Bartholomew is one of the lesser-known apostles, but his story is an impressive yet disturbing one if you believe the scholars of ancient times.
Considered to be the same man as the “Nathanael” discussed in the Gospel of John, Bartholomew’s missions after Jesus Christ’s ascension may have been as far-flung as India, Ethiopia and Mesopotamia, between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in present-day Kuwait, Iran, Syria and Turkey.
He may also have ventured into Armenia, Parthia, in northeastern Iran and southern Turkmenistan, and Lycaonia, an area north of the Taurus Mountains in present-day southern Turkey that was inhabited “by a wild and lawless race of freebooters,” according to one historian.
Bartholomew is believed to have suffered the most gruesome of all the apostles’ martyrdoms, being skinned alive and beheaded in either Armenia or India.
The Revs. Griffin Jones, Timothy Hayter and Johnny Touchstone say he was a man without artifice who said what he thought regardless of the circumstances.
The Rev. Jones, retired senior pastor of CrossRoads Fellowship, cited John 1:43-50 to detail Jesus’s first meeting with Bartholomew, or Nathanael, when Jesus saw him approaching and said, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
“He’d been skeptical when Philip told him that Peter and he had found the Messiah, asking, ‘Can anything good come from Nazareth?’” Jones said. “But then when Jesus said he had seen him under a fig tree before Philip called him, Nathanael said, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the king of Israel.’ Jesus called ordinary people to do extraordinary things and he still does.”
Fig trees symbolized the spiritual and physical health of Israel, according to oneforisrael.org.
Jones said Bartholomew, which in Hebrew means “son of Tolmai the farmer,” said Jesus sent Philip and Bartholomew together when he assigned 72 disciples “two by two” to prepare the way for him in communities where he was about to preach. Nathanael means “gift of God.”
“Bartholomew went the way of a lot of skeptics till he encountered the truth,” Jones said. “Then he believed and received. I don’t know where he ministered. There are a couple of books about the lives of the apostles and there are traditions about him in Armenia and India. Some claim the Apostle Thomas went to India. Whatever the case, Bartholomew was martyred like all the others except John.
“John was boiled in oil, so you can imagine what his skin and body were like. Bartholomew was possibly skinned and beheaded in the eastern part of the Roman Empire. The Armenians were known for flaying or skinning people.”
Father Hayter, parochial vicar of St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Midland, said Bartholomew is listed with the other apostles in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke and in the Book of Acts. “He is always mentioned with Philip and that makes us think he is the same man as Nathanael,” Hayter said.
“There is a fair amount about Nathanael in John 1 where Philip 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.’
“Then after Nathanael said, ‘Rabbi, you are the son of God, you are the king of Israel,’ Jesus said, ‘You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that. Very truly, I tell you that you will see Heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’”
Hayter said Bartholomew was martyred in India in probably the way he is traditionally believed to have died. “He was from Cana in Galilee and he was very honest and outspoken,” the priest said.
“He appears again in John 21 when he had been fishing all night with Peter, Thomas, John, James and two other disciples and they saw Jesus on the shore. He is true to what he believes. He calls things like he sees them.”
The Rev. Touchstone, pastor of Vine Baptist Church, said Bartholomew “was sold out for the Lord Jesus.
“He suffered as much as any of the faithful and I wonder if we will be that way,” Touchstone said. “With the way the world is right now, the politicians are pushing for socialism, which would turn into communism. One of the main things they do is hit religion, especially Christianity. We say Jesus Christ is on the way and they don’t like that. They want us to be open to more ways than just that one.
“They want us to surrender to their way of thinking and say it’s OK if you have different ideas than me, you can still go to Heaven, but that’s just not true,” Touchstone said. “Jesus is the only way. We are the most inclusive religion because God sent his son to die for everyone. He calls everyone to repentance and if anybody is excluded, it’s because they choose to be excluded.
“Bartholomew and the other apostles fanned out all over the world. They got really motivated when the Holy Spirit came down at Pentecost. It became real to them at that point.”