Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Why Twelve Disciples?

The Calling of the Apostles Peter and Andrew, ca. 1308-11 by Duccio

The Bible clearly states that there were many more disciples than 12. Luke gives one example of this.
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. Luke 10:1
In the Bible we find two different words to describe these close companions of Christ Jesus; disciple and apostle. In Luke 10, the word ‘sent’ is apostello or apostle. Is there a difference between a disciple and an apostle? If we look at the ancient meaning of these two words, we see that they are two different aspects of the same person.

The Greek word apostello comes from apo which means ‘of separation’; and stello, meaning to set in order or arrange. It speaks of getting ready for something new, preparing for something separate from the way it used to be. In addition, the word stello comes from histemi which means to cause or make to stand. The thing that causes every human being to stand on two feet is the I Am, setting us apart from animals. This could mean that the apostle is the one who now stands on his/her own two feet.

Disciple in Greek is mathetes, which means more than the basic interpretation of ‘thoughtful learner’; it means the learner who uses the principles of mathematics to understand the truth. This may sound weird but if we think about it, it makes sense. It is referring to using the principles of mathematics to test the truth, to ensure things always add up. There is a special word for this which has been used in secret societies down the ages which is mathesis - and we can see the word ‘maths’ in these two words. Therefore, we can say the mathetes mathesis - disciples understanding truth. This, of course, is a continual process of testing and re-testing as we do in mathematics to ensure things always add up.

This brings us to the question: why does the Bible focus on 12 disciples, and why does it mention that there were more than 12?

I would like to suggest that the disciples represent certain human characteristics, I have written about this previously in my book The Twelve Disciples in the Gospel of St John [link]. The meaning of their names explains their nature and in this way shows us different aspects of our own character which we need to develop. The disciple in us, mathetes, is the one who learns and the way we learn is through thinking accompanied by endeavour. Most thinking today is not accompanied by endeavour. In fact, many people are very lazy with their thinking, which is why they never fully understand this world – or themselves.

Not only do the 12 disciples represent 12 different characteristics they also represent 12 ways to understand or approach spiritual truth. This could mean that one person approaches spiritual truth in the Andrew way, while another approaches it in the Phillip way. It is said that there are 12 paths up the mountain.
Now we will look at the nature of the 12 disciples who followed Jesus. We can observe these qualities in ourselves throughout the day to see how they work in our consciousness. We can also identify our own approach to truth.

Disciples Andrew, Simon Peter and Phillip

Andrew: In the Gospel of St John references to Andrew reveal that he works away in the background; he is a companion. Andrew represents strength of mind and humility; therefore, these two faculties must always be our companions working away in the background. Andrew is from Bethsaida, a fishing town. Fish represent our thoughts, our ideas, our concepts, and so Andrew comes from a place where ideas and concepts are caught.
Simon Peter: Simon means hearing and Peter means faith. He captures the essence of our ability to hear and see beyond the physical sounds and images that meet our senses. The Simon nature becomes active when we deeply contemplate something and a new understanding seems to speak from within us like an inner voice. This is the true nature of inspiration; we hear the new idea. The Peter nature means that our faith becomes knowing, rather than blind faith. We are able to confirm our inspirations again and again in our contemplations. Here we can see mathesis at work.
Phillip: The name Philip means lover of horses just as the word philosopher means lover of wisdom. Philip speaks to us about inner power, courage, and an ability to weigh things up. Philip is the challenge within us to use our mind purely intellectually or to allow in a spiritual element that doesn’t rely so much on physical proof but can certainly be tested over and over again in our thinking.
The use of the term spiritual does not mean something airy-fairy. By spiritual is meant something that can’t be physically touched, for example, love is spiritual, a hug or kiss is physical. This points to a notion that behind everything physically present in this world is something spiritual just as love sits behind a hug or a kiss. If we look for the spiritual component behind all that is physical in our lives a whole new world opens up to us.

The disciple in us develops in an intimate way before it expresses itself in the world as the apostle - the one sent. This is not evangelical, converting others. Why do some people focus on converting others when the whole idea is to focus on converting ourselves? When we do this with success others witness what we have done as an example of what they can do.

By working out the unique ways in which we tread our own path, we can be more accepting of the ways in which others tread theirs.

First published in Huffington Post