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The Disappearance of the Twelve in Acts 6-9

Posted by on Jun 2, 2011 in discipleship, scripture | 25 comments

The Disappearance of the Twelve in Acts 6-9

In a previous post, “The Acts of Jesus Christ through his disciples,” I mentioned briefly that there’s a section in the first half of the Book of Acts in which Luke does not focus on the service of the Apostles (the Twelve) nor does he focus on the service of Paul.

This section is Acts chapter 6 through Acts chapter 9.

In the first five chapters of Acts, the Apostles (the Twelve) are certainly in the foreground, either as a group or individually (Peter in Acts 2), or in pairs/groups (Peter and John in Acts 3-4).

However, when we get to Acts 6, the Apostles (the Twelve) take a back seat for a four chapters. Yes, the Twelve are found in the first half of Acts 6, but the focus of the passage is on choose others to serve. In fact, the church does the work of finding seven to serve.

Interestingly, in response to the service of these seven, Luke says, “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7 ESV) We’ve already found this kind of summary or result statement in Acts 2:47. This statement (Acts 6:7) is important because it follows Luke’s report that others (not the Apostles) were serving.

The second half of Acts 6 and all of Acts 7 focuses on the service of Stephen. Acts 7 is especially important, because Luke places a full recounting of the history of Israel and how that history relates to Jesus Christ on the lips of Stephen, not one of the Apostles. In fact, this is the longest speech given by anyone in the Book of Acts.

In Acts 8, we see the Apostles (the Twelve) again, but they are mentioned in the context of Philip’s service. Philips proclaims the gospel in Samaria, then to an Ethiopian eunuch. In between these two stories, we see the apostles traveling to Samaria. It is interesting again that Luke has Philip (not the Twelve) first proclaiming the gospel in Samaria and to an Gentile (though perhaps a proselyte). This is especially important given Jesus’ commission in Acts 1:8.

The beginning of Acts 9 focuses on Saul/Paul and his conversion. God uses another disciple (Ananias) who is not one of the Twelve, nor is he one of the seven chosen in Acts 6. Ananias plays an important role in Saul’s conversion/discipleship. Later, when Saul comes to Jerusalem, it is another disciple (Barnabas – not one of the Twelve or the seven) in introducing Saul to the church.

At the end of this section, Luke writes another one of his summary/result statements:

So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied. (Acts 9:31 ESV)

This statement appears before Luke’s focus returns to the Apostles (the Twelve) in Acts 9:32.

What can we make from this section in Acts where the Apostles (the Twelve) seem to disappear from the scene (or at least slide into the background)? For me, this shows the importance of the service of everyone in the church. God did not only work through the Apostles. Instead, God worked through the whole church, and as a result, the word of God increase and the church multiplied.

What do you think about Acts 6-9?


25 Comments

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  1. 6-2-2011

    It definitely seems to be the case that the church is becoming more decentralized as we go, something born out later in Paul’s epistles. I have always wondered what happened to Mathias, he gets selected as one of the twelve and then we never hear about him again in Scripture. Some later writings speak of him but he is missing from the Bible, at least specifically by name.

  2. 6-2-2011

    Interesting post. I would question your argument that,

    “Interestingly, in response to the service of these seven, Luke says, “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7 ESV) We’ve already found this kind of summary or result statement in Acts 2:47. This statement (Acts 6:7) is important because it follows Luke’s report that others (not the Apostles) were serving.”

    Note that the growth of the church is tied to the word of God which continued to increase (6:7). This reference to the word of God should be tied back to 6:4 and the Twelve who stated the seven should be appointed so that they could devote themselves to prayer, and to “the ministry of the word.” Therefore, contextually the growth of the church was made possible by the Seven but actually brought about by the Twelve who devoted themselves to the ministry of the word.

  3. 6-2-2011

    Arthur,

    Yeah, I think so too. Matthias is a very interesting character, isn’t he. Of course, he would probably be included in any mention of the Twelve.

    Charles,

    Thanks for the feedback. Do you think that Acts 7 and 8 show that the apostles were not the only believers who were involved in “the ministry of the word”? In fact, Stephen and Philip (who are 2 of the 7 from Acts 6) are shown sharing the gospel. So, the “word of God increased” through the service of others, not just the Twelve.

    -Alan

  4. 6-2-2011

    But Alan you are referring to material that occurs after the progress/summary report in 6:7. Progress/summary reports in Acts usually end a section, not introduce one. So as far as 6:7 is concerned, what occurs in chapters 7 and 8 are not relevant. The material in Acts 7-8 would better relate to the progress/summary report in 9:31.

  5. 6-2-2011

    Charles,

    Yes, that’s the way Luke often uses his summary type statements. For example, notice the statement in 2:46-47 with chapter 3-4 following, and the statement in 4:32-34 with 4:36 and chapter 5 following.

