Click to donate today!
Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
1. The first disciples.
2. Begioning of our Lord’s Galilaean ministry
3. Choice of the Twelve.
4. Training of the Apostles.
Introduction.—It is proposed to treat in this article the chief facts relating to that group of our Lord’s personal disciples known to us by the name of ‘apostles.’ The sole authorities on the subject are the four Gospels and the first chapter of the Acts. The remaining books of the NT furnish no information as to the relations between Jesus and His Apostles during His ministry on earth; and nothing that is found in the Apocryphal Gospels can be regarded as historical.
The assumption so often made that the Synoptics possess a greater trustworthiness than the Fourth Gospel is baseless, and its baselessness cannot be better seen than in the case of the Apostles. The Apostles of the Fourth Gospel are the Apostles of the first three. Their character, prejudices, limitations, ambitions, views, sympathies are the same in the four Gospels. How can this harmony be explained unless all our authorities draw from the life? But more than this. The Fourth Gospel contains information regarding the Twelve peculiar to itself which, properly weighed, enables us to understand much that is otherwise perplexing in the first three. How can this familiarity with the Apostles be accounted for if the writer was not himself one of them? What is the alternative hypothesis? That the writer of the Fourth Gospel, with the first three before him, was able to form as true and complete an apprehension of the intelligence, moral condition, modes of thought, and language of the Twelve as to be able to create situations where he represents them as speaking and acting with perfect verisimilitude, while all the time he was simply drawing on his imagination. The author of the Fourth Gospel was a man of genius, but his genius was religious, not intellectual or imaginative. The achievement attributed to him was wholly beyond his powers or the powers of any man who has ever lived. The disciples of the Fourth Gospel are the disciples of the first three; their portraits arc firm, exact, striking, because the writer knew them personally.
When the attention of a reader is called to the numerous occasions on which the Apostles figure in the Gospels, he might feel disposed to contend that the Apostles are so prominent in the Gospels because they are their ultimate authors. But this supposition, however ingenious, is unsubstantial. Great as is the place filled by the Apostles in the Gospels, they are never magnified; it is Jesus alone who is magnified. The many references made to the Apostles correspond exactly to the position they held; the Gospels are so much occupied with them only because Jesus Himself was constantly occupied with them, not the least of the tasks of His life being to teach and train them to understand His mind and heart, and to transmit to others a correct representation of what He was and said and did.
The Gospel of St. Mark has been characterized as pre-eminently the Gospel of the disciples. But this language does injustice to the rest of the Gospels, which are equally Gospels of the disciples. A judicious reader sees at once that the Apostles hold substantially the same place in all the Gospels. There is nothing to prove that one of the Evangelists took a deeper interest in the Twelve than any of the rest.
1. The first disciples.—It is clear from the Gospels that several of the Apostles had been on the most intimate terms with our Lord before He selected them to become Apostles. In fact the most prominent among them passed through two stages of relationship to our Lord before they were chosen as Apostles. They were first called to become disciples in the most general sense of the term, and thereafter they were summoned to leave their usual occupations and to become the personal companions of Jesus. It is therefore desirable to learn the connexion in which the most distinguished of them stood to Jesus before their formal appointment to the apostolate.
After the Temptation our Lord returned to Bethany in Peraea. Whether this happened by arrangement between Himself and His forerunner we cannot tell, but nothing was more natural than for Him to go thither. The Baptist could best fulfil his duty if He were by his side. On two occasions John, fixing a steadfast gaze on our Lord, said in the hearing of some of his disciples, ‘Behold the Lamb of God’ (John 1:29; John 1:36). The remarkable expression doubtless suggested to his hearers that this was the Messiah. Two of them sought an interview with our Lord, and ere they quitted the house were convinced that they had found the Messiah. Not a word is related of the considerations which brought them to this conclusion, but the explanation is to be found partly in the testimony of the Baptist, partly and pre-eminently in the impression produced on them by the personality of Jesus. There was that in His character, aims, and language which distinguished Him from all other men. Hence Andrew and John, the two disciples in question, had no doubt that the Messiah stood before them (John 1:41). It is not quite clear whether each started to find his brother; but Andrew, at anyrate, brought his brother Simon to Jesus. Reading his character and discerning its possibilities, Jesus bestowed on him the name by which he is now known to the world: the name Peter (John 1:42). Our Lord, for reasons unknown to us, had determined to set out for Galilee, accompanied by His new disciples. On starting, He called Philip to follow Him, and the instant obedience rendered suggests that Philip had already believed that Jesus was the Messiah, probably through his friends and fellow-citizens Andrew and Peter. On the way Philip encountered his friend Nathanael, who lived in the village of Cana, at no great distance from his own home at Bethsaida, and informed him of the discovery of the Messiah, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Nathanael hesitated, but he came and saw and heard, and the knowledge which Jesus displayed of his character and of his inmost life convinced him that He was indeed what Philip had declared Him to be (John 1:43 ff.). How many of these disciples accompanied Jesus to Cana and witnessed His first miracle (John 2:1 ff.) is not certain; possibly the majority, if not all. The same uncertainty arises in connexion with the journey to Jerusalem at the Passover. We do not know who witnessed the expulsion of the traffickers from the temple, heard the mysterious words spoken regarding the destruction of the temple, or saw the many miracles which He performed in the capital (John 2:13 ff.), baptized at His command when He laboured in Judaea in the vicinity of the Baptist, and accompanied Him through Samaria on His return to Galilee (John 4:1 ff.). It would seem as if thereafter the disciples returned to their usual occupations, and our Lord retired for a little from public life.
2. Beginning of our Lord’s Galilaean ministry.—After a short interval our Lord resumed His labours, and continued them without interruption until His death. The Baptist had just been imprisoned (Mark 1:14 and ||), and He seemed to regard his imprisonment as a call to attempt more than He had yet done. So long as the Baptist laboured, the work done by Jesus does not seem to have differed much from his. Now that he was in prison, our Lord proceeded to develop a ministry of His own. This new type of ministry was marked by a change of residence from Nazareth to Capernaum (Matthew 4:13). He wished to influence as many of the inhabitants of Galilee as He could, and there was no better centre from which to approach them than Capernaum. The town was large, and was near many others of the same character. It lay on several great roads, and was therefore easily reached from all quarters. The people were genuinely Jewish, and not given to Gentile tastes or customs. No more suitable position from which to command Galilee could have been chosen. It was soon after He settled in Capernaum that He renewed His summons to four of the men whom He had already chosen as His disciples. Walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, He saw the brothers Simon and Andrew, who were fishermen, engaged in casting their net. In words the significance of which they could not fail to discern, He commanded them to follow Him and become fishers of men. Proceeding a little farther, He found James with his brother John repairing their nets, and addressed to them the same command. They, like Peter and Andrew, instantly obeyed (Mark 1:16-20). It is clear that our Lord had a definite aim in calling these four disciples. The duty to which He now invited them was an advance on their former relationship. They were to be no longer fishermen. They must exchange their former calling for a new one. And the nature of that new calling was not wholly obscure. The allusion to the occupation which they were bidden to leave illustrated the character of the labours to which they were invited. They were to capture men instead of fish. Not one of the four could fail to perceive that they were to be employed continuously in the service of Jesus. The call would fill them with the less surprise because they had already served an apprenticeship to Jesus, when they baptized in obedience to His commands. It need not be inferred that Jesus intended to send the four immediately on a special mission. No particular time is specified in His command; and though St. Luke (Luke 5:10) marks the capture of men as beginning with the moment of the call, this can only mean that their new career began as soon as they obeyed the call addressed to them. Only one other call of the same kind is related in the Gospels, that of Levi or Matthew (Mark 2:16, Matthew 9:9). It, too, occurred in Capernaum. To the four fishermen a tax-gatherer was added. Capernaum was the seat of a custom-house, and the collector of customs, Levi by name, was called precisely as the two pairs of brothers had been. What previous acquaintance existed between Matthew and our Lord, what special qualities commended him we cannot tell; but the instant obedience he rendered to so extraordinary a command, and the feast which he gave in our Lord’s honour as he bade farewell to his fellow-officials, suggest that they had known one another for some time. The interval which separated the call of Matthew from the call of the four cannot be ascertained, but as it is unlikely that he was a disciple of the Baptist, and as it is probable that he was not brought into contact with our Lord till He settled in Capernaum, some little time must have elapsed between his first knowledge of our Lord and his call. He could hardly have been with Jesus from the outset of His career in Galilee.
3. Choice of the Twelve.—It might have been supposed that our Lord would continue as He had begun, and summon disciple after disciple to His side until He had obtained the number He required for His purpose. But this was not to be. He had determined to make a formal selection of a definite number from the body of His disciples (Mark 3:13, Luke 6:13). The importance of the step He was about to take is shown by the fact that He spent the preceding night in prayer (Luke 6:12), doubtless seeking to learn His Father’s will regarding the intention He had formed and the mode in which it was to be accomplished. One of the critical hours of His life was before Him. The nature of the selection He was about to make was of supreme consequence. A serious mistake would be followed by calamitous results. No wonder then that He sought specific guidance. He may even have gone over the names of all whom He judged competent, and have made His final choice.
The Gospels have not preserved any statement by our Lord Himself as to His aim in selecting a special group of disciples. That aim can be judged of only by the issue, for it is certain that what the Apostles proved to be, was what Jesus designed they should become. An account, indeed, is found in St. Mark’s Gospel (Mark 3:14), according to which the purpose of our Lord in choosing them was that they might be with Him and that He might send them forth to announce the approach of the Kingdom of God, endowed with the power to heal and to exorcize. That this is a correct description so far as it goes cannot be doubted, but it cannot be said to embrace the full scope of our Lord’s purpose. It defines His immediate rather than His ultimate end. Its horizon is that of the first journey on which the Apostles were sent, not that world-wide commission afterwards committed to them. Hence when we speak of the reasons which induced our Lord to select the Twelve, we must look to the work actually entrusted to them. That work cannot be better described than by the words used by our Lord Himself to the Twelve on the eve of His death. He had been the envoy of the Father to earth. They were to be His envoys on earth. As He had interpreted the Father to men, so were they to interpret Him to men. Their chief, their supreme duty, was to bear witness to Him: to teach the world how He lived, what He said, what He wrought (John 17:18, Acts 1:8).
A comparison has often been drawn between the disciples of Plato or of the Pharisees and the disciples of Jesus. And such comparisons are not without suggestiveness. But a sagacious mind discerns that the apostolate of Jesus Christ is a unique institution. The Apostles differ from, far more than they agree with, the disciples of any thinker or teacher. They stand by themselves, devoted to the performance of an unexampled task. No one but Jesus could have conceived such a task; the Apostles were the fit instruments for its accomplishment.
