The Apostle Andrew was one of the twelve main disciples of Jesus Christ and the brother of Simon Peter. Andrew was the first apostle Jesus called and the first apostle to claim Jesus was the Messiah.
Despite his seemingly important role as an early follower of Christ, Andrew is only mentioned 12 times in the entire New Testament—and four of those times are simply lists of the 12 apostles. He comes onto the scene early in the gospels, but only plays a minor role. However, his prominence in the lists of disciples and the few glimpses we get of him seem to suggest he was one of the main apostles—even if he wasn’t one of the “pillars of the church” (Peter, James, and John).
Given Andrew’s lack of coverage in the New Testament and earliest Christian writings, it’s not surprising that numerous legendary accounts of his ministry emerged.
In this guide, we’re going to look at what we can learn about Andrew from the gospels, his role in Scripture, how he died (according to tradition), and the dubious writings that emerged about him in the early church.
For starters, here are some quick facts about the Apostle Andrew.
Facts about Andrew the apostle
From the handful of passages he appears in, we can make several observations about who Andrew was. Here are the basics.
Andrew is Andreas in Greek, coming from the root word aner or andros, meaning “man.” The name is related to andreia, meaning “courage,” and it’s most often defined as “manly.” That’s a strange way to describe a baby, if you ask me.
Interestingly, Andrew’s name is Greek, even though his family is Jewish and his brother’s name is Aramaic (Simon). Since no other name is ever given for Andrew, this probably means his family was at least open to non-Jewish cultures.
Simon Peter’s brother
Perhaps Andrew’s most distinguishing feature is that he’s Simon Peter’s brother. Each of the gospels refer to him as Peter’s brother—but Peter is never referred to as Andrew’s brother. This, plus the fact that Peter is always listed before him indicates that Andrew was either younger or just less important.
Two lists of the disciples (Acts 1:13 and Mark 3:16-19) list Andrew after Peter, James, and John. Given his relationship to Peter, it seems more likely that the writers (John Mark and Luke) are ordering the disciples based on their importance.
As Peter’s brother, Andrew was also the son of John (John 1:42) or Jonah (Matthew 16:17), a man we know almost nothing about.
Like his brother Simon Peter and several of the other disciples, Andrew was a fisherman. In Matthew 4:18–20 and Mark 1:16–20, Jesus first encounters Andrew when he’s fishing near the shore of the Sea of Galilee with Peter.
Luke 5:1–11 gives a similar account, but doesn’t actually name Andrew among the fishermen. It does, however, add that James and John (also brothers), were Peter’s partners. From the narrative in Luke, it seems likely that Peter had a more prominent role in the business than Andrew (Luke claims Jesus gets into the boat that belongs to Peter, and the other presumably belongs to James and John). This could support the idea that Andrew was Peter’s younger brother.
In all three accounts, Jesus tells the fishermen some variation of, “Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people.” They all drop their nets and follow Jesus.
Interestingly, the Gospel of John tells us that after the resurrection, Simon Peter went fishing with several of the other disciples—but Andrew is never mentioned:
“Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. ‘I’m going out to fish,’ Simon Peter told them, and they said, ‘We’ll go with you.’ So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.” —John 21:2–3
It’s hard to imagine that Andrew wouldn’t have been there. He and Peter fished together, their partners (James and John) were there, and even Thomas, Nathanael, and another disciple tagged along. But if Andrew is simply one of the “two other disciples” here, that would seem to indicate Andrew wasn’t a particularly important disciple—at least not in John’s recollection—because he wasn’t even worth mentioning by name.
A disciple of John the Baptist
Unlike the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), the Gospel of John gives a different account of how Jesus called Andrew. And it’s arguably Andrew’s most important moment in the Bible.
John the Baptist tells everyone that Jesus is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29), and that he’s “God’s Chosen One” (John 1:34).
“The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”
When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”
“Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”
So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.
Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.” —John 1:35–42
This account tells us that Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist, that he was the first apostle to call Jesus the Messiah (though Peter got all the credit for it in Matthew 16), and that he led Peter to Jesus.
The First Called
Since the Gospel of John records that Andrew followed Jesus before any of the other apostles (and the other disciple isn’t named), the Byzantine church referred to Andrew as the Protoklete, or “the First Called.”
That’s pretty much his biggest claim to fame.
While the New Testament doesn’t record much of Andrew’s personal ministry activity, other accounts claim he brought the gospel to various countries. In Church History, Eusebius of Caesarea claims Origin said Andrew was sent to Scythia (an ancient region in central Eurasia). A much later work added that he preached in regions surrounding the Black Sea. And an ancient apocryphal text claimed he preached in Achaea. For centuries, church tradition has supported Andrew’s ministry in many of these regions.
But even apart from tradition, some scholars argue that in Scripture, Andrew represents one of the earliest evangelists. In The New Bible Dictionary, R.E. Nixon notes that “in John he is shown as the first home missionary (John 1:42) and the first foreign missionary (John 12:21–22).”
Andrew in the Bible
Andrew receives very little attention in the New Testament. Aside from the times where he’s merely listed among the disciples and the passages recounting when Jesus first called the disciples, there are only three places where he plays any significant role. (And they aren’t really that significant.)
Jesus Feeds the 5,000 (John 6)
All four gospels record the feeding of the 5,000. But only John specifically mentions Andrew’s role. Jesus tells the disciples to find food for the crowd, and here’s Andrew’s big moment:
“When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
Philip answered him, ‘It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!’
Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, ‘Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?’”
Andrew is the one who finds the boy with the five loaves and two fish. But Matthew, Mark, and Luke didn’t think that was important enough to be worth mentioning (Matthew 14:17, Mark 6:38, and Luke 9:13).