    -Alan

  6. 6-2-2011

    But just because a summary or progress report may foreshadow or contain elements of what is to come, this does not mean that the summary statement is based on what is to follow. Indeed, a summary by definition looks backward not forward. See 9:31. You really cant summarize what has yet to occur. You summarize what has occurred. The same could be said about your designation of 6:7 as a “result statement.” Once again a “result” tends to look backward and not forward.

  7. 6-2-2011

    Charles,

    The fact that we (including myself) called these statements “summary” or “result” statements does not affect the fact that Luke often uses them to look forward to what’s about to happen, even if he also uses them to look back at what has already happened. We can’t use our terms for the statements as indicators of what Luke was doing with them. As I’ve shown, these statements usually look forward.

    The statement in Acts 6:7, then, would both look back at the decision by the church to choose seven to serve as well as looking forward to service that some (at least Stephen and Philip) were doing.

    Plus, whether I’m correct about Acts 6:7 or not, the statement in Acts 9:31 certain follows several chapters in which the Apostles (the Twelve) do not play a prominent role. And, yes, I would say that statement also looks ahead to Peter’s role in bringing the gospel to the Gentiles in Acts 10-11.

    -Alan

  8. 6-2-2011

    I am not sure that you have really made a case that they do look forward apart from that which I have already acknowledged. You are right that we can’t use terms to define our understanding of the text. But consider the possibility that such terms were applied to these passages because they are indicative of how it is believed that these texts are functioning. The terms like “summary” have not just been pulled out of thin air. There are reasons why such terms are employed, namely, they exemplify what is going on in the text. It is not an accident that good exegetes have concluded that these statements can be called progress or summary statements. I would point you to commentaries by Bock, Bruce, Polhill, and Peterson, to name a few.

    Concerning your last paragraph, that is non-starter. I have already pointed out that 9:31 better fits your argument. But the initial issue I questioned was not 9:31, but your argument concerning 6:7. I would simply suggest that 6:7 dopes not really support what you are arguing, whether other texts do is another issue.

  9. 6-2-2011

    Charles,

    Do the other passages that are often called summary passages (i.e., Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-34) look backward, forward, or both?

    -Alan

  10. 6-2-2011

    As summaries they look backwards. But looking backwards does not rule out future events. For example, if I were to say “Now, my son was learning much in college.” Such a statement looks backward. It is a summary. But looking backwards does not mean that my son did not or will not learn more in the future. In fact, I might relate an incident that shows that he did learn much after my initial summary. But this does not invalidate the summary. In fact there may be reasons why he learned much prior to the summary and other reasons for why he learned much after it.

  11. 6-2-2011

    Charles,

    I’ll assume that your comment means that those two passages look both backward and forward.

    Now, Acts 6:7 certainly looks backward. The question is, does it also look forward?

    Following Acts 6:7, we see Stephen proclaiming the word of God. Also, between the pericope with Stephen and the pericope with Philip, we read the following in Acts 8:4 – “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.”

    It looks to me that Acts 6:7 also looks backwards and forwards.

    -Alan

  12. 6-2-2011

    They look backwards as summaries, but forwards only as foreshadowing or anticipation. These are not the same thing. It is not only whether they look backwards and forwards but how they look backwards and forwards. For example, there are summary statements in Judges that say “In those days Israel had no king and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” Does that passage look backwards or forwards? In a real sense it is both. But the fact that Israel will someday have a king does not invalidate the reality of the summary. So seeing something as looking backward and forward is not to say that they are the same thing.

    But this gets back to the original point. The summary of 6:7 is based on the work of the apostles, made possible, at least in part, by the decision to appoint the seven. A decision, by the way that was led by the Apostles. But the growth of the church came through the preaching of the Twelve. The seven (or at least two of the seven) will have their own “successes” summarized in 9:31.

  13. 6-2-2011

    Charles,

    It’s clear that we’re not going to agree on this. I think it’s impossible to understand Acts 2:42-47 without also considering Acts 3-4. Also, Acts 4:32-34 is further explained in what follows that passage (i.e., Acts 5). In the same way, I would say that while Acts 6:7 certainly includes the result of the proclamation of the Twelve, that summary is also better understood by including Acts 6:8-8.

    However, like you’ve said, even disagreeing on the purpose of Acts 6:7 does not negate the remaining evidence in this post. In Acts 6-9, the Twelve fade into the background while other disciples are highlighted.

