Acts 1:26

Thursday, 21 October 2021

And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles. Acts 1:26

Note: You can listen to today’s introduction courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen)

You can also read this commentary, with music, courtesy of our friends at “Discern the Bible” on YouTube. (Click Here to listen), or at Rumble (Click Here to listen).

With the proposal of either Joseph or Matthias to replace Judas, as Scripture called for, the account next says, “And they cast their lots.” Some take this as meaning a vote was made, but that is not how lots are conducted. Further, the wording of the next clause dismisses the idea of a vote having been made. Rather, lots were cast as is in accord with Scripture elsewhere.

Lots were cast on the Day of Atonement for the selection of the goat for the Lord and for the scapegoat. Land was called to be divided by lot in the book of Numbers, and that division was conducted in Joshua. Saul is recorded as having used lots. The division of the priests in 1 Chronicles 24 occurred by lot. Other lots are recorded in 1 Chronicles also. Nehemiah cast lots among the priests after the exile. David prophesied of lots being cast for the clothing of the Messiah in Psalm 22. And Solomon, in the Proverbs, takes it as an axiom that lots had value –

“The lot is cast into the lap,
But its every decision is from the Lord.” Proverbs 16:33

“Casting lots causes contentions to cease,
And keeps the mighty apart.” Proverbs 18:18

These and other references concerning the use of lots demonstrate that it was a common practice in the decision-making process in Israel. In particular, Scripture itself condones the practice and acknowledges that when the lot was employed, its decision was from the Lord. As such, this practice, meaning casting lots, was employed by the apostles, “and the lot fell on Matthias.”

The wording here demonstrates that this was a casting of the lot and not a vote. For the lot to “fall” on Matthias indicates that it was the decision of the Lord through the lot, rather than a selection by the others.

Nothing about this process has been out of the will of the Lord, nor is it to be considered unsanctioned by the Lord. If this were the case, an explicit note of the inappropriate nature of the process would have been noted. Scripture called for a replacement, the office was to be filled by another who was qualified, prayer was made calling for the Lord’s hand upon the process, and then the lot – which is explicitly stated in Scripture to be used to remove contentions and seek the decision of the Lord – was cast.

In addition to this, the pattern of the twelve tribes equaling fourteen named people is remarkably repeated in the twelve apostles equaling fourteen named people. Matthias was selected in accord with Scripture, “And he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” Here, the word translated as “he was numbered” is sugkatapséphizomai. It is a compound word found only here in the Bible, coming from three other words indicating “with,” “among,” and “to calculate.” It is a different word than that used in verse 1:17, which was katarithmeó.

The idea here is that Matthias was fully accepted among the others and was recognized as an apostle, having been chosen by the Lord (see Proverbs 16:33 above) and received among them accordingly.

Life application: Reading the account here, and elsewhere in Scripture, often leads to the obvious question among believers today, “Is it acceptable to cast lots now?” The question is valid and there is no explicit answer. However, there is an inference that can be made. After this account in Acts 1, no mention of the lot is ever again made in Scripture.

The noun kléros, or lot, is used again, but not in the sense of a lot having been cast. Rather, it will refer to an inheritance or portion. It is of note that in the next chapter of Acts, the account immediately goes to the giving of the Holy Spirit. It may be that this is placed directly after the account of casting lots in order to show that a new way of determining matters has arisen.

In other words, with the coming of the Spirit, dependence on His guidance – rather than the casting of lots – is the expectation. That the casting of the lots is never referred to again – and thus is not an acceptable means of decision making – is an argument from silence, but it is one supported by the immediate noting of the coming of the Spirit.

With the coming of the Spirit, a new dynamic is introduced, because the Spirit not only directs the lives and decisions of those who wrote out the New Testament, but the Spirit also directed exactly that – the writing out of the New Testament. As such, we have everything that is needed for right conduct and doctrine.

The requirements for the selection of elders and deacons, for example, are laid out in the pastoral epistles. There is no need to cast lots for such a decision. In consideration of this, at least for church decisions, the lot is implicitly no longer necessary. As the proverbs are wisdom literature that can be applied to life at any time in redemptive history, a person could argue, “The proverbs say that ‘because every decision of the lot is from the Lord,’ it must be ok for me to cast lots.”

This was the attitude of John Wesley who famously cast lots, including for the purpose of deciding matters of marriage and even church doctrine. One could argue that the marriage part was ok, but one cannot argue that casting lots to determine doctrine could ever be acceptable. That is what the Bible is for. Why anyone would attempt to set doctrine by lot, when the Holy Spirit has already given us the word, is beyond comprehension. It is an inexcusable option to use.

As far as for marriage, finances, job decisions, and the like, if someone were to accept the premise of Proverbs and cast the lot, that person would – by default – have to accept the decision was from the Lord. As such, there should be NO COMPLAINTS from that person as to how his life turned out.

If he wound up with a nagging wife, poverty, a horrifying job that won’t pay the bills and where the boss is worse than Ebenezer Scrooge before his change of heart, he would have to acknowledge, “This must be the will of the Lord for my life.” In other words, stick to Scripture, apply its precepts to your life, pray for guidance, and live your life to the glory of God. And do so without testing Him to see what He “really” wants for your life by casting lots.

Lord God, we don’t have any way of looking into the future and seeing how we should make our life decisions. But You have given us Your word to apply to our lives, our conduct, and our doctrine. You have also given us the right to come to the throne of grace through prayer and ask for Your will to be done in our lives. May we pursue these avenues, and may we glorify You in each decision we make. Amen.