Were the Twelve Apostles Ordained by Other Apostles?

   Posted by: Rob Bowman   in Mormonism

A key component of the LDS Church’s religion is its claim to have an institutional office of apostle that Jesus Christ restored through Joseph Smith. The office is perpetuated from one generation to the next by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles “ordaining” new apostles from time to time, so that there will always be twelve apostles (at least).

I have already shown that the New Testament does not use the word “ordain” in reference to a religious rite or ceremony in which men confer a church office on someone else. The King James Version uses the word “ordain” in its older English sense of appointing, setting forth, or ordering. Of course, as I pointed out, the Bible might speak of ordination rites without using the words “ordain” or “ordination” in that sense. The question is whether it ever does so in reference to the conferring of the office of apostle.

We can focus the question more specifically by asking whether the New Testament ever indicates, explicitly or implicitly, that an apostle received his apostolic office through an act of investiture performed by other apostles. In short, as best we can tell from the New Testament, were any of the apostles ever ordained by other apostles? The answer to this question turns out to be No. In this post I will look at what the New Testament says about the Twelve. In the next post I will consider the question of whether the apostles ordained Paul to be an apostle.

The Original Twelve Apostles

Obviously, the original twelve apostles were not ordained by other apostles. How did they come to hold their offices? According to the New Testament, Jesus Christ personally chose, called, and commissioned them. Matthew says that Jesus “called to himself” or “summoned” (proskalesamenos can be translated either way) “his twelve disciples,” whom Matthew also calls “the twelve apostles” (Matt. 10:1-2). Luke similarly says that Jesus “called to himself” (prosephônêsen) his disciples and “chose from them twelve, whom also he named apostles” (Luke 6:13). Mark says, “And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils” (Mark 3:14-15 KJV). The word translated “ordained” here is epoiêsen, a verb that has one of the broadest range of meanings of any ancient Greek verb. The most common renderings of this verb throughout the Greek New Testament are “made” and “did,” but in this context the meaning is something like “appointed” (ESV, NASB, NAB, NIV, NJB, NKJV, NRSV). In effect, Jesus “made” them apostles.

I should also point out that none of the Gospels describes Jesus as performing any sort of religious rite in order to confer the office of apostle on the original twelve. Of course, one may speculate that he may have done so and the Gospels simply do not report it. If so, apparently any such ritual act that might have been performed was something we did not need to know. In any case, Jesus personally and directly appointed each of the twelve apostles to their apostolic office, with no intermediary conferring that office on them.


When Mormons appeal to the New Testament to show precedent for the idea of apostles ordaining apostles, the one example that comes up consistently is that of Matthias. Judas Iscariot, one of the original Twelve whom Jesus had chosen as an apostle, had abdicated his office of apostle in the act of betraying Jesus. Judas subsequently committed suicide. After Jesus’ ascension into heaven, another man, named Matthias, took Judas’s place as one of the Twelve. LDS sources sometimes assert that the apostles chose Matthias. The LDS Church doctrinal curriculum book Gospel Principles, for example, states:

Soon after Jesus had ascended into heaven, the eleven Apostles met together to choose someone to take the place of Judas. Through revelation from the Holy Ghost, they chose Matthias. (See Acts 1:23-26.)

Edgar Lyon, a prominent LDS historian in the 1960s and 1970s, commented:

They found two candidates, each of whom appeared equally qualified. Then they prayed to the Lord, asking him, who knew men’s hearts in a way they could not, to indicate which of these two men “thou hast chosen.” They were then inspired to choose Matthias, and he filled the vacancy in the Twelve. It is noteworthy that the apostles insisted this be a spirit-guided church, not one governed by human judgment.

The LDS publication New Testament Stories, written for children, puts it this way:

The Apostles had to choose another Apostle. Heavenly Father told them whom to choose. They chose Matthias.

There is no question but that the prevailing view among Mormons is that the apostles chose and ordained Matthias (as well as other apostles). Jeff Lindsey, a popular online LDS apologist, writes:

The apostles he had authorized would continue a while—trying to maintain their group of 12 intact, ordaining others such as Matthias (Acts 1:15-26) and later others such as Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:14; Gal. 1:1; 1 Tim. 2:7), for the apostles were to be critical for the organization and preservation of the Church (Eph. 2:18-20; Eph. 4:11-14).

A close reading of the passage, however, does not support the LDS interpretation. First of all, Acts indicates that Peter spoke to a larger group of 120 persons regarding the matter of replacing Judas: “And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,) Men and brethren…” (Acts 1:15-16a KJV). Peter did not address the other ten apostles specifically, but instead addressed his comments to the entire group of 120. This is important, because it turns out that the apostles as a specific group had no special role in the appointment of Matthias.
After explaining to the 120 that Judas’s defection and replacement were fulfillment of Old Testament messianic prophecy (Acts 1:16-20), Peter concluded:

“Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection” (Acts 1:21-22 KJV).

The expression “must one be ordained” in the KJV here does not indicate who is to ordain the new apostle or how this is to be done. In fact, there is no word in the Greek text that is nearly as specific as the English rendering in the KJV. The Greek verb here translated “be ordained” is genesthai, the common verb meaning “to become.” Thus, modern translations render these words, “one of these must become” (ESV, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NRSV). This is as colorless and general as the language could be, and tells us nothing about how Matthias became an apostle—only that he became one.

Acts then tells us that the 120 put forward two candidates meeting Peter’s specifications and prayed for the Lord Jesus to show which of the two men he had chosen:

“And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles” (Acts 1:23-26 KJV).

It is clear from these verses that the apostles did not choose Matthias. In the group prayer, the disciples ask Christ to show which of the two he had chosen. As a way of leaving the matter in Christ’s hands, the choice was determined by lot, rather than one or more of the apostles claiming that they had discerned spiritually which man should become the twelfth apostle. Thus, the apostles intentionally kept themselves out of the decision-making process. The larger group of the 120 put forward the two candidates; the group as a whole met together and prayed for the Lord to make his choice known; and the Lord’s choice was discovered by lot.

Notice how the account in Acts contrasts with the account given by the LDS writers quoted earlier. The statement in Gospel Principles that the apostles chose Matthias “through revelation from the Holy Ghost” and the statement by Edgar Lyon that the apostles “were inspired to choose Matthias” both wrongly attribute the choice of Matthias to a spiritual revelation given to the apostles. In fact, the apostles specifically had nothing to do with the choice. If one wants to call the result of drawing straws a “revelation from the Holy Ghost,” one can do so, but one ought to be clear that this was a revelation to the entire group of 120, not to the apostles specifically—and in any case the apostles were not “inspired” to choose Matthias. All of the LDS sources incorrectly assert that the apostles chose or ordained Matthias, whereas Acts states explicitly that Christ, not the apostles, chose him.

Again, is it possible that after Christ’s choice of Matthias was discovered by lot, the apostles laid hands on Matthias, even though the text says nothing about it? Sure, but if they did it had nothing to do with Matthias becoming an apostle. If we are to learn anything from the passage at all about how one becomes an apostle, we must go by what the text says, not by what the text does not say. And what the text says is that the Lord Jesus chose Matthias and that the apostles as a specific group played no particular role in the commissioning of Matthias as an apostle.





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