Naming the 12 Apostles


9_Jesus Chooses 12 ApostlesScripture Reference:
Matthew 4:18-22; 9:9-12; 10:1-4;
John 1:35-51

Suggested Emphasis: Follow Jesus.

Memory Work: Name the 12 Original Apostles: Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Thomas, Matthew, Bartholomew, James (the less), Simon, Thaddeus, Judas


Story Overview:

Many people followed Jesus. These followers were called disciples. There were many disciples but Jesus chose twelve men to be His special followers. These men were granted special abilities and they were called Apostles.

Background Study:

After spending forty days in the wilderness after his baptism, Jesus returned to the area around the Jordan River. John the Baptist was still in the area preaching and many people had become his disciples, or pupils, of John. Disciples liked to spend lots of time with their teacher because they wanted to be like the teacher.

John the Baptist was not concerned about his own popularity. He wanted the people he taught to follow Jesus. John pointed Andrew and Peter to Jesus. They began to follow him but might have gone back to fishing for a while before it was time to begin travelling with Jesus.

Andrew and Simon were the first disciples called by Jesus. Andrew heard about Jesus first and then went to get his brother, Simon (John 1:40-41). They were fishermen. Simon was already known by the name “Peter” which was a Greek name. Jesus tells him that he will be known as “Cephas” which is the Aramaic translation of Peter and means “rock”. This will have more meaning later when Jesus uses Peter’s name to teach a lesson about the kingdom (Matthew 16:18). Peter is mentioned in the Gospels and Acts more than any other apostle. He preached the first Gospel Sermon (Acts 2) and wrote two New Testament books.

The disciples must have had very tender hearts to follow Jesus so quickly. They immediately left their careers (fishermen, tax collector, etc.) to travel with Jesus. It was not their education or talent that made them special – it was their commitment to Jesus.

All followers of Jesus who try to be like him are his disciples in the general sense (including you and me). In the early church, disciples were eventually called “Christians” (Acts 11:26). In the ministry of Jesus there were many disciples but twelve of them had a particular role. These were sometimes referred to as “The 12 Apostles”, “The Apostles”, or even “The Twelve”. The word “apostle” can also have a more general meaning of one sent on a mission. We are more familiar with the particular use as in today’s lesson.

Just before the crucifixion, Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver and then hung himself. He was replaced by Matthias in Acts 1:12-26. So Matthias then became one of the twelve. Later, Jesus came to Paul and named him as a special apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9 – especially verse 15).

The names of the apostles can be confusing. Some have the same name. There was Simon Peter (Cephas) and also Simon the Zealot. A Zealot was a member of a Jewish revolutionary group that was trying to overthrow the Roman government and free the Jews.

There was James the son of Alpheus (sometimes called “James the Less because he was younger than the other James). James, the son of Zebedee, was the brother of the Apostle John. They worked together in their father’s fishing business before following Jesus. They were known as the “sons of thunder” because of their tempers. John was one of Jesus’ closest friends. Later, when Jesus was dying on the cross, Jesus asked John to take care of Mary. John later wrote the Gospel of John, 1-3 John and Revelation.

Some of the apostles have more than one name. Matthew was also known as Levi (Matthew 9:9 and Luke 5:27-28). He was a tax collector for the Romans when Jesus called him as an apostle.

Bartholomew’s other name was “Nathanael”. Thaddeus is called “Judas” in Luke 6:16 and he is sometimes referred to as “Judas not Iscariot”. Judas Iscariot was the one who later betrayed Jesus.


Way to Introduce the Story:

Before class today write the names of the 12 Apostles on the chalk/white board or on a paper.

Play a game of “follow the leader” and lead the children around the church building or outside. Talk about what it means to lead and what it means to follow. “Who should be the leader in our lives? (Jesus) What does it mean to follow Jesus? (Do what He did. Act the way He did. Do what He wants because He is the leader.)

In our story today we are going to learn about some men who followed Jesus. Some of them used to be fishermen but they decided to leave their fishing and follow Jesus. Jesus told them that they would not be fishing for fish any more. They would be fishing for men. Jesus would make them fishers of men. Here are the names of the men who became fishers of men (show the children the names of the apostles).

How many of you can make “fish lips”? Today, as I tell the story I want you to make fish lips every time I say the name of one of the men on this list.”

The Story:

While walking by the Sea of Galilee one day, Jesus saw two brothers who were fishermen casting their nets into the sea. He called to the brothers, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” That means you will not go fishing for fish any more. Fishers of men go fishing for men. You will teach people all about God. Peter and Andrew left their fishing immediately and followed Jesus.

Going on, they saw two other brothers, James and John, mending nets with their father, Zebedee. Jesus called them to follow Him also. They left their boat and their father and went with them. Now Jesus had four apostles – Peter, Andrew, James and John.

On His way to Galilee, Jesus found Philip and invited him to come along too. Philip was from Bethesda, the same town as Andrew and Peter.

