12 November 2008

Matthias: Wrong Man for the Job?

A hermeneutically funny thing happened lately. Twice in the past couple of months, I have heard an argument that has struck a small nerve with me. What makes this all more interesting to me is that I am taking a class this semester called Issues in Acts, a class in which we have looked at various themes in Acts, including the theme of the apostles and the people of God. First, the argument, then what I don't like about it.

The first time I heard the argument, it came from Andy, our very capable preacher. He began a sermon on who knows what with the scene in Acts 1 of the apostles replacing Judas Iscariot with Matthias. He used this event to bring up the question: is it possible that the 11 apostles acted rashly when they replaced Judas? We see later in Acts how Saul is chosen by the risen Christ to be his messenger to the Gentiles. Andy suggested that the 11 just could not wait on God's will to be fully realized and also suggested that Paul was supposed to be the 12th apostle, if only they would have waited on God. I then heard this argument again in another class in Johannine literature after a discussion on John's understanding of Judas. So the argument is that Paul, not Matthias, should have been the 12th apostle. I assume this means that the 11 just should have waited until Saul was converted before they added the 12th apostle.

Here's the text of Acts 1:21-22 "Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us-- 22 beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us-- one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection."

Here's what I don't like about this interpretation:
  • The single Greek word (dei), translated "it is necessary" or "must," a word that occurs more in Luke-Acts than in the rest of the New Testament, almost always occurs in the context of the will of God or the work of God, indicating that whatever "it" is that is necessary is necessary by divine will. To see this word in action, see Luke 2:49; 4:43; Acts 4:12; 9:6, 16 and several other places.
  • This word occurs in 1:21, indicating that the replacement of Judas is the will of God.
  • The conditions laid out in v. 21-22 would preclude Paul from consideration: he must be one who "accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us - beginning with the baptism of John until the day he was taken up from us." Paul had not done that.
  • The disciples prayed, asking God to intervene in the process: "show which of these two you have chosen" (1:24). They then cast lots, not an equivalent of rolling dice, but a means of revealing God's will.
This may not be a big deal to anyone out there; there is certainly no important bit of Christian theology at stake here. It is, however, a matter of paying attention to the text and doing a little concordance work, which ought not to be too much to ask of anyone preaching or teaching this passage.

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