What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.


What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

New NT undesigned coincidence: Witnesses from the Beginning

This new undesigned coincidence was inspired by a passage in Richard Bauckham's book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, chapter 6, though Bauckham does not cast it in terms of an undesigned coincidence.

I received the idea in e-mail recently from a correspondent who has given me permission to cite him: Shane Rosenthal, producer of the national radio program The White Horse Inn and Assistant Pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in St. Charles, MO, sent me this coincidence. The presentation here and the emphases are my own.

Luke's writings emphasize in two places the importance of those who were eyewitnesses of Jesus' ministry from the beginning. In one place Luke himself mentions this when he tells Theophilus that he, like others who have compiled accounts, will be writing out what he has received "just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the Word" (Luke 1:3, NASB)

The other verse that mentions the importance of witnesses from the beginning is in the mouth of Peter in the book of Acts. The apostles decide that they must choose a replacement for Judas, who is dead. This apparently occurs in Jerusalem while they are together after the ascension waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Peter says,

It is therefore necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us--beginning with the baptism of John, until the day that He was taken up from us--one of these should become a witness with us of His resurrection. (Acts 1:21-22)

The disciples choose Matthias by casting lots between him and Joseph Barsabbas.

The coincidence I am discussing here is not based on a question-answer format, as most are, since it is understandable that the disciples would place an emphasis upon those who had been eyewitnesses of Jesus. The emphasis upon eyewitnesses of his entire ministry from the beginning is, perhaps, a little more surprising, since one might think that a person who had followed Jesus for, say, half of his ministry and had seen him after his resurrection would be almost as useful a witness as one who had been present at his baptism by John the Baptist and from that point on. Still, it's not an unreasonable criterion for inclusion in the "official" witness roster, and one might surmise that the disciples came up with it themselves.

In passing, I note that the emphasis upon eyewitnesses of Jesus' ministry is a standing rebuke to all of those New Testament scholars who casually opine that the gospel authors made up incidents out of whole cloth for theological or literary reasons. The repeated emphasis upon those who personally saw Jesus' miracles and heard his teaching sits very ill with that picture of the evangelists who wrote accounts of his ministry.

So there is not really a highly noticeable question to be answered here. But there is some fairly distinctive language (the emphasis on the "beginning" of Jesus' ministry) and a fairly specific requirement for inclusion in the most important circle of Jesus' disciples as leaders of the early church. One might wonder if there was any other special reason why the disciples in Acts 1 placed such emphasis upon these requirements.

What Bauckham calls a "striking parallel" to this emphasis occurs in John's gospel, certainly written after Luke's gospel and Acts. This time it is Jesus who is speaking:

When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning. (John 15:26-27)

Suppose, as an hypothesis, that Jesus really spoke these words to the disciples at the time of the Last Supper (where John seems to be placing them). And suppose, as an hypothesis, that Peter really did say what Acts records him as saying in Acts 1 when choosing a replacement for Judas.

In that case, the two utterances occurred less than two months apart. Jesus' betrayal and death occurred at the time of Passover. Jesus ascended to heaven (according to Acts) about forty days after his crucifixion, and the choosing of Matthias occurred less than ten days later, before the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Moreover, in Acts Jesus specifically tells the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Spirit (Acts 1:4). He emphasizes there that they will be his witnesses when the power of the Spirit comes on them (Acts 1:5), which is the same message given in John.

Therefore, the disciples would have been thinking about the coming of the Spirit and about the promise that they would testify of Jesus after the "Helper" came. They would also have had in mind Jesus' statement that they would testify because they had been with him "from the beginning." This provides an additional, special reason for them to choose a replacement for Judas before the coming of the Spirit and to make sure that the replacement fulfills the criterion of having been with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry, which they (naturally) identify with the baptism of John the Baptist.

While the criteria for a replacement apostle could have been the disciples' own idea, the striking similarity to the words in John suggest that it was not simply their own idea but was based upon Jesus' own recent words about the Spirit and his witnesses.

Bauckham uses these parallel passages to argue, reasonably enough, that this idea about those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning was important to the Christian community early on. This is certainly true, but I think we can argue, further, that the parallels between John and Acts point to the truth of those narratives--the farewell discourse of Jesus and the account of Peter's criteria for choosing a new apostle in Acts.

Comments (3)

Great observations. Wondering whether the witness requirement applied for the 12 but not necessarily for the fivefold ministry gift of apostles then and in the modern Church.

I think that one would be hard pressed to claim that witnessing the baptism at Jordan and from then on applied to ALL of the apostles. Some of the apostles are chosen later, (such as Matthew) in circumstances that make it highly unlikely that they were there from the very beginning. However, obviously Jesus had perfect freedom to choose whom He would, whereas the apostles, acting not by their own power and their own authority but as those were received, would have wanted a replacement apostle who was beyond question.

The successors of the apostles, obviously, were not chosen in terms of being direct witnesses. One would have to suggest that their role was transmitting what they had received from the direct witnesses. Like Luke does in writing his gospel.

Tony makes an excellent point about Matthew. It can, I should emphasize, sometimes be difficult to tell when a disciple was called. For example, the famous "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men" scene in the synoptic gospels, which might appear to be the first calling of Peter, has to be supplemented by John, where we discover that Peter actually *had* been with Jesus from the approximate *time* of Jesus' baptism by John the Baptism. (John 1:40-41) Peter was brought to Jesus by his brother Andrew, who had been a disciple of John the Baptist. So the scene by the Sea of Galilee where they left their nets and followed Jesus was actually some time after they had already been following Jesus. Presumably Peter and Andrew had witnessed the changing of water into wine at Cana, where John emphasizes that Jesus' disciples believed on him.

However, in general, we can tell that not *all* of the twelve were there from the baptism of John onward. Matthew alone would be enough to falsify that generalization.

So when Jesus said, "You have been with me from the beginning," he was either referring to only some of the twelve in his audience or was using a looser concept of "the beginning" and not defining the term.

However, at the election of a replacement for Judas, they were trying to be scrupulous and strict in whom they chose, and the fact that Jesus had spoken in that way, and connected it with their witnessing after the coming of the Holy Spirit, does at least add to their reasons for taking the replacement in such an official way.

That strict of a criterion would not have had to apply to other leaders. After all, James the Lord's kinsman was a big-time leader in the early church and had been an unbeliever up until after the resurrection.

Post a comment

Bold Italic Underline Quote

Note: In order to limit duplicate comments, please submit a comment only once. A comment may take a few minutes to appear beneath the article.

Although this site does not actively hold comments for moderation, some comments are automatically held by the blog system. For best results, limit the number of links (including links in your signature line to your own website) to under 3 per comment as all comments with a large number of links will be automatically held. If your comment is held for any reason, please be patient and an author or administrator will approve it. Do not resubmit the same comment as subsequent submissions of the same comment will be held as well.