April 9, 2022
“In those days, as the number of disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint by the Hellenistic (Greek) Jews against the Hebraic Jews that their widows were being overlooked...”
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“In those days, as the number of disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint by the Hellenistic (Greek) Jews against the Hebraic Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution. Then the Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, ‘It would not be right for us to give up preaching about God to wait on tables.” Acts 6:1-2
Hidden in today’s passage is a controversial little statement. Most people just skip past it. The statement is at the beginning of verse 2; “Then the Twelve summoned the whole company…”
The controversy in the statement concerns who is missing: The apostle Paul. Today’s passage points to decisions that were made during the time after Judas had hung himself, yet before Paul’s “Damascus Road” faith-changing experience. Most believers consider Paul to be the 12th apostle, replacing Judas. I don’t believe Scripture strongly supports that idea. It definitely never states it plainly.
Matthias was the 12th apostle. “Then they cast lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias. So he was numbered with the 11 apostles.” Acts 1:26 It is commonly held by theologians that Matthias was chosen because of Peter’s lack of patience, yet God makes no negative comment about Matthias’ selection. God chose not to comment at all.
So was Paul an apostle? Of course, he was! Paul describes himself as such.
“Now, I am speaking to you Gentiles. In view of the fact that I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if I can somehow make my own people jealous and save some of them.” Romans 11:13
Theologians’ issue with the concept of 13 apostles lies partly in their ignorance of Jewish culture and symbols. People assume that because there were 12 disciples, the same number as the 12 tribes of Israel, there can only be 12 apostles.
Jesus having twelve apostles works if He only came to redeem Israel. Indeed, Jesus came initially to the Jewish people, but with the outpouring of His Spirit, the Gentiles were given access to His salvation and Spirit. “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and now also to the Gentiles. For in it, God’s righteousness is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith.” Romans 1:16-17
In Jewish understanding, the number 13 is the number of completion. “13” is not unlucky in the Jewish culture. It is blessed. Consider the Shema: “Hear oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” (Deuteronomy 6:4) The Hebrew word for “One” is “Echad.” In the Hebrew language, there is no separate number system; each letter has a numerical value. In Hebrew, every letter is also a number; hence, every word has a numeric value. Together, the numerical value of the word “Echad” is “Thirteen.”
The idea of 12 apostles leading Israel and a 13th bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles is thoroughly Biblical, for it brings “Echad” (oneness) to the World. It completes the body of the Messiah, bringing unity to Jewish and Gentile believers.
“I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in Me through their message. May they all be ONE, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be ONE in Us, so the World may believe You sent Me. I have given them the glory You have given Me. May they be ONE as We are ONE. I am in them and You are in Me. May they be completely ONE, so the World may know that You sent Me and have loved them as You have loved Me.” John 17:20-23 (emphasis mine)