Were “The Twelve” (apostles) leaders of the Jerusalem church?
Jesus reportedly had 12 core apostles that followed him during his earthly ministry, and who constituted his closest disciples. (Note: Early Christians called them “the 12” even if only 11 remained, because it’s a title.) Soon after Jesus died, this group allegedly proclaimed that Jesus had been raised from the dead by God and appeared to them. Moreover, they purportedly started the 1st church in Jerusalem—the so-called “Jerusalem church.”
We mean to ask here, however, whether this is in fact true. Were “the 12” apostles really founding leaders of this church?
Historians widely say “yes”
- Richard Bauckham: “…they were also, as most scholars agree, the first leaders of the mother church in Jerusalem and of its initial outreach elsewhere” [Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Eerdmans, 2006), 94.]
In General: The 12 were seen as leaders of all Christendom
The earliest Christians (throughout the AD 30-70 mediterranean) honored the 12 apostles as the known authoriies of the church at large, heading up of all Christendom.
We can analyze these 11 arguments:
- The Gospels say the 12 were authorities.
- Later Christians say the 12 were authorities.
- E.g. Luke-Acts say the 12 were authorities.
- Sources justified their reliability via apostolic appeal.
- The apostles lead the Jerusalem church.
- The apostles converted the 1st Christians.
- Early Christians called them “pillars” etc.
- Lists of the names of the 12 were preserved.
- The 12 were the commissioned mouthpieces of Jesus.
- All desired to know and preserve the 12’s biography.
- There's no trace of real dispute over their authority.
This is relevant becase if they headed up all of Christendom, then all the more they headed up the 1st and most widely-know church: the Jerusalem church.
The apostles converted and/or lead most initial members
Virtually all early Christians trace back their conversion heritage to the 12 themselves (i.e. being converted directly by them, or being converted by someone was converted by them, or by someone who was converted by someone who was converted by them etc.). This is relevant assuming that, like most ancients, Christian converts tended to take as teachers/authorities those who converted them (e.g. 1 Cor 1:12 “each one of you is saying,’“I am of Paul,’ and ‘I of Apollos,’ and ‘I of Cephas,’…”). And when those converts themselves won new converts, those new converts would likewise look back with respect to the original teacher/authority. So insofar as Christians all traced their heritage back to the apostles, all would look back at the apostles as being their authoritative teachers.
Paul & churches assumed it and strove to visit them
Paul repeatedly visited the Jerusalem church on the very assumption of his and the daughter churches that it was where the apostles lead and taught. When he went, and never learned otherwise; instead, his letters confirm it was the natural home of the apostles (even if they happened to away on missions etc.).
- He implies his confirmation of it in Galatians 1:17-19.1
- He implies his confirmation of it in Acts 15:2, 22-30; 16:4.2
- • Galatians 1:17-19 — nor did I [immediately] go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me… then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. [Note: He does not rebuke or correct the assumption that they still live there, and in staying with Peter 15 days it would not have been something Paul failed to know the truth of.]
- • Acts 15:2, 22-30; 16:4 — “And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue … Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas—Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, 23 and they sent this letter by them, ‘The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings….’ and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. … while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem”
Acts repeatedly assumes the apostles lead the church
The book of Acts is a history of the early church, and it repeatedly assumes throughout that the apostles were the founders and leaders of the 1st church there in Jerusalem; they did not disappear.
Consider these 8 arguments
- “[Christians] were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching…” (Acts 2:42)1
- They were the preachers at Pentecost [Acts 2:4-43]2
- Paul etc. went to them as leaders [Acts 15:2; 16:4]3
- Christians gave them their property etc. to manage [Acts 4:33; 35, 37; 5:2] 4
- The apostles as representatives were the ones interrogated, punished, sent to jail [Acts 5:18, 29, 40]5
- The apostles are who summon the congregation [Acts 6:2]6
- The apostles are who delegated management duties to Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor etc. [Acts 6:6]7
- The apostles are who Barnabas presents Paul to (as if they are in charge)[Acts 9:27]8
This is relevant if the book of Acts relays witness testimony/memory.
But no, Plausibly…
- The book of Acts does not relay testimony. (Forthcoming)
- • Acts 2:42 — They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching…
- • Acts 2:14 (for example) -- … “But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them...”
- For example, Paul etc. went to them as leaders:
• Acts 15:2 — “the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue. …6 The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter. 7 After there had been much debate, [the apostle] Peter stood up…” (Cf. 4, 22, 23)
And they delivered the judgment of those leaders:
• Acts 16:4 — “while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe.”
- • Acts 4:33, 35, 37 — And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. … and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need. … and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
• Acts 5:2 — and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet.
- • Acts 5:18, 29, 40 — They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail. … But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. … They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them.
- So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.
- And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.
- But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus.