Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Was Matthias a Mistake?

The selection of St. Matthias (Acts 1:15-26) by the Apostles was made out of their desire to fill up the number twelve, but it seems possible they jumped the gun. Had they been patient and waited just a while, they would have seen the conversion of St. Paul and that he would have been a perfect replacement for Judas, rounding out the number twelve. Paul, taken from the leadership of those opposing the Church, is a fit replacement for Judas, who fell from the heights of Jesus' own disciples. But it was not to be. Matthias was chosen. Was it a hasty mistake?

It's possible that the early Church may have been somewhat aware of this, for in the canon, Matthias is relegated to the second list of saints rather than the first where the other Apostles are. In fact it seems to have taken several centuries for the full apostleship of Matthias to be recognized.

On the other hand, it seems wrong to label this apostolic act, of choosing another, as a mistake. After all, Jesus had given them authority to act. Jesus doesn't make mistakes; how could they?

We have in the Apostles men who were in themselves fallible, and yet who because of the Spirit in them spoke divine truth infallibly. Their words of proclamation were God's own words. This we affirm without reservation. In the carrying out of their office they were flawless. On the other hand we recognize that in themselves they were still capable of error, as indeed we see in St. Peter's siding with the Judaizers, earning him the rebuke of St. Paul, according to Galatians.

So we have in the selection of Matthias something which might have been done better, had they waited just a bit; and yet, they did it, so it becomes part of the divine economy: like it or not, now Matthias is an apostle.

Like one assigned to take up the last open seat on a bus, Matthias sits, and then in comes Paul. Oops. Now we must squeeze him in to make room. Oh well; that's the way it is.

There is comfort in this, actually: for God assumes these things and moves forward just as He had ever done with Israel. To take much more drastic examples, Samson slept with a harlot, God used it for good; Moses struck the rock, God used it for good. Israel grumbled; God used it for good. Et cetera.

What's the good in thirteen primary apostles, then? Perhaps only this: that we too may learn to live without regret. If we might have made decisions that in retrospect could be called ill-advised, we may take confidence in this, that God assumes them into the course of our grace-laden lives, and moves forward with us in His unspeakable mercy.

Here's the sermon for St. Matthias' Day.


Peter said...

No way was this a mistake, nor does Luke present it as such. When you look at Acts, you see that Peter has gathered 'round him some 120. Numbers matter. Twelve matters as the number of Israel, an the twelve served as the foundation of the church, which is the new Israel. Acts is intentional in showing how the circle then widens. Luke presents Paul not as foundational apostle of the Jerusalem church, but as the one who will go to the gentiles. As such, he doesn't perform the function of rounding out the twelve. Here's to Peter's wise decision.

Peter said...

Having disagree on the specific point, your more general point is well taken.

Fr. Timothy D. May said...

I agree that this is not a mistake and that "the twelve served as the foundation of the church." Peter maintains the continuity of the precedent set by the Lord. In being chosen, the Apostles are set apart from the greater number of disciples and from the greater numbers that are present in the multitudes. As such the "apostolic ministry" is unique and in continuity with the Lord's work. The choice of Matthias, as unique as his situation is, also sets him apart from the greater number of followers. He is also part of that one apostolic ministry, thanks to Peter.

Fr BFE said...

Certainly the number of twelve is significant. That's the very point. The twelfth would likely have been St. Paul. Now we have thirteen primary apostles.

Anonymous said...


Pastor Adrian Piazza

Peter said...

The problem is this. By the time Paul comes, 12 doesn't matter. (The 12, for instance, are not invoked at the Jerusalem Council) It's a foundational number for the new Israel, and as such needs to be in place for Pentecost. Paul, though an apostle, can never be numbered among the 12. Of course, if you like numbers, we can talk about the 12/13 tribes of Israel.

Rev. Daniel Robert Skillman said...

Very interesting take on the sellection of Judas' replacement.

Some might jump on the fact that you even raised the question of a "mistake." That is, I gather, not really your point. Your point, at least in part, is that even if it might be viewed as a "mistake" in some limited human sense, it is not a mistake in God's providence. He redeems even our mistakes.

Anyway, I really like the hypothetical and the way you argued it. But I'd like to question it from another angle.

I wonder if St. Paul might have EVER been a candidate considering the qualifications listed in Acts.

Acts 1:21-22 (ESV)
So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, [22] beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection."

If we think of "apostle" in its primary sense, I don't see how St. Paul qualifies. (I'm open to argument, or I wouldn't be raise the question here.) There will always be some sense in which he was an apostle in some abnormal sense, born out of right time, if you will.

In Christ,

Peter said...

Daniel makes an interesting point. One of the things I find intriguing about Paul's letters, is that he never talks about Jesus' life in any detail. He recounts no miracles of Jesus, not much in the way of specific teaching, his baptism, transfiguration, etc. Of course, Paul talks constantly about Jesus, but doesn't uses his earthly life for the sake of illustration and teaching.