Philip the Apostle was one of the 12 main disciples of Jesus Christ. He’s one of four people named Philip in the Bible, and he’s often confused with Philip the Evangelist, who plays a minor role in Acts. (The other two Philips are both sons of King Herod the Great.)
The Apostle Philip is only mentioned a handful of times in the New Testament—seven times in the gospels and once in Acts. (One tradition also claims he’s mentioned in another verse, though not by name.) Four of those mentions are just lists of the apostles. Like the Apostle Thomas, Philip’s only significant mentions come in the Gospel of John (and they’re still not that significant).
Church tradition identifies Philip as the missionary to Greece, Syria, and Phrygia, but even early on, Philip the Apostle was frequently confused with Philip the Evangelist (also known as Philip the Deacon), which makes it hard to distinguish which details describe which Philip. Add to that the legendary accounts from the Acts of Philip and Letter from Peter to Philip, and it becomes difficult to separate fact from fiction, too.
Still, there are some things we can learn about Philip the Apostle from the Bible, and we can glean a few insights from the early church as well.
For starters, here are the quick facts.
Facts about the Apostle Philip
We don’t learn much about Philip from the synoptic gospels or Book of Acts—in fact, pretty much all we learn is that he’s always listed with Bartholomew. But the Gospel of John and the early church fill in some blanks and help us understand a little more about who he was.
He was one of the Twelve
The New Testament lists all twelve apostles four times—Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:14-19, Luke 6:13-16, and Acts 1:13-16. While there are some variations in the order the apostles appear and even the names they went by, Philip is listed in all of them. He’s also clearly one of the Twelve in the Gospel of John, though John never explicitly lists them.
This means Philip was one of the people who was closest to Jesus, and that he spent about three years living with him, witnessing his miracles, and hearing his teachings. He saw numerous demonstrations of Jesus’ divinity.
He came from Bethsaida
One of the first things we learn about Philip in the Gospel of John is that like Simon Peter and Andrew, he comes from Bethsaida, a town by the Sea of Galilee (John 1:44). This may seem like a trivial detail, but later, when Jesus and the disciples come to Jerusalem, some Greek men from Bethsaida want to see Jesus—and they come to Philip (John 12:21). It’s possible that they knew him personally, or perhaps he spoke Greek better than the other disciples (he did have a Greek name after all).
He was not Philip the Evangelist
It’s easy to read the gospels and Acts and not even notice that there are two different Philips. In fact, it’s possible that Philip the Apostle was confused with Philip the Evangelist as early as the first or second century. In Church History Eusebius quotes Papias of Hierapolis—a contemporary of the apostles—as saying that Philip was living in Hierapolis with his daughters. Papias also refers to the Philip in Acts 21 as an apostle, and that title was usually (but not always) reserved for the Twelve.
Eusebius also quotes Polycrates of Ephesus, a bishop who lived during the second century, as saying:
“For in Asia also great lights have fallen asleep, which shall rise again on the last day, at the coming of the Lord, when he shall come with glory from heaven and shall seek out all the saints. Among these are Philip, one of the twelve apostles, who sleeps in Hierapolis, and his two aged virgin daughters, and another daughter who lived in the Holy Spirit and now rests at Ephesus.”
But there’s good reason to believe there are probably two different people named Philip.
The Philip we call “the Evangelist” or “the Deacon” is first mentioned in Acts 6 when the church selects seven people to distribute food. Luke writes:
“So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.’” —Acts 6:2–4
The twelve apostles opted out of this position, and then a man named Philip was chosen to be one of the Seven (Acts 6:5). So that would be pretty strange if that was Philip the Apostle.
Much later in Acts 21:8–9, Paul and his companions stay at Philip’s house in Caesarea with his four unmarried daughters who had the gift of prophecy. This Philip is explicitly identified as “the evangelist” and “one of the Seven.” If this were Philip the Apostle, it would be odd for Luke to provide two distinguishing details and not call him the apostle. And presumably, if he did not use distinguishing details, the early church would’ve assumed he meant Philip the Apostle—the most well-known Philip. (This is one of the main arguments for assuming that all New Testament references to Mark are talking about John Mark, the traditional author of the Gospel of Mark.)
Most scholars believe that either Papias was talking about Philip the Evangelist (due to the reference to his daughters) and using the term apostle more broadly, or else Papias confused the two. Polycrates seems to have clearly blurred the two Philips, and Eusebius never caught the mistake. As a result, the church has doubted Eusebius’ account of Philip for nearly a millennia.
He may have been a missionary
Church tradition holds that Philip preached the gospel in Scythia (a region in central Eurasia), Syria, and Phrygia (Turkey). However, this tradition largely originates with Acts of Philip, a dubious fourth-century text which intermingled true accounts with legends, including a narrative involving a dragon.
