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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Various Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Don Stewart :: Was Paul the Twelfth Apostle?

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Was Paul the Twelfth Apostle?

The Various Gifts of the Holy Spirit – Question 6

It is often contended that Saul of Tarsus, who became the Apostle Paul, was meant to the twelfth apostle, not Matthias whom the Eleven chose. While the eleven disciples chose Matthias to be the apostle that replaced Judas, Jesus chose Saul of Tarsus. Is this what the Bible teaches?

The Case for Paul Being the Twelfth Apostle

Those who argue that Paul was the twelfth apostle do so as follows.

Jesus Chose the Twelve Apostles

The Bible makes it clear that Jesus originally chose the twelve apostles. It was His selection alone. He did not consult His disciples or anyone else. Therefore the replacement of one of them would again be the choice of Jesus alone, since they were His unique group of men.

Jesus Chose Paul

Jesus did choose the twelfth apostle – Saul of Tarsus. The New Testament emphasizes that Saul, who became Paul, was the direct choice of Jesus to be His apostle. After Saul’s conversion the Lord said the following about him to Ananias.

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15 NRSV)

The Lord Jesus specifically chose Paul.

Jesus Did Not Choose Matthias

In contrast to Paul, Jesus did not choose Matthias. He was chosen by the Eleven Disciples after Jesus had ascended into heaven. Since Jesus had been on earth for forty days after His resurrection and before His ascension, He could have easily designated another person to take the place of Judas. Yet He did not. His choice, Saul of Tarsus, had not yet been converted.

The Holy Spirit Had Not Yet Come to the Disciples When They Chose Matthias

The disciples were specifically told to wait in the city of Jerusalem for the power of the Holy Spirit to come upon them. We read of this in the first chapter of the Book of Acts. It says.

But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power and will tell people about me everywhere–in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8 NLT).

These disciples were supposed to be waiting for the promise of the Holy Spirit. Instead of waiting, they decided to choose a person to complete the number of apostles to “twelve.” The Holy Spirit had not yet arrived in His fullness, yet they went ahead and made a foolish choice of a replacement for Judas.

There is something else. The fact that they cast lots to replace Judas shows how the entire episode was not Spirit-led. This is in contrast to Jesus’ personal choice of the Twelve while He was here on earth, and then His selection of Saul of Tarsus after His ascension into heaven.

Paul’s Prominence in the Book of Acts Shows He Was Jesus’ Choice

We find the Apostle Paul is a prominent figure in the Book of Acts. In fact, he is the central figure in the last half of the Book. It is obvious that Paul was God’s choice to have a crucial role in the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Matthias Was Never Heard from Again

Matthias, in contrast to Paul, was never heard of again. After his selection to be the twelfth apostle he is never mentioned again in Scripture.

The evidence is thus clear. The twelve apostles were also specially chosen and commissioned by Jesus. Jesus chose Paul as an apostle. He did not choose Matthias. The power of the Holy Spirit had not yet come to the apostles when they chose Matthias to replace Judas. History makes it clear that Paul was God’s choice – he was one of the two central figures in the Book of Acts and early Christian history while Matthias was never heard of again.

The Case against Paul Being One of the Twelve

While the arguments for placing Paul as the twelfth disciple may seem impressive, the clear evidence from Scripture is that Matthias, not Paul, was indeed the disciple who took Judas’ place. We can make the following observations.

The First Chapter of Acts Describes the Apostles’ Authoritative Selection

For one thing, the first chapter of the Book of Acts explains how Matthias took the place of Judas as the twelfth Apostle. Contrary to what some have alleged, there is nothing whatsoever in the account to suggest that the choosing of Matthias was not according to the leading of the Lord.

They Asked Jesus to Make the Choice

To begin with, the apostles did not choose without the help of Jesus. Indeed, they asked the Lord and the Lord answered them. The Bible explains it as follows.

And they prayed and said, “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen “to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place” (Acts 1:24, 25 NKJV).

Thus, they did not decide this matter for themselves – they asked Jesus to decide.

The casting of the lot was a biblical practice that was ordained by God. We should not assume that this was less than what God intended.

They Were Waiting for the Power to Witness – Not Wisdom to Make Decisions

What the disciples were waiting for was the power of the Holy Spirit to witness for Jesus Christ – it was not for the Holy Spirit or guidance from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was already guiding them.

