Guileless Nathaniel

Bible References: Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14; John 1:45-49, 21:2; Acts 1:13.

Heart of the Story: Jesus identified the Apostle Nathaniel (Bartholomew) as an Israelite without guile.

Back Story: Apostle means “commissioned agent;” those authorized by the sender’s authority to take a message. Nathaniel was one of the 12 Apostles of Jesus. He is thought to be from either Cana in Galilee or Bethsaida in Galilee.

Most Bible scholars believe Nathanael and Bartholomew were the same person. The name Bartholomew is a family designation, meaning “son of Tolmai.” Nathanael means “gift of God.” In Matthew, Mark, and Luke the name Bartholomew always follows Philip in lists of the Twelve. In John’s Gospel,  Bartholomew isn’t mentioned. Nathanael is listed after Philip. Many Bible scholars believe it was the Apostle Philip who brought Nathaniel to Jesus.

Story: Nathaniel is remembered for two reasons: First, he responded to his friend’s description of Jesus by saying, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Despite these candid words to his friend Philip, Nathaniel goes with him to check out Jesus. The second reason we remember Nathaniel is Jesus’s comment when he first saw Nathaniel. Jesus said, “he was a true Israelite, in which there is nothing false. Apparently, from this time onward Nathaniel followed Jesus as an Apostle. Although he deserted Jesus when Jesus was crucified, Nathaniel was with Jesus on the Mount of Olives when Jesus ascended into heaven.

Early church fathers didn’t have much to say about Nathaniel despite Jesus lauding him. Possibly, Nathaniel was a missionary to India and took the Gospel of Matthew to that country. Other traditions describe Nathaniel as preaching in Mesopotamia and throughout the Middle East and around the shores of the Black Sea.

The manner of Nathaniel’s death is obscure. Some accounts have him beheaded; others that he was flayed (skinned) while he was alive; or crucified. The feast day of Nathaniel is August 24.

Pondering: Little is known about Nathaniel; however, I get the sense that what came into his head came out his mouth, i.e., “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” That is the sort of remark that one of us would make casually to a friend.

Wouldn’t you like to be identified by Jesus as being without guile or deceit. Someone who is guileless is innocent and lacks cunning. Nathaniel didn’t play games in his interactions with other. One of the definitions of guileless is “naïve.”  From everything I read about Nathaniel, I don’t think that he was naïve, but, honest.

Reflection: As I write about Nathaniel, my eyes tear up. I wonder how any person could kill this honest Apostle. But, then, I only have to look at my polarized world to understand why someone honest was murdered.

Copyright February 12, 2018:Carolyn Adams Roth (

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