So um . . . maybe?
Philip in the Bible
Aside from the lists of apostles in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts, Philip appears in four narratives in the Gospel of John. They don’t tell us much, but they’re all we really have to go on.
Jesus calls Philip and Nathanael (John 1:43–51)
After Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James, and John, he finds Philip:
“The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’
Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’
‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Nathanael asked.
‘Come and see,’ said Philip.” —John 1:43–46
Like Andrew, Philip’s first reaction after meeting Jesus was to go tell someone about him. He played an active role in leading another apostle to Jesus.
Some scholars speculate that Philip may have also been a disciple of John the Baptist, since:
- Two of John’s disciples followed Jesus (John 1:35–37)
- The Bible only tells us that one was Andrew (John 1:40)
- The accounts appear side-by-side
- The encounters seem to happen in the same location
- Jesus may have been actively looking for Philip
Jesus Feeds the 5,000 (John 6:1–15)
Before Jesus famously fed the crowd of more than 5,000 people, he decided to test Philip:
“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!’” —John 6:5–7
Jesus already knew exactly what he was going to do, but he asked Philip what it would take to feed these people—perhaps as a joke, or possibly, to illustrate that it would take a miracle to feed this many. (Since Taco Bell wasn’t an option.)
In the synoptic gospels, the writers simply tell us these exchanges took place between Jesus and “the disciples,” and the dialogue cuts to the chase a little more. John seems more interested in telling us who said what, and using Philip’s answer to set up Jesus’ miracle.
Fun fact: John’s desire to tell us who said what is the reason Thomas got stuck with the infamous moniker, “Doubting Thomas.” For some reason “Practical Philip” didn’t catch on, though.
Philip refers some Greeks to Jesus (John 12:20–36)
When Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, some God-fearing Greeks want to see him, so they come to Philip:
“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
As we discussed earlier, these Greeks may have come to Philip because they knew him, or simply because he had a Greek name and spoke Greek the best.
Jesus the Way to the Father (John 14:5–14)
Frequently, the disciples have no idea what Jesus is talking about, and someone has to stick their neck out and ask a clarifying question (or often in Peter’s case, make a foolish statement). After Jesus tells the disciples he’s preparing a place for them and that they know where he’s going, Thomas asks, “How can we know the way if we don’t know where you’re going?”
That’s where we pick up:
“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.’
Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’
Jesus answered: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?’” —John 14:6–10
Jesus has just told them that his Father’s mansion has many rooms and he’s going to prepare a place for them and come back and get them.
Thomas says, “We don’t know where you’re going. How can we get there.”
The disciples think they’re going to the Father’s house soon, and Jesus responds, “If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.”
Philip’s basically trying to demonstrate his faith by saying, “I don’t even care about the details. Just seeing the Father will be enough for us.”
Whether Philip’s statement was foolish or simply bold, it gave Jesus another opportunity to directly assert his divinity, and help us understand his relationship to the Father.
The Cost of Following Jesus (Luke 9:57–62, Matthew 8:18–22)
In Luke and Matthew, an unnamed disciple asks Jesus if he can bury his father before following him. Jesus responds (seemingly harshly), “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:60).
Clement of Alexandria, who lived in the second and third century, claimed that this unnamed disciple was Philip:
“If they quote the Lord’s words to Philip, “Let dead bury their dead, but do thou follow me . . .’” —Stromata
How did Philip the Apostle die?
It’s hard to say how Philip died, especially since he was confused with Philip the Evangelist early on, and there are conflicting accounts. One record says he died of natural causes. Another says he was beheaded. Or stoned to death. Or crucified upside down.
Most of the earliest traditions seem to point to him being martyred in Hierapolis. In a letter to Pope Victor, Polycrates of Ephesus said: “I speak of Philip, one of the twelve apostles, who is laid to rest at Hierapolis. . .”
Caius the Presbyter (a Christian writer in the third century) wrote: “And after this there were four prophetesses, daughters of Philip, at Hierapolis in Asia. Their tomb is there, and that, too, of their father.”
The Acts of Philip provides the earliest, most detailed account of his martyrdom, but again, it’s hard to say how much we can trust it. Allegedly, he converted a proconsul’s wife, which angered the proconsul enough to have him and Bartholomew crucified upside down. While hanging there, Philip preached, and the crowd was moved to release them. He told them to free Bartholomew, but not to take him down.
Philip died sometime in the first century, possibly around 80 AD.
A lesser-known apostle
There’s really not much we can say about Philip without speculating. The Bible doesn’t tell us much, and even some of the most reliable early church writers were confused about who he even was.
What we do know is this: as one of the Twelve, Philip certainly held an important role in the early church, and he likely played a key part in spreading the gospel somewhere in ancient Eurasia.