Jesus Had Already Given the Disciples His Authority

Once Jesus ascended into heaven His unique authority was given to His specially chosen apostles – they were acting for Him.

Paul Was Chosen for Another Apostolic Ministry

Paul was indeed chosen by Jesus Christ but it was not to be one of the Twelve. Jesus chose him to be the apostle to the Gentiles, non-Jews. He had a unique and powerful ministry but it was not as one of the Twelve.

Matthias Is Numbered with the Twelve before Paul’s Conversion

It is clear that the New Testament sees Matthias as the twelfth apostle. In fact, he was numbered with the Twelve before the conversion of Saul.

We find that on the Day of Pentecost Matthias was considered to be one of the Twelve. We are told that Peter stood up with the Eleven.

But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words” (Acts 2:14 RSV).

The Eleven would include Matthias.

Later, it speaks of the Twelve as a group. We read about this in the Book of Acts.

And the twelve summoned the body of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables” (Acts 6:2 RSV)

This makes it clear that the Bible assumes that Matthias was indeed the man who was chosen to replace Judas Iscariot.

Earlier They Were Called the Eleven

Earlier, after the death of Judas but before the choosing of Matthias, Luke the author of Luke/Acts referred to the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples as the Eleven.

And returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest (Luke 24:9 RSV).

Later on the same day he repeats this title.

And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them (Luke 24:33 RSV)

Then after Matthias is chosen we find that Luke refers to the group as the Twelve. Writing under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit Luke certified the disciple’s choice of Matthias.

And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was enrolled with the eleven apostles (Acts 1:26 RSV).

Matthias was numbered with the Eleven before the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. This did not change after Saul’s conversion. We never find Paul numbered as one of the Twelve.

Paul Distinguished Himself from the Twelve

Furthermore, while Paul claimed to be an apostle, he distinguishes himself from the Twelve. He wrote to the Corinthians.

And that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.... Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me (1 Corinthians 15:5, 8 RSV).

In speaking of the appearances of Jesus Christ after His resurrection from the dead Paul distinguishes himself from the Twelve. It is obvious that he did not consider himself part of this unique group.

Most of the Twelve Apostles Were Not Heard of in Acts

The fact that Matthias is not specifically named after the first chapter of the Book of Acts is not an argument against him being one of the twelve. Most of the twelve disciples are not specifically named in the Book of Acts. In fact, of the Twelve, only Peter and John and James are specifically named in the Book of Acts.

We conclude that Saul of Tarsus, who became the apostle Paul, was neither one of the original twelve disciples, nor was he the one chosen to replace Judas.

Summary – Question 6
Was Paul the Twelfth Apostle?

The twelve apostles were a select group of men whom Jesus chose to be His inner circle of disciples. In addition, the Lord made special promises to this select group. When one of them, the betrayer Judas, hanged himself the Bible says that Jesus’ disciples replaced him by a man named Matthias. Yet not everyone accepts this judgment of the disciples. Instead they believe that the twelfth apostle was actually Saul of Tarsus who became the Apostle Paul. It is argued that he was God’s choice to take Judas’ place.

Those who argue for Paul argue that since Jesus chose the Twelve when He was here on the earth He should be the One to choose the replacement for Judas. He chose Saul.

This is borne out by history. Indeed, Paul the Apostle became the leading figure in the early church as well as the most prominent person in the second half of the Book of Acts. Matthias is never heard from again. This appears to make it clear that Saul was God’s choice.

While there are some who believe that Paul was the person meant to replace Judas the evidence speaks otherwise.

When Matthias was chosen it was the result of prayer on the part of the apostles. Then they placed two men before the Lord and asked Him for His choice. Matthias was thus selected by the Lord, not by the whim of the Eleven.

The remainder of the New Testament assumes Matthias was the divine replacement for Judas. In fact, there is not the slightest hint that Paul was the one who replaced Judas. This includes the belief of Paul himself.

Indeed, Paul did not view himself as one of the Twelve but rather an Apostle with a special calling to the Gentiles. In fact, in citing the resurrection appearances of Jesus, Paul states that Jesus appeared to the Twelve. Then he lists a separate appearance to himself. Consequently he viewed the Twelve as a group which he was not part of.

When all the evidence is in it thus seems clear that Matthias, not Paul was the one who took the place of the traitor Judas.

Were Others, Apart from the Twelve, Called Apostles? ← Prior Section
Were There Female Apostles? Next Section →
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