Casting Lots

person about to catch four dices

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Reading the Word

Acts 1:12–26 (ESV)

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. 14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.

15 In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, 16 “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the Book of Psalms,

‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’;

and

‘Let another take his office.’

21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” 23 And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Before he ascended, Jesus told the disciples that he would soon send the Holy Spirit to them. Until then, they were to wait. So that is what the disciples did. They gathered together and devoted themselves to prayer.

During this time, they realized that they were short one disciple. Judas had abandoned the group and hung himself. They needed a replacement. There were two men that fit the requirements of having been with Jesus from his baptism until his ascension. The men were Justus and Matthias. In order to decide between the two, they cast lots. The decision was Matthias.

I have heard it mentioned a few times that casting lots is the way decisions should be made in the church today. It has been argued that elders and deacons could be chosen in this way to make sure God’s choice is followed. However, I think this is a mistake.

There is nowhere else in the New Testament where the casting of lots is used or encouraged. In fact, throughout the rest of the New Testament, we are instructed to make decisions by bringing the matter before the church. We are to use the collective wisdom and discernment of the body of Christ.

It is important to note that the casting of lots was used in the Old Testament to aid in large decisions. However, with the events of Acts 2, there was a major shift taking place in the way God was working in the world. The Holy Spirit would be poured out on every believer to equip them for the work of the ministry. This was not the case in the Old Testament (or in Acts 1). Believers today have the Spirit at work within to guide in wisdom and discernment. As the collected body of Christ comes together to make decisions, we do so with the Spirit at work in our midst to guide and direct us. We have been given a great gift and a better way to make decisions than casting lots.

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