Mark 3:16-17

"He appointed the twelve: Simon [to whom he gave the name Peter]; 17 James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James [to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder];". ESV. My emphasis.

Barnes' Notes on the Bible says, "It is not known why this name was given to James and John".

In nature I understand:

A. Thunder can be loud.

B. Thunder may betoken the destruction which lightening can cause.

C. Thunder, which is a sound, travels not as fast as light.

Can we say if Jesus called James and John a name which means "Sons of Thunder" because:

A. They were loud?

B. Their preaching or lives connected to judgement? ["From the throne came flashes of lightening and rumblings and peals of thunder". Rev 4:5].

C. As thunder follows after lightening so they too would follow "the Light"?

John 8:12 "Again Jesus spoke to them saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life".

2 Answers 2


I would like to suggest that there are two sides to this interesting question of why James and John were called "sons of thunder".

  1. Before Conversion they were zealous, fiery and intrepid

As Ellicott notes, James and John were notable for their:

fiery zeal of the sons of Zebedee, seen, e.g.,

  • in their wish to call down fire from heaven on the Samaritans (Luke 9:54),
  • and John’s desire to stop the work of one who cast out devils (Luke 9:49),
  • or the prayer of the two brothers that they might sit on their Lord’s right hand and on His left in His kingdom (Matthew 20:21).
  1. After their conversion this fiery zeal turned them into effective apostles
  • James was the first martyr for Christ among the apostles (Acts 12:2) and thus were prominent voices for God - see appendix below.
  • John authored the gospel of John and three letters and very likely the book of Revelation
  • John was the disciple who best understood the true Christian concept of Love and was closest to Jesus because he was described as "the one whom Jesus loved", John 13:23, 25, 20:2, 21:7, 20.
  • It is also significant that "thunder" occurs 10 times in the book of Revelation and only twice elsewhere in the NT (Mark 3:17, John 12:29). The occurrences in Revelation are always associated with the voice or act of God.

APPENDIX - Thunder used as a metaphor for God's voice.

Throughout the Bible, thunder is used as either a metaphor for God's voice or as an accompaniment for God's voice.

  • Ps 18:13 - The LORD thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded—hailstones and coals of fire.
  • Ps 77:18 - Your thunder resounded in the whirlwind; the lightning lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked.
  • Ps 104:7 - At Your rebuke the waters fled; at the sound of Your thunder they hurried away
  • Isa 29:6 - you will be visited by the LORD of Hosts with thunder and earthquake and loud noise, with windstorm and tempest and consuming flame of fire.
  • 1 Sam 2:10 - Those who oppose the LORD will be shattered. He will thunder from heaven against them. The LORD will judge the ends of the earth and will give power to His king. He will exalt the horn of His anointed.”
  • 2 Sam 22:14 - The LORD thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded.
  • Ex 19:16 - On the third day, when morning came, there was thunder and lightning. A thick cloud was upon the mountain, and a very loud blast of the ram’s horn went out, so that all the people in the camp trembled.
  • Ex 20:18 - When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sounding of the ram’s horn, and the mountain enveloped in smoke, they trembled and stood at a distance.
  • John 12:28, 29 - Father, glorify Your name!” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it had thundered. Others said that an angel had spoken to Him.

One episode often quoted in explanation is the suggestion that Jesus should let them call fire down from heaven against the unfriendly Samaritans, for which he rebuked them (Luke ch9 vv51-55).

Perhaps there is another clue in "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory" (Mark ch10 v37, RSV). This suggests, at the very least, that they had self-confident personalities. And a loud voice is frequently one of the effects of self-confidence.

A nickname might be reinforced if there is more than one reason for it.

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