Friday, September 17, 2010

Acts 1: Appointing a Replacement for Judas

This past Monday night, the Bible study I lead finished the first chapter of Acts. In that section of Scripture, the disciples choose two potential replacements for Judas, and God picks Matthias. It is interesting to me to read what different commentators have written about that event. Here is a sampling:

Matthew Poole simply asserts:

He was numbered with the eleven. The rest of the apostles, and the whole church, agreeing with that Divine choice which was made.

In other words, the apostles acted correctly and Matthias was in deed chosen by God.

Matthew Henry writes:

Matthias was not ordained by the imposition of hands, as presbyters were, for he was chosen by lot, which was the act of God; and therefore, as he must be baptized, so he must be ordained, by the Holy Ghost, as they all were not many days after. Thus the number of the apostles was made up, as afterwards, when James, another of the twelve, was martyred, Paul was made an apostle.

Henry postulates that just as Matthias was the replacement for Judas, so Paul was the replacement for James.

Charles Hodge had a perspective I didn't find elsewhere:

“And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven Apostles.” And that was the end. We never hear of Matthias afterward. It is very doubtful whether this appointment of Matthias had any validity. What is here recorded (Acts i. 15-26), took place before the Apostles had been endued with power from on high (Acts i. 8), and, therefore, before they had any authority to act in the premises. Christ in his own time and way completed the number of his witnesses by calling Paul to be an Apostle.
I post these only for thought and reflection. I, personally, believe Hodge was incorrect in stating that the Apostles did not have the authority to do what they did.


  1. Seth,
    I recommend posting Calvin's comments as well (always a good Reformed bell-weather). His view agrees with Poole's.


  2. I too think Hodge is incorrect here, although I have heard at least one sermon in my life (by a Baptist no less!) who at least agrees that Paul was the proper replacement for Judas. I have not heard Henry's position before (that Paul placed James), but that is interesting and one I would have to give some thought to.

    I recently taught a short Wednesday night series on guidance and used this account as an example of deciding between two equally valid options. The group of replacements had been whittled down to Joseph and Matthias, and both were qualified for the position (male, disciples from the beginning, eyewitnesses to the resurrection). There was Scriptural warrant for replacing Judas, cited by Peter (from imprecatory psalms, nonetheless). Either choice would have been a valid choice (i.e., neither was a "wrong" choice, humanly speaking). Lots were used because they were under the providential control of God (Proverbs 16:33; we might simply cast secret ballots today, but that would no less be under the providence of God). It is an example, methinks, of how biblical guidance can be properly used and a decision made between two equally valid alternatives, all within the providential care and direction of God, who makes us wise through His word.

  3. I get the sense that some of the assertions made by the Commentators may be overreaching a bit. While it's commendable for Ministers of the Word of God to speak with the confidence and authority given them by Christ, there is a time and place to just say "I don't know for sure." I don't see sanction for the Apostles' decision or warrant for a requirement to maintain a count of 12 (after all, eventually all of the Apostles died off, one by one and weren't replaced).

    Acts is a narrative and, of course, should be interpreted as such (i.e., not to be confused with instructional text). I could be wrong but I don't see a mandate to replace Judas. And I don't recall seeing any statement by God either affirming or denouncing the group's decision to make the decision they did. So I think siding too strongly either way may be a bit improper of a reading into a narrative text. The Apostles did what they did, and being human, they sometimes made mistakes. The fact that we do not hear anything else about Matthias is an argument from silence, but it is a loud silence.

    I think it interesting that Jesus, Himself, called the original Twelve; and Jesus, Himself, called Paul to be an Apostle. The Apostolate is a position of preeminence and, with the Prophets, is the foundation upon which the Christ's Church is built. So I can see an argument for the Apostolate being a position for which Christ Himself immediately (in the narrowest sense) appoints.

    I also find it interesting that the ministry of the Church really begins after the Holy Spirit is poured out on the Church in Acts 2. It is at this point the Church appoints elders and deacons and When Christ calls Paul to be an Apostle.

    I'm not saying that Matthias was certainly NOT an "official" Apostle. I'm just saying I can't see anything in Scripture that would make me want to be dogmatic about it, either way.

    Whatever else, the *method* of casting lots is what most commonly confuses people. I agree with Tim here that this was the method the Apostles chose to make a decision between two equally qualified and good candidates. It's not as if throwing dice is a means ordained by God for making decisions. That was the means chosen by the Apostles to accomplish a task they believed they were obliged to perform.

  4. I think the other candidate didn't get it because he had too many names!

  5. Be careful about the appeal to silence about Matthias in the rest of Acts. We also do not hear the names Thomas, Andrew, Matthew, etc. throughout the remainder of the book of Acts either.

  6. I would suggest that "the twelve" is more a reference to Apostleship than to an actual number...much in the same way "the twelve" was a reference to the tribes of Israel though different tribes are counted at different times.

    Consider this reference to "the twelve" that in number would have actually been 10...

    and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (1Co 15:5)