Bible Question:

Did Jesus’ apostles contact each other after they left Jerusalem?

Bible Answer:

The apostles first appear in the Bible in the gospels: Matthew,  Mark, Luke and John and then in the book of Acts. The gospels provide us with the names of the disciples or the apostles of Christ. For a list of the apostles please read, “Call of the Twelve.”  The study “How did the apostles die?” provides a short summary of the available historical evidence and traditions of how the apostles died. In this study we answer the question, “Did Jesus’ apostles contact each other after they left Jerusalem?”

Disciples Together At Last Supper

Apostles Contact After Christ’s Resurrection

The books of Acts, Galatians and 2 Peter tell us that the apostles met together and communicated with one another during the early years of the church. However, it is not clear when the various apostles left on missionary trips to share the gospel in different parts of the world. The study “How did the apostles die?” spotlights the various areas that the apostles visited to share the gospel, and most of them died in the process. The following summarizes what we do know about the relationships of the apostles from the New Testament.

– Book of Acts

In Acts 1:13-14 we are told that after Jesus ascended back to heaven the eleven apostles that remained after Judas died were together in the Upper Room. They had gathered for prayer and at the same time selected Matthias as the replacement for Judas (Acts 1:15-26). In verse 14 we are told that Jesus’ mother was also with them. This is the last reference to Jesus’ mother in the Scriptures. We know from John 19:26-27 that the apostle John agreed to care for Christ’s mother.

On the day of Pentecost the apostles were together again (Acts 2:1) and Peter preached a message and the Holy Spirit moved and drew three thousand people to believe in Christ and to become Christians. In Acts 2:42 we discover the Christians regularly gathered to hear the apostles teach the Word of God. It appears that each apostle taught the Scriptures since the number of Christians was so large.

In Acts 4 Peter and John were arrested (Acts 4:3, 13) because they had been preaching about Jesus Christ and declaring that those who believed in Him would be resurrected from the dead (Acts 4:2). As a result, the Sanhedrin Council ordered Peter and John to stop preaching about Christ, but the apostles refused to stop. Consequently in Acts 5:12-18 all of the apostles were arrested because they continued preaching about Christ. One wonders what happened in the jail when all of the apostles were together.

In Acts 6:1-4 we are told that the apostles solved a problem that had occurred among the Hellenistic widows. The process they revealed to the early Christians was that their primary purpose (and the primary purpose for every pastor and elder) was to study and teach the Word of God. That was more important than managing the organization.

Yet, Acts 8:14 reveals that evangelism was also important. Here we are told that Peter and John visited some new Christians in Samaria in order to confirm that their conversions were real. They sought to unite all Christians into one church. There were no denominations  or splinter churches at the time of the apostles. All of the churches were under the leadership of the apostles.

Acts 11:1-2 tells us that the apostles and Peter were together again. Peter had just returned from a meeting with a Gentile named Cornelius and his family. Acts 10:34-48 reveals that his entire family, some relatives and some friends had become Christians. Consequently, Peter shared with the apostles that God was saving Gentiles too!

While Acts 12:1-3 tells us that King Herod, the son of King Herod the Great, put James, the brother of John, to death. He also arrested Peter. We are not told if the apostles were together or not. Most likely the apostles were still together in Jerusalem since Acts 15:2-13 states that Paul and the other apostles including Peter and James were together for a church council. The purpose of the council was to determine if God was saving Gentiles in addition to Jews. The conclusion was that God was offering salvation to both Jews and Gentiles. It was a unanimous decision of the remaining apostles (one of the apostles was killed in Acts 12:2).

It is possible that the remaining apostles were in Jerusalem in Acts 21:17-18 when Paul visited. However, we are only told that Paul met James and the elders in Jerusalem. Since Acts 15:6 mentions that both apostles and elders were present at the council meeting, it appears that many and most of the apostles were not there on this occasion. This occurred at the end of Paul’s third missionary journey.  See “What happened on Paul’s third missionary journey?” for more information.

– Book of Galatians

The last time any reference is made to the apostles, Peter, John and James being together in Jerusalem occurs in Galatians 2:7-10. We are told that on this occasion Paul met with them to make sure that he understood the gospel correctly. Then in verses 11-14 Paul rebuked Peter for sin. This event occurred about seventeen years after Paul’s conversion or A.D. 50 (Galatians 1:18; 2:1). This event actually occurred between Paul’s first and second missionary journeys. See “What happened on Paul’s first missionary journey?” and “What happened on Paul’s second missionary journey?” for more information.

– Book of 2 Peter

While 2 Peter 3:15 does not mention a meeting of any of the apostles, it does state that Peter had read Paul’s writings. This means that apostles were reading one another’s writings.

These verses and passages help us understand that the apostles were together initially in Jerusalem from the day of Pentecost until the end of Paul’s third missionary journey which ended about May 28, A.D. 57. See “What happened on Paul’s third missionary journey?” for more information.

Early Church Fathers And The Apostles

Unfortunately, neither the early church fathers nor tradition provide any information about the relationship of the apostles after May 28, A.D. 57. Historical records tell us that they left Jerusalem and most of them were murdered.

The early church father Tertullian writes the following summary about Peter and Paul, the two apostles about whom we know the most.

This only I perceive in running through the Acts. I am not at all on the search. The prisons there, and the bonds, and the scourges, and the big stones, and the swords, and the onsets by the Jews, and the assemblies of the heathen, and the indictments by tribunes, and the hearing of causes by kings,and the judgment-seats of the pro-consuls and the name of Caesar, do not need an interpreter. That Peter is struck, that Stephen is overwhelmed by stones, that James is slain as is a victim at the altar, that Paul is beheaded has been written in their blood. And if a heretic wishes his confidence to rest upon a public record, the archives of the empire will speak, as would the stones of Jerusalem. We read the lives of the Caesars: At Rome Nero was the first who stained with blood the rising faith. Then is Peter girt by another, when he is made fast to the cross. Then does Paul obtain a birth suited to Roman citizenship, when in Rome he springs to life again ennobled by martyrdom. [1]

Tertullian does not help us know if the apostles continued to contact one another or meet together. Most likely, most of them did not meet together given where they ministered and how they died. See “How did the apostles die?” to discover what we do know about the end of their lives.

Conclusion:

God does not tell us everything that we would like to know about the apostles. What is clear is that Christ gave them a command to go into all the world and make disciples and they did.

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Matthew 28:19-20 (NASB)

. . . and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.  Acts 1:8 (NASB)

It was a lonely ministry at times as we know from Paul’s life as described in the book of Acts. Historical records and tradition reveal that they spread the gospel from Jerusalem into other parts of the world and paid the price with their lives. God calls us to do the same. Are you sharing the gospel?

 

References:

1. Tertullian. Scorpiace. chap. xv, Roberts and Donaldson. Ante-Nicene Fathers. Hedrickson Publishers. 1995. vol. 3. p. 648.

Suggested Links:

Call of the Twelve
How did the apostles die?
Were people saved before the apostles?
What happened on Paul’s first missionary journey?
What happened on Paul’s second missionary journey?
What happened on Paul’s third missionary journey?