads. The Zealots, according to Josephus and other contemporaneous historians, were the scourges of the Roman world. Josephus writes about them extensively and disapprovingly, yet with a reserved admiration. Here is a quote regarding their tenacity:
Some of the faction of the Sicarion ... not content with having saved themselves [from Masada], again embark on new revolutionary scheming, persuading those that received them there to assert their freedom, to esteem the Romans as no better than themselves and to look upon God as their only Lord and Master.
And another that reminds of contemporaneous Christian martyrdom stories:
They could not get any one of them to confess or to come to the verge of confession that Caesar was their Lord ... meeting the tortures and the fire with ... a soul that well nigh rejoiced in them ... But what was most astonishing was the courage of the children, not one of whom could be brought to these torments as to name Caesar for their Lord. (Both quoted from Eisenman, James the Brother of Yahshua, 180-181.)
P. S. S. The Fourth Brother
Finally, there is the brother of Yahshua named Joses (Mark 6:3, 15:40, 15:47 – mentioned twice as the younger to James and once as the son of Mary). Only one scholar really knows who he is. Looking at their names in Latin – Ioses and Iesus – this scholar tells us that Joses is his own brother, Yahshua. They’re the same person in a different context.
Mark 6:3. Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.
with all the nicknames, surnames, code names and aliases, why not? Joses, after all, means Yahweh’s Raised
* The Golden Bough (1922) by Sir James George
Frazer, “Chapter 8. Departmental Kings of Nature” (excerpt) Among
tribes on the outskirts of Abyssinia a similar office exists and has been thus
described by an observer: “The priesthood of the Alfai, as he is called by the
Barea and Kunama (
Jackson Snyder March 14, 2003 updated February 5, 2007