Were Peter and the apostles wrong to select Matthias as Judas’s replacement?

My wife and I finished our reading of Deuteronomy the other night. Like the other books of the Pentateuch, Deuteronomy’s not the easiest of reading, especially if you don’t have any Bible aids. As the Israelites prepared to enter the Promised Land, Moses repeated the Law to them, requiring their obedience but also emphasizing trust in the Lord. Moses, personifying the Law, was not allowed to enter the Promised Land himself. It was left to Yeshua/Joshua/Jesus (“Jehova saves”) to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land, one of my favorite foreshadowings of Christ in the Old Testament.

Last night, in preparation for our journey into our next study, the Acts of the Apostles, I did a deep dive (at least for me) into the first chapter accompanied by my Bible dictionary, two commentaries, and concordance and I came across some interesting information that I’d like to share.

In chapter one, in the opening verses, the apostles witness the ascension of Jesus into Heaven and then return to Jerusalem and wait to receive the Holy Spirit as Jesus had commanded them. In verses 15-22, while still waiting for the Holy Spirit, Peter, always an impetuous fellow, proposes to the 120 believers gathered in the upper room, that they must choose an apostolic replacement for Judas Iscariot. Two men are nominated, Joseph-Barsabbas-Justus and Matthias. A prayer is said, lots are cast, and the lot falls to Matthias, so he is chosen as Judas’s replacement in vs. 26. but that’s the very last time we read of him.

I’ve read this chapter many times previously and always accepted it pretty much at face value as written, but John MacArthur and J. Vernon McGee had some interesting observations in their commentaries. First, MacArthur observes that this was the last instance of the casting of lots by believers in the Bible. He writes, the casting of lots was “a common OT method of determining God’s will” that was “made…unnecessary” by the “coming of the Spirit.”

So should Peter have waited for the Holy Spirit rather than plowing forward?

In his commentary, J. Vernon McGee proposes the selection of Matthias was possibly an error, that the apostles should have waited for the Holy Spirit and His leading on this matter rather than forging ahead. He suggests that the Lord subsequently chose His own replacement for Judas by selecting Saul/Paul, “an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Gal. 1:1).

But the opponents of the “Paul over Matthias” viewpoint say the twelve apostles were chosen to eventually reign over the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt.19:28) as opposed to Paul, who was distinctly chosen to be the apostle to the Gentiles (Rom.11:13). Paul didn’t meet the apostles’ criterion for apostleship but did the Lord have His own criterion?

McGee presents his argument as his own personal conviction and obviously not as essential dogma. It’s an interesting viewpoint and I’d be interested to hear if others have come across it as well. This situation with the differing opinions on the Matthias-Paul question is probably “old news” to many of you but it was the first time I had encountered it.

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9 thoughts on “Were Peter and the apostles wrong to select Matthias as Judas’s replacement?

  1. Hi Tom! My gut feeling after reading your post is that casting lots was a way of hearing from God and therefore it was really God who chose Matthias. So I don’t think it was an error.

    I’ve actually read a commentary on Deuteronomy recently by David Pawson (do you know him?). You might be interested in his book ‘Unlocking the Bible’ which contains an overview of every book of the Bible. God bless and have a great weekend.

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    1. Thanks for the input, Steven! I guess I can appreciate the arguments on both sides. I love about the Bible that it’s a bottomless well of knowledge but also that not every detail can be thoroughly understood in this life. Thanks for the tip on Pawson. I see he’s of a charismatic conviction, which is not my cup of tea personally, although I don’t squabble with my charismatic and Pentecostal brothers and sisters over secondary differences. I mean that in all charity. I have found that I do appreciate the OT much more using Bible study aids, though. Thanks and God bless you as well! We’re heading into our big 4th of July celebration weekend. I’m a bit of a square peg because I don’t mix faith with patriotism, which is the standard over here among evangelicals.

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  2. I think I have to disagree with McGee here. I think it was supposed to be Matthias. Luke was an associate of Paul and no doubt if it was supposed to have been Paul and the disciples made it mistake, I think the book of Acts would have been more explicit.
    By the way, that’s very encouraging to hear you going through Deuteronomy with your wife!

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    1. Thanks for weighing in on this, Pastor Jim. Yes, one would think the precise doctor would have included a word or two which would have indicated the negative nature of the choosing of Matthias if that were the case.

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    1. Thanks, Wally. McGee’s theory about Peter jumping ahead reminded me just a little bit of the Abraham, Sarah, Hagar story. But there were no negative consequences recorded like with A,S,H so it remains a theory.

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      1. I have never really thought about it much, but what you said, combined with what others said here, makes me tend to think they didn’t necessarily err. Interesting discussion, though, for sure.

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      2. Thanks, Wally. I see some merit in McGee’s argument but not enough to sign up for it. I’ve always felt bad for Joseph-Barsabbas. I think I’ll write a post about him down the road.

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