It is a noteworthy circumstance that few writers have spent any time in describing the actual selection of the Twelve. The silence of the Gospels on this point is only what was to be expected, but it is surprising that those writers of our Lord’s life who have given the freest rein to their imagination in endeavouring to reproduce the scenes of His career, have passed this event over as if it afforded no opportunity for their skill. Yet what materials lay ready to their hand! What were the sentiments with which our Lord addressed Himself to the task? What was His appearance as He stood on the mountain side and called His followers to Him? How did these followers feel as they perceived that He was about to make a choice among them? Was there excitement among the crowd? Was there strong desire on the part of many to be chosen? Was there any discussion as to the principles He followed in the choice, or did reverence prevent all debate? Was there much disappointment when the number was completed? Was there surprise at the persons named? Not less instructive would be some knowledge of the sentiments of the Apostles when they stood together for the first time in the presence of our Lord. What were their thoughts? Were they filled with exultation? Did they infer that the Kingdom of God would immediately appear? Did they anticipate a brilliant future for themselves? Or were there those among them who reflected with humility on their unfitness to be the generals and statesmen of the new Kingdom? Did it occur to even one of them that the choice just made was a fresh disclosure of the view taken by Jesus of the Kingdom of God and of the means by which it was to be extended?
Who now were the objects of our Lord’s choice? With some of them we are already acquainted. Simon, Andrew, James, John, Philip, and Levi or Matthew are already known to us. So too possibly is Bartholomew (wh. see). Bartholomew is not a proper name, but means simply ‘son of Tolmai,’ and there is much probability in the opinion that he is to be identified with Nathanael. These seven disciples our Lord must have known for some time. The remaining five names—Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, Judas or Lebbaeus or Thaddaeus, and Judas Iscariot are new. How long they had been known to Jesus is not told us; perhaps some of them had been in His company for several months. On the other hand, it is possible that He may have chosen some of the Twelve without much if any personal knowledge, relying on that power to read the heart which He undoubtedly possessed.
Who the Alphaeus was of whom James was a son (Mark 3:18) we cannot tell. There is no reason except the similarity of name for connecting him with the father of Levi; and the assumption that he is the same person as Clopas is gratuitous. The force of the epithet Cananaean is not free from doubt; the most likely meaning is that of zealot. But the sense of ‘zealot’ in turn is not perfectly clear. It may denote the political party known by that name; it may, again, simply designate unusual devotion to a cause. Reflexion shows that this latter view has but scanty recommendation, and that the former has nearly everything in its favour. The Apostle who bears a triple name is commonly known as Jude. That there were two Judes among the Apostles is plain from the language of John 14:22, where ‘Judas not Iscariot’ is mentioned. In two of the lists of the Apostles, those in Luke (Luke 6:16) and Acts (Acts 1:13), he is described as ‘Judas of James’; that is almost certainly Judas the son not the brother of James. But who this James was is quite uncertain. In Matthew 10:3 and Mark 3:18 this Judas is called Thaddaeus, or, according to the Western text, Lebbaeus; and he was probably known indifferently as Judas or as Thaddaeus. The exact significance of the term Iscarlot is still under discussion. Most commonly it is regarded as a geographical term signifying ‘man of Kerioth,’ but where Kerioth was situated is keenly canvassed, some placing it to the east of the Dead Sea and others in the south of Judah (see Judas Iscariot).
Attempts have often been made to prove that several of the Apostles were related to our Lord. Many of those who have sought for traces of this relationship have been governed by motives very different from those influencing our Lord, who would have been the last person to allow His selection of an Apostle to be determined by the ties of blood. Still there is no reason why relatives of our Lord should not have been among the Apostles. But what evidence is there to this effect? It has been conjectured that James and John were cousins of our Lord, Mary and Salome being sisters. This is one possible interpretation and by no means the least satisfactory of the well-known verse in St. John (John 19:25) which mentions the women at the cross. Whether the silence of Scripture regarding the relationship can outweigh the fitness of this interpretation will he answered variously, yet a reader will allow for the possibility that James and John were our Lord’s cousins. But if he tolerate this view he will reject without hesitation the opinion once so common, that several of our Lord’s brothers were among the Apostles. Practically nothing can he brought forward in support of this hypothesis; for who can attach any value to the fact that three of the Apostles bore the same names as three of our Lord’s brothers, when it is known that these names were among the most common in the land? The statement made in John 7:5 that six months before the Crucifixion none of our Lord’s brothers believed on Him is wholly inconsistent with the view that two or even three of them were Apostles. Scarcely less decisive is the distinction traced in the Acts between the brothers of Jesus and the Apostles (John 1:14). Much ingenuity and labour have been expended in the endeavour to prove that James the son of Alphaeus was a cousin of our Lord, his father being a brother of Joseph. But the steps by which this identification is made are numerous and all open to challenge, so that no gain can arise from an examination of the question. See art. Brethren of the Lord.
Four lists of the Apostles are contained in the NT, one in each of the Synoptics and one in the Acts (Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:14-16, Acts 1:13). A careful examination of these lists shows that each of them consists of three groups of quaternions, and that in each group the same person is mentioned first. The first group contains the names of Peter, James, John, and Andrew. The second is made up of Philip, Nathanael, Thomas, and Matthew. The third is formed of James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, Judas or Thaddaeus, and Judas Iscariot. Is this arrangement due to accident, or does it rest on a perception of the historical importance of the disciples at the time at which it was drawn up? The places given to Peter and Judas and the contents of the different groups suggest that there is here an indication of the view taken of the Apostles in the early Church. By whom the catalogues were framed is unknown, but their value as historical witnesses is great. They form, as it were, a table of precedence dating from the earliest times, and embodying the verdict it may be of the Apostles themselves, or at least of those of them who survived when they were prepared. In all the lists the name of Peter occupies the first place. St. Matthew (Matthew 10:2) writes: ‘Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; the first, Simon.’ In what sense is this ‘first’ to be understood? It might refer to the fact that Peter was the first of the Apostles to be chosen. This is perfectly credible, but the fact that the order of the names is not uniform in the lists may be regarded as showing that the memory of the order in which the Twelve were called was not preserved in the Church. But why was Peter the: first called? Must not an explanation of this fact be sought? And is it not to be found in the circumstance that he was the foremost of the Apostles, their leader, their spokesman? Primacy in the sense of jurisdiction or authority over his fellow Apostles Peter never received and never exercised. His position is that of the foremost among equals; a position due not to any formal or official appointment, but to the ardour and force of his nature.
