Why Did They Cast Lots to Replace Judas?

castinglotsSo they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.” – Acts 1:23-26

As the apostles waited in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to comes as Jesus told them to do they were busy doing two things. Acts 1:14 tells us they were constantly in prayer. Acts 1:15ff shows us they were also studying the Scriptures (Old Testament) in order to know what they were to do. One of the things Peter was convicted based on his reading of the Old Testament (and possible things Jesus had shared with them before his ascension (Lk 24:27) was that there definitely needed to be 12 apostles…11 just didn’t sound right or sit right, nor was it God’s plan to leave it at 11. Peter based this on Psalm 109:8, “May another take his place of leadership.”

So they determined some criteria for his replacement:

  1. The person be male
  2. Was there through the whole of Jesus’ ministry…from John’s baptism to Jesus’ ascension, which just happened in verse 9.

Jesus told them in 1:8 that they were to be his witnesses and so the replacement needed to be a witness, specifically of the resurrection, as well (1:22). On a side note this reminds us that the central message of the early Christian evangelists that won many Gentile converts over was the message of the resurrection. There were two men there who fit the criteria and they basically drew straws or threw the dice to figure out which one God was choosing for the task.

Why was this the selection process? We don’t really have a clear answer to this but we do have a few clues. First is the idea that God had to select the person just as God had selected each of them. They realized that Jesus had the authority to select each of them but they had no authority of themselves to make that same selection and yet were convicted it had to be made.

The second clue is more subtle in English but glaring in Greek. It is found in 1:17,

He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.”

The word for “share” is the word for “lot” as in “cast lots” in 1:26. When the lot falls to you, you receive the designated share of whatever it was that was on the line. That is your portion. Judas had a “lot” in the ministry of Jesus…he was chosen for his specific purpose. So they also allow the next person to find their “share”/”portion” of the apostolic ministry by “lot.”

I am not sure there is anything to this but that word is used so infrequently in scripture, to find it twice in the replacement process of Judas does make me wonder if that is not the connection here and why they used that method. Just food for thought. What do you think?

4 Responses to Why Did They Cast Lots to Replace Judas?

  1. Richard says:

    I think they felt that they needed to select someone – rather than wait for the Lord’s selection because we never hear of their selection after that. Could it be that the Lord’s selection was Saul who came to be known as Paul the Apostle?

    • Matt Dabbs says:

      That is an interesting point. Paul wouldn’t fit their criteria of being their since the beginning but he did witness the resurrected Lord. One wonders how much of this is what they just decided to do vs what God had in mind.

  2. Paul Nelson says:

    Interesting thoughts Matt. I’ve always read this without much thought as to why. It is curious though. We don’t have a tradition of leaving things to chance. This would be similar to selecting qualified elders or deacons by coin toss. Not advocating that of course, but maybe I should take another look at how I make decisions in my life and ensure I’m including room for God’s will in everything.

  3. Jim Campbell says:

    Is there not an ancient Hebrew tradition, going back as far, at least, as Aaron (e.g. Leviticus 16: 8), of using ‘binary’ lots to ask for God’s decision on a matter? If I’m not mistaken, it even became stylized in Judaic religious practice in the Urim vs Thummin device of the High Priest’s vestments, which was used to beseech God’s decision in certain matters. Perhaps, this was the thinking behind the method they used.

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