    -Alan

  14. 6-2-2011

    “Impossible” is a strong word. I think that you could understand Acts 2:42-47 and 4:31-34 without the verses that follow. For example, try this experiment. Go to someone who doesn’t know Acts and have them read these verses by themselves. I suspect that many such readers could tell you that the church is doing such and such and get pretty close to the meaning of these verses. Not only that, but notice how Acts ends with a final summary statement (28:31). Can you understand 28:31 even though there is not a 28:32? But no one is arguing that the texts that follow the summaries are unimportant. In a sense, I have been arguing that you are not allowing the summaries to be just that, summaries. A summary’s primary purpose is to summarize what has happened. If you will allow it to do that, I suggest that your understanding of what has gone before and what follows will be richer rather than poorer.

    Also, while I agree that the Twelve become less prominent in the book, I would probably not agree with you as to why they become less prominent. But that is another discussion.

  15. 6-2-2011

    Charles,

    The difference between Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 28:31 is that Luke didn’t end his book with Acts 2:42-47.

    -Alan

  16. 6-3-2011

    Fair enough. But can you let Luke summarize things before you try to bring in later material? I still suggest you try my experiment. These statements are not “impossible” to understand without the material that follows.

  17. 6-3-2011

    Charles,

    I agree that “impossible” was too strong of a word. I do think that Luke followed up his “summary” statements with passages that further explain the passages. Thus, the summaries not only look back but also look forward.

    -Alan

  18. 6-3-2011

    We have already been here and I don’t think that 6:7 will work for you in the argument of your original post in the way you have suggested. I suppose we will have to agree to disagree.

  19. 6-3-2011

    Charles,

    I appreciate the discussion, even though we don’t agree. I’ll keep studying that passage and others as we work through Acts.

    -Alan

  20. 10-10-2011

    My buddy and I read through Acts 12 yesterday and questions about the role of the apostles occurred to me also. Herod apparently thought the apostles were big deals since he killed James, brother of John, and then was going to do the same to Peter when he saw that it pleased the Jews. He apparently believed in a top-down organization and thought the church was the same. Meanwhile, however, it occurred to me how apparently — irrelevant would be too strong a word — the apostle had become because, as you say Alan, it seemed like most of the action was occurring around non-apostles. In fact, some of the apostles seemed to maybe be hindrances to the spread of the gospel, especially when it concerned questions of the law. Perhaps the Jerusalem church was suffering from some hardening of the arteries while the Holy Spirit was doing some amazing things in Antioch and elsewhere.

  21. 5-7-2012

    HI Allan, I am teaching in my class today and was giving your post a review. One question I do have pertains to your response to Charles above where you wrote, “Plus, whether I’m correct about Acts 6:7 or not, the statement in Acts 9:31 certain follows several chapters in which the Apostles (the Twelve) do not play a prominent role.”

    So I looked at the immediate context of this verse which is.

    Acts 9:28–31 (NLT)
    28 So Saul stayed with the apostles and went all around Jerusalem with them, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He debated with some Greek-speaking Jews, but they tried to murder him. 30 When the believers heard about this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus, his hometown. 31 The church then had peace throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, and it became stronger as the believers lived in the fear of the Lord. And with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, it also grew in numbers.

    So it seems that although the previous chapters emphasized, as you rightly point out, the importance of the Spirit working in all the church beyond the Apostles, this passage brings the focus squarely back to the ministry of the Apostles and of Paul who were preaching boldly the name of the Lord.

    So, the way I read it, the context of this occurrence in Ch 9 seems to be the same as in previous uses, Luke ties the growth to Gospel proclamation by the Apostles and Paul. Your thoughts?

  22. 5-7-2012

    J.R.,

    In the title, the term “disappearance” is hyperbole. The point is that that apostles (The Twelve) slide into the background and the focus is placed on others in Acts 6-9.

    -Alan

  23. 5-7-2012

    hmmm… I never mentioned your use of the word “disappearance” nor that the Apostles slid into the background… I agree with both of those general assertions so I don’t understand how your comment is relevant to my question.

    I just wanted to understand how you were dealing with the mention of the Apostles in v. 29 which is in the immediate context for saying the church “grew” in v. 31.

  24. 5-8-2012

    J.R.,

    Maybe I misunderstood your comment and question. Within the context of this post, it is not out of the ordinary for Luke to have mentioned the apostles before the statement in Acts 9:31. Like you said, Luke mentions the apostles and Paul. He also says “believers” in Acts 9:31. The point of the post is the de-emphasis of the apostles throughout Acts 6-9. So, if Acts 9:31 is a summary (and perhaps also a foreshadowing), then we should look beyond just the apostles, Paul, and the believers in Acts 9:28-31.

    The apostles are also mentioned a couple of times in Acts 6 and 8. But, the emphasis is not on the apostles in those passages. I don’t think, then, that the associated summary passages can be relegated to just the work of the apostles.

    -Alan

  25. 5-8-2012

    Okay, thanks for addressing my specific question.