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Why was Levi’s Name not in the List of the Twelve Apostles?

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There are similarities between Jesus’s call of two sets of brothers, Simon and Andrew and James and John, and Levi the son of Alphaeus in Mark 1:16-20 and 2:14. In both cases, Jesus saw the individuals in question and issued the call to become his followers and there was an immediate positive response. Nevertheless, while the first four individuals are listed among the Twelve, the name “Levi” was strikingly absent from the list while James the son of Alphaeus was included on it (cf. Mark 3:18). The difficulty was perceived by some later scribes in the western readings that either replace the name “Levi” with “James” in Mark 2:14 or replace “Thaddaeus” with “Lebbaeus” in Mark 3:18. See Wieland Willker’s A Textual Commentary on the Greek Gospels: Vol 2, Mark for the textual apparatus. According to Barnabas Lindars (“Matthew, Levi, Lebbaeus and the Value of the Western Text” NTS 4 [1957-58]: 220-22), the textual change at Mark 2:14 was guided by the “scribe’s desire for uniformity” to have only one son of Alphaeus (i.e. James “the Less”) and the textual change at Mark 3:18 was intended to put Lebbaeus (the Latinized name for Levi) in the list of the Twelve.

The evangelist who wrote Matthew’s Gospel may have had another solution to the problem of why Levi was not included in the Twelve. One theory is put forward in Rudolf Pesch’s article “”Levi—Matthäus (Me 2.14/Mt 9.9; 10.3). Ein Beitrag zur Lösung eines alten Problems [Levi-Matthew (Mark 2:14/Matthew 9:9; 10:3). A Contribution to the Solution of an Old Problem]” ZNW 59 (1968): 40-56. On pages 50-53, Pesch argues that Matthew equates Jesus’s “disciples” with the group of the “Twelve.” Hence, the writer of Matthew’s Gospel could not have Levi as a disciple of Jesus who was not among the “twelve disciples” (cf. 10:1; 11:1; 20:17), so Levi’s name was changed to Matthew at 9:9 and “the tax collector” was appended to Matthew’s name at 10:3. Pesch parallels this with how Matthew 27:56 replaced Salome in Mark 16:1 with the mother of Zebedee’s sons, since Salome was unknown to Matthew and Mathew 20:21 already inserted the mother of James and John into an earlier Markan episode (pp. 54-55). As for why the Apostle Matthew was chosen, Pesch guesses that he was venerated by the evangelist’s community, perhaps as the source of their tradition, and, as Matthew’s name means “gift of Yahweh”, he could be treated as representative of sinners who receive the gift of grace (p. 56). Pesch’s solution has been mostly supported by John P. Meier, The Vision of Matthew: Christ, Church, and Morality in the First Gospel (New York: Paulist, 1978), 24-25 and Francis Wright Beare, The Gospel According to Matthew (Cambridge: Harper & Row, 1981), 225, though both think that the choice of Matthew rather than another one of the Twelve to replace Levi is arbitrary. Other scholars have critiqued Pesch’s main argument that the “disciples” of Jesus are restricted to the Twelve in Matthew’s Gospel.

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