The Lives of the Apostles Intrigue Us

 

The lives of the apostles deeply intrigue us. For Christianity’s faithful, these historical figures are pioneers, heroes, and saints.

They are models for the faith and sources of firsthand knowledge of the Christ. They walked with Jesus, beheld his marvels, wondered at his conversations, and reflected deeply on his teaching. They sat at the Last Supper table, grew weary at Gethsemane, witnessed the crucifixion, and marveled at the resurrection. Not knowing what their individual futures held, they were shaken at Pentecost, grew into church leaders, and watched the church rise to a level of indelible competition with religions in the Roman Empire. Most apostles passed into obscurity, but all died without any thought that generations to follow would herald them as icons of the faith and personifications of religious ideals.

Thus begins the new work Quest for the Historical Apostles: Tracing Their Lives and Legacies (Baker, 2018). So also begins a quest to uncover the stories of those disciples in the gospels and Acts who inspire our faith. Their stories are familiar to many of us. Peter, John, and James are invited by Jesus to see his transfiguration in glory. Andrew had already invited his brother Simon Peter to come see the Messiah, just as Philip had promoted Jesus to Nathaniel. John is called, “The disciple whom Jesus loved,” and we come to appreciate a valuable perspective of Christ in the gospel bearing John’s name. At the crucifixion both deserted him, but John seems to recover to appear at the cross while Peter had stayed in the fringe of the trial. The two cannot help but run when they hear from Mary that the tomb of the Lord was empty on Easter morning.

We learn their names. We see their personalities. We wonder if we would be like them in moments of nobility and we distance our likeness to them in moments of weakness. We gain pride in them as they grow in Acts, becoming confident leaders in the early church. We recognize our own faith is built on their foundation (Eph. 2:20). Then, they drop off. The narrative in Acts seems to desert them as it focuses on the newcomer Paul. So, our minds wonder about the lives of the apostles. We long to know what happened to them beyond the New Testament—how they ministered, where they ministered, and how their ministry stories can continue to inspire us.

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This book, Quest for the Historical Apostles, follows this very curiosity. It is driven by a desire to complete their stories—even the obscure apostles like James the Lesser and Simon the Zealot. The writing of the book and the quest to uncover their stories admittedly stemmed from frustration in contemporary apostolic history accounts. The internet seemed to have varying accounts of their deaths and death places. Sunday school level books exaggerated their personalities to provide a variety of sympathy to human weaknesses. Scholars write off the historicity of all the New Testament apocryphal works—the many acts of the apostles after the biblical Acts of the Apostles—because of their gnostic themes and exaggerated miracle stories.

Yet, the lives of the apostles intrigue us. The quest to uncover their ministry histories can be disappointing and must be held in tension with our biblical understanding of their work, but we can still follow their paths in early church history. When we do, our heads shake and our voices laugh at stories, just before we reflect in awe at their depictions as bold, confident, articulate, wise, and brave ambassadors of God. A confidence of our own can develop—one careful not to trust the sources too uncritically—but one reminding us of the grace and power of God that accompanies the willing believer in promotion of Christ’s kingdom (I Cor. 4:9). When this happens, we are just like the apostles who still intrigue us.