Choosing an Apostle

And they prayed and said, “You, O Lord … show which of these two You have chosen to take part in this ministry and apostleship” (Acts 1:24–25a).

- Acts 1:23–26

Based on the criteria laid down by Peter, the disciples proposed two men to fill Judas’ position: Joseph and Matthias. It is unclear why only two were “nominated”; we know that the number of those who followed Jesus and sat under His teaching was much larger (Luke 10:1, 17). Perhaps the group was just being extremely rigorous in its evaluation, or perhaps these two stood out far beyond the other potential candidates. In any case, the disciples could not decide between them. So they left the choice to God.

Their method of determining God’s will was the casting of lots. This practice was common in the Old Testament, and it appears in a pagan form in the New Testament when the Roman soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ garment. However, it is unclear exactly how the casting of lots was done. The practice may have been related to the Urim and Thummim (Ex. 28:30), which may have been stones or other small objects that were colored or marked with letters; the high priest used them to receive oracles from God. Luke tells us that the believers prayed that God would use the lots to show them which of the candidates He had chosen. Matthias was selected and so joined the Twelve.

Should the church use lots to choose leaders? It is noteworthy that this is the last recorded instance in Scripture of the use of lots, and there is no record of the early church seeking guidance in this way. Dr. Simon Kistemaker says, “According to the New Testament, at no time during Jesus’ ministry or after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit did God’s people cast lots.” The reason is obvious—they had Jesus and the Spirit to lead them. Therefore, Kistemaker says, “believers ought to exercise caution and not adopt a practice that lacks firm support.”

So the number of the apostles was restored to 12. But other than God’s selection of Paul to an apostleship of a different nature, no other apostles ever were chosen. In fact, Acts reveals that the office was not perpetual, for James was not replaced when he was killed (Acts 12:2) at a time when the church had become well- established. The apostleship was a foundational office (Eph. 2:20). Today’s church has been gifted with elders and deacons, officers who meet the needs of the church in this time, and Scripture provides clear qualifications for the men who would fill these positions (1 Tim. 3:1–13; Titus 1:5–9).

Coram Deo

Just as God gave apostles to the early church, He has given elders and deacons to lead His church today. They are not perfect (neither were the apostles), but they fill a divinely appointed office and deserve all honor, obedience, and support. Thank God for giving these offices and for the men who govern your church. Pray regularly for them.

Passages for Further Study

Jer. 23:4
1 Tim. 5:17
Heb. 13:7, 17

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.