Philip found his friend Nathanael and told him about Jesus. When Nathanael met Jesus he was very surprised. He had never met Jesus before but Jesus knew all about him. Because of this Nathanael knew that Jesus was the Son of God. He started following Jesus too. You might know Nathanael by his other name. His other name was Bartholomew.

Have you ever heard of Thomas? Thomas was another man who followed Jesus. He was a very good follower.

Jesus found Matthew, the tax collector in Capernaum, and went to his house to eat. Some people thought that Matthew could never be like Jesus because Matthew was a tax collector. Tax collectors were often cheaters. But Jesus knew that Matthew had a good heart. Matthew started following Jesus too.

Now Jesus met another man named James. He was younger than the other apostle with the name of James so sometimes people called him “James the Less”.

Two other men who followed Jesus and became apostles were called Simon and Thaddeus.

The last of the original twelve apostles was called Judas Iscariot. Judas followed Jesus but we are going to find out later that Judas was not always a good friend to Jesus.

Now there were lots of people following Jesus. People liked to hear Jesus preach. Everything he said was right. They followed Jesus because they wanted to be like him.

The 12 Apostles followed Jesus wherever he went. They listened to him and tried to do what was right. Today we can follow Jesus by reading his words in the bible and by trying to do what is right.

Do you follow Jesus?

Ways to Tell the Story:fb_lumo_jesus_disciples_pp

This story can be told using a variety of methods.  Always remain true to the facts found in the Bible but help children connect to its meaning by using drama, visual aids, voice inflection, student interaction and/or emotion.
Click here for visual aids and story-telling methods.

Thee are some very nice images that originate with the LumoProject.  These images and a slideshow can be downloaded directly from

Review Questions:

  1. What kind of fishermen did Jesus tell the apostles that they would be? Fishers of men.
  2. How many original apostles were there? 12
  3. Name the twelve apostles. Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Thomas, Matthew, Bartholomew, James the Less, Simon, Thaddeus, Judas.

Song Suggestions:

Learning Activities and Crafts:

(How to choose the best learning activities for my teaching situation)

  • Sing: The Apostle Song (Jesus Called Them One by One)  You could take the song a step further to add a visual element.  Write the lyrics on a white board or piece of paper big enough for your class to see.  As you go through the song, have the students identify the names of the apostles and circle them.
  • Play “Apostle Bingo.” Make a bingo grid and put the names of the apostles (instead of numbers) in the squares. Play like normal bingo but use names instead of numbers.
  • Play “Apostle Concentration.” Make up 12 matching pairs of cards (2 with Andrew written on them, 2 Peters, 2 Johns, etc.). Mix up the 24 cards and lay them face down on the table. Children take turns turning two cards over. If the two cards they turn over match, then they get a point for the matching pair – and also win an extra turn. Keep playing until all cards have been matched. The child who has won the most pairs wins.
  • Write the apostles’ names on 12 separate cards. Hide the cards before class and let the children find them.
  • Sing The Books of the New Testament.

Check the Teaching Ideas page on this website for ideas that are adaptable to any lesson.

Link to full list of printablesClick here for “Naming of the Twelve Apostles” printables to print on A4 size paper
Click here for “Naming of the Twelve Apostles” printables to print on Letter size (USA)


Other Online Resources:


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6 thoughts on “Naming the 12 Apostles

  1. There’s a song called “Peter, James, and John in a sailboat” that my church kids had already learned. We turned “and” into “Andrew” and then built lyrics for the rest of the disciples. Here are the lyrics:

    Peter, James, Andrew, John in a sailboat (repeat x3)
    Out on the deep blue sea

    —- then, using the same tune:
    Matthew was a tax collector
    And he had a brother, James
    Thomas was known as a doubter
    They followed Jesus, too!

    Philip, friends with John the Baptist (aside – technically he was a disciple)
    Bartholomew and Thaddeus
    Second Simon was a Zealot
    And Judas Iscariot

    Hope that’s helpful!


    1. Hi Brenda
      I’m so glad you have found the website useful. I don’t know how often you hear it but you are doing a wonderful thing for the Kingdom of God when you teach children.
      God Bless You

  3. Hello my name is Sister Gail Hardy. I am the Director of the Children’s church at Maranatha Chapel in Baltimore County. I have been praying for guidance from the Lord and what He would like for me to teach this year. I kept hearing the Holy Spirit say that the Lord wants a closer relationship with His children. And also the children think of everything of ancient time and do not relate to those who had trials in the bible. I believe that I have been given a vision to close the gap between the time frame of old and new. With that said, I have been lead to teach about a disciple each month and also using the Jesus youth calling book each Sunday. This will allow the students to learn that although those who lived in that time dealt with hardship as well as challenges that they had to overcome, and only found the peace through our Savior Jesus Christ.

    1. Hi there. I like your idea of teaching about the disciples. It would be interesting to use this as an opportunity to talk about discipleship with the children at the same time. I hope it goes well.

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