[Note: This post is a continuation of a long project on the Twelve Aposltes as they are presented in scripture.]
Batholomew, also called Nathanael, is one of the more obscure members of the twelve apostles, really only given one personal story to flesh out his personality, unlike those apostles who are given very lengthy presentations. Nonetheless, what is known about this apostle is generally positive, and has provoked at least some members of my own personal family to say that I should have been called Nathanael instead of Nathan because like that apostle I am an Israelite in whom there is no guile. Before getting into the lone biblical story that helps us to see the character of Bartholomew (Nathanael), let us discuss his place in history and culture as well as among the twelve disciples as a whole.
Bartholomew (Nathanael) In History
We largely know of Bartholmew (Nathanael) in culture and history through two sources very unusual in their combination. For the influence of Bartholomew in culture we have the play St. Bartholomew’s Fair by the playwright Ben Johnson (a contemporary of Shakespeare), while we have the writings of Eusebius as well as the horrors of French Catholocism to thank for our understanding of Bartholmew (Nathanael) in history. Together these sources provide an interesting understanding.
St. Bartholomew’s Fair
Ben Johnson’s play does not, as can be expected, provide a great deal of information about Bartholomew himself. Nonetheless, it does provide evidence that the apostle’s memory was used to justify a somewhat anarchic merchant’s fair that brought together all classes of English society in the common pursuit of wealth and material blessings . The play also gave Johnson the opportunity to mock and ridicule Puritans, a favorite pastime among the playwrights of his time .
St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre
Just like the English play shows that St. Bartholomew’s Day was utilized for a favorite English pastime of commerce, the history of the day in France shows that the French also used the day supposedly in honor of this apostle to engage in one of their own favorite pastimes–civil disorder. On that day in 1572 French Catholics murdered thousands of Protestants in Paris who were there for an important marriage. The massacre killed many of the leaders of the Protestant camp and also marked a turn in the bloody hostility of Protestants and Catholics in general , and especially in France, which descended into civil war for the next couple of decades.
Bartholomew In History
Eusebius records Bartholomew as having gone to India after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Other historical traditions have him going to Armenia or other places, where he was supposedly martyred by having his skin flayed or being crucified upside down. The trusty Chaldean sources (also responsible for the very excellent Peshitta) record Nathanael and Bartholomew as the same person, which is one of the few trustworthy records about an apostle whose deeds are so obscure that they did not even lead to the creation of an early “act” of the apostle . In short, we really have very little idea what this apostle did in history.
Bartholomew’s (Nathanael’s) Place Among The Disciples
As has been previously discussed , Bartholomew called Nathanael ranks sixth in the ranking of the twelve apostles. He is most closely associated in John (the only place where he is mentioned as more than a name) with the apostle Philip, who ranks fifth, and it can therefore be assumed that in the two by two ranking of apostles that he and Philip were associated together as partners. Aside from that, he ranks as one of the members of a reasonably solid second set of apostles including Philip, Thomas, and the tax collector and author of the Gospel Matthew, personally unspectacular but loyal and faithful.
The Popularity and Reputation of Bartholomew (Nathanael)
Since little is known of Bartholomew (Nathanael) in scripture or history, and even the identification of Bartholomew and Nathanael as being the same apostle has been disputed by some, most of the reputation of this apostle either belongs to the attention paid in the traditions to his death or to the events that occurred on his supposed saint’s day given by the heathens of the corrupted later Catholic church. All that we can say for sure about his reputation is that so long as it rests on his contribution to scriptures, it is a good and worthy reputation.
Bartholomew (Nathanael) In The Scriptures
The scriptural trace of Bartholomew (Nathanael) is very limited. Most of the references have been dealt with elsewhere  as they relate to his place within the body of the twelve as a whole. A couple of implicit references are given elsewhere, but no details. He is mainly known, however, for being a thoughtful disciple who is given the honorific of being an Israelite in whom there is no guile.
Implict References To Bartholomew (Nathanael)
There are at least a couple of implicit references to Bartholomew (Nathanael) in the scriptures. First, John 20:24 records that he was one of the disciples who saw the resurrected Christ, unlike Thomas . Additionally, he appears to be one of the apostles mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:4-5 as having a believing wife. Again, though, he is not mentioned by name nor is any detail provided about him personally.