The Destruction of the Temple and Signs of the End Times (Mark 13)
In Mark 13, Jesus leaves the temple and tells his disciples that one day it will be destroyed—“Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (Mark 13:2). Later, on the Mount of Olives, Peter, James, John, and Andrew “privately” ask Jesus to tell them when this will happen, and he launches into a lengthy teaching about the end times.
This passage is one of the main arguments that Andrew was one of the more prominent apostles, because Peter, James, and John saw more of Jesus’ ministry than anyone else, and here Andrew is privy to teaching they received in private.
All three synoptic gospels record this narrative, but only Mark specifies which disciples were there.
Jesus predicts his death (John 12:20–36)
After Jesus enters Jerusalem, just before the Passover, some Greeks who believe in God approach Philip and ask to see Jesus. Philip decides to bring them to Andrew and let him decide what to do:
“Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.” —John 12:20–22
Philip appears to defer to Andrew, possibly because he had more authority among the apostles, he was closer to Jesus, or Philip simply trusted him to make the call. Whatever the reason, this is another brief account which gives us another glimpse of Andrew, and it doesn’t appear in any of the other gospels.
How did Andrew the apostle die?
Tradition holds that Andrew was martyred by crucifixion in the Greek city of Patras around 60 AD. Like his brother, Peter, Andrew allegedly didn’t consider himself worthy to die in the same way as Jesus, and tradition claims he was bound—not nailed—to a cross which was hung in an X shape instead of a T.
However, the earliest origin of this narrative that we can identify today comes from Acts of Andrew, an apocryphal text which also includes numerous supernatural accounts of Andrew’s miracles which are recorded nowhere else—including a claim that he preached for three days straight as he hung on the cross—and it didn’t emerge until decades, possibly centuries after his death.
According to Acts of Andrew, as he hung there dying, Andrew praised the cross as a symbol of Christ’s beautiful redemption:
“Hail, O Cross, inaugurated by the Body of Christ and adorned with his limbs as though they were precious pearls. Before the Lord mounted you, you inspired an earthly fear. Now, instead, endowed with heavenly love, you are accepted as a gift.
“Believers know of the great joy that you possess, and of the multitude of gifts you have prepared. I come to you, therefore, confident and joyful, so that you too may receive me exultant as a disciple of the One who was hung upon you…. O blessed Cross, clothed in the majesty and beauty of the Lord’s limbs!… Take me, carry me far from men, and restore me to my Teacher, so that, through you, the one who redeemed me by you, may receive me. Hail, O Cross; yes, hail indeed!”
The early church viewed Acts of Andrew with suspicion, but other records indicate that tradition supported a similar account of his death.
In the entry for Andrew, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs says:
“He preached the gospel to many Asiatic nations; but on his arrival at Edessa he was taken and crucified on a cross, the two ends of which were fixed transversely in the ground. Hence the derivation of the term, St. Andrew’s Cross.”
Acts of Andrew
Acts of Andrew is an apocryphal text from the second or third century which claims to record the ministry of Andrew the apostle, which focused on the region of Achaea. Eusebius of Caesarea included it in a list of false accounts of the apostles that were regularly cited by heretics. He noted that these were texts “which no one belonging to the succession of ecclesiastical writers has deemed worthy of mention in his writings.”
In the sixth century, Gregory of Tours (a bishop and historian) crafted a revised version of Acts of Andrew, believing that its “excessive verbosity” was the reason it was considered apocryphal. He aligned it with orthodox teachings and added a little here and there.
New Testament scholar Dennis MacDonald suggests that Acts of Andrew was a blatant attempt to “Christianize” Homer’s The Odyssey. In The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, he draws parallels between Andrew and Odysseus, and Acts of Andrew and The Odyssey:
“He once was a fisherman, he had brought Greeks to Jesus, and his very name resonated with the Greek word for courage (andreia). Like Odysseus, Andrew sails from Achaea to rescue Matthias from Myrmidons. Myrmidons appear in Homer as allies to Achilles, but a contrived etymology later generated a myth that Zeus once transformed ants (Greek myrmēkes) into humans, who retained their former, formic traits. Andrew returns to Achaea through a series of dangerous adventures and in the end dies at the edge of the sea, tied to his cross like Odysseus at the mast. The apostle thus returns to his heavenly home beyond the flux, temptations, and dangers of this world. Patras, the place of his execution, was the closest major Achaean city to Ithaca, Odysseus’ island home. In addition, the Acts of Andrew contained a visit to the netherworld, danger at sea, and Christianized counterparts to Penelope and Telemachus, Odysseus’ wife and son. The proconsul who ordered Andrew’s crucifixion is Aegeates (“one from Aegae”), a figure inspired by Odysseus’ nemesis, Poseidon, whose Homeric home was Aegae.”
In any case, Eusebius—who had access to pretty much everything—couldn’t find any record of an early church father even mentioning this book, let alone supporting its account of Andrew’s life and ministry.
Not just the brother of Simon Peter
Andrew was probably known as the brother of Simon from the moment he was born. And nearly two millennia after his death, it’s still the most widely known detail about him. But while Andrew wasn’t nearly as prominent in the New Testament as Peter, he still clearly had an important role in the early church—so much so that heretics tried to leverage his name and authority to advance their teachings.
And while many Christians try to infer larger details about Andrew’s personality and character from the scant passages that mention him, there’s one thing we can be confident of: long before Peter made his monumental declaration that Jesus was the Messiah (Matthew 16:16–20), his brother Andrew beat him to it (John 1:41).
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