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Bible Q&A: Who was Thaddeus?

Our Bible Q&A series explores the questions you’ve asked us about the Bible.

This article represents the author’s personal view. It accords with Bible Society’s values, but is not intended to express our position as an organisation.

Question:

What is known about the disciple called Thaddeus?

Answer:

Thaddeus turns up in the list of Jesus’ 12 disciples in Matthew 10.3 and in Mark 3.18.

Interestingly, the Gospel of Luke does not include Thaddeus in the list but instead mentions a certain ‘Judas of James’, which can mean the son of, or brother of, James (see Luke 6.16). Judas of James is mentioned again in the Book of Acts (1.13).

The Gospel of John refers to a disciple named Judas who is not to be confused with the traitor, Judas Iscariot.

As only Matthew and Luke mention Thaddeus and only Luke and John mention a second disciple called Judas, Thaddeus (Judas of James) and ‘Judas, not Judas Iscariot’ tend to be regarded as the same person. Judas was a common first century Jewish name; Thaddeus, which means ‘breast-child’, might have been his nickname, just as, say, Simon was nicknamed Peter.

Some also believe Thaddeus Judas to be a brother of Jesus (Matthew 13.55 mentions a Judas among the Lord’s siblings) and author of the penultimate book of the Bible: the Epistle of Jude.

According to one tradition, Thaddeus aka Judas founded a church in Edessa (now known as Şanliurfa, in modern-day Turkey) and died a martyr’s death. Depending on which tradition you accept, his remains were brought to Rome and found their final resting place in St Peter’s, or they were taken to an Armenian monastery. Take your pick.

Unless you go with the ‘wrote the Epistle of Jude’ hypothesis, Judas Thaddeus utters just one sentence in the entire New Testament: ‘Lord, how can it be that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?’ (John 14.22) According to church tradition, he went on to answer the question for himself, by proclaiming Christ to people across the Holy Land and other parts of the Middle East.


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This article was written Michael Pfundner, who works in our publishing team.

View more Bible Q&A articles

Author: Michael Pfundner, 25 November 2019

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