Tag Archives: Twelve Disciples

The Twelve: Dale Allison’s argument for their historical reality

The Last Supper
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This is from pages 67 to 76 of Constructing Jesus (2010) by Dale C. Allison. Allison begins with the evidence for the twelve.

1 Corinthians 15:5 is the earliest reference we think we have to the twelve. The letter is usually dated to the mid 50s, twenty or twenty-five years after the usually accepted date of Jesus’ crucifixion. It refers to the twelve as if the readers of the letter should already know who they are. (Will discuss the Corinthians passage again later in the post.)

3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.

The Gospel of Mark uses the same designation (“the twelve”) for disciples selected to be with Jesus: Mark 3:14 f.; 4:10; 6:7

[3:14] And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach,
[3:15] And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils:

[4:10] And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable.

[6:7] And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits;

John’s gospel also speaks of these:

[6:67] Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?

[6:70] Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?
[6:71] He spake of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon: for he it was that should betray him, being one of the twelve.

[20:24] But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.

Then there is the story in Acts about the replacement being made for Judas. This is in Acts 1:12-26.

The book of Revelation also speaks of the twelve apostles:

21:14 Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

Then there is the famous passage in Matthew 19:28 and Luke 22:28-30 (considered by many to be derived from Q) that presumes the audience of Jesus is the twelve:

Matt: 19:28 So Jesus said to them, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Luke 22:28 “But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials. 29 And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, 30 that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

All this looks straightforward enough. Why should there be any doubt that Jesus really did have a band of twelve with him? A number of biblical scholars have raised doubts, however, and Allison attempt to persuade readers their doubts are groundless. read more »

Why Jesus chose the Twelve: Dale Allison’s exegesis

The Synaxis of the Twelve Apostles. Russian, 14th century, Moscow Museum.

The Synaxis of the Twelve Apostles. Russian, 14th century, Moscow Museum.

Dale C. Allison in his recent book, Constructing Jesus, believes that we can learn, or at least “confirm”, what Jesus taught about the “end of the age” by looking at the careers of the Twelve Disciples/Apostles.

He begins by discussing various opinions about whether or not Jesus really did call twelve disciples at all, and if so, whether or not they constituted a formal institution of church leadership. I will look at that discussion in the next post.

So given that Jesus did indeed call “Twelve” as an ongoing institution, Dale Allison asks what was he thinking. Why did he do this?

This seems a strange question to ask if one is interested in a serious historical inquiry into the origins of Christianity. We simply don’t have any evidence to tell us what Jesus was thinking.

But Allison’s discussion is interesting because it does demonstrate for us lay people just how biblical scholars work. They are not doing historical research by sifting the evidence. They are doing biblical exegesis. And this makes sense, since they are for most part “theologians”, not “historians” in the same sense as the likes of Arnold Toynbee or G. R. Elton or Eric Hobsbawm. read more »

The Twelve Disciples: New Insights from Emeritus Professor Maurice Casey

Cover of "The Adventures of Huckleberry F...

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Let’s make this my last post for a little while on Maurice Casey’s ad hominem stained book on the historical Jesus (Jesus of Nazareth) that will surely long stand alone as a truly independent tribute to the Huckleberry Finn criterion for historical authenticity. (robertb will heave a sigh of relief.)

This post looks at the biblical seven number of topics:

  1. Casey’s unassailable proof for the historicity of the Twelve
  2. A schizophrenic case for the disciples being filthy rich (or dirt poor)
  3. The clear evidence that Matthew wrote much of the Q material
  4. How Peter and Jesus changed the course of history by exchanging a bit of idle and nonsensical banter (in Aramaic, of course)
  5. Why the Twelve disappear from history (almost) as soon as the Gospels finish their story
  6. What Jesus did every time one of his Twelve disciples went and died on him
  7. And the evidence Jesus never tolerated a political rebel among his followers.

read more »

The Embarrassing Honesty of Matthew

Updated with a new para near the end, Or if we take John 20. . .

In response to a few comments on previous posts (Funk’s mix and Cracked argument) I have been giving a few moments to reflect on “embarrassment” as a criterion to establish historicity of a narrative.

In Matthew’s gospel, after Jesus has been born of a virgin, performed all his miracles, preached good things, fulfilled prophecy and been crucified and resurrected, he makes one final appearance to his (presumably eleven) remaining disciples. But some of them doubted (Matt. 28:17). Not all of the remaining eleven disciples believed a resurrected Jesus really did appear to them. Some original disciples did not believe that they had ever witnessed Jesus resurrected.

That is surely an embarrassing admission for a Christian author to make at the conclusion of his gospel. The admission could do nothing to assist the cause of Christianity. It is a damaging admission. One must therefore assume (if we take the criterion of embarrassment seriously) that this is one of the truest of true facts facing the disciples and church after the death and burial of Jesus.

We cannot help but wonder how many is meant by Matthew’s “some”. John’s gospel gives as reason for thinking “some doubters” amounted to as many as four persons. In his last chapter he relates — again with surely stark embarrassment — that the response of the faithful disciples remaining, only seven in total, after supposedly seeing the resurrected Jesus in Jerusalem was to think, “Well, that was an interesting little adventure. Fun and pain while it lasted. But now time to get back to real life and resume fishing.” The resurrected Jesus then appears to these seven. The author refers to this appearance as “the third” one to “his disciples”. Nowhere does the Gospel of John inform readers that the resurrected Jesus actually appeared to all eleven remaining disciples.  In chapter 21 John quietly passes over the missing four in silence.

The Gospel of Mark, likewise, is vague about the final fate of the disciples. It’s ending, like several other details in the gospel, is ambiguous at best. (I am assuming that verse 8 is the original ending. Also here.)

So, in summary, if we are taking the “criterion of embarrassment” seriously, here is how the different evangelists responded to the bedrock certain fact that “some” of the original disciples doubted the resurrection of Jesus.

Matthew openly admitted it. Most honest of all. Does this mean that some of the disciples Jesus sent out were actually false apostles, even from the original twelve? Presumably so.

Mark can be said to be playing with words, leaving readers to make of his narrative what they will.

John passes over the failures in silence. But he implies that only seven of the original Twelve were reliable witnesses. This did not stop him from expecting readers to believe his narrative even though four of Jesus’ real life companions appear not to have believed.

(Or if we take John 20 as the original concluding chapter of this gospel, then the situation is no better. The last we hear of Peter there is that he went home after seeing the empty tomb and not knowing what to make of it (John 20:10). We are given no hint about how many disciples were later in the locked room for fear of the Jews when Jesus supernaturally appeared before them. An early reader unfamiliar with other gospels might well conclude that Peter could not have been among them since he no longer had reason to be in fear of the Jews, having denied Jesus three times. Nor does John’s gospel suggest Peter had any remorse over his denials. Peter does not weep after the cock crows in John’s gospel – 18:26.)

Luke simply lies and implies they all believed. Well, not quite, maybe. He does say that “they could not believe for joy”, whatever that might mean exactly. Either way, they were all sent out by Jesus to preach in his name. Well, not quite that either. Luke for some reason remains quiet about the activities of all but Peter, James and John after Jesus left the earth.

And of Paul’s 500 witnesses to the resurrected Jesus? We are not informed how many of these believed such an appearance was the real thing. Given Matthew’s frankness we should not assume as fact what Paul implies. We do “know” that Paul was quite capable of suppressing uncomfortable details: in his resurrection chapter he hides the fact that the resurrected Jesus first appeared to silly women.

Saint Matthew, from the 9th-century Ebbo Gospels.
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The Twelve Disciples: their names, name-meanings, associations, etc

This post is nothing more than a bit of idle trivia per se. But maybe Kakadu Dreamtime wisdom somewhere says “Clever bower bird can find something among trivia to relocate so it has power to attract a mate.”

The data comes primarily (not exclusively) from two sources:

The Gospel of Mark as Midrash on Earlier Jewish and New Testament Literature by Dale and Patricia Miller (marked with *)

The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable is the Gospel Tradition by Robert M. Price (marked with *)

Both these works discuss some of the following name-meanings within a broader context of what the various gospel authors were attempting to convey through their characters. But for most part here I’m skipping that side of the discussion.

read more »

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

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?