Andrew: The Cross Beyond Nice


You’re back in school and the test asks, “Which of the follow designations is true about the Apostle Andrew?”

(a)    The patron saint of Ukraine
(b)    The patron saint of Romania
(c)     The patron saint of Russia
(d)    The patron saint of Scotland
(e)    The brother of Simon Peter
(f)      An unassuming mediator in gospel accounts

Then, if you were told that more than one answer is right you’d probably move from (e) to uncertainty. The answer is in fact all of them. While few can accurately recall Andrew in the gospels, even fewer are aware of his supposed ministry in so many ancient regions that make him a national saint. In writing Quest for the Historical Apostles: Tracing Their Lives and Legacies, this apostle became a favorite. This long blog tells you why. And if you’re name is Andrew, you’ll enjoy this journey of your namesake.

When John the Baptist identified Jesus to two of his own disciples, one proves to be Andrew. A dialog with Jesus and great curiosity about this Messiah is briefly recorded. Most notably, John 1:41 records: “Andrew found first his own brother, Simon, and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah.’” This is Andrew’s first mediation of Jesus to others.

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A second mediation opportunity comes when Jesus asks Philip and Andrew how they will feed the crowd of 5,000 (John 6:1-6). Andrew is recorded as the one who said they had only five fish and two barley, “But how far will they go among so many?” (John 6:8-9). Then, he watched them multiply and saw the crowd fed. A third mediatory role comes when some Greeks want to see Jesus (John 12:20-29). They come to Philip, who comes to Andrew, and they come to Jesus with the request. While we don’t know that these Greeks received an audience there, Jesus uses the request to explain that “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” where his death will provide eternal life to all—including to the Gentiles who can indeed meet Jesus.

As a result, an overlooked pattern of standing between people with need and a Jesus who can meet those needs characterizes the Apostle Andrew. This highlights even more that he introduced the person of Jesus to his brother Peter, who would become the prince of the apostles and the great early church pillar.

This is why it’s so easy to name (e) above: Peter is so important that his original link to Jesus becomes valuable, viz. Andrew. It also helps to associate Andrew as Peter’s brother because six times the New Testament does (Matt. 4:18, 10:2; Mark 1:16; Luke 6:14; John 1:40, 1:41, 6:8). Ellsworth Kalas wonders if Andrew was ever resentful of Peter’s consequential prestige, since Andrew was responsible for their introduction (Thirteen Apostles, p.7). It’s worthy speculation, but it’s just that. We can’t know about any resentment if the biblical text does not suggest it. Even worse is the overreaching of Bernard Ruffin when he concludes about Andrew from the mass feeding: “This tells us something about Andrew. He had a deep trust in his Lord and an awareness that Jesus was Master.” (The Twelve, p.64). Such efforts try to make the apostles look nice to provide encouragement to believers, even as the text claims Andrew missed the chance to believe in Jesus. Ronald Brownrigg takes it just as far concerning the episode with the Greeks: “Andrew emerges as a sensitive and approachable man who always had time and patience to listen to enquiries, even from children and foreigners. He was a selfless and considerate man, who did not resent the leadership of his brother” (Twelve Apostles, p.47). Kalas imagines how “Andrew was a person of spiritual hunger. His soul was on the search.” (Thirteen Apostles, p.5). These speculations are nice—really, really nice—but they just aren’t there in the text Christians consider authoritative. “Nice” beyond the New Testament doesn’t help believers to honor the scripture.

Andrew could be a case study in what can and cannot be known about an apostle, illustrating how lack of information produces substitute information.

He is named among the disciples after the Ascension in Acts (1:13), then he is not named again in the New Testament. There are numerous tales of Andrew after Acts, none of which can be certain. The Acts of Andrew and Matthias relates Andrew’s rescue of Matthias from prison among cannibals around the Black Sea. The Acts of Peter and Andrew describes their ministry together in an unknown city where they baptized over 1,000 people. The Acts of Andrew describe the healing of a blind boy in Amasea of Asia Minor, an exorcism of tombs in Nicea, the intervention against soldiers in Thrace of Greece, and the rebuke of a giant serpent in Greek Thessalonica. While we would be unwise to claim certainty of all such details, apologist Sean McDowell recognizes: “While [apocryphal acts] contain legendary accretion, they preserve the most reliable destination and fate for their respective apostles…Although the writer of the various Apocryphal Acts had creative license, he or she was also bound by known tradition.” (Fate of the Apostles, 182-183). Somewhere among these stories are some likely facts about Andrew’s ministry beyond Acts.

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Yet, the inspirational story that I wanted to believe in research of the historical apostles was the story of his death. At Patras, Greece, where his tomb supposedly rests today, the apostle healed the fever of Maximilla, wife of a contemptible proconsul, Aegeates, and she became a believer. Angry, the proconsul ordered Andrew to be scourged with seven whips before ordering his crucifixion. The sadistic order comes from Aegeates: “They came and bound his hands and his feet and nailed them not…he wished to afflict him by hanging him up, and that in the night he might be devoured alive by dogs.” Then, the apostle Andrew was crucified. Legend has that the cross was saltire-shaped, a cross in the form of an X. But first, Andrew approached the cross with a salute:

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Hail, O cross, yea be glad indeed! Well know I that thou shalt henceforth be at rest, though that hast for a long time been wearied, being set up and awaiting me….O cross, device of the salvation of the Most High! O cross, trophy of the victory over the enemies! O cross, planted upon the earth and thy fruit in the heavens! O name of the cross, filled with all things. Well done, O cross, that hast bound down the mobility of the world (Acts of Andrew in James, 359-360).

The inspiration of facing the cross of his death, the recognition of it as a symbol of reward rather than pain, and the suffering he endured in this legend are the stuff of which inspiration is made.

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There are other interesting ideas about the Apostle Andrew. James Patrick believes that the “disciple Jesus loved” in John’s gospel is not John, but Andrew—the author of that gospel (Andrew of Bethsaida and the Johannine Circle, p. 57-60). Supposedly Regulus, the Bishop of Patras, Greece, had a vision in AD 354 to move the bones of St. Andrew ultimately to a place of rest in modern St. Andrew’s, Scotland. This leads not only to his patronage there but the presence of the saltire cross on the flag of Scotland.

Not much of the true history can be known about Andrew. Perhaps I’m just as guilty as Kalas, Brownrigg, and Ruffin to provide ahistorical legends about the man after criticizing them for making light of his history. Yet, the tales reported in these Acts aren’t feelings-based inventions from scripture to make people sense warmth. The sweat and blood of a ministry on the frontier of paganism offers people like me more encouragement and inspiration than a hermeneutic of nice compliments. Maybe Russia, Ukraine, and Scotland have made an Andrew for themselves, but their stories aren’t merely nice—they are truer to the suffering suitable to a New Testament apostle driven to the ends of the earth.

Learn more about the apostles after the New Testament in Brian’s Quest for the Historical Apostles: Tracing Their Lives and Legacies (Baker, 2018):