HOW CAN THERE BE “ELEVEN” APOSTLES IF BOTH JUDAS ISCARIOT AND THOMAS ARE ABSENT?
by Shawn Brasseaux
We begin with Luke 24:33: “And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them,….” Cleopas and his traveling companion leave Emmaus and arrive in Jerusalem, approximately seven miles (11 kilometers) away, relaying news to the “eleven” about how they had just seen and talked with the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ (see verses 13-32; cf. Mark. 16:12-13). Of course, it is common knowledge the Lord had 12 Apostles (Matthew 10:1-4; Mark. 3:14-19; Luke 6:13-16), so where is this twelfth man in Luke 24:33?
All we have to do is let the Holy Spirit teach us concerning this unexpected numbering. We simply study and compare verses. Firstly, we must bear in mind the fact Judas Iscariot committed suicide roughly halfway through Jesus’ trials, hours before the crucifixion (see Matthew 27:1-10; cf. Acts 1:15-20). Therefore, as common sense dictates, only 11 Apostles would remain after Calvary. However, when we compare Luke 24:33 with John 20:24, a complication arises.
Let us look at John chapter 20: “ Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you….  But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.” John 20:19-25 is the parallel passage of Luke 24:33-43. After His resurrection, Christ appeared in a physical body to His 11 Apostles. Yet, Thomas was not among them (Scripture does not provide the nature of his absence).
Consequently, we are left with the following dilemma. Both Thomas and Judas Iscariot are not present, leaving just 10 Apostles. However, remember, Luke 24:33 states there are 11. Furthermore, we have the companion verse of Mark 16:14 to corroborate Luke’s account of “eleven” instead of “ten:” “Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.” How do we reconcile this idea of two out of 12 Apostles missing yet still totaling 11 Apostles? How can there not be just 10 remaining? As always, we should handle this difficulty as mature saints.
Appealing to Acts 1:15-26, we know Matthias was subsequently chosen as Judas Iscariot’s successor, resulting in 12 Apostles once again. Although not formally selected until Acts, Matthias was present with the rest of Jesus’ Apostles throughout His earthly ministry, from John’s water baptism all the way to Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven (see Acts 1:21-23). Therefore, even though Thomas is absent from Luke 24:33 and John 20:19-25, and even though Judas Iscariot is deceased, Matthias is definitely with the other Apostles to witness the resurrected Jesus Christ during these 40 days leading up to His Ascension (Acts 1:1-3). In God’s foreknowledge of what would happen in Acts chapter 1, the Holy Spirit leading Mark and Luke to write their respective Gospel Records, Matthias would replace Judas Iscariot in the reckoning. They would still end up being 11 Apostles (Thomas absent) to see the resurrected Lord Jesus.
WHAT ABOUT LUKE 24:9? MATTHEW 28:16?
“And [the women] returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest” (Luke 24:9). “Then the eleven disciples went away in to Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them” (Matthew 28:16). The “eleven” here probably alludes to the absence of deceased Judas Iscariot. Apparently, Matthias, for whatever reason, is not in this tallying. Unlike the aforementioned reference in Luke 24:33 (cf. Mark 16:14; John 20:24), however, we have no cross-reference with a name to explicitly exclude or include anyone. The easiest solution is just to make Judas Iscariot the missing man in Luke 24:9 and Matthew 28:16, for we know with certainty he would not be present. It is possible Thomas may be the missing person in Luke 24:9 (just like in Luke 24:33), but this would be speculation on our part—and we would do well not to travel this route. The more perfect Bible study is to go by what we do read in verses and not by what we do not read.
SUPPLEMENTAL: MARK 16 AND THE TEXTUAL CRITICS
As for the so-called “miscalculation” in Mark 16:14, this is one line of evidence “scholarly-minded” people use to argue the last 12 verses of Mark are not inspired of God but were added long after Mark closed his Gospel Record. (See our eye-opening Mark 16:9-20 study linked at the end of this article.) If the term “eleven” in Mark 16:14 makes the verse subject to question, we must also therefore look at Luke 24:9 and Matthew 28:16 with suspicion. The “scholars” never do this though, for the contention surrounding Luke 24:9 and Matthew 28:16 does not exalt their Critical Text, their corrupt New Testament founded on Roman Catholic manuscripts, Codices Vaticanus (B) and Sinaiticus (Aleph). B and Aleph, often mislabeled as “the two oldest and best [most reliable] witnesses,” contain Matthew 28:16 and Luke 24:9 but lack Mark 16:14 (yea, omit all of Mark 16:9-20!). Such “scholars” doggedly cling to the Critical Text, and they bolster their position by targeting Mark 16:9-20 (the 12 verses found in the King James text and its underlying manuscripts, the Textus Receptus, God’s preserved Word).
If we wish to take the “scholarly” approach, we will wind up in more and more unbelief, ultimately doubting all verses in the process. “This word cannot be trusted. That verse does not belong. This whole Book is riddled with errors!” Here is exactly where natural-man thinking takes us—where it has taken billions of church leaders and church members through the centuries already. It is this warped mentality that led to the translation, revision, and publication of over 100 (!) modern English versions of the Bible; of course, despite their copyrights to suggest they all legally must change or delete words to be considered different works, many “scholars” (trained to think as such) tell us they all “say the same thing.” This is utter foolishness, and only a gullible “Christian” public would believe it. Be advised: we deserve whatever darkness and ignorance we experience if they are our preference. Be careful, friend, be ever so cautious here! It is far better to give the King James Bible the benefit of the doubt than to give the scholar the benefit of the doubt. Instead, we have been brainwashed to believe “educated” people when they claim the Bible has mistakes. If we adopt their natural-man thinking, we have abandoned the teaching ministry of God the Holy Spirit, and we are building our Christian lives on a foundation of shifting sands. It is a sad commentary that, through the centuries, “Christian” “scholarship” has advocated both for and against Bible passages, in perfect accordance with the pagan philosophical concept of “nothing can be known for certain.”
Let us take the position of faith, not doubt. May we not change the King James Bible; may we believe it. As a dear brother in Christ said long ago, “The Bible does not need to be re-written; it needs to be re-read!”
» Does Mark 16:9-20 belong in the Bible?
» Who was Judas’ replacement—Matthias or Paul?
» Where did Matthias go after replacing Judas Iscariot?
» Were the 11 Apostles wrong in choosing Matthias instead of Paul?
» Why are there 12 Apostles?