Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, is one of the less-known disciples of Jesus. But that doesn’t mean he was unimportant. He played a key role in three stories about Jesus, including one of the most famous stories. By some strange coincidence, all three of those stories are in the gospel of John. In the other gospels, Andrew doesn’t get much air time, and in fact, he comes across as a bit player.
How Mark, Matthew, and Luke Treat Andrew
Mark is the earliest gospel, and it names the twelve disciples in a very strange order. Peter is listed first, then James and John, the two sons of Zebedee. Mark names Andrew in fourth place. That’s kind of weird because Andrew is the brother of Peter. What’s going on here?
It seems likely that Andrew was the younger brother of Peter. That would explain why he’s named after Peter. But it doesn’t explain why James and John come ahead of him in Mark’s list.
The gospels of Matthew and Luke give Andrew a little more respect. In their lists of the Twelve, Peter and Andrew come first, and then James and John. But those gospels still present the inner circle of the disciples as “Peter, James, and John”—with Andrew left out in the cold.
Andrew—The First Disciple of Jesus
But the gospel of John tells a very different story. This gospel only mentions seven disciples by name. The two sons of Zebedee—James and John—are never mentioned by name in the gospel of John at all! When they’re mentioned, it’s always as “the sons of Zebedee.” The gospel of John also mentions “the disciple Jesus loved,” and church tradition says this was John the son of Zebedee. But many modern scholars think this Beloved Disciple was someone else. Opinions differ on who he might have been. For my thoughts on the Beloved Disciple, check out my recent blog post, The Mysterious Disciple Jesus Loved.
But guess which disciple is named first in the gospel of John? In John 1, we read about two men at the River Jordan listening to John the baptist. They meet Jesus and become his very first followers. One of them is Andrew. The other is not named. So Andrew gets some serious respect in the gospel of John.
Right away, Andrew introduces Jesus to his brother Peter. These days, we call a person who makes connections between other people a “connector.” And it looks to me like that’s the role Andrew played in the Twelve. He does it right off the bat by connecting Peter with Jesus. And almost immediately, it looks like he does it again.
How Did Philip Meet Jesus?
The day after Andrew and Peter began following him, Jesus meets a man named Philip. John 1 says Peter, Andrew, and Philip all came from Bethsaida. Bethsaida was a fishing village on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. I’d estimate its population at a couple thousand, which made it quite large for those days.
But modern network theory tells us something interesting about towns of that size. Most people have a social circle of about 150 people they know pretty well. So in a village of 2000, everybody is only one or two links away from everybody else. Everybody is either a friend of a friend, or else a friend of a friend of a friend. It’s reasonable to guess that Peter and Andrew knew this man Philip long before they ever met Jesus.
If that’s the case, then it’s very likely that Peter and Andrew actually introduced Philip to Jesus. My guess is that Philip had come to the River Jordan to see John the baptist. He ran into Peter and Andrew, and they got to talking, and before you know it, they introduced him to Jesus. Nobody can prove this is how it happened, but if you were writing it up in a novel, that’s the obvious way to write the scene. And that’s exactly how I played it in my novel Son of Mary.
Bethsaida and the Disciples With Greek Names
Here’s an interesting fact about the disciples of Jesus. Of the Twelve, only two had Greek names—Andrew and Philip. And both of them came from Bethsaida. Looking at the map, you can see that Bethsaida is just outside Galilee, on the east side of the Jordan river. As you move farther east and south around the Sea of Galilee down into the region called the Decapolis, the population becomes less Jewish and more Gentile. And in that area, a lot of Gentiles spoke Greek.
So it seems likely that Bethsaida had a mixed population, where both Aramaic and Greek was spoken. In places like that, with mixed people groups, both sides tend to pick up a bit of the language of the other. So it’s quite possible that Peter and Andrew and Philip could make themselves understood in Greek. Maybe not like a native, but they could communicate. If you’ve ever lived near a border, you’ve probably seen this in action. We’ll see later why this fact matters.
That Time Jesus Called Peter and Andrew
Mark 1 and Matthew 4 both tell a story of Jesus when he began his prophetic career. He went to the Sea of Galilee and called Peter and Andrew and James and John to follow him. If you had only read Mark and Matthew, you might think this was their very first meeting with Jesus. But the gospel of John says that Jesus had already met at least Peter and Andrew. Which might explain why they were so quick to follow when he called them.
It’s quite possible that James and John also met Jesus at the River Jordan on the same day Peter and Andrew did. The gospel of John doesn’t identify the unnamed man with Andrew when he met Jesus, so we can only guess. Assuming James and John met Jesus there, this would explain why they dropped their nets to follow him when he called them at the Sea of Galilee.
Andrew and the Feeding of the 5000
Andrew plays a key role in the famous miracle story of the feeding of the 5000. My best guess is that the story setting is the east shore of the Sea of Galilee, about 3 miles south of Bethsaida, at a place now called Tel Hadar. Jesus preaches all day to a large crowd. By evening, everyone is tired and hungry.
As the gospel of John tells the story in John 6, Jesus asks Philip where they can buy bread for all these people. Probably because they’re close to Philip’s hometown. Philip freaks out and says 200 dinars will barely buy enough food. We know from the Talmud that a dinar would feed 12 people for a day. Doing the math, 200 dinars would feed about 2400 people for a day. So it might buy supper for twice that many.
Then Andrew butts in with what I think is a joke. He says there’s a kid in the crowd with five rounds of bread and two fish. But Jesus doesn’t laugh. He takes the kid’s food and feeds the whole crowd. Once again, we see Andrew playing the role of connector.
The story of the feeding of the 5000 is in all four gospels, but Matthew, Mark, and Luke don’t say a word about Andrew in their versions. It’s only in the gospel of John that we see Andrew playing an important role in this story.
Jesus and the “Greeks” in the Temple
In John 12, Jesus has come to Jerusalem during the last week of his life. He’s in the outer court of the Temple, attracting quite a crowd. Some Greek-speaking Gentiles are there, and they want to meet Jesus. They find Philip, and he takes them to Andrew. Andrew takes them to Jesus. There’s Andrew one more time, making connections for others.
We might ask why these Gentiles came to Philip and Andrew. As I mentioned above, it’s plausible that Philip knew a bit of Greek, and likewise Andrew. Of course we can’t know that for certain, but they both had Greek names, and they both came from Bethsaida, a border town. So that’s a reasonable explanation. We might also speculate that Philip and Andrew were gregarious guys, easy to approach.
The Later Life of Andrew
That’s most of what we know about Andrew from first-century sources. Later church traditions claim Andrew evangelized parts of modern-day Turkey, Ukraine, and Greece. And they claim that in Greece, he was crucified. It’s hard to know how much of these stories to believe. We do know that the early second-century church father Papias says that he met people who knew Andrew. Papias asked them specifically what Andrew had said.
So it’s clear that Andrew got around. Maybe he wasn’t the top dog disciple. Maybe he was a bit of a clown. I like to think he was the loud guy at the party passing out beers and telling jokes and bringing other people together.
The stories we’ve looked at from the gospel of John hint that Andrew was the social glue who held together the twelve disciples. And Jesus valued Andrew for that. That tells us something about Andrew. It also tells us something about Jesus.