How Many Disciples Did Jesus Have?

OK, so this is an easy one.

Twelve, right?

Are you sure? Can you name them?

OK: Peter, James and John . . . Oh, and Judas . . . And doubting Thomas.

And . . . Simon? Or was he the same as Peter?

No worries. When it comes to disciples, most can only get a handful on the first try. Even though, deep down, we know that there should be 12. Frankly, I think if you can get 4 or 5 youre well on your way, and you’ll be familiar with most of the main characters in the story toobout.

What’s more, if you want me to be really honest. The question of the number and names of the disciples of Jesus is actually a trick. Not even the Gospel writers can agree to the precise number or names of Jesus’ closest followers. All say the number 12 at one point or another, and they give them names. But if you look closer at the story it seems that the roving band of followers that gathers around Jesus during his ministry included 3 or 4 or 5 principal actors and something of a rotating band of other folks who are more notable for their coming and going than for their actions or identities.

So, what are we to make of this named-but-anonymous band? Why is it so important at some points to know the most identifying details (e.g. Joanna is identified both using the name of the husband and HIS employer) hile other’s are left to simply be a part of the crowd?

I think the author’s reasons for doing this are manifold. Numerology, allusion and providing links to concrete historical figures in and after the time of Jesus are probably some of the most common. But I also think that there is something broader at stake. At the end of the day, the authors of the Gospel texts seem to be saying, “whether you are a somebody or a nobody, there is room on Jesus’ team for you.”

A perpetual question for me in my life before becoming a religious professional (I was a teacher and football coach) was whether or not we should put the players’ names on the back of their jerseys. Giants of the coaching world held opposite opinions on the subject. Some saying that anonymity promoted team unity while others touted the potential of motivation through specific identification.

I never was the one whose job was to select and purchase jerseys for the team. But, I think if I had, I would have done something different on every new set. Some would have names, others would not. I’d have kept them guessing – both on the field and off.

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