Saint Bartholomew, Apostle and Martyr

August 19, 2016

The Pastor's Page

StBartSaint Bartholomew is one of the original twelve apostles.  In Aramaic, his name is bar talmai, “son of Tolmai,” or the Graeco-Roman equivalent, “son of Ptolemy.”  The only time that he is mentioned in the New Testament is on the four lists of the twelve apostles (Mt 10:3; Mk 3:18; Lk 6:14; Acts 1:13).  Because he is paired with Philip in the three Synoptic Gospels, and because Philip is paired with Nathanael in the Fourth Gospel (Jn 1:43-51; 21:2), biblical scholars believe that Bartholomew and Nathanael may be one and the same person.

Apart from Bartholomew’s name on these four lists, there is no other information about him in the New Testament.  There is wide agreement among early church historians that Bartholomew went on multiple missionary expeditions preaching the gospel with great fervor and conviction, but there is little agreement about where he went.

In the Fourth Century AD Eusebius reported, based upon Second Century information obtained from St. Pantaenus, a teacher in Alexandria, Egypt, that Bartholomew had gone to India, possibly in partnership with Thomas the apostle.  Pantaenus had visited India between 150 and 200 AD, and when he visited the Malabar Coast he came upon Christian communities that claimed that Bartholomew was their founder and that he had brought them copies of Matthew’s gospel.  Rufinus, another early church historian, reported that Bartholomew went to Ethiopia in North Africa and Arabia which is south of Israel.  Others reported that Bartholomew went to Mesopotamia and Persia, both east of Israel in modern-day Iraq, and Phrygia and Lycaonia, both in south-central Asia Minor or Turkey, possibly in partnership with Philip the apostle.

While there is little agreement about where Bartholomew went on his first missionary journeys, there is wide consensus about where he finished his missionary work.  Bartholomew made his final missionary trip in 44 AD to Greater Armenia, the area in modern-day southern Russia south of the Caucasus Mountains between the Black Sea to the west and the Caspian Sea to the east.

There are two divergent accounts of Bartholomew’s ministry and martyrdom.  According to the predominant tradition, Bartholomew, through his persuasive preaching, made a large number of converts to Christianity in Armenia.  This angered pagan barbarians who protested vociferously to King Astyages.  The king agreed and ordered that Bartholomew be put to death.  According to ancient Persian custom, Bartholomew was first flayed or skinned alive, and then beheaded.  This took place at Derbend, Albanopolis, in Upper Armenia, on the west coast of the Caspian Sea.  Bartholomew’s remains were placed in a sack and tossed overboard into the sea.

According to another tradition, Bartholomew converted King Astyages to Christianity.  This legend claims that the king’s brother was so infuriated that he ordered Bartholomew be put to death by flaying and decapitation.

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About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

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