Choosing a Replacement for Judas

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Acts 1:12-26

From the context, we know that this takes place in Jerusalem during the ten day interim between the ascension of Jesus and the first day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was given. All eleven apostles are dwelling in the Upper Room (v.13) and "the number of names [gathered] together were about an hundred and twenty." They were involved in prayer and supplication (v.14).

In verses 15-22, Peter, pauses the prayer meeting and speaks. He makes reference to two passages from Psalms 69 and 109, which were hymns written by David for the choirmaster. These hymns were sung by worshippers in the synagogues and temple services and it is plausible that those Christians gathered in the Upper Room had also sung them.

In Acts 1:16, Peter speaks, Brothers, this Scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them who took Jesus. Peter said that this Psalm was a prophecy concerning Judas which had to be fulfilled. The original Greek seems to have him saying that the prophecy should already have been fulfilled. He is probably thinking that it had been over forty days since the crucifixion in which there had been only eleven apostles. Let's look closer at the references given in Psalms 69 and 109.

Psalm 69:25 says, Let their habitation be desolate; and let none dwell in their tents. Peter renders it, May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it. David was writing about multiple enemies but Peter applied it to a single enemy named Judas. In other words, Peter is not quoting scripture but interpreting it to support his argument. I am very aware that there are scriptures that can have more than one fulfillment, application or interpretation, but we should be aware of the change in wording.

Psalms 109:8 says, …let another take his office." Peter renders it, "…and his bishoprick let another take.

Acts 1:17-19 reads, …for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry. (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)

According to Matthew 27, it was not Judas, but the Sanhedrin who purchased the field. Apologists claim that this is still accurate because the money still belonged to Judas. They also say that Judas hung himself on the edge of a cliff overlooking that field. Apparently, the rope broke and he fell to his death. I won't argue with this, but feel that it isn't necessary for us to explain. As with the resurrection accounts, people may have seen things from a different viewpoint or just heard it from someone else. The reports are honest even if there are slight variations.

Theologians are divided over the correctness of what is reported in Acts 1:21-26. Many respected theologians are convinced that the actions of Peter and the other disciples were proper. They argue:

1) Peter's knowledge and understanding of scriptures motivated his action. He read passages that believers generally considered to be prophetic (Psalm 69:26 and 109:8). Certain passages seemed to indicate Judas. Peter felt that these demanded a response from them as the chosen disciples of Christ.

2) Peter named requirements of the man who would receive the office of Judas. He must have been with the disciples from the time of John the Baptist until the ascension of Christ (Acts 1:21-26). The purpose was to serve as witness to the resurrection.

3) The disciples were spiritually prepared for such an act, having been continually praying while waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit (v.14).

4) Casting of lots was acceptable in OT times. Proverbs 16:33 says, The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD. Official offices or positions in the temple were often selected by lot. OT priests used the "Urim and Thumim" and Gideon laid out the wool twice asking for a sign.

5) They used good logic; one of the twelve was missing! (Acts 1:8; John15:27)

6) The disciples and the candidates were well qualified.

7) They were in the place chosen by their Lord and obeying his command to wait.

I don't for a moment deny that Peter said what is recorded in verses 21-26, but I think Peter could have been a bit more patient before giving an "authoritative command" to his fellow disciples. I will share seven of my reasons, but I am not speaking with any authority and would be happy to change my position if proven wrong. I am not alone with my opinion however. Many other respected theologians agree with this position.

1) Nowhere in scripture is there any indication that Judas should have been replaced by his fellow disciples. Even the verses that Peter quotes do not give such a command. Let another take his office (v.8) does not mean must be a witness to the resurrection. The next seven verses also begin with "Let." Verse 9 says, Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow. Why didn't Peter understand that as a command for them to fulfill prophecy? One passage that Peter refers to is Psalm 69:25 which says, Let their habitation be desolate; and let none dwell in their tents. This seems to indicate the opposite of replacement.

2) Jesus personally chose the twelve disciples and he commanded them to make disciples in all nations, but he told them not to begin this monstrous task until they had received the Holy Spirit.

3) Jesus also selected 70 other disciples and sent them out to places where he had not yet been. All of them died but only one of the 82 disciples was replaced. This text is the last we read of both the "replacement apostle" and the other candidate.

4) Roman soldiers cast lots for the garment of Jesus at his crucifixion, but nowhere else in the New Testament are believers known to use this method (Acts 1:21-26) to choose anything.

5) If Peter thought that Psalms 69:25 and 109:8 referred to Judas, whom might he have thought was meant in verses 109:17-18? As he loved cursing, so let it come unto him: as he delighted not in blessing, so let it be far from him. As he clothed himself with cursing like as with his garment, so let it come into his bowels like water, and like oil into his bones.

6) Because Judas was one of the twelve, this choice actually made Matthias the 13th apostle.

7) The Apostles were selected and called by Jesus (Acts 9:1-24). Between the resurrection and ascension of Christ there were about 40 days in which Jesus himself could have selected someone to replace Judas.

Having stated my position, I remind readers that God didn't reprimand Peter or the disciples for their actions. It is always better to do that which we earnestly believe is right than to do nothing for fear of negative consequences.

We were once visiting an elderly woman with friends when our 5-year-old daughter, who had been outside playing, brought the lady a lovely bouquet of flowers. The lady was overjoyed and gave the child a big hug for her thoughtfulness. We asked each other where our child had gotten those flowers, but the lady overheard us and interrupted. She said, "They probably came from my garden, but she meant well." I Peter 4:8 says, And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.

When asked, I often tell people that I am a Baptist, but I have a friend who thinks that it is unbiblical to use names other than "Brethren." We still have good fellowship and try to live according to scripture. Someday our differing opinions will be resolved and we will be able to live in harmony and smile at our silly ideas.

I have some dear Baptist friends who disagree with my opinion on Acts 1:12-26. They ask if I think that there are errors in the Bible. I reply that not everything written in the Bible is truth. The words of godly men who spoke falsehood and of Satan who quoted scripture are recorded in the Bible.

II Timothy 2:15 tells us, Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." John 16:13 says, "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.

Neither of these verses give a "deadline." When will we have accomplished II Timothy 2:15? When will the Holy Spirit be finished with the task described in John 16:13?

The Holy Spirit is patient and we must be patient. I just think that Peter should have waited a while before interrupting the prayer meeting to announce his discovery. I am glad that God can use impulsive people if their hearts are right. Shortly after this, the Holy Spirit was given. When someone in the crowd yelled that the Christians were all drunk, impulsive Peter took that as a signal to preach an impromptu sermon. Three thousand were saved and baptized! My human nature tells me that this was not possible, but I believe every word!

Ralph V Harvey