What kind of men were the Apostles? What was their character, education, social rank, ability, age? The Apostles were in an eminent sense religious men. The tie which bound them to Jesus was a religious tie. It was impossible for any person to become a follower of Jesus who did not believe in obedience to the will of God as the first of all duties. The Apostles were men who desired to fulfil the demands of the law of God. Their aims were high; their morals were pure; whatever their ignorance, misconceptions, defects, they were men of integrity, justice, and mercy; diligent, candid, honest, pious, God-fearing. None of the Apostles had received more than a common education. The range of their knowledge was that of most of their fellow-countrymen. But they were in no sense illiterate. It is probable that all of them could read and write. Most if not all of them spoke Aramaic and Greek. Their minds had been quickened and nourished by the services in the Synagogue. The education that springs from the truest knowledge of God and of man was theirs. And the discipline of their daily lives had rendered them alert, considerate, patient, energetic.
The Apostles without exception belonged to the working classes as they would be called to-day. There was no man of rank or distinction or of social consideration among them. Four of them, we know, were fishermen. One of them was a collector of taxes. The rest belonged to the same rank in life, and followed similar occupations. All of them knew what it was to labour to maintain themselves; they were familiar with life as it presents itself to the great body of mankind. There is no evidence that any of the Apostles was specially distinguished by intellectual force. There was no man of genius among them: no original thinker; no man dowered with the imaginative faculty; no man of great powers of organization. It does not appear that any of them had an unusually impressive or attractive personality. As far as can be ascertained, they were all young men, about the same age as, or younger than, our Lord Himself. No man of middle life, no grey head was included in the circle. Variety of taste, temper, mode of life found full expression among the Apostles. No one was the same as another. Their experience of life had differed. Their anticipations of the future differed. Their habits of thought and action differed. Perhaps the only common elements were their piety and their devotion to Jesus. Such then were the Apostles. They were pious men belonging to the people, full of the plain sense and judgment which mark the common man: slow to learn, but teachable; free from social prejudices; untrammelled by any fixed systems of thought; with keen eyes for character; anxious to win the favour of Jesus.
The most discordant criticisms have been passed on the choice of the Apostles, many of these betraying a complete failure to grasp the circumstances and facts of the case. The vindication of the wisdom shown in the selection is the future career and achievements of the Twelve. In judging it is necessary to bear in mind the materials at our Lord’s command and the purposes which He had in view. The man who realizes these has no difficulty in appreciating and admiring the sagacity exhibited by Jesus. Here, too, he will perceive that originality which marks His entire career. The Twelve would never have chosen one another. Had the selection been left to them individually or to any two or three among them, the persons included would have been very different. Nobody but Jesus Himself would have acted in disregard, as it would appear, of the motives by which men are constantly swayed. No one will suppose that our Lord had any aversion to intellect, wealth, rank, genius, experience, in themselves, or that He preferred fishermen to lawyers, and tax-collectors to priests. But He was equally free from the bias which leads so many to believe that the success of any movement depeads on its being supported by the higher classes, whether of intellect or rank. His one test of men was fitness or capacity for the special objects He had in view. The number of adherents at His command as Apostles was limited. His primary aim was to discover men who could be taught and trained to comprehend His character, aims, and labours, who could describe His life to their fellows, who could inform them as to what He said and as to the deeds of mercy and power which He wrought. The defects and the limitations of the Apostles were far better known to our Lord than they are to us or to His critics. Yet He called them despite of these, for after all they were the hest instruments within His reach. Their faults of intellect, taste, manner, speech, their stupidity, folly, their prejudices and prepossessions, their unbalanced judgment and intemperate zeal were all before His eyes; nevertheless He summoned them to be His Apostles in the confidence that He could make them become the very men best fitted to discharge the duties connected with the establishment of the Kingdom of God. He had no false anticipations as to the kind of men the Twelve would prove; He chose them knowing what they were and what they would become.
The Apostles were twelve in number. The number was intended to be significant. Its import could not have been lost on the Twelve themselves when they were first called, or on the multitude who witnessed their election. Our Lord was evidently thinking of the twelve tribes of Israel. Though ten of the tribes had largely disappeared, Israel still consisted ideally of twelve tribes, and the mission of the Messiah was to be to all the tribes of the nation. Hence the fitness of the number chosen by our Lord. There was one Apostle for each tribe. Nor should it be overlooked that the employment of this number was a fresh claim on the part of Jesus to be the Messiah. His disciples would argue thus: Who but the Messiah could venture to create a body or group of twelve disciples only? Nobody had done so before, no prophet, not even the Baptist. Jesus then must be the Messiah.
It has been suggested that the number twelve was, so to speak, accidental; that our Lord did not choose a definite number of disciples, but that He allowed all who desired to do so to remain beside Himself. The alleged choice of the Twelve is pronounced not historical. They chose our Lord, not He them. The Twelve is but a name for His closest and most devoted adherents. The only arguments advanced for this view are the silence of the Gospel of St. Matthew as to the selection of the Twelve, and the omission of the list of the Twelve from the Gospel of St. John. But St. Matthew furnishes a list of the Twelve, and therefore presupposes their selection. He assumes as self-evident that they had been appointed by our Lord. St. John not less than St. Matthew takes the selection of the Twelve (John 6:67; John 6:70) as known, and even makes our Lord refer to His appointment of them (John 15:16). To assert that the Twelve attached themselves to our Lord gradually and spontaneously is to misread the tenor of the statements regarding them.
