Was Paul Part of the 12 Apostles?

Jesus/God Chooses The 12 Apostles

During Jesus’ earthly ministry, He appointed 12 apostles as leaders among his group of disciples (Mark 3). At this time, Saul/Paul was still an enemy of Christianity and the “Jesus Movement,” so clearly was not part of the original 12 Apostles.

Jesus/God Confirms Matthias as Part of the 12 Apostles

After Judas took his own life, there was an “empty seat” in the company of 12 apostles. As such, they decided to appoint a replacement for Judas. Specifically, they found it, “necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us,” (Acts 1:21-22). Again, Paul would not qualify here as he still was an enemy to Christianity (see Acts 8:3). Instead, they nominated 2 men for the task, and cast lots to choose. And thus, “the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles,” (Acts 1:26).

Some have speculated that this decision wasn’t Spirit-led, and Matthias was not the Lord’s choice. But that’s false, as the Holy Spirit (through Luke) later refers to the 11-plus-Matthias as, “the twelve,” (Acts 6:2). In other words, God shows His approval by recognizing Matthias as a true replacement for Judas, and now one of, “the twelve [apostles].”

Jesus/God Confirms Paul as Part of the 12 Apostles

Meanwhile, only a few years after Matthias was elected, Saul/Paul became a convert of Christianity. Not long after this, he was recognized as a church leader, and was used to write the most New Testament books of any human author.

Even further, in 1 of these letters, he says: “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” And, “last of all he [Jesus] appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles…” (1 Cor. 9:1; 15:8-9). Paul seems to see himself as an apostle on par with the 12 apostles, even meeting the criteria of Acts 1 of having seen the risen Jesus. And this isn’t just Paul’s opinion. No, this is God’s very word written through Paul (2 Cor. 13:1; 1 Thes. 2:13; 2 Pet. 3:16; etc.).

This N.T. Pattern Matches the O.T.!

So far, it may seem confusing that God would appoint 12 Apostles without Paul, yet also see Paul as an Apostle on par with the 12 Apostles.

However, remarkably, this is exactly what we should expect if the N.T. pattern matches the O.T. pattern of the 12 tribes of Israel.

In the O.T., Israel began with 1 man (Jacob) having 12 sons who would later become the 12 tribes of Israel. Then, Jesus came as a beginning of a sort of new Israel (see Who is Isaiah’s “Servant”?). As such, He chose 12 men to become leaders within this movement, and continue as leaders after He is gone. So far, the pattern matches precisely.

But it gets even more amazing.

As some may recall, the 12 tribes persisted in a “numerically-odd” way. That is, Joseph, who was 1 of the original 12, ceases to be a tribe on his own. Instead, his 2 sons (Ephraim and Manasseh) replace him in the listing of the 12 tribes of Israel. Thus, for instance, when they divide the land among the 12-become-13 tribes, they give a portion to Manasseh and a portion to Ephraim (but don’t mention Joseph). And it becomes a fun study to see how different tribes are recounted in the Old Testament to make sure there are always 12 listed (even though you now have 13 to choose from).

So we see that 12 tribes started with 12 men. But then, the next generation came along, and 1 of the original 12 (Joseph) was replaced by 2 of the next generation (Ephraim and Manasseh). And this is EXACTLY what we see in the N.T. pattern of Matthias and Paul replacing Judas’ slot (of course, Judas left his slot for ignoble reasons, while Joseph retained his honor throughout his life).


When they are determining the blessing of Joseph’s son, it actually goes to Ephraim (who came later) over Manasseh (who came before Ephraim). This was atypical, so Joseph sought to “correct’ the error of God (through Jacob), but the determination stood: “his younger brother will be greater than he,” (Gen. 48:19).

And, as you may have anticipated, this is PRECISELY what we see with Matthias and Paul. Paul came later, yet is clearly mentioned with far more honor and widespread ministry than Matthias (who we never hear about after he became 1 of the 12 Apostles in Acts 1).

Only God and the Scriptures could have foreseen all this so exactly. Glory to the Lamb!!

NOTE: On the difference between the 12 Apostles and others called “apostles”, see Offices vs Ministries

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