How many apostles were there: 12 or 13?
In a brief departure from the main theme of this site, this post will address a pernicious heresy infecting parts of the Body of Christ, particularly Hebrew-Roots oriented fellowships, where this leaven originates. Incredibly, this doctrine claims that Christ Himself condemns the Apostle Paul as a liar and a false apostle in Rev 2:2 and it’s gained a dismaying amount of traction in recent years, but it’s not new. Paul suffered character assassination and betrayal repeatedly in his ministry, always at the hands of those who opposed the gospel of Christ, resisted the Holy Spirit and denied the fullness of the New Covenant He suffered and died for that we might have life and liberty.
Paul is the single biggest obstacle to those who deny the terms of the NC, insisting that most of the Old Covenant legalism remains in full force today. He is a powerful advocate for the spiritual covenant, writes from a deeply spiritual mind and spiritual things are hard for the natural mind to understand. When the Holy Spirit’s testimony through Paul cannot be understood by such carnal minds or overcome by twisting scripture into fractured contradictions, the last resort is to assassinate Paul. Just as the ancient Israelites killed the prophets they were sent when they disliked their message, now the New Covenant church is infiltrated by that same spirit jealous to bring it into bondage to Judaism and must kill Christ’s messenger to the Gentiles to achieve it. But it’s not really Paul they’re resisting; it’s the power that animated and enabled Paul to overcome and accomplish all that he did: the Holy Spirit Himself.
Foundational to this heresy is the notion that, since there are only twelve apostles, twelve foundation stones of the New Jerusalem and not 13 (Rev 21:14) , then Paul can’t be a true apostle because Matthias was given the 12th and final office of apostle in Acts 1 when he replaced Judas. And since Paul lied about being an apostle he is further disqualified, according to this heresy, from having been inspired in any of his writings, which must then either be torn out of the Bible altogether or reduced to a cheap, historical, often errant, even demonic commentary, to be degraded and disregarded at the reader’s judgment.
Honest, spirit-led followers of Jesus Christ know, and readily admit, that when apparent problems arise with understanding passages in the Word of God (minor translation issues aside) the problem is with us and our dull vision, not with the Holy Spirit who inspired its writing. Not so with those who murder Paul in their hearts. They’ve passed judgment on him and more importantly, on the Holy Spirit Himself who inspired Paul’s testimony and others’ testimony about Paul. No wonder Peter, by the same Holy Spirit, in 2 Pet 3:16 says the wrenching of Paul’s testimony by these ignorant and irreverent persons ends in the most grave consequences:
.. speaking about these things as he does in all of his letters. In which there are some things that are difficult to understand, which the untaught and unstable [who have fallen into error] twist and misinterpret, just as they do the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.
Dovetailing with Peter’s warning are Jesus’ own words in Luk 12:10 (here in the Amplified version) where He warns us against the one sin remaining for which there is no forgiveness:
And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit [that is, whoever intentionally discredits the Holy Spirit by attributing the authenticating miracles done by Me to Satan], it will not be forgiven him [for him there is no forgiveness].
Casting Paul’s miraculous conversion, by the risen Christ Himself, and his tireless work in the office of apostle as a fraud, and Paul as a lying enemy of the cross is something no one should take lightly. Satan is the father of lies and the lie that Paul’s supernatural conversion on the road to Damascus was just a hoax underwritten by Satan and incorporated into Holy scriptures in order to derail countless millions away from the letter of the Old Covenant, and further declaring that Paul is actually condemned by Christ in Rev 2:2, seems terrifyingly within the Lord’s no-go zone proscribed in Luk 12:10.
Nevertheless, the question about 12 or 13 apostles deserves an answer and its study is quite revealing. Let’s look at the scriptural facts surrounding the presumed 12th apostle, Matthias, as given in the whole first chapter of Acts.
When the apostles came together to appoint a replacement for Judas, they did so on their own initiative. This was during the one week between Jesus’ ascension and Pentecost while, according to the Lord’s command, they were supposed to just be waiting for the baptism of the Holy Spirit not many days hence. Since the Holy Spirit had not yet been given, these well-intentioned, zealous men were acting however it seemed good to their own private counsel in their carnal minds. But they were not instructed to take on any such duties and could be considered as violating Jesus’ command to wait until they received power from above. Certainly such a weighty, indeed presumptuous, appointment required great power and they hadn’t received it and they knew that much. Technically they were still staying in the city, so that letter of His command was kept, but they couldn’t honestly have said that they had received the promised power yet. Nothing had changed in them and they still didn’t grasp that the NC is a spiritual covenant, administered and mediated by Christ alone, empowered supernaturally by His Holy Spirit, and that OC rituals, like the casting of lots, no longer held any power.
And Jesus came and spoke unto them, saying, All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. They knew all power was now invested in Christ because He told them so in Mat 28:18. It wasn’t in lots or in a human high priest or in the temple with the torn veil or in any other place, person or process. No apostle had been appointed by any man, even by another apostle, but they mistakenly thought they should “roll the dice” anyway. Even the pre-selection criteria for who would be eligible to be in the lottery was entirely of their own devising, based solely on their physical presence and physical witness during the whole of Christ’s ministry. It seems reasonable enough to the carnal mind to require a corroborating witness to complement their own, but that was their estimation of what constituted a worthy candidate for this high office. Certainly when Messiah chose them it wasn’t because of material witnesses since He knew them spiritually long before those events could be witnessed. No one knows the heart like the One who fashioned it.
