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§ 76 Christ’s Relation to the Twelve.—Significance of the Number Twelve.—The Name Apostle.
WE have before remarked, that among the most important means employed by Christ in founding the kingdom of God was the training of certain organs; not only to replace his personal labours as a teacher (which were limited to so very brief a period), but also to propagate a true image of his person, his manifestation, his Spirit, and his truth. Here arises the question, whether Christ intentionally selected twelve men for this purpose, and took the individuals thus chosen into closer communion with himself, or whether this intimate relationship arose out of a gradual separation of the more susceptible disciples from the mass, who formed by degrees a narrower and more permanent circle about his person; whether, in a word, the choice of the twelve was made once for all, by a definite purpose, or arose simply from the nature of the case.176176 See the arguments for this view in Schleiermacher on Luke, p. 88. Some adopt the latter notion, with a view to answer objections against the wisdom of Christ’s selection; such, for instance, as that he chose several insignificant men, who accomplished nothing of importance, and omitted others who were afterward signally eminent and useful; that he must either have been deceived in admitting Judas into the number,177177 Celsus thought to disparage Christ by telling that he was betrayed by one of his disciples. (Orig., c. Cels., ii., § 12.) or else (what is entirely out of keeping with his character) must have made him an Apostle with a full consciousness of his inevitable destiny, in order to lead him on to his destruction. It is urged, moreover, against the probability of Christ himself having conferred the name of Apostles upon these men especially, that others, (e.g., Paul), who laboured in proclaiming the Gospel at a later period, received that designation.
This question would be at once decided, if we could consider the Sermon on the Mount as an ordination discourse for the Apostles; but this view, as we shall hereafter show, is untenable. But there are passages178178 Luke, vi., 13; Mark, iii., 13, 14. which speak expressly of the choosing of the twelve; and, even without attaching undue weight to these, there are other and sufficient grounds for believing that such a choice was actually made. Christ himself tells the Apostles (John, xv., 16) that they had not chosen him, but that he had chosen them, as his own peculiar organs, which would not have been true if they had first separated, of their own 117accord, from the rest of the multitude, and chosen him for their Master and guide, in a narrower sense than others.
Nor is the number twelve destitute of significance. Without seeking any sacred, mystical meaning in the number, we can well see in it a reference to the number of the tribes of Israel. The particular, Jewish Theocracy was a type of the universal and eternal kingdom of God; and Christ first designated himself as head of that kingdom in the Jewish national form. The twelve were to lead the kingdom as his organs.179179 Matt., xix., 28; Luke, xxii., 30. Ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Their superiority to all others, who should also act as organs of the Holy Spirit testifying within them of the Redeemer (the common calling of all believers), consisted in this, that they received a direct and personal impression of the words and works of Christ, and could thus testify of what they had seen and heard. This personal testimony of eye-witnesses is expressly distinguished by Christ (John, xv., 27) from the objective testimony of the Holy Spirit; which, indeed, animated them, but could also bear witness through other organs. Hence, when one of the twelve was lost, the Apostles deemed it necessary to replace him, and thus fill up the number originally instituted by Christ.180180 Acts, i., 21.
The more general application of the name Apostle in the Apostolic age is no proof that Christ did not originally use it in the narrower sense. The Apostolic mind was under no such painful subserviency to the letter as to avoid the use of a name in a sense suggested by the name itself, simply because Christ had used it in a more contracted signification. The term ἀπόστολοι (שְׁלִיתִין) denoted persons sent out by Christ to proclaim the kingdom of God; and it was quite natural, as all who preached the Gospel were considered as sent out by him, that all who laboured in proclaiming it in a wide sphere should receive the same designation.181181 The questions whether Christ chose twelve men as his special organs, and whether he himself gave them the name Apostles, are entirely distinct. There is no good reason to doubt the latter. Although Paul used the term in its wider meaning, he yet considered the narrower sense to be the original one,182182 1 Cor., xv., 7. and justified his application of the latter to himself only on the ground of the direct and immediate call which he had received from Christ.183183 1 Cor., ix. 1; xv., 9.
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