There is relatively little we know for certain regarding Bartholomew, other than his inclusion with the list of the twelve disciples. His name is the combination of two Hebrew words, “bar(son)” and “Talmai.” As it was common for sons to carry their father’s name, it's likely his father’s name was Talmai. “Bar” is part of other Biblical names. Examples include, Barabbas (son of the father), Barnabas (son of encouragement) and Bartimaeus (son of Timaeus).
There is some thought that Bartholomew is also Nathanael, who is mentioned in the Gospel of John. This is good reason to assume this. In the first three Gospels, what are called the synoptic Gospels, Bartholomew is listed closely with Philip. As you will read below, Philip finds Nathanael upon encountering Jesus. These common connections to Philip suggest Bartholomew and Nathanael are the same person. We will proceed under this assumption.
Key verses regarding Bartholomew:
Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot...
And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James.
Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing…“Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish.
What do we know about Bartholomew/Nathanael?
- He was a native of Bethsaida of Galilee. (John 1:44)
- He was one of the twelve. (Mark 3:18)
- He is strongly associated with Philip. (see above)
- He took part in selecting Mattias to succeed Judas. (Acts 1)
- Seems to have prejudicial opinions regarding Nazareth, Jesus’ childhood home. (John 1:46)
- He recognized Jesus as the Son of God. (John 1:49)
- Jesus called him a “true Israelite”. (John 1:47)
- He was part Jesus’ miraculous catch of fish. (John 21:1-6)
A True Son of Israel?
Jesus says of Bartholomew, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” In just a few words Jesus asserts a great deal regarding not only Bartholomew, but also Himself. Firstly, while the fact that Bartholomew is from Galilee may suggest that he is a Samaritan, there is no Biblical reason to assume so. There were many Jews in Galilee. Jesus calls him a true Israelite. Our Lord describes Bartholomew as one “in whom there is no deceit”, not because of the disciple’s heredity or merit, but rather because his sins are forgiven due to his sonship in the kingdom of God through faith in the Savior, Jesus Christ.
Interestingly, it is also valid to gather that with the words “in whom there is no deceit”, the Messiah is describing Himself. Recall the words of the prophet. “And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth” (Isaiah 53:9). As He frequently did, Jesus works to connect Himself to the Old Testament, asserting that He is promised Messiah. Jesus never once lied or denied that He is the Christ, regardless of the consequences realized in His conviction and execution on the cross. In describing Bartholomew with the same words Isaiah used to prophesy about the Messiah, Jesus asserts that the disciple has life through faith in the Messiah’s death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit comforts us with the same description said of Bartholomew. Based on nothing of ourselves, we are forgiven and live eternally though Jesus’ redemptive work.
The Miraculous Catch of Fish Game
Jesus’ miracle regarding the catch of fish presents an excellent illustration for sharing Christ. Indeed, this is the meaning of this miracle, although the disciples likely missed this. Left to ourselves, we cannot convert anyone to Christianity; we fail to catch fish. Jesus not only calls us to cast the Gospel net, but His Holy Spirit uses the Good News to catch many fish. Only in heaven will we see the many fish the Lord used us to catch.
Find a sideview image of a fish that fits an 8” x 11” sheet of paper. Have students cut out five and label each with the name of a person with who they could share Jesus or invite to church. Invite younger students to color the pages. Find a large, open space, like a gymnasium or basement. Spread the fish only the empty floor. Divide the class into teams. One at a time, each member of the teams runs and tries to pick up as many fish as they can. Both number ones play at the same time, then both twos, threes, and so forth. The team with the most fish wins.
When finished, connect the game with the miraculous catch of fish. Clarify that sharing Christ is not a competition, rather that Jesus will be with us when we share Christ. Send students home with their own fish as a reminder.
Continue teaching about the apostles in your Sunday School classrooms.