An Israelite Indeed, In Whom There Is No Deceit
The one and only opportunity for Bartholomew called Nathanael to shine in scripture comes in a very curious and intriguing passage found in John 1:43-51: “The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, “Follow Me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote–Jesus of Nazereth, the son of Joseph.” And Nathanael said, “Can anything good come out of Nazereth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit.” Nathanael said to Him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you, ‘I sw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
This passage is interesting for a variety of reasons. It reveals at least three important aspects of the apostle’s character–his relationships with other apostles, his honest and sincere personality, and his thoughtful reflection upon the word of God. Let us examine each of these in turn.
For one, Nathanael is shown as having a preexisting close friendship with Philip (and presumably one with Peter and Andrew as well), as they were all Galileans in search of the truth before their encounter with Christ. Philip’s concern for Nathanael can be shown by the fact that Philip went to him to help convince him to join the party with Jesus Christ, given their existing search for the fulfillment of scriptures that was known to be “in the air” at that particular time, as the 70 weeks prophecy was nearing its widely recognized end. Nathanael’s known interest in such matters and his friendship with Philip allowed him to be called to join Philip and a group of other apostles on their trip to Galilee.
Second, this passage shows Nathanael to be a very blunt and guileless person. He openly expresses his doubts that anything good could come out of Nazareth, and then openly proclaims the supernatural knowledge Jesus possess shows that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the promised Messianic king of Israel. Jesus Christ reads his character like an open book, and likes what He sees–promising greater miracles than the supernatural knowledge about human character He possessed.
Third, this passage shows Nathanael to be a thoughtful and reflective sort of person. The statements of Jesus Christ about being an Israelite relate to his descent from Jacob, who was certainly a man full of guile and deceit during his early life. That said, it would appear as if Nathanael was under the fig tree (a common representation of a philosophical sort of person) thinking about the dream of Jacob where angels went up and down the stairway to heaven, showing the relationship between heaven and earth and the possibility of communication between the two realms. This musing on deep and spiritual matters allows Jesus Christ to call him as a member of the twelve without hesitation or complaint.
Lessons From Bartholomew (Nathanael)
There are a few lessons that one can learn from Bartholomew (Nathanael). These lessons include lessons about his personality as it appears in scripture as well as what type of believer is likely to be a lot like this apostle. In learning about Bartholomew (Nathanael) we help learn that the qualities Jesus Christ praised in him are also praiseworthy in other believers, and are useful for the body of Christ as a whole.
Bartholomew (Nathanael) As A Type of Disciple
There are a few things we can say about Bartholomew (Nathanael ) as a type of disciple. For one, this type of disciple is an honest searcher of the truth, honest about his faith, about his doubts, and about his thoughts and reflections. This sort of honesty and sincerity is one of the factors that allows Jesus Christ to trust him openly as well as allows him to develop and maintain warm relationships with the other disciples. Additionally, the thoughtful and reflective nature of this type of disciple, when combined with the open and sincere nature, leads to long and fascinating (and deeply interesting) conversations about important spiritual matters. This is the type of disciple one wants at a dinner party with other believers, or as a sounding board for one’s own thoughts and ruminations, as one will get a sincere and open response that is also friendly and open to new understanding.
The Gifts of Bartholomew (Nathanael)
The chief gifts of Bartholomew (Nathanael) are an open and sincere nature that is without plotting and guile. All too often among professed Christians there are secret agendas or the hiding of one’s ambitions or plans. In contrast, the open and guileless sincerity of Bartholomew (Nathanael) is refreshing, like the cold chill of a mountain stream. Additionally, the gift of reflection and intellect of Bartholomew allows for the development of honest and open conversations about spiritual matters such as the meanings of obscure parts of scripture as well as the fulfillment of biblical prophecies. A mind open to evidence, open about its concerns and prejudices (and willing to overcome them), is a mind that Jesus Christ can work with to great effect. And so He did with Bartholomew called Nathanael.
Let us therefore conclude with an honest admission that one would like to know a lot more about this apostle than either the biblical or the historical record provide. However, what the Bible does supply is at least a striking piece of evidence of how this particular disciple (and therefore, others like him) fits in with other disciples as a sounding board and a sincere and faithful companion, full of reflection as well as sincerity. We all would be blessed to have such friends and fellow brethren to appreciate. May it be said of us as it was said of him that we are Israelites indeed, in whom there is no deceit. For while Satan is the father of lies, God is a God of truth and light.