The Book of Acts opens with Jesus' ascension and the promise of the Spirit. The disciples go to Jerusalem where their Lord had directed them to wait, and then on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit comes with many signs and wonders.

But in between their arrival in Jerusalem and the arrival of the Spirit there is a story about Peter standing up and declaring the need to replace Judas. Why did Luke include this story? How does it advance his literary purposes?

I have heard that it is intended to contrast the then obsolete manner of making decisions (by casting the lot) with the new method of being led by the Spirit, but I don't see any indication in the passage that Luke thought what they did was wrong... and so I am baffled.

  • 2
    literarily it confirms Peter's reinstatement as a disciple and also serves to bring him to the foreground of the narrative of Acts 2-12.
    – swasheck
    Jan 10, 2014 at 20:58
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    That's a good question. +1 By mentioning the need for Judas' replacement, it's almost an introduction of Levi, who would become the 12th, take the name Matthew, learn from the other apostles, and write later. Jan 10, 2014 at 22:33
  • its a story being told, a person chooses what he thinks is relevant. the replacement of judas was a big move. there are many lessons to learn from how that process occurred for today's church leaders Jan 13, 2014 at 19:53

2 Answers 2


In my opinion, Luke presents the apostles as in the wrong when they took it upon themselves to choose a new apostlefootnote. Thus Acts 1b is important because 1) it establishes a contrast between the pre-Holy Spirit function of the church (it made poor decisions) and the post-Holy Spirit function of the church (Acts 15 - it made good decisions), 2) it emphasizes the God-ordained apostleship of Paul as opposed to the man-ordained apostleship of Matthias, 3) it follows up the story of Judas' death (by giving the church's reaction to it), which is an essential part of the narrative.

This is, of course, based on the assumption that Luke presents the church as being wrong to "ordain" a new apostle. If you disagree what this assumption, you will not agree with my interpretation of the importance of the passage.

Footnote: Reasons why I believe Luke presents the apostles as being wrong to choose Matthias as the new apostle (I will use only Luke's writings):
1) The apostles were told to "wait for the Promise of the Father" (Acts 1:4) in Jerusalem until they were endowed with "power from the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1:8). They were to "wait", which indicates that they were not to remain passive - especially when they were to wait until they received the power from on high. Jesus left them 40 days after his resurrection (which is ca. 42-43 days after passover, cf. Acts 1:3), and they received "power from the Holy Spirit" on Pentecost, about a week later. A week they were supposed to "wait" - and yet they took it upon themselves to spend that time choosing a new apostle.

2) Jesus was the one who chose the apostles - they did not choose themselves or each other (Lk 5:1-11, 6:12-16). Paul, however, was chosen by God.
3) According to Luke's own theology, there could only be twelve apostles (Lk 22:29-30, cf. also Mat 19:28). Paul is in Acts presented as an apostle (cf. i.e. 22:15, "For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard."; moreover Paul fits all the criteria for apostleship (having seen Jesus, receiving revelation from Jesus, performing miracles, preaching with authority, baptizing, etc.). A minor point I won't press is that Paul, who considers himself an apostle (cf. esp. Col 1:1 where he considers himself an apostle, and ch4 in which he sends greetings from Luke), spent a lot of time with Luke (cf. the "we"-passages in Acts). Thus, if Paul is clearly an apostle, Matthias cannot be - or else there would be 13 of them.

4) The arguments and methods by which Matthias was chosen is quite flimsy. The OT arguments are not direct OT prophecies about Judas, but rather generic passages about wicked men. Moreover, a lot is cast - the only NT reference to the "good guys" rolling a dice to decide stuff. And though they did pray about it, that does not automatically make their decision a good one.
5) Matthias appears nowhere else in the book of Acts - he is not mentioned again. This is an extremely weak argument, as most of the other apostles aren't mentioned again either. But it's worth noting.

