the 13th Apostle

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : September 27, 2007

12paul As I was drifting off to sleep last night, I was struck by a thought that came completely out of nowhere.  The thought was this:

“Paul was the 13th Apostle because the twelve disciples represent the 12 tribes of Israel, while Paul represents Jesus’ ingathering of the Gentiles.”

The idea seemed odd, because I wasn’t really thinking about Paul or the Apostles before bed.  The day before, however, I had been talking with a university student about Luke 4 (the Jesus Manifesto) being the interpretive key for Luke-Acts.  Luke 4 securely establishes the lens of Jubilee for the rest of Luke’s two volume work. 

As the thought entered my sleepy consciousness, I remembered the earlier discussion with my student friend.  In Luke 4, Jesus not only claims to have come to bring Jubilee to the marginalized, but also to the Gentiles.  Paul is the tool Jesus uses to re-forge what it means to be “covenant people.” It is with Paul that Jesus’ mission to bring in the Gentiles gains traction.

Paul gets bad press these days.  But Paul gets to do something that Jesus never got to pursue in his three years of earthly ministry: focus his missionary efforts on the Gentiles.  Paul embodies God’s deep love for the Gentiles. 

In Luke 4, the townsfolk that Jesus grew up with wanted to kill him for insinuating that he, the Messiah, had come to bring Jubilee to the Gentiles (who are the oppressor).  He also insinuated that some of them, who are Jews, might be on the outside.   Paul (though certainly not just Paul), makes good on the Spirit’s wooing of the Gentiles.  Paul is, in a way, an expression of God’s heart for the oppressor.  Maybe that is one reason why we don’t like Paul these days.  With Jesus, we get to see Jesus’ clear heart for the poor and marginalized within Israel.  With Paul, we see, among other things, God’s hear for Rome.

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11 Responses to “the 13th Apostle”

  1. Ryan Wiksell on September 28th, 2007 11:04 am

    Although I certainly agree with the point you’re making, I would hesitate to call Paul the 13th disciple.

    Judas is out, because he was the betrayer, and was replaced by Matthias. So that brings us back up to 12.

    Doesn’t Revelation mention 12 thrones for the 12 tribes of Israel, and 12 thrones for the 12 apostles? I’ll have to look that up.

    But if there’s only 12 thrones for the apostles, not 13, then who’s absent? I doubt they’ll be playing musical chairs in heaven, but if they were, who gets left standing, Paul or Matthias?

    I would say that Paul is the 12th disciple, rather than the 13th, and Matthias is left standing (though certainly not without honor.) Matthias was not picked by Jesus at all. It was between him and another guy, and they picked him essential by flipping a coin. The Bible does not say that the disciples were right to do this. It just says that they did it.

    Paul, however, was picked by Jesus himself, and I think he was the true replacement for Judas. My guess is that the disciples got hasty.

  2. forrest curo on September 28th, 2007 12:41 pm

    At the time Paul was writing, his claim to be an apostle assigned to the goyim was sort of an assertion of rank, a way of claiming the right to carry on his mission without being trumped by other people’s ideas about what Gentiles needed to do to be saved, whether they could eat with kosher Jews in the Christian movement, etc. It’s not as if we, ourselves, need to decide who’s really “an apostle” & who ain’t.

    Getting down to this Judas thing… From various gospels it looks like Jesus sent all the disciples out, at least once, to heal the sick and announce the Kingdom on his behalf… so even Judas could heal people!

    What about us, then? (& why not?! & what ought we do about that?)

  3. Ben on September 28th, 2007 1:09 pm

    Many (myself included) suspect that the 11 apostles made a mistake when they artificially inducted Matthias as an apostle (how does one do such a thing?). Instead, if they would have waited, Christ Himself would have chosen a “replacement” apostle in Saul - as one abnormally born.

    It’s worth considering if Matthias should be counted amongst the apostles.

    Now that I reflect on it, it’s worth considering if Judas should be counted amongst the apostles…

  4. Chris on September 28th, 2007 6:11 pm

    Just to sharpshoot a little on the comments about Matthias. Casting lots in Jewish culture was not equivalent to our “flipping a coin.” Though we understand both practices as subject to randomness and chance, Jews understood the casting of lots to be spiritually significant because the outcome was ordained by God. Priests were chosen to serve in the temple by the casting of lots, which adds significance to the election of Matthias to the twelve in Acts. So I think the case that Matthias was chosen against God’s will in a hastily assembled coup by the remaining eleven disciples is difficult to make.

  5. Steffen Boeskov on September 29th, 2007 7:56 am

    I’ve heard the interpretation that Matthias and Paul are equal to Joseph’s two sons Manesse and Ephraim.. so there are actually 13 tribes and 13 apostles..

  6. Daniel Winings on September 30th, 2007 6:04 pm

    I hate to pour water on the whole debate but I think there is a simpler answer to the whole thing. 1Cor 12 and Ephesians 4 both list “apostle” as a spiritual gift. However you want to parse that it seems that Paul can have the gift of discipleship with out being one of the original 12 who walked with Jesus during his ministry on earth (Acts 21).

    Apostle, essentially, means “emissary” or perhaps ambassador. Given its usage in the NT it seems to mean a special office and not just a descriptor of all Christians. We could even call Mark an Apostle to the Cedar Ave neighborhood. Without an authoritative list, we would be hard pressed to assign him a number. We would be making a mistake, I think, to limit the term apostle to those first twelve or the first century.

  7. Ben on October 1st, 2007 12:04 pm


    I’m not disagreeing with your assertion about the nature of casting lots, as the apostles did in Acts. Although I do raise an eyebrow at the idea of casting lots as divining the will of God, that just means that I’m a cultural outsider.

    However, I do think that other things can be pointed to that make the selection seem artificial. I’m not a strong advocate of the position that Matthias was a mistake, but I find myself frequently suspecting…

    Why don’t we cast lots to see who is right?

    (Sorry, that was uncalled for!)

  8. markvans on October 2nd, 2007 1:31 am

    I agree about the fluidity of the term “apostle.” But I think that the word had a special meaning in regard to the 12. And given Paul’s history with the 12 in Acts, I think that specific meaning applies to him.

    Whether or not my theory has any validity, I think one thing is sure: Paul’s mission shows God’s love for the Gentiles. So, while a growing number of people disdain Paul, we should keep in mind that the reason Paul sounds different than Jesus is that he was addressing Gentiles. I’m convinced that Pauline concepts find their roots in the teachings of Jesus, even if they don’t seem to connect at first blush.

  9. Matt Metagloria on October 2nd, 2007 4:54 pm

    Whoa whoa, guys.

    I don’t mean to completely change subject here, but it seems everyone seems to have at least implicitly taken the stance that Judas Iscariot was excluded from heaven for his betrayal of Christ! Firstly, the Bible does not show us this in any way, as the only verse regarding Judas’s fate is Acts 1:25 where it is said that he went to “his own place”.

    Let’s not too quickly forget that Christ himself chose Judas, just the same as he chose the other 11 original apostles. Judas had an equally important part in the disciples’ ministry. It just so happens that he also had another, MORE important part - he was the unfortunate one chosen BY GOD to be the betrayer of Christ. So? Somebody had to hand Christ over, or He would not have been tortured and crucified to be our salvation. Just because Judas had to do this - which was a part of God’s plan - does that mean he was punished for doing God’s will?

    I’d like to think Judas is the one disciple with whom we can most readily empathize, since we all have a time in which we are enslaved by sin, in which we betray Christ and nail Him to the cross once more. Yet seeing our wrongdoing in the light of Christ’s sacrifice, we, like Judas, are overcome with remorse. Perhaps suicide was not the right answer, and we are not told that this action, occurring AFTER Judas’s role was played through, was a part of God’s plan for him. Never once was he condemned or shunned by Christ because He knew that he would betray him. For all we know, Judas may have repented and continued in ministry with the Twelve after Christ’s resurrection!

  10. forrest curo on October 2nd, 2007 8:46 pm

    Judas has two different fates depending on which story you prefer.

    In any case, no one is suggesting that Judas was not a human being. Hence he was made as the image of God, and lived within the love and power of God. Which should suffice for his salvation…

    There’s a story I like, told in a Dostoyevsky novel. An old woman dies, an extremely wicked old woman–and is processed for the afterlife. Only her guardian angel will speak for her, and he has nothing to say. Yet after diligent search of the records, he reports: “She once gave a beggar an onion!”

    “It was a rotten onion. That’s why she gave it away.”

    But the angel persists, and at length it is decided. If the onion can bear her weight, the old woman will be saved. The angel descends to Hell, holding the onion at arm’s length, and the woman, seeing it, grabs ahold. Gently, delicately, the angel begins to draw her up.

    And then another sinner, swimming in the flames, sees the old woman rising up. He takes hold of her ankle. Others follow, until at length the angel and the onion are carrying the whole population of Hell in a long, dangling chain.

    And then the old woman feels the weight, and looks down. “Hey!” she says. “This is my onion!” And so it breaks.

    Can Judas catch a ride on our onions?

  11. Jason on October 14th, 2007 6:10 am

    The disciples were given authorities as judges by Jesus. Their decision to name Matthias as Judas’ replacment was binding on earth and heaven:
    Matthew 16:19 [To the disciples/Peter] I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven.

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