A Question About the Election of the Apostle Mathias

A Question About the Election of the Apostle Mathias May 20, 2014

A reader writes:
In Acts 1, the selection of Mathias as the replacement Apostle is discussed. It talks about casting lots, and it falling on him. Do we know more about what that means and is there evidence of The Church using a similar process to make decisions through the centuries?

This is, as far as I know, the only moment in the Church’s history where the Magisterium makes a serious judgment call by this means. It’s a method that harks back to the Urim and Thummim used by the priest of the Old Covenant. By Acts 15, the Church has already settled into the habit of calling a council or synod in union with the Pope (Peter) and/or the local bishop (James) to iron out questions of navigating the signs of the times.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • wlinden


    (Yes, I know they are Monophysite schismatics and not “the” church.)

  • It wasn’t like they threw open the job to just whomever. They had two very strong, carefully vetted candidates and by the casting of lots were basically declaring they had no way of choosing which was better. Also, since all of the Apostles were chosen by Christ and not the other Apostles, perhaps this was a way of throwing the decision about whom to pick back to the Lord in such a way as to be able to declaim any direct responsibility in the final choice of Matthias and therefore making his election equal to the other Apostles, not subordinate to their judgment.

  • captcrisis

    It’s a very offhand and careless way to pick between two people. No matter how well qualified the two were, I can’t imagine a papal conclave making a decision in the same way. This story makes hash of any pretense that the selection of popes, or even selecting just men as priests, has any Biblical basis.

    • Jared Clark

      The first example of Apostolic Succession doesn’t count because they used a method familiar to the Jews?

    • wlinden

      Umm, what are you saying? That it is a bad method AND TheVatican is somehow illegitimate for NOT using it?

      • captcrisis

        No, the Vatican method is much improved. In other words, the Vatican wisely disregards the example set by the Apostles — without noting the irony.

    • It’s a very offhand and careless way to pick between two people.

      Not if they’re both perfectly acceptable choices (which Luke makes clear they both were). Then it’s no more or less careless than any other “criterion”.

  • Rosemarie


    “Lots are cast into the lap, but they are disposed of by the Lord.” (Proverbs 16:33)

    This was sometimes done in Biblical times. The Urim and Thummim are mentioned above; see also 1 Samuel 14:41-42. The invoked God first so it wasn’t left up to pure chance.

    • sez

      Is there such a thing as “pure chance”? Isn’t God’s hand in it, regardless? Of course, by praying first, we are actively seeking His will.

      • Rosemarie


        True, I’m just responding to the idea that this is a “careless” way to seek God’s will. Our Lord can reveal His will through lots, it’s not merely random chance.

  • ImTim

    The Patriarch of Alexandria (Coptic Orthodox Church) is elected in the same way.

    After the field has been narrowed to three acceptable choices, and then a child draws lots to determine the patriarch.

    I think it is a beautiful tradition mixing human wisdom (the narrowing of the candidates) and trust in providence (the drawing by lots).

    Here’s a video: