Category Archives: The Twelve


2008-07-10

Reasons for Luke to change Mark’s account of the calling of the disciples

by Neil Godfrey

Someone on a discussion list recently drew attention to how the Gospel of Luke changes the position of the call of the disciples to a period later than that found in the Gospel of Mark, so that it appears awkwardly out of place. Mark first describes Jesus calling Peter and others before going into Peter’s house to heal his mother-in-law. Luke, oddly, first has Jesus going into Peter’s house, and only afterwards calling him and others. It looks like Luke or some later redactor has got into a muddle and put the first meeting of Peter and Jesus AFTER Jesus visited Peter’s place.

Well having recently completed some notes and thoughts about canonical Luke being a possible redaction of an earlier gospel that may well have been closer in many respects to the gospel of Mark, I had to take a few minutes to see if there might be any particular redactional agenda for such a switch of order in events. Or was it just a consequence of clumsy editing? (I’m rolling with the general view that the author of Luke’s gospel knew and copied much from Mark’s gospel.)

We can’t know the latter author’s reasons for making the switch, but we can look at how the change functions in the narrative and see if that can suggest some clue about what the author might have been trying to do.

The Gospel of Mark’s sequence

Jesus starts his ministry in Capernaum

Jesus calls disciples

Jesus casts out a demon – his fame spreads

Jesus enters Peter’s house and heals Peter’s mother-in-law

Jesus heals many after sabbath

Many look for Jesus but Jesus leaves them behind

Apart from calling his disciples at the beginning of his ministry, there is little obvious narrative structural sequence to the events in Mark. It is episodic in the sense of just one thing after the other. I do think there is a structure that holds these episodes together in Mark, but it is not at the narrative level, and is another topic for another time. The most we can see here is that Jesus, logically, calls Peter for the first time before joining him in his house.

The Gospel of Luke’s sequence

Jesus begins his ministry in Nazareth

Jesus moves to Capernaum

Jesus casts out a demon – his fame spreads

Jesus enters Peter’s house and heals Peter’s mother-in-law

Jesus heals many after sabbath

Jesus is hindered by crowds as he teaches throughout Galilee

Crowds press upon Jesus by the lake and Jesus preaches to them

Jesus commissions his first disciples

Is it my imagination or is there really a sequential narrative development that I see here?

  • Jesus begins his ministry in his home town. Result: he is cast out.
  • He then moves to Capernaum. Result. a demon is cast out and Jesus’ fame spreads.
  • After healing in Peter’s house, he heals many more after the sabbath.
  • The crowds are so thick around Jesus he finds it hard to move anywhere.
  • The crowds press on Jesus so he has to get into a boat to preach to them.
  • Jesus then commissions his first disciples to “catch men”.

This looks very much like the sort of thing we read in Exodus and Acts. Crowds become too much for the prophet or apostle. Helpers are marshaled in response to the growing need for help given the escalating success of Jesus’ ministry. The author uses the same trope in Acts, such as when Barnabas enlisted Paul’s help because of the mass conversions at Antioch. (Talbert, p.63)

And Luke elsewhere repeats the theme of needing labourers for the spiritual harvest.

Talbert also observes that with Luke’s narrative the disciples are supplied with a reason to believe in Jesus and follow him. This can be seen in the passages below. In Mark, Jesus calls and the disciples mysteriously follow immediately. In Luke, Peter has already seen the power of Jesus’ word when he exorcised a demon with a command and healed Peter’s mother-in-law with a rebuke. (In Mark Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law without a word.) So when Peter is commanded to cast his net in the sea and he replies, “At your word I will do it”, it is plausibly to think that the reader is meant to understand that Peter already knows the power of Jesus’ word.

So despite the incongruity of Jesus appearing to enter Peter’s house before we appear to be told how the two met, there is a discernible narrative logic to the Lukan sequence. It may not feel complete. Where did Peter come from? Why is he mentioned without any explanation when he first appears? And in other areas too: Why does Jesus mention his deeds at Capernaum before he is said to have entered Capernaum? Nonetheless, there is a narrative logic overlaying the incongruities.

The Gospel of Mark’s calling

Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.
And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.
And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him.
And when he had gone a little further thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets.
And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him.

The Gospel of Luke’s commissioning

And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret,
And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets.
And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship.
Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.
And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.
And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake.
And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink.
When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.
For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken:
And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.
And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.

Comparing the two

Secondly, the Luke 5 lake scene is not a calling of the disciples as it is in Mark’s gospel. Canonical Luke does not narrate the calling of the disciples but their commissioning.

Compare Luke’s:

From now on you will catch men!

with the contingent Markan hope:

Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.

The idea in Luke of Jesus commissioning his disciples to help him is supported by the narrative logic already discussed. The crowds make the commissioning of the disciples, more than their calling in the hope they will succeed to the end, the real need.

There is also some ambiguity in the Markan passage about the meaning of being becoming fishers of men. If this is taken from Jeremiah 16:16 it could well be implying judgment, not salvation. But in Luke the theme of the crowds and the miracle of the fish-catch make it clear that the image means the converting of people to Christ.

This is further supported if one embraces the hypothesis that the author of canonical Luke knew John’s gospel and was blending John’s last chapter with the calling in Mark. John’s last chapter also depicts a miracle of an overwhelming catch of fish at the word of Jesus, and in that context it is clearly a metaphor for the conversions that Peter is expected to accomplish.

The theme of commissioning the disciples is elsewhere a prominent one in Luke’s gospel. The resurrected Jesus opens their understanding to the Jewish scriptures that were said to be prophetic of him, and he commands them to remain in Jerusalem until they are given heavenly power. They are confirmed as his witnesses. In Mark’s gospel, there is no certainty about the fate of the disciples at the conclusion, and in Matthew some of the disciples even doubted the resurrected Jesus.

Further, reflecting on the narrative logic above, this commissioning of the disciples arises directly out of the need for them to help with the spiritual harvest. It is the mushrooming crowds that make them a necessity. Calling to follow, with the possibility of failure, is not an option in Luke:

And the Lord said, Simon, Simon! Indeed Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to me, strengthen your brethren. (Luke 22:31-32)

By contrast it is readily possible to read the Gospel of Mark as concluding with the total failure of Jesus’ disciples. There is no resurrection appearance to them, and the narrative development has not encouraged the reader to expect them to follow Jesus at the end when or even if they hear he as gone on (again) before them. Like the seed in rocky soil they end their association with Jesus in fear, denial and betrayal.

Anti-Marcionite / proto-orthodox agenda?

Both these points combined — the need for the disciples on Jesus’ part, and the complementary commissioning of the disciples — are not found in Mark, yet they are consistent with canonical Luke’s interest elsewhere in establishing the authority of the disciples as commissioned witnesses and coworkers with and for Jesus. (See Luke’s resurrection chapter discussion.)

Canonical Luke can therefore be read as making changes to Mark’s gospel that reflect a program to strengthen the foundational place of the disciples in the Church. If so, this may be seen as one more of many other arguably anti-Marcionite agendas in canonical Luke-Acts. (See the Infancy Narratives discussion and the Body of Luke discussion.)


2008-06-15

Why did Jesus not wait for his disciples at his tomb? — Or, Why did the disciples not follow Jesus on water? — same question

by Neil Godfrey

I’m restricting this question to a study in the Gospel of Mark, and to its ending at 16:8 with the women fleeing in dumbstruck fear and after the young man told them to:

Go and tell his disciples, and Peter: He is going before (προαγει) you into Galilee: there you will see him, as he said to you. (16:7)

Why the rush? Why did the author want to write story where Jesus leaves the disciples behind?

I’ve no doubt someone has discussed this before much more competently somewhere in the lit, but this being my turn to notice it too, here goes.

The last time we saw Peter in Mark’s gospel he was caught “following Jesus” but “from afar (απο μακροθεν)” (14:54). But from this distance he was cornered into a situation where he felt his only escape was to deny Jesus who by this time was on his way to the cross.

Before that, all the disciples had “forsaken Jesus and fled” (14:50).

Earlier the author had even linked the denial of Peter and failure of all the disciples with Jesus saying he “would go before them” to Galilee. Will return to that link near later in this discussion.

The forsaking and denying of Jesus is a complete turn around from their first encounter with Jesus. So back to the beginning:

The first calling and following

The beginning is a mysteriously immediate following the moment Jesus — who was passing or walking by — called them.

And as he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew . . . Then Jesus said to them, “Come after me . . .” (Ditto as he walked a little farther and saw James and John.)

And as he passed by, he saw Levi . . . and said to him, “Follow me . . .”

In each case those called immediately responded and followed.

The starkness of the call, and particularly the equal starkness of the immediate response following, registers in the reader’s mind, right through to the end and beyond.

Later there is another incident where one person wants to follow Jesus, but is forbidden to do so. The one possessed by Legion (the multitude of demons) had spent time among the tombs, an outcast among the dead. Having restored him, Jesus authorizes him to go back and preach among his people.

But back to those called to follow him. read more »


2008-01-28

Missing a real Peter in Acts

by Neil Godfrey

Crazy as it might sound to some, there is simply no biographical information about Peter in the book of Acts. Every story told in relation to Peter has a miracle as its absolute base. In other words, remove the mythical element from each anecdote concerning Peter and there is nothing left. It is not as though the author has tagged a miracle on to some biographical detail of Peter’s life to give it sparkle, as we sometimes find in genuine biographies. There is simply no Peter apart from the mythical in this book.

Episode 1: Reconstituting the Twelve

If Mark’s gospel was the first, and if we concede the arguments that Judas was Mark’s literary creation, then the arguments that this event which Peter leads is a theological construct than a dedication to historical sources are surely strengthened. The way Judas is placed in Mark’s gospel is without narrative coherence (e.g. Jesus was well enough known not to need one of his disciples to point him out, no motive is given to explain his betrayal. . . .), appearing to be unnaturally introduced into the story simply to make the plot work. If there ever were a body of Twelve based at Jerusalem and recognized as eyewitnesses of Jesus and authoritative guardians of the original faith, Paul’s, and even Acts’, failures to appeal to them for dispute resolution is inexplicable. The names of the Twelve vary in different writings, as happens with free-floating legends, and they are little known except as an abstraction beyond the canonical documents until the later second century. If, as Bauckham affirms, the most solid basis for believing their existence to be historical is found in Meier’s study, they have precious little substantial foundation indeed. (See my post on Meier’s discussion of the evidence for the Twelve.)

But even apart from the implausibility of the existence of the Twelve, and of an historical Judas who occasions this scene in Acts, the story itself climaxes with an act of God demonstrating the continuity of the church on Pentecost with the earlier Mosaic tradition. The meaning of the story is bound up in the casting of lots to ascertain the divine will (as per Aaronic practice) in order to establish the divine appointment of the Twelve. The author portrays this as a direct act of God without which Peter’s role would be meaningless. Readers are left without any biographical or historical story in association with this divine act. There is no discussion of Peter’s relationship with the Twelve, or feedback on the discussions and concerns that one would expect among the players in the context. The is interested in nothing more than proof-texting from Scriptures and describing an act of God for his readers. There is no history, no biography here.
We can safely hold the first anecdote in which Peter is the focus in abeyance pending further support for its historicity.

Episode 2: Pentecost

Peter’s function here in chapter 2 of Acts is to act as the interpreter of the public miracle of the sound of wind, tongues of fire, and miracle of linguistic communication. He is used as the mouthpiece for assuring both real audience and his narrative audience that all that is happening to the disciples in Jerusalem is a direct fulfilment of prophecy. His preaching is so effective that 3000 Jews turn around from fickle Christ-crucifiers to a converted utopian community of believers.

Again, not surprisingly in such a scene, there is no background historical or biographical description or discussion. What you read is all there is: a tale of the miraculous and its theological meaning.

We are still no nearer to knowing anything of a man Peter. We know about scriptural fulfilments and miracles, but nothing about real people and history.

Episode 3: Miracle and Sanhedrin

In Peter’s first miracle (Acts 3) there is no detail offered that is not integral to the miracle story itself. In the subsequent arrest and interrogation before the Sanhedrin where one might hope for some enlightenment of an historical exchange for us to better glimpse the real historical goings on in the early church, and its relations with Jewish authorities, there is again nothing. Only a discussion that pivots around the performing of a miracle and the theological message it conveys.

Unless one believes that life, history, and the interventions of the divine were quite unlike anything we know today, then there is no news about history or a real Peter here either. And if we did believe that, then to be fair we’d have to have pretty good grounds for accepting that things were only validly different for the “peoples of the Book” and not for pagans who also experienced miracles and interventions of deities.

Episode 4: Striking liars dead and healing with a shadow

No discussion is required concerning Peter’s appearance in the Ananias and Sapphira incident. Fortunately we can safely assume that these two were not struck dead at a word from Peter’s mouth, any more than we will assume that his shadow really did heal the sick.

But what we are looking for is something else beside these tall tales that might suggest some genuine biographical source. Unfortunately, there is nothing but the tall tales.

Episode 5: Prison break out and another interrogation

Peter is imprisoned with the others but an angel miraculously releases them. Hardly a basis for a presumption of historicity. Unless the angel did intervene the story would lose its meaning. It is intended to amuse the audiences as they find opportunity to snicker at the trembling guards and authorities who are at a loss to comprehend their freedom. No miracle or angel, no story. That is, the miracle is not tacked on to an historical event. The miracle is presented as the central historical event.

Again one might hope for some survival of sources to seep through to the telling of the official interrogation that follows, but this session is narratively a sequel to the earlier one that was itself a direct consequence of a miracle. If some do see some historical source behind the account of Gamaliel’s advice, it unfortunately throws no light on an historical Peter.

Episode 6: A real event?

The dispute between 2 groups over handouts sounds plausible enough. It’s the sort of incident one would expect to read about in a new community working out its ways. But if this is the first whiff we have of something that reads like history, it is not only very generalized and sweeping in its account, — it also finds Peter completely out of sight.

Episode 7: Putting super magicians in their place

Peter’s encounter with Simon Magus is obviously designed to demonstrate the superiority of Peter to this Samaritan would-be rival. The dialogue is tailored to pronounce doom on this arch-heretic and to depict the victim as cowering and begging for mercy in response. The theological and political message underlying the anecdote is obvious. Peter stands for the theological and political message. There is nothing else of Peter here. The account of Simon is so cryptic it serves to raise questions rather than enlighten. It tells us more about Simon than Peter and it drapes Simon himself beneath an impenetrable shroud. If Simon here is a substitute for Paul as some have argued (Detering), then Peter likewise is as much a metonym.

Episode 8: Aeneas and Dorcas

As the plot of Acts advances toward the full inclusion of gentiles, Peter is found performing miracles firstly on the namesake of the Romans, Aeneas, and secondly on one nicknamed Deer. One miracle is at a place that reads like a homonym for Lydia — from where the Romans traced their descent; the other at Joppa, from where Jonah embarked on his (unintended) way to preach to the gentile Assyrians. Both miracles are obvious re-writes of miracles already attributed to Jesus and Elijah and Elisha. The symbolic nature of the stories, and their clear literary borrowing, is enough to attribute them to authorial imagination and creativity.

But of course, Peter here is placed in no historical or biographical context. He is nothing more than the agent of the miracles — which obviously are the what the anecdotes are about. Not Peter.

Episode 9: Vision and Cornelius

Here the author gives us some detailed narrative fillers for Peter as a character. But that’s all — only narrative filler. More dialogue as opposed to monologue, more detail about where he is and what he’s doing and how he’s feeling (e.g. on a roof, sleepy, hungry). Unfortunately, it’s not the sort of detail that will help a historian or biographer learn anything about the real man. There is no discussion, as one would expect in a document if it were aiming at recording and instructing in an historical past, of the viewpoints within the Church or among its leaders on the issue of Jewish customs. There is only one person discussed, and that’s Peter himself. He is being used to inform readers how of a “Just-So” story of how the church came to be made up of gentiles. There is no discussion of the different persons who must have been involved in any such real event. But we know it is not a real event because its plot hinges squarely on 2 miraculous visions and then another miracle of a visible display of the descent of the spirit.

Episode 10: Last jail break

Just like in a Greek play about a mythical character, this near-final scene of Peter’s tells us nothing about a real event, let alone a real person. I sometimes think it would have been a nice touch if the author had added that Peter sent condolences to the families of the guards who were executed as a result of his escape. “I’m very sorry about what happened to your Brutus and Cassius back there, but with that angel coming in and striking chains in two and swinging iron gates open with just a look I was too frightened to do anything but run like the blazes. It’s a real shame our God does not have more pity for you pagans.”

Episode 11: Summing up

Finally at the Jerusalem council in Acts 15 Peter makes his last appearance. But all he does is repeat a litany of miracles.

Missing the real Peter

From first to last, there is no real Peter, no historical material. There is only miracle and theology, of which Peter is a mouthpiece or agent.

And this Peter of narrative is different from the Peter of the epistle to the Galatians. He is also different from the Peter in the gospel of Mark, and again from the one in the gospels of John and Matthew.

Like Paul, he is a Protean figure who can be turned into whatever the narrator cum theologian requires.


Dating the Book of Acts: Marcionite Context 2 — and beyond

by Neil Godfrey

Continued from Dating Acts: Marcionite context . . . (see also Tyson and Marcion archives)

After attempting a form of controlled analysis for determining the main themes and their supporting literary patterns in Acts, and arguing that the results are best explained as a response to the Marcionite challenge, Tyson examines the characterizations of Peter and Paul in Acts to see if they also are best explained the same way.

Tyson leaves what I think is a major gap in his discussion of how the author presented Peter in Acts but I’ll leave that discussion till after outlining Tyson’s argument.

Characterization of Peter

There is no subtlety in how the author of Acts portrays this leading apostle. We all know Peter is the leader — (Tyson specifies that he is depicted as the leader of the church at Jerusalem), miracle-worker, bold and convincing speaker before rulers and converting crowds of thousands (2:41), taking the initiative in reconstituting the Twelve in the wake of the demise of Judas, interpreter of divinely sent visions (10:28 ) and miracles (2:14-16). Sinners drop dead (5:1-11) or beg for mercy (8:20-24) at his word and his mere shadow heals the cripples (5:20). Not even prison chains and guards can hold him (12:8-10).

But Tyson asks, if the author knew the epistles of Paul, why did he portray Peter this way? In Galatians Paul portrays a Peter who is unstable, very much “unleaderlike” — I would add, as much more akin to the Peter of the synoptic gospels. There Jesus had to regularly correct him; in Galatians Paul assumes that role.

Tyson asks if it is possible the author of Acts derived his alternative image of Peter from 1 Clement, thought to be written near the end of the first century. (Tyson, of course, is arguing for a second century date for canonical Luke-Acts.) That document elevates both Paul and Peter to leadership status, and speaks of Peter’s sufferings. But there is no indication of his relationship to the Jerusalem church or of his role as a prominent preacher and witness there.

Tyson believes that the best explanation for the way Peter is drawn in Acts is the Marcionite context. Marcion relied exclusively on the letters of Paul, and declared the other apostles, including Peter, to be false apostles. Paul seems to be referring to the Jerusalem apostles in 2 Corinthians 11:1-15 when he criticizes those known as “super apostles”, whom he calls “false apostles”, implying they were preaching a “different gospel” (cf Gal.1:6-7).

Tyson argues that a Marcionite challenge would have provided the perfect foil for the way the author of Acts accounted for Peter.

