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Quest for the Historical Apostles

Tracing Their Lives and Legacies

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The stories and contributions of the apostles provide an important entrée into church history. However, the legends of the apostles after the New Testament are confusing and steeped in myth. This historical and literary introduction uncovers the apostles' lives and legacies, underscoring their impact on the growth of the early church.

While a good bit of the available information on the apostles comes from the biblical texts, there are important extrabiblical sources from the first and second centuries that have only recently emerged that shed light on these figures and their legacies. Quest for the Historical Apostles brings all of these sources together to offer a comprehensive analysis. This work explores biblical and apocryphal material, the witness of early church historians, the iconography of church art and liturgy, and contemporary scholarship to uncover the journey of each apostle, and it locates figures such as Paul, Peter, and John in the broader context of the history of the apostles. The author also explores the continuing story of the gospel mission and the twelve disciples beyond the New Testament, showing how their ministry encounters can provide inspiration for all students of the early church.

Introduction: The Quest
1. The Path
2. Peter: The Rooster
3. Andrew: The Saltire
4. James: The Scallop Shell
5. John: The Eagle
6. Philip: The Bread
7. Bartholomew: The Knife
8. Thomas: The Builder
9. Matthew: The Publican
10. James: The Lesser
11. Jude: The Exorcist
12. Simon: The Zealot
13. Matthias: The Elected
14. Paul: The Sword
15. The Discovery


"Shelton combines a historian's knowledge of the sources, a scholar's respect for learning, a journalist's eye for detail, and a believer's awe before the transcendent. Here is a full accounting of the few brave men Jesus of Nazareth used to rock the world in ways still unfolding. It will inform and inspire all who seek to understand and connect with the early Christian legacy as preserved in historical sources, ancient literature and legends, art and artifacts, and critical reconstruction. This recovery of the apostles' full humanity in history enhances their testimony to the Savior who sent them forth."

Robert W. Yarbrough, professor of New Testament, Covenant Theological Seminary

"Just as there have been quests for the historical Jesus, so now Brian Shelton leads us on a quest for the historical core within the many apostolic legends. More than just a work of scholarship, this book takes readers by the hand and guides us through the minefield of ancient mythmaking to help us meet the actual disciples of Christ, the real men who walked with the Savior and sat at his feet. Never gullible or credulous, yet never unconcerned about the edification of the church, Shelton gives us the bottom line when it comes to the apostles: their actual historical biographies and their enduring significance for today."

Bryan Litfin, author of Getting to Know the Church Fathers

"This book is a treasure trove for those who wonder what happened to the twelve apostles of Jesus. Brian Shelton provides a sympathetic but critical reading of the evidence for the missionary activity of the apostles by patiently sifting through biblical texts, early church witnesses, and later legends. I am especially grateful that the Quest for the Historical Apostles narrates how each apostle has been received in the life and faith of the church."

Daniel A. Keating, professor of theology, Sacred Heart Major Seminary

"Many of us know the apostles by name but have only a general sense of who they were and how they impacted the early church. Here, in a single volume, Brian Shelton consolidates centuries of historiography into an accessible introduction to the men Jesus knew best, enabling us to sift through all the facts, stories, legends, and images that have accrued over time. Shelton engages the critical scholarship but is not distracted by speculative proposals, instead offering sensible guidance for interpreting both biblical and extrabiblical sources. Readers who join Shelton on his quest will come away with deeper knowledge not only of the apostles themselves but also of the New Testament, the early church, and the craft of historiography."

Rebecca Rine, assistant professor of biblical and religious studies, Grove City College

The Author

  1. W. Brian Shelton

    W. Brian Shelton

    W. Brian Shelton (PhD, Saint Louis University), an expert on early Christianity and patristics, is professor of theology and dean of the Bible and theology department at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is a fellow of the Council for Christian...

    Continue reading about W. Brian Shelton


"Shelton scours the ancient sources--biblical and otherwise--to give us one of the fullest accounts of the lives and work of the apostles in the first century. His work provides an excellent link from biblical studies to church history. A resource no study of the apostles would want to be without."

Fred G. Zaspel,

The Gospel Coalition