Bartholomew is one of the more mysterious of the 12 Apostles.
Apart from the mentions of him in four of the Apostle lists (Mark 3:18, Matt. 10:3, Luke 6:14, and Acts 1:13), nothing is known about him from the New Testament (EB).
The mystery is that Bartholomew is mentioned in the Apostle lists, but Nathanael is not, even though Nathanael’s call to be an apostle is described by John (“Jesus said, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!'”). One solution to this mystery is a 9th-century tradition that Bartholomew and Nathanael are the same person, whose full name was Nathanael bar Tolmai (“Bartholomew”)(EB).
Legend has it that Bartholomew spread the Gospel to India and Armenia, among other places (EB).
Wikipedia (“Bartholomew the Apostle”) notes the following about his death:
Christian tradition has three stories about Bartholomew’s death: ‘One speaks of his being kidnapped, beaten unconscious, and cast into the sea to drown. Another account states that he was crucified upside down, and another says that he was skinned alive and beheaded in Albac or Albanopolis’, near Başkale, Turkey.
The account of Bartholomew being skinned alive is the most represented in works of art, and consequently Bartholomew is often shown with a large knife, holding his own skin (as in Michelangelo’s Last Judgment), or both.
Thus Bartholomew joins many of the other disciples in tremendous suffering or death (Peter, crucified upside down; Paul, beheaded; Stephen, stoned; John, doused in boiling oil and exiled).
Josh McDowell uses their martyrdom to make an interesting argument in his book A Ready Defense.
If the story of Christ’s resurrection were untrue, why were the disciples so willing to suffer torture and even death?
Being contemporaries of Christ, each disciple was easily in a position to find evidence for the “legend” of Christ’s resurrection being a lie.
The Bible claims that there were over 500 eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ:
I Corinthians 15:6 “After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep [i.e., died].”(NIV)
If being a Christian put my life at risk (as it did in ancient Rome), I would have certainly questioned very carefully some of those eyewitnesses, and these martyrs could have done the same.
These early Christians went to their deaths for the belief that God forgives sinners who turn away from their sins and that He will someday raise them from the dead, as He did Christ, and take them to heaven.
Were they right?