Question:

Some articles on the net are so confusing and misguiding that a lay man finds it hard to understand or come to a conclusion about who is who. Will you please explain and guide me if these following honorable characters are different or the same?
{A}
1) John the Apostle, Evangelist, Theologian
2) John of Patmos
3) John the Presbyter


{B}
1) James the Less or Lesser
2) James the son of Alphaeus
3) James the Just or of Jerusalem


{C}
1) Jude Thaddeus
2) Jude Lebbeus
3) Jude of Edassa


{D}
1) Simon the Cananean or Zealot
2) Simon of Jerusalem, son of Clopas

{E}
1) Philip the Apostle
2) Philip the Evangelist

{F}
1) Mary Magdalene
2) Mary of Bethany


Answer:

The difficulty comes from the fact that men tend to reuse names. Thus we use multiple names with surnames in an attempt to distinguish people. In biblical days people were distinguished by their father's name, by the location they originated from, or by their occupation. As a simple example, we find Jesus called:

  • Jesus of Nazareth (where he was from) in Matthew 26:71
  • Jesus, Son of God (who was his father) in Luke 8:28
  • Jesus, the carpenter (what he was trained to do) in Mark 6:3
  • Jesus, the prophet (what he did) in Matthew 21:11

John

There are three Johns mentioned in the Bible.

  • One is generally called John the Baptist (distinguishing him by what he did), such as in Matthew 3:11.
  • Then there was John, the son of Zebedee, and the brother of James (Matthew 4:21). These two brothers became apostles of Jesus (Matthew 10:2).
  • While we know him as Mark, his other name was John (Acts 12:12,25; 15:37). Thus, even when his name John is used, Mark is also mentioned so we know which John we are talking about.

It is John, the son of Zebedee, who wrote the books of John, I John, II John, III John and Revelation. We determine that John wrote John because he always referred to himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved" and never by his given name. Matching events between the gospels shows us that this was John the Apostle. I John was written by an eyewitness of Jesus (I John 1:1-4) and the style of writing closely matches the book of John. II and III John have the same style as well, but the author calls himself "the elder." The book of Revelation states it was written by John while on the island of Patmos -- an island used to hold political prisoners during the Roman empire (Revelation 1:9).

James

There are several James in the Bible:

  • James the son of Zebedee and the brother of John (Matthew 4:21).
  • James the son of Alphaeus (Matthew 10:3). His mother's name was Mary and his brother's name was Joses (Mark 15:40). He is called "James the Less" in this passage, probably to distinguish him from James the son of Zebedee by his age.
  • James the father of Judas (also known as Lebbaeus or Thaddaeus) (Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13). The Greek is actually vague about the relationship between James and Judas. Some argue that it should be translated as Judas the brother of James making him the same as James the son of Alphaeus.
  • James the son of Joseph, and half-brother of Jesus (Matthew 13:55; Galatians 1:19). He also had a brother named Judas.

It was either James, the son of Alphaeus, or James, the son of Joseph, who wrote the book of James. The subject has been heavily debated over the years. Similarly, the book of Jude mentions that the author (Jude or Judas) is the brother of James. Depending on how you take the relationships above this Judas is either the brother of James, the son of Alphaeus, or James, the Lord's brother.

There is no "James the Just" or "James of Jerusalem" in the New Testament.

Jude or Judas

The name Jude is actually just another way of pronouncing Judas and there were several Judas' in the Bible.

  • Judas Iscariot means he is the Judas from the Charioth, a small town in Judah (Matthew 10:4). This is the Judas who betrayed Jesus. His father's name was Simon (John 13:26).
  • Another one of the apostles was also named Judas (John 14:22). He was also known as Lebbaeus or Thaddaeus (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:16). His father (or brother, see the discussion under "James") was James.
  • One of the Lord's half-brothers was named Judas (Matthew 13:55).
  • There was a Judas of Galilee who had lead a rebellion (Acts 5:37).
  • There was a Judas in Damascus, with whom Paul stayed (Acts 9:11).
  • Barnabas' given name was Judas Barsabbas (son of Sabbas) (Acts 15:22).

There is no Jude or Judas of Edessa in the Bible.

Simon

  • The most famous is Simon, son of Jonah, who was nicknamed Peter by Jesus or Cephas in Aramaic (Matthew 4:18; Matthew 16:17; John 1:42). His brother's name was Andrew.
  • Simon the Cananite (or the Zealot). This was mistranslated as "Canaanite" in the King James Version and carried into some newer translations (Matthew 10:4). "Zealot" refers to a sect of the Jews who advocated the violent overthrown of the Roman government.
  • One of Jesus' half-brothers was named Simon (Matthew 13:55).
  • Simon the Leper in the town of Bethany (Matthew 26:6) at whose house the Lord had a meal.
  • Simon the Pharisee at whose house Jesus had a meal (Luke 7:40).
  • Simon of Cyrene who was forced to carry Jesus' cross (Matthew 27:32). He had two sons named Alexander and Rufus (Mark 15:21).
  • Simon, the father of Judas Iscariot (John 12:4).
  • Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:9) who lived in Samaria.
  • Simon the tanner (Acts 9:43) who lived in Joppa.

While there is mention of a Mary wife of Clopas (John 19:25), there is no mention in the Bible of Clopas having a son named Simon. Nor is there mention of a Simon of Jerusalem.

Philip

  • One of the twelve apostles was named Philip (Matthew 10:3). He was from Bathsaida (John 1:44).
  • Two of Herod the Great's sons were named Philip. One lived in Rome and had his wife leave him for his brother (Mark 6:17). The other Philip became a ruler (tetrarch of Iturea) (Luke 3:1).
  • One of the first seven men selected to serve tables for the church was named Philip (Acts 6:5). His preaching is recorded in Acts 8 and he eventually settled in Caesarea (Acts 8:40). Thus he was known as Philip the evangelist (Acts 21:8).

Mary

  • The most famous Mary is the mother of Jesus and the wife of Joseph (Matthew 1:16).
  • Mary Magdalene (Matthew 27:56). Her name can also be read as Mary of Magdala, which states where she was from. She had seven demons removed from her by Jesus (Luke 6:8). She is the one who first saw Jesus risen from the grave.
  • Mary, the wife of Clopas, and the mother of James the Less (one of the apostles) and Joses (Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; John 19:25). This is the "other Mary" mentioned in Matthew 28:1.
  • Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, who lived in Bethany (Luke 10:38-39; John 11:1). She is the Mary who anointed Jesus' feet with oil (John 11:2).
  • The mother of John Mark was also named Mary (Acts 12:12).
  • There is also a woman named Mary who lived in Rome (Romans 16:6).