Note: The fact that the text nowhere explicitly states that their decision was wrong is no counter-argument: Acts 21:12-13 say that the disciples urged Paul not to go to Jerusalem; Acts 15:36-41 say that Paul and Barnabbas had a disagreement without saying (directly) who was right.
Note: I consider arguments #1 and #3 to be the strongest - the rest are simply supporting observations which do not hold water on their own.

Note: One valid counter-argument is the use of the term "the twelve" in 6:2. However, this can be explained by the fact that Matthias was "numbered" or "counted" with the eleven (1:26) - this means that the apostles at that point in time considered him one of them, not that he actually was. Thus "the twelve" may refer to the "numbered" apostles, rather than being a technical term for the "true" apostles (cf. "the seven" in 21:8).
Bottom line: I'm pretty sure that Luke intended for us to consider the choosing of Matthias a mistake. But I'm not completely sure - let me know if I'm wrong!

  • I would love it if you could prove your initial assumption! What indicators do you see in the text that lead you in that direction?
    – Jas 3.1
    Jan 17, 2014 at 20:55
  • @Jas3.1 I added a "footnote" with my thoughts. Let me know what you think - I'm far from certain! Calvin noted about those who share my opinion, "let them wag their ears".
    – Niobius
    Jan 17, 2014 at 22:04
  • @Niobius - Interesting "footnote". I think I might feel a twitch coming on in my right ear. :) Two quick comments for rumination: fn #2, you could say it was Jesus on the Damascus Road choosing Paul, just as it was Jesus at the tax booth choosing Levi (Luke 5:27). fn #5 When I have encountered this interpretation before, this observation (about the non-mention of Matthias) is mentioned. It remains true of 10 of the other original Twelve, though, no? So hardly singles out Matthias as persona non grata. Anyway! Nice answer. +1 from me.
    – Dɑvïd
    Jan 17, 2014 at 22:26
  • @David thanks for the feedback; you make good points.
    – Niobius
    Jan 17, 2014 at 23:25

The closest biblical parallel is what happened between the Exodus and the giving of the Ten Commandments, which occurred on the Feast of Weeks, or what we call Pentecost in the Christian New Testament. (Please click here for the full graph depiction.) That is, the Exodus corresponds to the day of the resurrection of Jesus, and the Feast of Weeks corresponds precisely to Pentecost -- to the exact day.

When you look in the Hebrew Bible, the "parallel" we find regarding the replacement for Judas was the selection of "able men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain." These men were the precursors of the Sanhedrin within Israel, and who were selected shortly before the giving of the Ten Commandments (Mosaic Law).

Exodus 18:19-22 (NASB)
19 Now listen to me: I will give you counsel, and God be with you. You be the people’s representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God, 20 then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the work they are to do. 21 Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. 22 Let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you.

In the Acts passage, Peter mentions the dishonest gain of Judas in addition the need to select the replacement "for the ministry of apostleship." Thus the parallels are remarkable because the precursors of the Sanhedrin of Israel had to be men who hated dishonest gain and who would also be judges (apostles for the 12 tribes of Israel). The twelve apostles are now the "foundation stones" and judges of the 12 tribes of Israel (please see the words of Jesus in Luke 22:29-30 and the words of John the Seer in Revelation 21:10-14).

In other words, this event of selecting the replacement of Judas is yet another parallel of the Christian New Testament to the Hebrew Bible, which coincides not only with the Passover (slaying the "lamb" Jesus) but also with the 50th day after the 16th of Nisan, which was the Feast of Weeks (public presentation of the Mosaic Law to Israel) and then subsequently Pentecost (public presentation of the New Covenant to Israel).

The selection of Matthias was therefore not impulsive, but deliberate.

  • @Jas3.1 - Thanks - I added more reference to show that the 12 apostles were to be the foundation stones and judges of the 12 tribes (as was the case of Moses selecting the proto-Sanhedrin before the giving of the Mosaic Law), and thus to reinforce the literary argument of Luke when compared to the Hebrew Bible.
    – Joseph
    Jan 18, 2014 at 18:15

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