And he appointed the twelve:
Simon (whom he gave the name Peter),
James son of Zebedee and
John the brother of James (whom he gave the name Boanerges, the sons of Thunder), and
James son of Alpheus and
Simon the Cananaean and
Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him
— tr. mine
One thing you notice in the New Testament. There is a pretty good agreement that there were a group of Twelve. We call them the Twelve disciples, or Twelve apostles, though both terms have problems. In the NT they are often just called “The Twelve”.
But what you don’t notice is complete agreement about who was in the group. Here is Mark’s version. Matthew agrees with Mark, but there are variations in some texts that change Thaddaeus to Labbaeus (and even a later scribe who hedges his bets and write “Labbaeus called Thaddaeus”). Some variants of Matthew have other Judases, Judas the Zealot, and others add Judas the son of James. Luke has this Judas son of James in his version (both in Luke and Acts), and Simon the Zealot. Earlier, however, during the stories of the calling of the disciples, Luke has Levi son of Alphaeus (James’s brother?), who is called in a story that Matthew uses for Matthew (and this is one of the reasons Matthew’s gospel is so named). John’s gospel doesn’t even name the full set, but he does include a Nathanael who isn’t elsewhere. Paul doesn’t give us a list either, but he refers to them, in terms of their obvious authority in the early Jesus movement (and one can’t help but hear a less than respectful tone for that authority).
There are traditional ways to reconcile these differences (somewhat creatively). What’s fascinating is that it seems clear that the individuals aren’t important. What’s important is that there are Twelve.
Obviously a highly significant number for Jews, mirroring the twelve tribes of Israel. And there’s the irony. There are three different sets of “Twelve Tribes” in the bible too – over time the constituents of the twelve change, but the important part is that there are twelve.
Decades after Jesus, the specifics about the Twelve might have been forgotten, but the number had not. But what’s also interesting is that the era of the Twelve was brief.
After Judas’s exit from the Twelve, Acts tells the story of how a replacement was elected (Matthias). To the early church the number was important enough to hold this election. But then Luke tells us nothing more about them. Paul uses “Twelve” as a name, but doesn’t talk about them as if there were twelve. For Paul (c.f. Galatians 1 and 2), there is only Peter. The other major heavyweight is James (Jesus’s Brother), who doesn’t appear in any list of the Twelve.
Who knows if the loyalty of the Twelve really did survive the Crucifixion. There are hints they did not. We know that their symbolism was more powerful than their reality very soon afterwards. And as the new religion grew beyond Judea, there was very little need for the symbolism any more. The calling of The Twelve was remembered, I think, as an authentic act of the historical Jesus. Like many things he said and did, it was something the early church, particularly the Pauline church, found it no longer needed.
I wonder what Jesus would have made of Paul.