Several of the disciples are pretty obscure. But Matthias takes the cake: he’s only mentioned two times in the entire Bible (Acts 1:23 and Acts 1:26). All we really know about Matthias from Scripture is that he met Peter’s requirements for selecting a new member of the Twelve (Acts 1:21–22):
- He’d followed Jesus since his baptism by John the Baptist.
- He witnessed Jesus’ ascension to heaven.
While the Bible doesn’t explicitly say this, the fact that Matthias was clearly following Jesus early on and he was significant enough to be selected makes it possible that he was among the Seventy” (or “Seventy-Two,” depending on the translation) who Jesus sent out ahead of him in Luke 10:1–24.
Jesus gave these disciples the power to heal and drive out demons, and he sent them in pairs to test the hospitality of the places he was going and to spread the gospel.
There are numerous lists of the Seventy, but they emerged so late it’s hard to say if any can be trusted. Some include Matthias, and some don’t. Almost all of the believers on these lists became bishops.
Eusebius of Caesarea (the father of church history) wrote in the fourth century that there was no official list of the Seventy, but that many believed Matthias was among them.
Since Matthias was such an obscure biblical figure who took on a prominent role in the church, some traditions claimed he must have been someone we encountered in other narratives: such as Nathanael, or even Zaccheus. It was pretty common for people to be known by multiple names (like Peter, Matthew, and Jude), but there isn’t enough evidence to support assumptions about Matthias’ identity.
Was he supposed to be one of the Twelve?
One of the biggest questions surrounding Matthias is whether or not God intended for him to replace Judas Iscariot. Some argue that his appointment was more the result of Peter’s restlessness than God’s plan—especially since Paul was personally called by Jesus to be an apostle later.
To choose someone to replace Judas, about 120 believers nominated two people (Matthias and Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus), and then they cast lots. Scholars can’t say for sure what was meant by “casting lots” here—it could’ve just meant voting, drawing a name from a jar, or something else—but the principle of casting lots goes back to the Old Testament. It was a process the Israelites used to discern God’s will, seek his wisdom, or learn the truth.
Before they cast lots in Acts 1, the disciples pray: “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs” (Acts 1:24–25).
Their intent was clearly to learn God’s will. But the problem here is that everything leading up to that moment appears to have been Peter’s will.
Peter assumed it was their duty to select someone to replace Judas, but that doesn’t mean it was, and the fact that God chose Matthias when given the choice between Matthias and Joseph doesn’t mean that the entire process was God’s will. He would’ve had to do something pretty dramatic to prevent a selection or communicate that he had other intentions.
So was Matthias supposed to be one of the Twelve? Maybe. But regardless, he was one, and God used him. As one of the Twelve, Matthias played a key role in helping spread the gospel and lead the church when it was most fragile.