He was answering the charge that Peter

  • was an unreliable and false apostle
  • was not a dependable witness to the faith — nor even the resurrection (Marcion’s gospel apparently disputed Peter’s witness of this)

and, it should be added, also answering the charge that Jerusalem was the birth place and base of this false witness and gospel.

A question — the limits of the anti-Marcion hypothesis?

While I like the idea of canonical Luke-Acts being a response to Marcionism, I cannot avoid a problem when it comes to Tyson’s discussion of Peter in support of this. If Acts was composed so late, then surely the author knew of the gospel of Matthew. And if, as Tyson’s argument goes, the same author heavily redacted Luke to become a companion volume to Acts, then why would he have omitted any reference in his gospel to Jesus’ promise to give the keys of heaven to Peter and use him as a foundation stone for his church (Matt.16:18)?

This passage in Matthew would surely have served as the most direct challenge conceivable to Marcionism.

If Matthew was written as a response to the “Paulinism” many see in Mark (compare Matthew’s heavy emphasis on obedience to a law more binding than that of Moses in the Sermon on the Mount, Matt 23, etc.) one might easily see Matthew’s depiction of Peter’s confession as a direct rebuff to the name and authority of Paul.

If the author of Acts intended to show that Paul stood subordinate to the Twelve then surely this claim about the leader of the Twelve would have found a prominent place in the debate.

The broader catholicizing agenda of Acts — embracing James, and group work, too?

To me the best explanation is that while Marcionism might have been a/the prime challenge that its author was addressing, it was not the only one. Marcionites looked to Paul as The (Sole) Apostle. But there were others who looked to James. Indeed, Paul’s letter to the Galatians appears to acknowledge James as the leader of the Jerusalem community by naming him first among the pillars there.

The Gospel of Thomas informs believers that James is the primary focal point of the church on earth. It was even believed among some Christian quarters that God willed the destruction of Jerusalem because of the martyrdom of James. And James was undeniably a representative of a form of Jewish Christianity.

The author of Acts obviously had no problem with allowing James to assume the leadership of the Jerusalem church. Presumably this was because James represented the same Jewish flavoured Christianity as Peter also represented and that stood in opposition to Marcionism .

But there was more than the inclusion of those Christians who looked to James at work here.

Peter does not wield Matthew’s keys to the kingdom of heaven willy nilly — or ever at all, really, in Acts.

  • In the appointment of Matthias to fill the twelfth position Peter may initiate the action, but the action is carried out by the collective as they roll the dice while praying to God. Matthias is not added by Peter, but by God, through the acceptance of “the Twelve”.
  • Peter’s first dramatic miracles are performed in partnership with John (3:1, 12).
  • Similarly in the appointment of the Seven. Peter is not seen there. It is the Twelve who summon the community and give directions for how they were to appoint the new leaders.
  • Philip and others are used to first push the ethnic boundaries of the church by evangelizing among the Samaritans and to an Ethiopian.
  • And in the conversion of the Centurion, Peter is confused at first, not knowing what the vision he has just seen means. He has to explain both to the centurion’s household that he is letting God decide how things turn out and what they mean.
  • And after that moment, he is summoned to give an account of his actions to those “of the circumcision”, presumably among both the apostles and brethren (Acts 11:1-3).

Peter is a leader — even THE leader in the early chapters of Acts. But he is not the sole leader of the Jerusalem community. The author of Acts is stressing the significance of not only Peter, but of the authority of the Twelve with Peter, and even of James eventually.

Justin Martyr is witness, in Trypho, that at the time of Marcion, other well entrenched traditions throughout the Christian “philosophy” included the belief that its beginnings could be traced to The Twelve at Jerusalem, and that among those Christians were those who followed Jewish customs, and that these were to be accepted as brethren, too.

Canonical Luke-Acts comfortably fits in such an environment.

Matthew 16:18 could well have been a response too much in the faces of those the author of canonical Luke-Acts wanted to embrace. It could serve well in a power conflict between West and East. But it risked supplanting the idea of the Twelve as an authoritative foundation from Jerusalem. Note that Matthew even concluded his gospel with some of the Twelve (or Eleven) doubting the resurrection.

To continue with the characterization of Paul . . . .


2008-01-25

Tracing the evolution of the Twelve Apostles from monkey rejects to angelic pillars.

by Neil Godfrey

The three rejects — Paul

Paul in his letter to the Galatians equates the namesakes of the three leading apostles in Mark (Cephas/Peter?, James and John) as holding an unimpressive rank in his eyes (Gal. 2:6), and who became the leaders of the hypocrites at Antioch (Gal. 2:13), and were thus cursed teachers of “another gospel” (cf Gal. 2:14 with Gal. 1:7-9).

In other letters, particularly in the Corinthian correspondence, Paul continues to attack false apostles “from the Jews” who claim to be imbued with the spirit of Christ and perform miracles and have visions (cf 1 Cor. 9, 2 Cor. 11-12). One is reminded of the manner in which Acts portrays Peter. 1 Corinthians 15 does claim the Twelve, and Peter, were witnesses of the resurrected Christ (just as was Paul — 1 Cor. 15:5, 8 ) but given this passage’s contrary theological tone to Galatians, the arguments of other studies that see here an interpolation do deserve attention.

The twelve failures — Mark’s gospel

This appears to be our earliest narrative involving the twelve disciples or twelve apostles and it presents the Twelve as disastrous failures. They are a negative lesson to readers: Don’t be like them! Peter’s name, meaning rocky, is more obviously associated with the rocky soil in the parable of the sower, than with any foundational stone (Talbert). Jesus called him Satan and in almost the same breath warned anyone who was too ashamed to admit to knowing Jesus would be a reject in the kingdom (Mark 8:33-38). This assigns Peter with his threefold denial to the same league as Judas. The disciples fled in fear from Jesus at his arrest and the women fled fearfully from Jesus’ tomb soon afterwards. The only resurrection appearance known to Mark will be at the second coming, although Jesus can be found before then in metaphorical Galilee.

The twelve failures — Marcion’s gospel

Given my recent posts on the position of Marcion in relation to the Synoptic Problem and the arguments for redating both Marcion and the gospels (see my Marcion archive), I can’t help but throw this one in here at this point. Marcion’s gospel must have been like Mark’s in several respects (Hoffmann), in particular with its negative portrayal of the disciples. Many see in Mark a Pauline theology, and Marcion himself thought of Paul as the sole Apostle and the original disciples of Jesus as remaining in their ignorance to the end. They went on to become false apostles, teaching another gospel from the one preached by Paul.

Getting there, at least for some — Gospel of Matthew

Matthew’s gospel is the first to redeem some of the Twelve. Matthew was the first to divide and conquer the Twelve to bring them into the service of furthering (as opposed to denying and fleeing from) his own gospel.

Judas was singled out as the arch villain. The detailed narrative of his attempt to undo his betrayal and subsequent suicide deflected blame from the group as a whole.

Peter was the first to be securely established. He was the leader for heaven’s sake so if he couldn’t make it what hope was there for any of them. And Matthew redeems with a wallop. He turns rocky soil into a pillar-rock, a foundation stone, beside Jesus Christ himself (Matt. 16:18). He is even given the keys to heaven, and the buoyancy to walk momentarily on water! This was Matthew’s vital contribution — setting up Peter apparently in opposition to Paul. Matthew’s emphasis throughout his gospel on the necessity of the law, indeed on exceeding the requirements of the law, would seem to confirm this analysis.

Matthew sends Jesus himself to speak to Mark’s women fearfully running from the tomb to tell them to stop being frightened and to tell the disciples where to meet him in Galilee. They do, and the disciples do catch up with Jesus on a mountain in Galilee.

But while the teasing apart of the Twelve from Judas was an important step, it was not sufficient. Matthew makes it clear that at Jesus’ resurrection appearance only some of them believed. Some doubted (Matt. 28:17).

More mixed bags — other gospels

Some of the noncanonical gospels appear to follow in Matthew’s wake and assign different levels of comprehension, if not faithfulness, to different names among the Twelve. The Gospel of Thomas — possibly predating Matthew — and the Gospel of Mary are two of the better known ones. But there is also some question about the Gospel of John. It is by no means certain where John fits in the canonical trajectory. Some (Matson, Shellard) date it earlier than Luke and even as one of Luke’s sources. It may be significant that John’s gospel states that only seven apostles were present at Jesus’ final resurrection appearance in Galilee.

All Twelve get there in the end — Justin Martyr

Justin appears to be our earliest noncanonical source to inform us that all Twelve disciples from the very day of Christ’s resurrection were granted a collective meeting with their freshly reconstituted Jesus, and from that moment they (all 12) went out to all the world preaching the gospel. (See links to my grid outlining Justin’s knowledge of the gospel narrative in my Justin archive.)

Justin has some knowledge of the top three (Peter, James and John — cf Paul’s namesakes above) being given their special sobriquets; and from the way he depicts all Twelve picking up with Jesus immediately the day of his resurrection, he gives the very strong appearance of having no inkling of a Judas character and role among them. There is certainly no 40 day period from the day of the resurrection to the date they set to leave Palestine to evangelize the world, which would be the minimum required if Justin had ever read and attributed any importance to Acts. Justin informs his readers that the Twelve were confronted by the resurrected Jesus the day of his resurrection and from that moment went out preaching to the world. Almost at the same time Rome sent in her armies to overthrow the Jewish king Herod, who was thus the last of the kings of Judah. And quite appropriately too, now that the Messiah had come — as per the prophecy of Jewish scriptures. One notes that Justin is guided in his “knowledge” of history by his faith in his reading of prophecies. There was, of course, 40 years from the time of Pilate to the time of the Jewish war.

