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Jesus Calls the Twelve Apostles (Mark 3:13-19)

Analysis and Commentary

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Jesus Teaches his Apostles

Jesus Teaches his Apostles

    13 And he goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would: and they came unto him. 14 And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, 15 And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils: 16 And Simon he surnamed Peter; 17 And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder: 18 And Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Canaanite, 19 And Judas Iscariot, which also betrayed him: and they went into an house.
    Compare: Matthew 10:1-4; Luke 6:12-16

Jesus’ Twelve Apostles

At this point Jesus officially gathers together his apostles, at least according to the biblical texts. Stories indicate that many people followed Jesus around, but these are the only ones whom Jesus is recorded as specifically designating as being special. The fact that he picks twelve, rather than ten or fifteen, is a reference to the twelve tribes of Israel.

Particularly significant seem to be Simon (Peter) and the brothers James and John because these three receive special names from Jesus. Then, of course, there is Judas — the only other one with a surname, although not given by Jesus — who is already being set up for the eventual betrayal of Jesus near the end of the story.

Calling his disciples on a mountain is supposed to evoke Moses’ experiences on Mt. Sinai. At Sinai there were twelve tribes of the Hebrews; here there are twelve disciples. At Sinai Moses received the laws directly from God; here, the disciples receive power and authority from Jesus, the Son of God. Both stories are instances of the creation of bonds of community — one legalistic and the other charismatic. Thus, even as the Christian community is presented as paralleling the creation of the Jewish community, important differences are emphasized.

Upon gathering them together, Jesus authorizes his apostles to do three things: preach, heal sickness, and cast out devils. These are three things which Jesus has been doing himself, so he is entrusting them with continuing his mission. There is, however, one notable absence: forgiving sins. This is something which Jesus has done, but not something the apostles are authorized to do.

Perhaps the author of Mark just forgot to mention it, but that is unlikely. Perhaps Jesus or the author of Mark wanted to make sure that this power remained with God and was not something that just anyone would be able to claim. That, however, raises the question of why priests and other “representatives” of Jesus today claim just that.

This is the first time, by the way, that Simon is referred to as “Simon Peter” — through much of the literature and gospel accounts he is normally referred to as Peter, something which was evidently necessary due to the addition here of another apostle named Simon.

Judas is also mentioned for the first time, but what does “Iscariot” mean? Some have read it to mean “man of Kerioth,” a city in Judea. This would make Judas the only Judean in the group and something of an outsider, but many have argued that this is a doubtful.

Others have argued that a copyist error transposed two letters and that Judas was actually named “Sicariot,” a member of the party of the Sicarii. This comes from the Greek word for “assassins” and was a group of fanatical Jewish nationalists who thought that the only good Roman was a dead Roman. Judas Iscariot could have been, then, Judas the Terrorist, which would put a very different spin on the activities of Jesus and his band of merry men.

If the twelve apostles were primarily tasked with preaching and healing, one wonders what sorts of things they might have preached about. Did they have a simple gospel message like the one Jesus related in the first chapter of Mark, or had they already begun the task of embellishment which has made Christian theology so complicated today?

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