“Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.”
And they proposed two: Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.” And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
Acts 1:21-26 has always struck me as a very interesting passage and I’ve always been surprised I don’t see greater exposition written on it.
At that point Judas is dead and the early Christians saw themselves as fulfilling Scripture by picking a replacement for Judas as was written in Psalm 109:8, ‘Let another take his office.’
How did they go about picking a replacement? It is interesting to look at both what they do and what they don’t do.
We know from Acts 1:15 that Peter had taken up something like a leadership position, ‘And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples.’ But the early Christians did not simply ask Peter who should replace Judas. Surely that is at least intriguing in attempts to bring Catholicism into focus.
They did not attempt to discuss the matter among themselves and achieve a consensus. Nor did the leave the decision to a group of elders or wise men.
The early Christians did four things to pick a replacement for Judas.
They agreed among themselves on criteria. The replacement should be somebody who had already been a disciple at the time Jesus was baptized by John.
They selected two appropriate candidates.
They prayed, stating the issue in concrete terms and placing the issue in the hands of God.
Finally they cast lots to choose between the two candidates they had selected.
Nobody knows exactly what form of “casting lots” the early Christians used. Ancient artifacts for such things include dice, coins, sticks and many other devices. But it certainly was a method of chance used to divine God’s will in that most important of decisions.
It’s pretty amazing and must be shocking to many Christians—and others—that ‘serious’ people would let chance play a significant role in such a key decision.
In part this is Western cultural bias. In Asia today it is very common for businessmen to make million dollar decisions based on I Ching readings.
In part this is pop culture bias. People familiar with the financial world and the consulting scene often speak informally about the role astrology and other divination methods play in modern business. It doesn’t pop up in Businessweek a lot, but it appears to be a real component of the modern world.
But the early Christians did not simply leave the issue to chance.
The early Christians didn’t abdicate the whole process of decision making even though they did, ultimately, look to chance to play a part.
They discussed the issue among themselves and agreed on a framework for an answer—the replacement for Judas must be an early disciple.
They created a partial answer themselves—they selected two candidates everyone agreed fit their needs.
They prayed, stating the issue clearly among themselves. And the prayer—for people who believe in God—states the issue clearly for God as well.
Then they cast lots. Only after they did quite a bit of work did they look to chance to sort out the issue.
That’s an interesting sequence, whether it is interpreted in a secular light by people attempting to work through the material world, or by religious or New Age people attempting to co-exist in a cosmos of humans, angels and a God (or gods).
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I’ve written briefly on this before: Chance And God