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Matthias, Apostle, St.


The name Μαθθίας is an abbreviation of the Hebrew name for "gift of YHWH." The only mention of Matthias in the New Testament occurs in Acts 1:2326 where he and Barsabbas are selected as candidates for replacing Judas Iscariot among the Twelve. Later traditions about him, including the idea that he was among the group of 70 disciples sent out by Jesus in Lk 10:1, are all legendary.

Modern commentators on Acts have debated the significance of Acts 1:2326 and whether or not the passage outlines what Luke considers the basic requirements of the apostolic office (i.e., someone who had been part of the group who followed Jesus from the time of his baptism to his Ascension). This opinion, however, fails to account for the fact that Luke, while largely restricting his use of the term "apostle" to the Twelve, does call Paul an apostle even though he scarcely fits the "criteria" outlined here (Lk 14:4, 14). Luke is attempting to demonstrate that the church carries on Jesus' mission to the people of Israel, symbolically represented by the number Twelve, as well as the mission to witness to his life, death, and resurrection "to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8; cf. 1:22). Acts 1:26 states that the Eleven "gave lots" (δωκαν κλ ήρους) to the candidates, and "the lot fell on Matthias"' (έπɛσɛν ό κλήος έπί Μαθθίαν). The manner in which the successor to Judas is selected in Acts 1:26 seems odd at first glance, but the use of lots to ascertain the divine will is common in the Old Testament (e.g., Lev 16:710, Josh 18:6, Prv 16:33). Some commentators are of the opinion that the Greek text of Acts 1:26 implies

that the Eleven voted on the two candidates. This opinion has been rightly challenged by those who claim that the phrase "they gave lots" is a Semitic idiom, and does not convey the idea that the Eleven assigned a "lot" to Matthias. Moreover, the Old Testament use of lots seems to fit in well with this passage, especially in light of the plea for divine guidance in 1:2425. In the end it is plain that Luke is emphasizing the divine origin of Matthias's selection.

Legends about Matthias's missionary career emerged in latter centuries through the influence of The Traditions of Matthias and The Acts of Andrew and Matthias. No copy of the former work exists, though we have descriptions of the work and some fragments from the early Christian writers. Clement of Alexandria states that the Gnostics were fond of this work (Strom. 7, 13, 82; 7, 17, 108), and the Decretum Gelasianum lists it as a heretical work. The Acts of Andrew and Matthias is preserved in several manuscripts, and tells the story of the adventures of Matthias among "the cannibals."

In iconography Matthias is portrayed either with a halberd or an ax, the instrument of his martyrdom.

Feast: Feb. 24.

Bibliography: w. a. beardslee, "The Casting of Lots at Qumran and in the Book of Acts," Novum Testamentum, 4 (1960)

245252. j. a. fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles, in Anchor Bible, v. 31 (New York 1998). t. martin, "Matthias," Allgemeine deutsche Biographie (Leipzig 18751910) IV, 644).

[c. mcmahon]

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