But what is of significance here is that Justin speaks of the Twelve as if they are a formal entity from the time of Jesus, and he does so with no clear reference to any of our canonical gospels or Acts. There is no Judas, no waiting till Pentecost, no waiting in Jerusalem or conversions of thousands of Jews as per Acts at all. Indeed, it is at the time of Jesus’ resurrection appearance that he appears to introduce the eucharist and all the rest of the church ordinances. Justin appears to know of no “narrative” as such – only a mechanistic function of the Twelve in relation to how the Christian movement was instituted and spread.

It is also significant that Justin knows, and is heatedly opposed to, Marcion. Marcion opposed the “Judaistic” type of Christianity Justin stood for. Justin found Christ in the Jewish scriptures, through an allegorical or typological reading of them. Justin found “historical” authority in the Jewish scriptures through the Twelve apostles who had seen the risen Jesus and relayed his gospel to the world. Marcion claimed that the Twelve were, rather, false apostles standing in opposition to the true gospel revealed to Paul.

Make that the “Number” 12 that gets there — Luke-Acts

Luke is the first canonical author who is particularly precious about the precise number — Twelve — all surviving to become the witnesses of Jesus. He has to deal with Judas as a result of his predecessors Mark and Matthew depicting him as the most obvious renegade. It is doubtful that Mark saw much difference between the first (Peter) and last (Judas) named in his list of apostles, as alluded to above. But Matthew and Luke played up Judas as an arch villain unlike any of the others. Matthew’s Judas takes upon himself full responsibility by his display of remorse and suicide; Luke’s Judas is possessed by Satan. Their special treatment (scapegoating) of Judas in effect exculpated the remaining Eleven.

When Luke’s Jesus appears to the remaining Eleven there happen to be a number of others with them (Luke 24:33). Thus the reader is prepared for Acts where the “apostolic office” of Judas must be reoccupied, and the necessary qualification is that such a one be a witness of the resurrection. Luke devotes the better part of an entire chapter to describing step by step how the Judas position among the Twelve was replaced.

The number Twelve — in their full complement — was important to Luke. (It was also important to the author of 1 Corinthians 15:5, who was almost certainly someone living long after Paul.)

And it was taken for granted by Justin.

And as the number of true apostolic witnesses of Jesus and the gospel it stood in opposition to Marcion.

The Twelve finally fully co-opted

Tyson’s, and Hoffmann’s, arguments that Luke-Acts was a product of a controversy between orthodoxy and Marcionism in the first half of the second century seems to me to fit neatly into what appears to be an evolving role for the Twelve. The earliest “proto-orthodox” gospel, insofar as it acknowledged a significant role for the Jewish scriptures in relation to Jesus, was Mark’s. Mark’s was a Pauline gospel that, as we find in Paul’s letters themselves, denigrated and denounced the Twelve.

Marcion agreed with Mark’s interpretation of the Twelve, but would not concede Mark’s interpretation of the relevance of the Jewish scriptures. (I think. Though this is something I’m still trying to work through.) Mark would not be the only renegade in Marcion’s ambit. Apelles was another to later depart from some of his teacher’s doctrines. (cf Paul’s Apollos??)

Matthew was the first to respond acidly against Mark (and Marcion?) with his pro-law, even “exceedingly” pro-law, gospel. And this involved the conversion of the leader Peter from rocky dirt to foundation stone. And since up till Matthew’s time Peter, James and John had been singled out as the most notable leaders of the Jerusalem based church, Matthew also focused on establishing those three, or particularly one of them, as their stable leader. Even James and John were redeemed insofar as Matthew rewrote Mark’s story about their vain approach to Jesus to ask to be his chief agents in the kingdom. Matthew turned this around so that it was their interfering mother who did the dirty, thus no doubt embarrassing the Jesus-sandals off them in the process (Matt. 20: 20).

We know from Justin’s mention of the name Marcion that he was a contemporary. And we have, I believe, strong grounds for seeing canonical Luke-Acts as also a product of the time of orthodoxy’s maturing battle with Marcionism (see the Tyson and Marcion archives). Both Justin and Luke-Acts speak with one voice of the role of the Twelve as the orthodox foundation upon the ultimate foundation of Jesus himself.

Justin could mention and denounce the name of Marcion, but he had not a negative word about the Twelve who represented the alternative to Paul’s/Marcion’s teaching. Justin could or would not mention the name of Paul.

Luke would rehabilitate Paul by recasting him as a moderate or liberal “Judaizer” subordinate to the Twelve. But he could never mention Marcion. He accepted the blemished legacy of the Twelve from Mark and Matthew, and made full amends in the opening of his second volume.

I can only guess the authors’ specific rationales behind each rung of the ladder leading the Twelve from ignominy to foundational status.

But given the current widely accepted relative datings of Paul’s epistles, Mark, Matthew and Luke-Acts at least, and perhaps Justin Martyr, that there was such an evolution and gradual rehabilitation, or more likely co-option, of the Twelve, does seem likely. Yes?


2007-11-10

Mark’s attack on the eucharist?

by Neil Godfrey

I have been rethinking Mark’s Last Passover scene in the light of:

  1. the obligations guests have towards their host at a meal
  2. the two earlier feedings of the 5000 and the 4000
  3. other themes found in common between Mark’s gospel and the Gospel of Judas
  4. and the inclusio structure in which the eucharist is narrated
  5. the original meaning of the (Pauline) eucharist underlying 1 Corinthians 10-11

#3 — my recent reading of DeConick’s The Thirteenth Apostle — kicked me into bringing together other perspectives on the eucharist I had been playing with for some time. It was as if the Gospel of Judas as translated by DeConick is the final licence to run with my suspicions that Mark, too, was attacking the eucharist ritual as savagely as he was the Twelve themselves.

read more »


2007-10-14

The Call of Levi not to be one of the Twelve

by Neil Godfrey

The Gospel of Mark contains a story about the call of Levi, a tax collector, to follow Jesus as one of his disciples, but then mystifies readers by not listing this person in the ranks of the famous Twelve. The reason this omission is so mystifying is that the call of Levi is described in a way that sounds every bit as if the reader is meant to see his calling on the same level of distinctiveness as the calling of the very leaders of the Twelve, Peter, James and John.

But to me the mystery is clarified when we interpret the two callings through the same frameworks we use to generally interpret Mark’s other double-up stories. read more »


The Twelve Apostles Among the Old Wineskins?

by Neil Godfrey

(updated 3:20 pm)
I’ve posted repeatedly reasons for believing the Gospel of Mark was an attack on that school of Christianity that claimed to trace its roots to the Twelve Apostles, and this post is a continuation of that theme although with a couple of new explorations into the interpretation of the gospel.

I’ve relied heavily in the past on the parable of the sower, following Tolbert’s Sowing the Gospel in this. But there is another prominent parable or maxim presented before this one and it is on that one, the sayings about the new cloth being sown into an old garment and new wine being poured into old wineskins, that is the fulcrum of my interpretation of Mark in the following snippet. read more »


2007-10-09

Mark’s Judas problem: binding the kiss and the sword

by Neil Godfrey

(updated 6:50 am)

If Mark wanted to show that the Twelve were not reliable witnesses and that they collectively withered and died at the Passion of Jesus, he had a problem with Judas. (For background discussion to this see my earlier post.)

Judas (always labeled “one of the twelve” as if that association alone were enough to taint his reputation) worked well enough to stage a betrayal scene. But the betrayal also created a problem. read more »


2007-10-05

Why Judas was singled out after Mark’s gospel

by Neil Godfrey

Judas was not much worse than the other disciples in the earliest gospel but by the time we read about him in Matthew, Luke and John he has become the arch villain. In the first gospel a case could be made that Judas was not singularly worse than the rest of the Twelve. read more »


2007-07-30

From Cephas to Peter?

by Neil Godfrey

Thanks to Josh asking if I thought Cephas and Peter were not the same, this is a fanciful think-aloud session, tossing Paul’s references and the Gospel of Mark around, to speculate how and why Cephas (Aramaic) may have been changed to Peter (Greek) . . . . read more »


2007-02-09

The Twelve: Paul vs Richard Bauckham

by Neil Godfrey

I discussed the reference in Paul’s epistles to the Twelve in my more detailed discussion on the Bauckham review, but am also adding what Paul informs us about the Twelve and the apostles here in slightly more depth. If I find on further reading Bauckham that addresses anything I have placed here then I may revise it. Till then . . . . read more »


2007-02-08

The Twelve: Acts & Gospels vs Richard Bauckham

by Neil Godfrey

Updated about 2 hours after first posted:

An alternative proposal for the origin of the lists of the Twelve names — yup, it’s another hypothesis, but a hypothesis that does not require hypothesizing a whole lot of imaginary sources and that does not leave a whole lot of unanswered questions about the rest of our evidence that the B. hypothesis leaves . . . . read more »


2007-02-07

The Twelve: Justin Martyr vs Richard Bauckham

by Neil Godfrey

Richard Bauckham writes in “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: the Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony” that the Twelve had been companions with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry and were chosen to be an authoritative body to act as eyewitness guarantors of the preservation and transmission of message of his life and resurrection.

This is a widespread orthodox view of the origin and role of the Twelve in the Christian churches today and I would be interested in tracking down the first time this view appears in any of our sources. In the book of Acts the Twelve are for the purpose of being a witness of the resurrection of Jesus, and the requirement that they had to have been with Jesus from the baptism of John appears to be specified as a requirement for just that — to be a witness to his resurrection (only). The most obvious connection between being with Jesus before his resurrection (‘from the baptism of John’) and being qualified to be a witness of the resurrection would appear to be that those who witnessed the resurrection also could testify that the one resurrected was the same Jesus who had lived in the flesh. But I return to Acts in a future post.

One of our earliest sources for Christian origins is Justin Martyr writing around 150 ce. He lived and traveled in the area north of Judea and in Rome and wrote to persuade Jews and gentiles of the Truth and Goodness of the newly emergent Christian belief. Most scholars accept that he knew and made reference to some early form of our gospels when he cited what he described as “The Memoirs of the Apostles”. read more »