Jesus and the Twelve -- By: Scot McKnight

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 11:2 (NA 2001)
Article: Jesus and the Twelve
Author: Scot McKnight

Jesus and the Twelve

Scot McKnight

North Park University

IBR Jesus Project Paper 2. That Jesus associated himself especially with twelve of his followers is a datum firmly established by good arguments across a broad spectrum of modern Jesus studies. But why Jesus chose the Twelve is in need of serious reconsideration because the standard, eschatological explanation has rarely been examined. A careful examination of the evidence pertaining to the number “twelve” in the Hebrew Bible and in ancient Jewish sources suggests that Jesus chose the Twelve to evoke the twin themes of covenant renewal (a Joshua theme) and eschatological restoration (with the reunification of the twelve tribes implied).

Key Words: Twelve, Historical Jesus, covenant, twelve tribes, eschatology, Qumran

Without overstating the case, we can affirm today that Jesus scholarship has come to this confident conclusion (among others): the number “twelve” signifies a category already in existence during the life of Jesus, and most scholars think that Jesus chose the number “twelve” with fundamental intention. Which intention, or which set of factors shaped this intention, however, has not yet been confidently concluded. It is the purpose of this paper to assess once again the arguments for the historicity of the Twelve and then to suggest why it was that Jesus selected twelve.

The list of the twelve names appears in Mark 3:16-19; Matt 10:2-4; Luke 6:14-16; and Acts 1:13; such a listing of a famous teacher’s pupils is known also in rabbinic Judaism (m. ʾAbut 2:8-14; compare the list of Jesus’ supposed disciples in b. Sanh. 43a).1 Apart

from one irregularity2 and some minor differences in order, which I shall not explore here, the names are solidly consistent and grouped in fours:





Simon Peter

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