The Twelve: Acts & Gospels vs Richard Bauckham

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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 . . . .

Firstly a look at the evidence:

  1. The earliest Christian sources — Paul’s letters — do not make any mention of the Twelve, and even portray a lot of disputes that leaves one wondering how they could have arisen if there was an authoritative body of Twelve in existence to appeal to. (I Cor.15.5 is the only exception and that does not address them as an authoritative body any more than 500 and more others around — merely as one of several groups who could say they, just like the apostle Paul, saw the resurrected Christ, presumably, like Paul, in vision. I have addressed this verse in an earlier post on my Richard Bauckham review.)
  2. The synoptic gospels, while incorporating a role for a few named followers of Jesus, have no narratively integrated role for the Twelve as the Twelve. The names of the Twelve appear to have no narrative function at all. Most are mentioned only in the lists and then appear no more. The focus in these gospels is the activity of Jesus’ disciples, but the group of Twelve names has no narrative function. Only the number of twelve (not the identities) has some significance in, say, Matthew, where they are sent to the tribes of Israel — just as anonymously as they appear in Justin Martyr (see previous post).
  3. The gospel of John only makes reference to the Twelve in a couple of sections where they appear out of the blue, without explanation. Given what we know of redactional activity of the early gospels — especially of the Johannine literature, often discussed in the literature — it is plausible to think of these references as being a later addition, an attempt to bring the gospel of John more into line with the synoptics and with “proto-orthodoxy”.
  4. Just as the “twelve” appear abruptly and without explanation in the Gospel of John, so the lists of names of the Twelve appear to be artificially inserted into the Synoptic gospels. The names suddenly pop up out of nowhere then disappear with no reason for their naming being hinted at. Only a handful have been prepared for with earlier callings, and most don’t appear again.
  5. The first time we see the names of the Twelve incorporated into a narrative text with a clear role and significance as Twelve is in the first chapter of Acts. There the twelve names have a logical narrative point to them. They are the body of witnesses from whom one name has fallen and a new one is to be found as a replacement. And they have a clearly expressed function as a body of Twelve — something we have not seen in any of the gospels. That function is to serve as a body to testify to the resurrection of Jesus. Presumably they must have been with him for the duration of his ministry because that can verify it was the real Jesus, the one who walked the earth, that was resurrected. (That would appear to be a much simpler explanation than having to inject additional meanings into this requirement that have more to do with modern theological prejudice than the simple text as it exists.)

Another hypothesis (indebted in part to Thiessen and Ellegard):

  • The list of names of the Twelve made their first appearance in Acts
    • Rationale: It is in Acts where their names appear in a natural and meaningful context within the narrative (see point 5 above)
  • The original function of the Twelve was to stand as a body of witnesses of the resurrection of Christ (and preach obedience that must be the consequence of that)
    • Rationale: This is the explanation given in Acts; it is also the understanding of Justin Martyr; it is also clearly understood in the many noncanonical gospels where named disciples are addressed by the resurrected Jesus. It is the command given to the disciples at the end of the gospels — to go out and preach what they had been taught and, by implication, witness the fulfilment of scriptures in the resurrection of Jesus.
  • The canonical gospels, while originally incorporating a vital role for certain named disciples and even for a wider body of disciples of Jesus, and while some of them may even have mentioned a body of twelve, none of them had any place for and did not include a list of twelve names.
    • Rationale: The lists of names serve no narrative function in the gospels, and they appear to be dumped unexpectedly into the gospels with no prior explanation (except for only a handful of the names which have earlier callings) and disappear again having served any point in being named (except for another small handful).
    • Rationale: The list in the Gospel of Mark, assuming it was the first, according to scholars specializing in the Greek in Mark, and Bauckham, displays some grammatical awkwardness in the way it incorporates the nicknames into the list, suggesting that whoever was writing that list was working with a pre-existing list and another requirement to introduce nicknames. Did the original Mark only mention the names Peter, James and John with their nicknames? They are the only names that do have a role before and after this list, and if a later redactor was adding a later list of Twelve names he may have had some ‘grammatical smoothness’ issues in combining the two.
    • Rationale: The list of Mark also displays some even more obvious oddities in the way it has been introduced. Jesus goes up to the mountain and “calls those he wants, and they came to him, and he ordained twelve….”. There is something odd here: Jesus calls those he wants but then only wants twelve? Does this hint at an interpolation into the original?
    • Rationale: None of the gospels allow for twelve disciples to have even seen the resurrected Jesus; Mark leaves the whole point of whether the disciples even saw Jesus resurrected at all (16:8 being the original ending); and Matthew says of the eleven who did not all of them believed.
  • The names of the Twelve in their synoptic lists were added after their names had been established in the story of Acts. (GJohn was from a different stream in this and many other features.)
    • Rationale: It is the character of gospel stories to have details elaborated on over time, and I have discussed this at some length in an earlier section on Bauckham’s book. Thus in later tellings of the gospel story, names are added to the one whose ear was lopped off in Gethsemane; later still the name of the centurion at the cross was added, and then the names of those crucified either side of Jesus. Justin Martyr knows only the Twelve as an anonymous body. It makes sense to imagine that if there was a body of twelve in the original story then it was only a matter of short time before an author would want to elaborate and give those twelve their names. The names first appear in a natural context that expects them all to be listed (one name has fallen out and must be replaced — this begs for a list of complete names). Later redactors added the names from Acts into the appropriate places in the synoptics — at the time when Jesus appointed disciples to preach.
  • The author of Acts also heavily redacted Luke’s gospel to combine it with his own work and so included the same names in GLuke as he had already listed in his Acts. Later redactors of Mark and Matthew opted to remove the second name Judas at the end of those lists and replace it with the less negatively associated Thaddaeus.
    • Rationale: Other scholars have argued for our final form of Luke-Acts being the result of the author of Acts taking a much earlier (and shorter) form of Luke’s gospel and heavily editing it to incorporate it as a companion volume to his Acts. These scholars show where the sections in Luke that compare most with Acts display different grammatical characteristics from the other sections of Luke. Also, Acts appears to have been unknown until the mid-second century (c.f. Justin Martyr’s and other early Church Fathers’ understanding of early church history). It makes its appearance at a time of fervent interest in the apostle Paul as demonstrated by the appearance around the same time as the Acts of Paul and the Pastorals and the “proto-orthodox” dispute with Marcion.
    • Rationale: I have no real “rationale” for why Thaddaeus was substituted for Judas, the son of James. My guess is as good as anyone elses’s as to why Judas of James substituted Thaddaeus. But here goes anyway: Judas had negative associations for obvious reasons but Thaddaeus was positive associations because of its “theophoric character” — fancy phrase for having the Greek word for God (theos) in it? No? How about one of Bauckham’s possibilities then — Judas (Yehudah) and Thaddaeus (Taddai) were sound equivalents. Did an elderly hard-of-hearing scribe make a mistake as the reader read out this bit when it was being copied — with luck having it that this scribe’s copy is the one that happened to survive and come down to us?? (Okay, if Bauckham is allowed to use hypotheses to support hypotheses, so am I!)

Compare Bauckham’s hypothesis:

  • The Twelve names were recorded because they constituted an authoritative body to guarantee the preservation and transmission of the story of the life and resurrection of Jesus which was duly recorded as a result of their eyewitness authority into the gospels.
    • “Rationale”: The names are recorded meticulously (apart from the swaps and the variations which are further evidence of meticulous honesty on the part of the authors)
    • “Rationale”: It is difficult to account for this phenomenon except by the hypothesis that the Twelve were the official eyewitnesses and guarantors of the core of the gospel traditions. (p.108)

This latter hypothesis definitely has the advantage of simplicity. But it does not work. Both the rationales listed here are not rationales at all but only additional hypotheses.

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Neil Godfrey

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