Matthias was therefore never a legitimate apostle of Christ, though the eleven naturally counted him among them at the time. The best one might say is that he was nominated by the eleven as an apostle’s deputy or associate. Certainly we never hear anything of him carrying out the work of that very high office afterward. The eleven’s whole vain exercise of trying to select an apostle for themselves is also instructive about the emptiness of the OC rituals. E.g. we don’t cast lots to make spiritual decisions anymore. Their power is gone; they are now only mere shadows of the real power. Christ is that reality, it’s all invested in Him, and no apostolic power exists apart from His direct, personal appointment. Accordingly, Acts 9 recounts how the Lord Himself directly appeared to and began transforming Paul with great signs and power. It was according to His time and place and by choosing a man whom the eleven would never have chosen, so that Christ’s redeeming power might be all the more glorified in him. That transforming process wasn’t a flip-of-the-wrist, instant event either; it was a three year re-education in cloistered communion with the Spirit of the Lord (Gal 1:16-18).
There are indeed twelve, and only twelve, apostles appointed by Jesus. These are the twelve foundation stones of the New Jerusalem. They hold the very highest kingdom offices, directly under the King of Kings Himself. Even from a human perspective of governmental order, in any such power hierarchy, the lower level never appoints someone to serve the higher. The order of appointment is always top down. First the top office, Jesus Melchizedek, appoints those will serve directly under Him. Then those in turn appoint others to serve in various capacities under them, and so on. But the lower level never tells the higher level who will serve it, and certainly not in God’s Kingdom. No one had or has any authority to appoint someone to serve directly under Christ except Christ Himself. His government is perfect and therefore in perfect order.
It’s we who too often presume to leverage scripture in a way that seems right to us, to justify our own counsel, which is exactly what the eleven did. They were not told to do this, but Peter quickly tired of waiting, so he found justification in scripture to serve his notion and rushed to appoint an office over which none of them had any authority. None of them were appointed by any one of themselves, yet with Jesus gone up somewhere they knew not, they saw fit to take this mantle upon themselves. That kind of rash, ill-considered action was in character for Peter, and of course he was right that another needed to take that vacant office. But carnal thinking combined with zeal for action is not a recipe with much room for wisdom. Right motives, but uninspired, wrong actions, which ended up yielding nothing. We know that because we have the fruit to judge by. By comparison, Christ’s action yielded enormous fruit for countless millions through Paul, and remains ever-bearing abundantly to this day.
It’s all strikingly reminiscent of the golden calf incident in Exo 32. Once Moses was away up on the hidden mountain top for ‘too long’ in the peoples’ eyes, the elders got tired of tarrying, as they had been instructed to do:
So Moses arose with Joshua his servant, and Moses went up to the mountain of God. But to the elders he said, “Wait here for us until we return to you.
Under pressure for some remedial action to fill this vacant office, they did what seemed good in their own eyes, guided by their still Egyptian mindset – and so did the eleven according to their Old Covenant mindset. The illuminating contrast shows us:
- The Exodus group didn’t even have the letter yet to guide them, so they failed miserably by employing the wickedness they knew and ended with sickness and tragedy.
- The Eleven didn’t have the Holy Spirit yet to guide them, so they failed by applying the now-defunct OC letter they knew and ended up with a null result.
Their instruments were different but their circumstances and human responses were quite the same; human nature has not changed. Of course the mindset of the eleven was not grounded in Egyptian sorcery so they acted in good faith by applying the letter of scripture to the problem, as they saw it. They even appealed to the Lord in prayer to put His power into the lots, but there are two glaring problems with this: first, the Lord Jesus had not yet taken the High Priest’s office* and second, when the Holy Spirit is given He is given to and works in people, not objects. One of numerous and key differences between the carnal and spiritual covenants is the transition from the Holy Spirit operating externally and episodically upon people to an indwelling, abiding and empowering presence. So the end result of their OC ritual was, like all such works of the flesh, null and void.
*An even deeper study of Jesus’ death, resurrection, appearances and ascension shows that He ascended on the 42nd day of the 50 day count to Pentecost, after having been seen by them for 40 days from His resurrection. This left exactly seven days, days 43-49, to fulfill the seven day sanctification period for the high priest (Lev 8:33-35). In the full context of the legal code, which He fulfilled in every jot and tittle, His direction for them to wait perfectly aligns with those priestly regulations and the timing of His assuming that high office on the 50th day, Pentecost. His first act was to send the Comforter on that inaugural day, which fully explains His instruction to them to wait a short time for the power they lacked in order to assume their own roles under Him as apostles. No underling, appointed by their superior, takes office before their superior. Christ is preeminent in all things and had they waited the few days until after Pentecost they would have known this was not in their power to do. Christ had much bigger plans that they could never have accepted in the natural, considering the unconverted Saul was no friend to their cause.
It’s a wonderful lesson in the spirit vs the letter, which is at the root of the whole anti-Paul heresy. Apostle Paul himself, by the utterance of the Holy Spirit, says it best in 2 Cor 3:6:
Who also has made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.