Twelve Tribes, Twelve Apostles? [Akin]

A reader writes:

Does the Church teach of any parallel between the 12 Apostles and the 12 tribes of Israel?

I don’t know of a Church document that stresses this connection off the top of my head, though there probably are some that do. It is generally acknowledged among Bible scholars that the New Testament draws clear parallels between the twelve apostles and the twelve tribes–and, more specifically, with the twelve patriarchs (sons of Jacob/Israel) who were the progenitors of the twelve tribes.

By appointing twelve apostles, Jesus clearly indicated his intention to establish the Christian community as a New Israel, without depriving the original Israel of its place in God’s plan.

Does each*Apostle represent a separate tribe or a characteristic associated with the tribe?

So far as we know, the twelve apostles correspond to the twelve patriarchs/tribes only in a generic manner. We can’t match each of them up one-to-one.

Also, are the Apostles the inhabitants of the twelve thrones of judgement for the tribes?

Without excluding the idea that there will be other thrones of judgment, Jesus does say that the apostles will sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28, Luke 22:29-30).

Lastly, do many faithful Jewish people still know their tribe ancestry or is that knowledge long gone?

At this point, no. Most Jewish people do not know their specific tribal ancestry, though most would be descended from Judah, Benjamin, or Simeon (the southern tribes).

An exception is the tribe of Levi. Jewish people with names like Cohen (“priest”), Levi (“Levite”), etc., are generally thought to derive from the tribe of Levi and–in the case of Cohens–to be descendants of the priestly line of that tribe. They thus can have special roles in the synagogue liturgy.


I’ve wondered the same thing and you yourself gave many insights that I hadn’t thought of… hope someone with knowledge of the subject replies to your questions so I can learn…

There is a nice symmetry here. But one of the Twelve Apostles was a traitor. Of course, the Tribe of Benjamin was nearly exterminated because of their bad behavior.

Just in case someone was looking for one:

[quote=Pope Benedict XVI]The number 12, which evidently refers to the 12 tribes of Israel, already reveals the meaning of the prophetic-symbolic action implicit in the new initiative to re-establish the holy people. As the system of the 12 tribes had long since faded out, the hope of Israel awaited their restoration as a sign of the eschatological time (as referred to at the end of the Book of Ezekiel: 37: 15-19; 39: 23-29; 40-48).

In choosing the Twelve, introducing them into a communion of life with himself and involving them in his mission of proclaiming the Kingdom in words and works (cf. Mk 6: 7-13; Mt 10: 5-8; Lk 9: 1-6; 6: 13), Jesus wants to say that the definitive time has arrived in which to constitute the new People of God, the people of the 12 tribes, which now becomes a universal people, his Church.

Appeal for Israel

With their very own existence, the Twelve - called from different backgrounds - become an appeal for all of Israel to convert and allow herself to be gathered into the new covenant, complete and perfect fulfilment of the ancient one. The fact that he entrusted to his Apostles, during the Last Supper and before his Passion, the duty to celebrate his Pasch, demonstrates how Jesus wished to transfer to the entire community, in the person of its heads, the mandate to be a sign and instrument in history of the eschatological gathering begun by him. In a certain sense we can say that the Last Supper itself is the act of foundation of the Church, because he gives himself and thus creates a new community, a community united in communion with himself.

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