The title ‘Apostle’ and its equivalents.—It is expressly stated that the Twelve received from our Lord the title ‘apostles’; but it is doubtful whether the title was bestowed when they were chosen, and its exact sense has always been a subject of debate. It will be expedient at this point to examine the designations borne by the Apostles, because they are not called uniformly by one name.
The most common of all the appellations bestowed on them in the Gospels is that of disciples. This usage is as characteristic of the Fourth Gospel as of the Synoptics. And it is noteworthy that in none of the Gospels are the twelve disciples sharply discriminated from the other disciples of our Lord. They are called ‘the disciples of Jesus,’ ‘his disciples,’ ‘the disciples,’ but the context alone reveals whether the writer is speaking of a limited group or of the disciples of our Lord in general.
A peculiar usage appears in the Gospel of St. John. There the title is applied to those who first attached themselves to our Lord. ‘The disciples’ form a body or class by themselves long before the Apostles are chosen. From the narrative it looks as if no person belonged to this group who was not at a later stage included among the Apostles, but the point is not by any means certain.
The adoption of the term ‘disciples’ to denote the followers of our Lord requires no explanation. The primary sense of the word indicates the relation of a pupil to his teacher, and the designation was therefore the most natural and appropriate which could be employed.
The Twelve. This phrase explains itself. As soon as our Lord had selected a specific number of persons for a definite end, it was to be expected that they should be called by the number which they formed. They were twelve, and were accordingly known as ‘the Twelve.’ It is doubtful whether it is proper to supply such a substantive as ‘disciples’ or ‘apostles.’ There is authority in the NT for the use of both of these phrases, but it does not follow that the name first given to this inmost circle of our Lord’s adherents was ‘the twelve disciples’ or ‘the twelve apostles’ rather than ‘the Twelve.’ A time came when all three designations were current. St. Matthew mentions ‘the Twelve’ four times (Matthew 10:5; Matthew 26:14; Matthew 26:20; Matthew 26:47), St. Mark nine times (Mark 4:10; Mark 6:7; Mark 9:35; Mark 10:32; Mark 11:11; Mark 14:10; Mark 14:17; Mark 14:20; Mark 14:43), St. Luke six times (Luke 8:1; Luke 9:1; Luke 9:12; Luke 18:31; Luke 22:3; Luke 22:47), and St. John four times (John 6:67; John 6:70-71; John 20:24). St. Matthew speaks four times (Matthew 10:1; Matthew 11:1; Matthew 20:17; Matthew 26:20) of ‘the twelve disciples,’ but he stands alone in his use of this description. It is worth while to observe that after the death of Judas the phrase ‘the Eleven’ was employed precisely as ‘the Twelve’ had been. It is found absolutely in Luke 24:9; it is found with the substantive ‘disciples’ in Matthew 28:16, and with the substantive ‘apostles’ in Acts 1:26.
The word ἀπόστολος occurs ten times in the Gospels. In the Gospel of St. John it is used only in its etymological sense of a person sent forth (John 13:16); in the other three Gospels it refers to the twelve disciples of our Lord. But there is some doubt as to the meaning it bears in each of these Gospels. St. Matthew employs it once only—in the passage already quoted: ‘The names of the twelve apostles are these’ (Matthew 10:2). This language is used to introduce the list of the Apostles, together with the charge addressed to them. The term may be understood here in either of two senses: it may designate the Twelve as sent out on one special mission of evangelization, or it may bear the meaning which it has in Christendom to-day. A decision between these senses is hardly possible in the case of St. Matthew’s Gospel. It is otherwise with the Gospel of St. Mark. Here the term is employed twice (Mark 3:14, Mark 6:30), and apparently in both instances only with regard to the particular missionary tour or journey on which they were about to enter. The use of the term in St. Luke is noteworthy. It occurs six times. Once (Luke 11:49) it is possibly used in its etymological meaning of messenger; in two other places (Luke 6:13, Luke 9:10) it may be used to designate the special mission on which the Twelve were first sent; but in the remaining three (Luke 17:5, Luke 22:14, Luke 24:10) it is employed to designate the Twelve in their capacity as the representatives of Jesus, the sense which it commonly bears in the Acts.
It is unnecessary for our present purpose to enter on the history of the word ‘apostle’ in Greek. That the word was in use in NT times in its etymological sense of messenger is generally allowed. This fact is confirmed by the NT itself. Our Lord, in speaking to His disciples on the night of the betrayal, declared that the person sent (apostle) is not greater than he that sent him (John 13:16). Again when our Lord is designated in Hebrews 3:1 as ‘the apostle and high priest of our confession,’ the reference is probably to His own description of Himself as ‘the sent of God’ (John 17:18). There is then clear evidence that the word was current in our Lord’s time in its sense of messenger, delegate, envoy. Was it also in use in a technical sense to designate those who were despatched from the mother city by the rulers of the race on any foreign mission, especially such as were charged with collecting the tribute paid to the temple service? (Lightfoot, Gal. 93). And was it this usage which suggested to our Lord His own employment of the term? There is no evidence to show that the term was current in this technical sense before the Gospels were written. Besides, even though it had been in existence, it is doubtful whether our Lord would have employed a term which had already in the minds of His hearers distinct associations of its own. The absence of such associations would recommend a term to Him. It was the very simplicity and directness of the expression ‘apostle’ which won for it the favour of our Lord. The Twelve were simply to be His messengers or envoys. The analogy between His own case and that of the men. He had selected was always present to His mind. He had been sent by the Father: they were to be sent by Himself. A technical term could only have served to bewilder the Twelve and lead them to misconceive the object of their mission. What was necessary for our Lord’s purpose was a word which set forth simply and aptly the relations of the Twelve to Himself, and for this there was no more suitable term than ‘messenger,’ ‘envoy.’ The term ‘apostle’ then was not suggested to our Lord by its currency as a technical expression. He chose a common word and adapted it to His own purpose. He wished to give the most expressive title to the men whom He had chosen, and none seemed to Him so suitable as the word ‘sent.’ It reminded them perpetually that they were men with a mission.
It is generally held that the name ‘apostles’ was given to the Twelve on the occasion of their call. The language of St. Luke (Luke 6:13) does not compel us to adopt this conclusion, nor is that of St. Mark (Mark 3:14) decisive on the point.* [Note: It should be noted that the words οὓς καὶ ἀτοστολους ὠνομασεν do not occur in TR. See, however, RVm.] The statements in both Gospels are consistent alike with the view that the Apostles were so named when they were first called, and with the view that this title was bestowed on them at a later date. The other considerations to which appeal may be made tell in opposite directions. It may be urged that the impression left on the mind of an ordinary reader is that the Apostles received their name at the time of their call, but it does not follow that this impression is correct. For it is said in the same context that our Lord gave to Simon the name Peter, and we know that this name was given to him long before he became an Apostle. This proves that the statements made in connexion with the appointment of the Twelve must not be pressed as if they referred to that event exclusively. Again, it may be contended with much propriety that there was a special fitness in our Lord assigning a new name to the men whom He had set apart for a new task. The new relation might well be designated by a new name. But it may be pointed out in reply that an interval elapsed between the choice of the Twelve and their being sent forth. Is it not probable that the new designation was given only when the new vocation was actually begun? Would the new title be understood apart from the experience by which it was illuminated? This argument is strengthened by the circumstance that St. Mark appears to employ the term ‘apostle’ only in connexion with the missionary journey of the Twelve. With him it is not so much a title belonging to them, as a term descriptive of the functions assigned to them on a special occasion. To decide between these conflicting opinions is not easy, but on the whole the suggestion that the disciples were not called ‘apostles’ till they were first sent out appears the more probable.
The Sermon on the Mount is regarded by many as an address delivered by our Lord when He chose the Twelve. The note of time in the Gospel of St. Luke ascribes it to this occasion, and there is no reason to reject this testimony. Besides, it has the greatest internal probability in its favour. The appointment of the Apostles formed an epoch in the ministry of our Lord; what more natural or suitable than that He should avail Himself of the occasion to explain and enforce His convictions as to the true life of man? The time was most opportune for such a deliverance. The hearts of the disciples were deeply moved; their whole natures were quickened and alert; why not sow seed which might afterwards bear abundant fruit? The character of the Sermon itself is another argument confirming this conclusion. It is didactic rather than hortatory. It expounds truth rather than proclaims the mercy of God. Finally, there is nothing in the Sermon which conflicts with this opinion. It may then be assumed with some confidence that the Sermon on the Mount was spoken in connexion with the call of the Twelve. Many writers go further and contend that it was spoken to them principally or exclusively. But this opinion is at variance with the statements of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke, and is not required by the contents of the Sermon. The truths it announces were not intended for the Twelve alone; why then should they not have been heard by all the disciples? This result is in no way inconsistent with the opinion that the Sermon on the Mount formed, as it were, a special charge to the Twelve in view of the new position which they were henceforward to occupy. It is not necessary for our purpose to discuss the limits of the Sermon or do more than furnish a brief account of its teaching. Our Lord wished His followers to understand the meaning of righteousness; to know what the will of God really was; the true nature of the demands He made on them; how to frame their conduct if they were to obtain His approval. The subject of the address then is the true life of man. The characteristic features of that life are set forth in a series of blessings pronounced on those who possess the qualities spoken of; the mission of Christians as the light of the world and the salt of the earth is touched on; and then our Lord proceeds to contrast the perfect requirements of the Law of God as understood by Himself with the requirements of that Law as contained in the OT or as sanctioned by tradition; after which He illustrates the true nature of almsgiving, fasting, and prayer, and of devotion to the will of God. See Sermon on the Mount below, and in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, Ext. Vol. 1 ff.
It would have been most instructive had any record of the effect produced on the Apostles by this Sermon been preserved. Their surprise must have equalled their admiration. The severe requirements, the strictures on the Law, the novelty of the interpretations, the apparent paradoxes, must have astonished and perplexed them. It is doing them no injustice to say that much it contained was beyond their comprehension. They may have seen that the qualities required of them were embodied in our Lord’s own life, and that the temper of the Beatitudes was exactly His temper. They may have felt that the sphere of the inner life was not less properly the sphere of law than that of speech and conduct. They may have discerned that the true greatness of man is to live not merely as God enjoins, but as God Himself lives. But they could hardly grasp what our Lord meant by the fulfilment of the Law. A fulfilment which was at the same time an abolition was a mystery to them. Nor would they perceive that He had transformed morality by reducing it to the principle of life according to God; the one supreme rule of duty being to love God and man. The paradoxical expressions, too, would be as puzzling to them as they have proved to thousands since. In their discussions there would be champions of literalism, but these would soon be brought to acknowledge that a perfectly literal obedience to the commands given was impracticable.
