07 August 2020

Luke 6:12-16 The Calling of the Twelve

Luke 6:12-16

During his ministry in Capernaum, Jesus takes time to go to a mountain to pray all night about the calling of his disciples. He selects twelve of them to be apostles. These are: Simon (aka Peter) and Andrew (the sons of Jonah), James and John (the sons of Zebedee), Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew (aka Levi), Thomas, James (son of Alphaeus), Simon the Zealot, Judas (aka Thaddaeus, son of James), and Judas Iscariot (who became a traitor).

This is a fine list of names to memorize. Perhaps you were tasked with such as a child growing up in church. But who are they and where did they come from? What is the significance of the Twelve to Jesus' ministry? Perhaps most importantly, why do they all have two names?

The reason they all have two names is the easiest to answer, but perhaps the most strange to many Americans. Israel had been conquered first by Greece, then by Rome, centuries earlier. Greek and Aramaic were both foreign languages, but were more commonly spoken than Hebrew in the First Century. Jewish children were given two names, one to ground them in their culture and another to be pronounceable by foreigners. So Simon is called Peter, Levi is called Matthew, and Judas (son of James) is called Thaddaeus.

When I read this passage for the first time, I identified with the apostles immediately (perhaps more than most) because of this. I wondered what other names the others had and why they didn't also have two. My name is Amos, but I go by Ned. Most people seem to find "Amos" hard to pronounce, but I publish under my given name because, as my parents put it, "it looks better on paper." I suspect that seeing people with two names because their given name was considered "unpronounceable" helps many people today still identify with these First Century disciples as well. It is a common, and ancient, experience.

First, lets identify who these people are in the context of the gospels. later, we can discuss what their role would have been in Jesus' ministry and their role in the Church after Pentecost.

Simon Peter

Peter is generally acknowledged as the first leader of the Church, having been named as such after Jesus' resurrection and having preached to the crowd at Pentecost.

Peter's name in Aramaic and Greek (Cephas) and in Latin and English (Peter) means "rock." This is often thought to refer to his rough demeanor, reliability, or rough background.

Simon is the Son of Jonah. When Jesus calls him, he is married (Jesus heals his mother-in-law). Peter and his brother Andrew are fishermen and work with Zebedee and his sons James and John. While most believe that Peter, Andrew, James, and John abandon their boats when they follow Jesus, it is also sometimes thought that Peter's is the boat that Jesus and the disciples routinely use to cross the Sea of Galilee.

The epistles of 1 & 2 Peter are attributed to the apostle Peter, but modern scholarship agrees that these letters were certainly not written by Peter, or even in the First Century. They were written by some later follower in perhaps the Second or Third centuries.

Andrew, Brother of Peter

Andrew is the brother of Peter. Strikingly, his name is not Hebrew or Aramaic, but Greek, and this is the only name given for him. In John's Gospel, it is Andrew who introduces Jesus to Peter. Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist, and was quick to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Throughout John's Gospel, Andrew is the one who arrives first.

James, Son of Zebedee

James and his brother John were two of the first to follow Jesus, along with Peter and his brother Andrew. When they are called, they leave their boats, their catch of fish, their business, and their father, Zebedee, all on the sea shore and go with Jesus.

James and John are called the "Sons of Thunder" because of their quick tempers. When a Samaritan town refuses them entry, they want to call down fire from Heaven to destroy it, but Jesus stops them. It is likely that James is "the companion" which cuts off the soldier's ear when Jesus is arrested. It is also likely that it is his temper that sees him martyred "by the sword" as Jesus had warned.

John, Son of Zebedee

John is referred to as the "beloved disciple" in the Gospel which bears his name. He is the brother of James, son of Zebedee, and one of Jesus' first disciples. He is generally regarded as the youngest of the disciples. Peter, James, and John are the three disciples which witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus. He and Peter prepare the Passover meal for the Last Supper.

John was "the disciple which Jesus loved" and it has been suggested numerous times throughout history that they may have been lovers. At the Last Supper, John was reclining on Jesus, though some English translations try to put more distance between them. The translation of John 13:25 is a good barometer for how comfortable the translators are with altering the words of scripture. In most translations (KJV, NIV, NASB, WEB), John is reclining "on" Jesus. In some translations (notably NRSV), he is merely "next to" Jesus, and in some especially homophobic fairy tales (ERV, NLT, ICB), he is merely "closer to" Jesus. The Passion Translation lives up to its name with the particularly steamy translation, "Then the dearly loved disciple leaned into Jesus' chest and whispered, 'Master, who is it?'"

The authorship of books bearing John's name is debated. John the Apostle is the biblical figure. John the Evangelist is the author of the Gospel of John. John the Elder (or the Presbyter) is the author of the Epistles 1-3 John, and John of Patmos is the author of Revelation. Due to their differences in style, these authors are almost certainly different people. Due to the age of the works being late-First to Second Century, it is also likely that none of these authors are the apostle.

Judas Iscariot

Judas Iscariot is referred to as the traitor. Even before he hands Jesus over to the authorities, he is in care of the money and while he speaks of caring for the poor, he secretly steals from the collection. Judas betrayed Jesus by revealing to the authorities in Jerusalem that Jesus taught he was the Messiah, and gave them his location. After he betrayed Jesus, he hanged himself.

The Others

Little is said of Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew (aka Levi), Thomas, James (son of Alphaeus), Simon the Zealot, and Judas Thaddeus in the New Testament. Matthew is also known as Levi and was a tax collector. Thomas is known for having demanded proof of Jesus' resurrection. Thomas and Bartholomew traditionally each were considered to have gone to India.

How Leaders Are Chosen

Even just looking at these few, we can see a pattern emerging, similar to those God chooses as his prophets in the Old Testament, Jesus calls disciples who are able to show the power of God because God's intercession is the only way they will succeed. He does not call the best educated (Peter), the most focused (Andrew), the most experienced (James and John), the most well-respected (Matthew), or even the most faithful (Judas). He calls disciples that can be obvious vessels for God's power, because they are so obviously flawed.

Today, this is not how many churches select their leaders. Pastors and preachers are often required to have a graduate degree (often an M.Div). Many use requirements drawn from the patristic epistles (Titus, and 1-2 Timothy) as well as 1 Peter. Few would ever consider hiring someone like Peter as a minister of any kind. In fact, most, if not all of the Apostles would probably never receive an interview.

Peter, Andrew, and most of the others, lack the education. James and John are young, lack experience, and are too tempermental. Matthew is a sinner and keeps bad company. Thomas' critical nature could easily be taken for a lack of faith (despite what Acts says about the Berean church). Likewise, even the Apostle Paul (though not one of the Twelve) was likely divorced (he had a wife before being called, but refers to himself as "celebate" after).

Jesus does not expect us to be ready when he calls us. He does not expect perfection, or even a baseline of capability. He expects to need to train us. Even though God called each of the Apostles to the same job, he expected them to go about fulfilling their calling in very different ways. All were for God's purpose. How might we change the way we call ministers to match Jesus' own process? Further, how might this impact the way we hire for other jobs? There are many industries where "entry level" really means "dead-end." How might Jesus reform the way we hire employees?

Until next week,
Peace be with you.

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