(A) Introduction

This passage although containing a description of the death of Judas Iscariot is mainly concerned with the appointment of a man to take his place amongst the apostles. (See Acts1v12to26) I want to answer the question: was it a worthwhile exercise? I do not think this was one of the prayer meeting talks that the little group of loyalists at Brockley Baptist Chapel greatly enjoyed. It made them a bit uneasy! There is a tendency for conservative evangelicals who accept the authority of the Bible to believe that everything that Paul and Peter said and did was right. The book of Acts records what happened in the early church but this does not mean that all the decisions the members made were correct. Peter and Paul were fallible human beings like our selves and so they made mistakes. I believe that it was a mistake to replace Judas by Matthias

(B) Peter misuses scripture to justify his decision to appoint a replacement for Judas.

There are three ways that the Old Testament scriptures are used legitimately in the New Testament:

    (a) Genuine prophecies about the coming Messiah are quoted to provide information about the Messiah. For example the advisers of King Herod quote Micah5v2 to pin point the place of Christ's birth: "But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah: for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel." Mt2v6.

    (b) A writer like the author of the letter to the Hebrews shows how the old dispensation - the priesthood, sacrificial system and covenant are brought to completion in Christ. He is the great high priest constantly interceding for sinners at God's right hand; his was a superior sacrifice and he has established a new and better covenant.

    (c) A Christian might find him self sharing a common experience with an Old Testament figure. The Old Testament scripture might be quoted, not because it was written to forecast the future event, but because it describes the later experience. For instance, Jesus says when he predicts his betrayal: "I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfil the scripture: 'He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.' John13v18. This is a quotation from Psalm 41v9. David did not write this Psalm to forecast the future but to describe the predicament he was in. He had a friend and close adviser - Ahithophel - who conspired with Absalom against him. Jesus shared this experience. The action of Judas was the ultimate betrayal. Ahithophel betrayed the King of Israel but Judas betrayed the King of Kings.

Sometimes the New Testament followers of Jesus misused the Old Testament scriptures. For example, Matthew sees the decision of the chief priests to purchase the potter's field with the 30 pieces of silver handed back by Judas as a fulfilment of a prophecy in Jeremiah: "They took the thirty silver coins, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter's field, as the Lord commanded me." Mt27v9. There is nothing in Jeremiah of this sort. The nearest scripture to it is: Zechariah11v10to13. Zechariah is writing about the wages he received for shepherding a flock of sheep and what he did with those wages. It does not seem to bear much resemblance to what Judas did.

It is not acceptable to those who believe in the inerrancy of scripture to admit that Matthew made a mistake. I cannot see any other possible explanation. Those who consider that the Bible cannot contain errors because it is inspired by God should remember that we are also inspired by God. Man is God breathed - made in his image. That does not mean we are infallible and incapable of error. We know that the scriptures are inspired and authoritive, not because we can find no errors in them, but because they have proved their worth over thousands of years in meeting the spiritual needs of men and women. They do what Paul claimed for them: teach, rebuke, correct and train in righteousness thereby thoroughly equipping the man of God for every good work.

Peter also misuses scripture as he proposes that a replacement must be found for Judas. First of all he quotes from Psalm69v25: "May his place be deserted let there be no-one to dwell in it." Acts1v20. Peter sees this as a reference to the lack of a twelfth apostle due to Judas' defection. The psalmist writes about his enemies in Psalm69 and what he hopes will be their punishment. See extract. Now it is clear that Jesus did experience the same sort of rejection and scorn as the psalmist - I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none. Ps69v20. However, Peter misquotes Psalm69v25 which actually reads: May their place be deserted; let there be no-one to dwell in their tents. Peter misquotes to make the text fit the actually circumstances better. I think this is a dangerous procedure. It seems very doubtful that Psalm69v25 refers to Judas' absence amongst the apostles!

Secondly Peter quotes from quite another Psalm, Psalm109v8: "May another take his place of leadership." Psalm109 is a diatribe against wicked and deceitful men who have spoken against the psalmist with lying tongues. v2. Now it is true that Jesus did share the same experience as the psalmist. However the psalmist wishes many forms of retribution to befall his enemies not all of which are applicable to Judas: May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership. May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from ruined homes. May a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labour. vs3to11. It is very doubtful if all this is applicable to Judas - so why should one phrase among many be true of him and be quoted to justify replacing him with another.

I consider that to select two verses from different Psalms, slightly amend one and then cobble them together in order to justify choosing another disciple is dubious in the extreme.

I am afraid that by misusing scripture all sorts of false beliefs have been upheld: verses are quoted out of context; conflicting passages are ignored; mistranslations are preferred to accurate translations. Grace Baptists who wish to deny man any responsibility at all for his salvation quote Eph2v8: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no-one can boast. So they claim even faith, saving faith, is a gift from God. Yet it is clear from the Greek that the phrase, 'it is the gift of God', refers to, 'you have been saved', and not 'faith'. See my comment on Eph2v8. Now this will never be accepted by convinced Calvinists. It is does not matter how conclusively it is shown that salvation is the gift of God and not faith, the verse in Ephesians will continue to be quoted to support the Calvinist's system of belief.

Henry 8th was infatuated with Anne Boleyn and wished to have his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled. Catherine had been briefly married to his brother until his early death. Now Henry justified the annulment of his marriage to Catherine by quoting Lev18v16: Do not have sexual relations with your brother's wife; that would dishonour your brother. No-one had the courage to point out to Henry that this only applied whilst your brother was alive. After the death of your brother it was quite permissible to marry his widow - indeed, in certain circumstances it was encouraged: Dt25v5: If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband's brother shall take her and marry her and fulfil the duty of a brother-in-law to her.

The same process goes on and on and on. During the row about appointing a gay clergyman to be a Church of England Bishop one lady argued in the Daily Telegraph that David's words on the death of Jonathan: "Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women," suggested that they were in a homosexual relationship. So, she seemed to be saying, if Jonathan and David were practicing homosexuals it is quite all right for the Bishop of Oxford to appoint one to be Bishop of Reading! It is absurd to ignore all the other evidence in the Old Testament that shows David was strongly heterosexual. I do not think the King who lusted after Bathsheba and seduced her in no time at all, was much troubled with homosexual tendencies.

I have dealt with the misuse of scripture at some length because it is so widespread and so pernicious.

(C) Peter uses a poor argument.

Peter tells the assembled company of believer numbering 120 in all that: "It is necessary to choose on of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us ....... For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection." vs21 and 23.

You didn't need to be one of the twelve disciples to be a witness to Jesus' resurrection. Paul writing to the Corinthians says: He(Jesus) appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. 1Cor15v6. These were all witnesses to Christ's resurrection. None was a greater witness than Paul himself.

Peter proposed, at the very outset of the church, a very damaging practice that is widespread today. Many churches restrict certain activities to a religious elite. Some churches are worse than others. Why should baptism, presiding over a communion service and preaching be restricted to ordained ministers? Was Jesus an ordained minister? He was a carpenter with no college education. No man ordained Jesus for ministry. At his baptism John said: "I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him." John1v32. God's choice and the Spirit's anointing is all that really matters. No-one needs to preside over the Lord's Supper. The bread and wine can be passed round a group of Christians any place, any time, anywhere - for them to remember the Lord's death till he come. Surely the great commission was given to all disciples of Jesus: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Mt28v19. Any Christian can baptise a convert because it is not done on the authority of a church but in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The early church and even the Jewish synagogues were open to anyone who had anything to say. If a person had a gift for teaching or preaching he was allowed to speak in the local churches. The Jews in the cities Paul visited even allowed him to introduce Christianity in their synagogues. How different things are today. I would be unwelcome in the vast majority of pulpits of the world. I am even unwelcome in the pulpits of my own Association of churches! Why is this? I am a wholehearted follower of Jesus who does his best to correctly handle the word of truth. There is something seriously wrong with any church that adopts the restrictive practices outlined above. If Jesus left his carpenter's trade today he would not get a hearing in the vast majority of churches.

I believe that what made the disciples special was not so much their apostleship but their discipleship. They had been Jesus' students for three years. They were always with Jesus and received intensive teaching from him. Joseph called Barsabbas and Matthias may have been associated with Jesus from the beginning of his earthly ministry but they did not share the same experiences as the other disciples. They were not there with him at the Last Supper or in the Garden of Gethsemane, for example. The eleven remaining disciples were special because they were a repository of knowledge about him. They were able, as they talked through a shared incident, to reinforce one another's memories. They kept the stories of Jesus fresh and accurately remembered and were an invaluable resource for the four gospel writers.

I sometimes sit with my fellow Brockley cricketers with whom I have played for over 30 years and reminisce. We go back over the famous and infamous incidents in our shared memories. What one of us forgets another remembers. In this way an oral history of the last fifty years is maintained.

The eleven remaining disciples could fulfil their most important function without the help of Matthias. It just was not necessary to elect him as one of the twelve apostles.

(D) Peter employed a flawed procedure to elect Matthias.

The twelve disciples special status depended upon the fact that they were chosen by Jesus and responded to him. He made them special by his choice. Judas was made special by Christ's choice. Why didn't Jesus choose Joseph and Matthias in the first place? They had been available from the beginning.

The remaining disciples and the entire assembly of 120 believers were not sure whom to choose out of Joseph and Matthias. So they decided to cast lots. If this is a dubious way to decide church business now so it was then.

Jesus had been sure whom to chose to be one of his twelve disciples. He had not needed to cast lots! Doubtless there were criteria that Jesus used to select his special disciples - the inner circle. Perhaps, he chose them for their idealism, enthusiasm, eagerness to learn, desire for spiritual renewal and longing for the messianic age. The 120 were not using these criteria. We are told the criterion that was used: "Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John's baptism to the time when Jesus was taken from us." v22.

I am afraid that if a decision is irrelevant to God and you toss to determine it, the result is likely to be down to chance.

Many wrong procedures are used in the church particularly to select men and women for office. My own group of churches, for example, 'calls' a man to the pastorate. A well-attended church without a pastor might well approach a likely candidate who is doing a good job in another church and 'call' him. They are trying to poach a man who is serving God effectively elsewhere. The only difference between what the calling church is doing and what a football club does when it approaches a star player with a rival club and offers a transfer deal is that the poor church which loses its pastor doesn't get a transfer fee. Too often a church will call to the pastorate a man it likes rather than a man it knows. Very often a pastor will go to the church that likes him at the expense of the church that needs him.

(E) Peter's mistaken priority.

Peter thought it was so important to have 12 apostles. Maybe he remembered Jesus' promise that at his return the twelve would sit on 12 thrones to judge the 12 tribes of Israel.

The appointment of another apostle could not have been of vital importance to Jesus. Forty days existed between Jesus' resurrection and his ascension. During that time he gave no instructions about replacing Judas.

The situation in the church was about to change dramatically with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. New converts were made, new workers recruited and new leaders emerged. After Pentecost we hear no more of Simon the Zealot, Judas son of James, James son Alphaeus or of Matthias. Instead we read of James the brother of Jesus, Stephen and Philip the deacons, Barnabbas, Silas, Timothy and, of course, the great apostle Paul. Paul's conversion was of far more significance than Matthias' election. No one fulfilled Christ's great commission better than Paul.

We have to remember that our priorities are not always God's. Some of my fellow Grace Baptists find it a tragedy that there are parts of the world where there is no Reformed witness. They consider that no city in Britain should be without a church in which the doctrines of grace are preached. They seem to think that this must be a high priority with God. Such is not the case! Jesus is concerned that the great commission is fulfilled. He is not fussy who fulfils it - whether it be: Grace Baptists, Irish Brethren, Scots Presbyterians or Roman Catholics. The great commission is not to preach the doctrines of grace but to make disciples, to baptise them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and to teach those disciples to be obedient to Jesus; it is to do what Paul did - to preach Jesus Christ and him crucified.

We should never forget that our fears, concerns, preconceptions and priorities can be overtaken by events. The Spirit still blows wherever he pleases and God is working his purposes out.

Such was my talk at the Brockley prayer meeting that left my old friends a trifle uneasy!