4. Training of the Apostles.—From the call of the Apostles the mission of our Lord was more a mission to them than to His fellow-countrymen at large. He had waited until the time that a proper selection from His disciples could be made: now that the choice had taken place He devoted Himself to their instruction and training. The Apostles were to accompany Jesus from place to place; they were to be with Him continually. This implied the relinquishment of their means of living. It was not possible for them to continue at their occupations and be Apostles of Jesus. The sacrifice made by each Apostle in obeying the summons to apostleship has seldom been adequately appreciated. In some instances the property left or sold, the income abandoned, might not be great intrinsically, but a man’s all is great to him, hence the moral courage needed of every Apostle was not slight. How then were their wants supplied? Whence did they obtain money to meet their daily expenses? The arrangement followed was probably devised by our Lord, and formed one of the earliest lessons He intended them to master. In a sense this first lesson is the supreme and even the sole lesson which He sought to teach, that of absolute reliance on Himself for everything. Trust in the Father, trust in Himself, was the lesson which Jesus sought to inculcate at all times. The Twelve and our Lord formed, as it were, a single household, of which He was the head. He presided at the common meals, He gave directions as to their movements. The cost of their maintenance was borne by a common purse. One of the Twelve was the treasurer of the company (John 13:28). The food needed was either carried with them, or purchased, or provided by the hospitality which is so characteristic of the East. The company could not only supply their own wants, but could minister to those of the poor (John 13:29). The sources from which their supplies were drawn were doubtless various. Some among them had had or still had property, and the proceeds, contributed to the common stock, helped to defray the charges of each day. It is almost certain that presents were made to our Lord and the company from time to time by grateful friends and neighbours. But the principal source seems to have been the generosity of several women who accompanied them on some of their journeys, and placed their means and services at the command of our Lord. The names of some of these women have been preserved in a most instructive passage in St. Luke’s Gospel (Luke 8:2-3), which is the chief authority on the subject under consideration. Among these are mentioned Mary of Magdala, Joanna (possibly a widow whose husband had been a steward of Herod Antipas), and Susanna. It is evident from St. Luke’s statement that the number of such women was large, and it was probably owing to their generosity that our Lord and the Twelve were able to devote themselves untroubled and untrammelled to their task. It should be noticed that the kind of life lived by the Twelve was itself a practical illustration of some of the cardinal lessons which Jesus desired to teach. The subordinate value of earthly possessions could not have been more effectively taught than by the life of dependence on the liberality of others. Their journeys, too, from place to place had also their value. They were stimulated by new scenes and new persons; new conditions had to be faced, new duties performed. They had leisure to ponder on what was said to them; they were not distracted from the great work of their life, the knowledge of their Master. This was their duty, and it became their glory. For in understanding Him they came to resemble Him. The education of the Twelve, the transformation of them from the men they were into the men they became, is one of the greatest of our Lord’s achievements. The Apostles were to be our Lord’s witnesses, but the witnessing of which He thought demanded insight, sympathy, courage, self-command, tolerance, patience, charity. It was inseparable from the highest moral endowments. It involved great receptive and assimilative power, issuing in vigorous and unceasing obedience and service.
In order that the Apostles might become His witnesses, our Lord made use of three principal agencies: (a) His personality, (b) His miracles, and (c) His teaching.
(a) To be with Jesus was in itself the best of all education and training. It was on this account that the Apostles were chosen to be with Him habitually. A complete knowledge of Him could be attained only in this way. For knowledge is acquired insensibly not less than sensibly, and the Apostles learned much regarding Jesus when it never struck them that they were doing so. Gradually His influence told on them. His ideals, motives, ends became clear to them. His manners, looks, tones, words, ways became their inspiration and guide. They felt what goodness, truth, duty were. Above all, they came to know God as the Father. It would, however, be a serious error to hold that the Twelve from the first moment of their selection appreciated the true grandeur of the life of Jesus. On the contrary, that life must often have presented to them a problem of no little difficulty. It was not the type of life which they had been accustomed to regard as specifically religious, still less as embodying religion in its perfection and integrity. It is probable that those of the Apostles who had been disciples of the Baptist were at first more impressed by his austere and solitary life than by the life of Jesus, which was substantially that of ordinary men. He ate and drank as they did. He dressed like them. He moved freely among them. He never sought to protect Himself from the approach of men, but on the contrary invited them to draw near. Nothing in His bearing or speech betrayed that He regarded Himself as standing on a different plane from other men, or that He expected them to treat Him as belonging to a different order of existence. He was simple, genial, affable, accessible. His mode of life, too, viewed as religious, must have filled them with surprise. He had no fixed hours or forms of prayer. His approach to the Father was the expression of His habitual reverence, adoration, and trust, but it was not determined, much less fettered, by rule. He prayed as He was moved to pray. Again, He departed from a usage which was one of the chief features of the piety of the time. He declined to fast. Not only had He no regular fast days, He neither fasted Himself nor did He inculcate the observance on them. Another respect in which He deviated widely from the religious practices of His time was His disregard of ceremonial ablutions. He paid no attention to the rules affecting ritual purity. There is no evidence that He violated the usages of His nation as to foods, but His attitude towards these showed that He attached no value to them. Even that rite which was fundamental and distinctive, the pledge of salvation because the assurance of being a member of the covenant, the rite of circumcision, was unnoticed in His teaching. In yet another and hardly less important respect our Lord’s life was largely different from the accepted type of sanctity. The Sabbath, like circumcision, was one of the peculiar glories of Judaism, and the teachers of our Lord’s age and of preceding generations had framed a code of rules to protect it from desecration. These He trampled under foot. The endless regulations intended to stop the performance of any work whatever on that day He brushed aside as at variance with the true end of the Sabbath institution. He rejoiced in the Sabbath, esteeming it to be one of God’s best gifts to man, but He was everywhere denounced as a Sabbath-breaker by those who regarded themselves as the interpreters of the law (John 5:18). Even in the matter of almsgiving He was not as the men who professed to be specially religious. He was beneficent in the highest degree, but He followed no systematic rules.
Hence it is plain that the tenor of our Lord’s life must have formed a problem of no little complexity to the Twelve during the first stages of their apprenticeship. Was this life—so simple, so natural—a truly religious life? Was the religious life bright, sunny, cheerful, full of hope and joy? Was this life of simple trust in the Father and of obedience to His will in the fulfilment of the common duties of life—was this religion? Nor was the perplexity of the Apostles lessened by the classes with which our Lord preferred to associate. He addressed Himself to the sick, the poor, and the outcast. The solicitude of Jesus for the least necessitous of these classes was a difficulty to some of them, but their surprise rose to the height when they saw Him mix freely with those under a social ban.
Doubtless the eyes of the Apostles were opened gradually. They came to perceive, as we do to-day, that the life spent by their Master was the typical life of man. Its likeness to the common life of men is its glory. For by it the common life which all must live is transfigured and made the ideal life of men. Its freedom from rule is discerned to be the reason why it is capable of becoming the model of all lives without exception. For that freedom teaches men that true religion creates its own forms, while its essence of trust in God and devotion to His will remains unalterable. The sympathy which He exhibited for all classes was a revelation of the truth that He was the Saviour of the world.
(b) Perhaps nothing impressed our Lord’s disciples more when they first became acquainted with Him than His miracles. The expectation that the Messiah would work miracles seems to have been general. The Gospels leave the impression that the common people anticipated that works of a most marvellous description would be performed by the Messiah. The nature of these works was undefined, but they transcended the ordinary endowments of man. The Twelve then may have felt little surprise when they saw their Lord perform miracles, but every new miracle would serve to strengthen their conviction of His title to be the Messiah. It is not likely, however, that they were prepared for the kind of miracles which He worked. None of them could have foretold that the Messiah would confine Himself in great measure to the accomplishment of miraculous cures of body and mind; that He would spend many hours on many days in healing sickness and in expelling demons. The miracles of Jesus were as unexpected as His mode of life. The Apostles were dreaming of miracles of judgment at the very hour when he was performing miracles of mercy. Even the miracles over nature were not those of which they naturally thought.
The Apostles could not fail to perceive the range of the power wielded by their Master and be filled with amazement. No disease could withstand His word or touch. The very demons yielded to His sway. Death itself was powerless before Him. It is important to notice that some of the miracles were performed before the Apostles only. The miracles in which the Apostles as a whole or some of them were specially concerned are these: the Miraculous Draught of Fishes recorded by St. Luke (Luke 5:1-7), the Stilling of the Storm (Mark 4:39), the Walking on the Sea (Mark 6:48, John 6:16), the Stater in the Fish’s Mouth (Matthew 17:27), the Cursing of the Fig-tree (Mark 11:20), and the Second Miraculous Draught of Fishes (John 21:11). These signs had a peculiar value for the Twelve. They were proofs of knowledge and of power fitted to promote faith and to enforce truth. There is a fitness in the circumstance that most of the miracles on nature were wrought before or on behalf of the Apostles. For they more than others were prepared to embrace the truth that Jesus was the Lord of nature. It was indispensable that they should be taught this fact, and how could it have been better illustrated than by the miracles wrought on the Sea of Galilee? What a revelation of the knowledge or power of Jesus; what a prophecy of the success of the new vocation to which they were summoned, was the first draught of fishes! What a lesson concerning the might of Jesus was contained in the instant obedience of the raging waves and winds to His command! What a fresh disclosure of His power was His walking towards them on the sea as they toiled to make the western shore of the lake! What instruction to Peter and to the rest when Peter first succeeded in imitating his Master’s walking on the water and then began to sink! How fraught with suggestions to Peter the coin found in the mouth of the first fish which came to his book as he lowered it into the lake! What confirmation of all that they had learned was found in the second draught of fishes, that after the Resurrection! The cursing of the fig-tree occupies a place by itself among our Lord’s miracles, but the lesson it teaches is most weighty. A miracle of judgment is as suitable as a parable of judgment. The lesson of the need of correspondence between profession and practice could not have been more impressively taught than by the fate of the fig-tree.
No one can doubt that the number and variety of the miracles witnessed by the Apostles enhanced their conception of our Lord’s person and powers. Perhaps, too, they discerned, even if imperfectly, what is so clear to us to-day, that the miracles were indeed what He called them, signs: manifestations of the character and qualities of the kingdom which He had come to set up. The boundless sympathy and compassion of their Master must have struck them; His life not less than His teaching was mercy and service. His works of mercy were the living embodiment of the principles of mercy He inculcated. He healed all who sought His aid, making no inquiry into their past, their station, their gifts, but caring only for their needs. It was impossible for the Apostles not to discover that the miracles they beheld with such frequency were signs of the grace and love of the Father speaking to men through Jesus.
As the Apostles saw the miracles and heard what Jesus said respecting them, did they form a just conception of their nature and function? Were they able to compare them with the portents for which they had at one time longed? Did they perceive the relation of the signs to the person of Jesus? Did they discern that the signs could be fully understood only through His character? Did they recognize that the character and words of Jesus were greater than His signs, but that these were nevertheless such as to convince every impartial judge that His mission was of God? They knew that Jesus never regarded His miracles as the chief evidence for the validity of His claims; they were neither His sole nor His principal credentials; they were rather a part and element of His message and His work. Did they see clearly that the evidential value of the miracles did not consist in their departure from the established order of nature, in their capacity as marvels, but in their congruity with the character and aims of Jesus, and as illustrations of His spirit and ways? We would gladly learn whether the Apostles ever reflected on the use made by our Lord of His miraculous endowments. Believing in Him as the Lord of nature and of life, aware that He had unnumbered forces at His command, were they surprised that He never employed His powers to promote His advantage or to defend His disciples or Himself from injustice and violence? Whence this self-repression? Why was the sphere of the miraculous so strictly limited? Why were n
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Apostles'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/a/apostles.html. 1906-1918.
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34