There is not a large quantity of information known about Bartholomew. He was one of the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples, listed among the twelve, and was a strong follower of Christ. Because of the believed method of his death as a martyr – flayed alive – the Catholic church symbolizes him with three parallel knives.
Bartholomew’s name means “son of Talmai” (this is sometimes spelled Tolmai). His father was the king of Geshur, making Bartholomew royalty. He was known as a scholar who studied the law and the prophets. He was born in Cana of Galilee, the location of Jesus’ first recorded miracle, which began His ministry on earth.
It is believed that the person mentioned in John 1:45 is the same person as Bartholomew, based on the fact that the section is speaking of how the disciples were brought to Jesus or called by Jesus. Philip and Bartholomew are together in the other gospels, and John has Philip and Nathanael together in the same way. Nathanael was introduced to Jesus by Philip, who sought Nathanael out immediately after Jesus called Philip to follow Him. Philip said he had found the one who was spoken of in the law and the prophets, which would surely interest a man who spent his life studying these texts. However, when Philip said that Jesus was from Nazareth, Nathanael’s immediate response was incredulous. “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” He quickly learned that Jesus was who He said He was.
Nathanael means “gift of God.” It is possible that this was his given name and Bartholomew was his surname, though that is not clear.
When Philip brought Nathanael to Jesus, the first words spoken by Jesus in regards to him was “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” Nathanael was confused, wondering how Jesus could possibly know him. Jesus informed him that He had known him all along and told him that Nathanael would see much greater things than he had seen to that point. Nathanael’s declaration that Jesus is the Son of God is the first record of a person believing in Jesus as the Son of God.
As Philip was the one to bring Bartholomew to Christ, it made sense for him to travel with Philip when they went to take Jesus’ message to the world. It is believed that Philip and Nathanael partnered and preached the gospel together, because the latter is not mentioned without Philip. Tradition suggests that Bartholomew preached in India and left behind a copy of the gospel of Matthew translated into Hebrew, which copy was found in the second century by the teacher from Alexandria named St. Pantaenus. Tradition also says that Bartholomew preached in Ethiopia, Mesopotamia, Parthia (which is a part of what is now Iran), Lycaonia (which is a part of what is now Turkey), and Armenia.
The Armenian church looks to Bartholomew as one of their patron saints, with the understanding that he was one of the disciples that brought the gospel to them.
Tradition suggests that Bartholomew took the gospel to Polymius, Armenia’s king, resulting in his conversion. The king’s brother, Prince Astyages, is said to have demanded torture and execution of Bartholomew. However, history does not show a king of Armenia with that name, though an official by that name does appear in the history of India. Therefore, it is possible that the story is accurate in all details except the location.
There have been many art pieces done to commemorate the martyrdom of Bartholomew. Because he was believed to be skinned alive, depictions often show the underlying muscles and veins clearly visible. These works of art are often used to aid in teaching anatomy. There are, however, some other possibilities for his death – Foxe’s Book of Martyrs says he was crucified after being beaten, while another tradition suggests he was beaten to unconsciousness and then dumped into the ocean to drown. Regardless of the method, it is universally believed that he was a martyr.
Authors have included concepts from the life and death of Bartholomew into their fiction works, as well.
A street fair in Somerset, England, is named for St Bartholomew. It is held annually at the beginning of September and has been a tradition for centuries. The earliest record of this fair is from 1280.
An oval of just under an inch tall, this pendant is made of pewter and contains an image of Saint Bartholomew and the text “SAINT BARTHOLOMEW the APOSTLE PRAY FOR US” around the outside. The rhodium plated chain allows the pendant to be worn around the neck.
Each apostle is studied in this in-depth book. The author has done extensive research to determine as much as possible about the lives of the original apostles.
If you have wondered what it might have been like to travel with the disciples, this fiction work may help to understand some of what they learned and taught. This one follows Bartholomew through things he may have done and what he may have taught to someone he would train to follow in his footsteps.
Examine what is known about Bartholomew in this pamphlet that looks at what is known or can be determined.
This 20×28 inch framed painting mounted on a wooden frame is light but durable. Karl Briullov is the original artist of this work, which is replica printed on canvas.
This 61-page book discusses what can be known and what can be determined through the Scriptures and what modern-day Christians can learn from this apostle.