1Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. 13 And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles: 14 Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, and James, and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, 15 and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Simon, who was called the Zealot, 16 and Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

What to do with this educator’s commentary

This commentary invites you as a teacher to engage with and interpret the passage. Allow the text to speak first. The commentary suggests that you ask yourself various questions that will aid your interpretation. They will help you answer for yourself the question in the last words of the text: ‘what does this mean?’

This educator’s commentary is not a ‘finished package’. It is for your engagement with the text. You then go on to plan how you enable your students to work with the text.

Both you and your students are the agents of interpretation. The ‘Worlds of the Text’ offer a structure, a conversation between the worlds of the author and the setting of the text; the world of the text; and the world of reader. In your personal reflection and in your teaching all three worlds should be integrated as they rely on each other.

In your teaching you are encouraged to ask your students to engage with the text in a dialogical way, to explore and interpret it, to share their own interpretation and to listen to that of others before they engage with the way the text might relate to a topic or unit of work being studied.

Structure of the commentary:

The world behind the text

The world of the author’s community

Questions for the teacher

The world of the text

Text & textual features

Characters & setting

Ideas / phrases / concepts

Questions for the teacher

The world in front of the text

Questions for the teacher

Meaning for today / challenges

Church interpretations & usage

The World Behind the Text

See general introduction to Luke.

The world of the text

Text & textual features

Jesus Chooses the Twelve (Luke 6: 12-16) is the third episode in Luke 6, the first two being controversies with the Pharisees. Luke tells of Jesus going up a mountain, recalling the traditional place of communion with God modelled in the giving of the Commandments to Moses. The passage takes up a common theme of Luke: Jesus’ prayer life, evidenced throughout Luke’s gospel, particularly before major events.  Up to this point of the gospel Luke has spoken of the disciples (see below) but now Jesus chooses 12 of them (see below). 

Characters & setting

The narrative in which Jesus chooses the 12 occurs in Chapter 6 immediately after Jesus has had two encounters with the Pharisees. 

In the first encounter (Luke 6: 1- 5), the Pharisees question Jesus as to why his disciples are plucking grain and eating it on the Sabbath, as this is regarded as work which is unlawful on the Sabbath. Jesus explains that the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.  

The second incident (Luke 6: 6-11) happens on another Sabbath when Jesus heals a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees are looking to make an accusation against Jesus, but he challenges them first with whether it is important to do good and restore life on the Sabbath rather than slavishly adhere to the letter of the law. The Pharisees are furious with Jesus for his interpretation of the law and for suggesting that the main purpose of the Sabbath is the restoration of life achieved in spending time with God and so begin discussing what they might do to Jesus. In both incidents there is a focus on trusting in God’s goodness rather than on a legal sense of right.

The writer of Luke then shows Jesus practicing what he preached – retreating from these controversies to go out to a mountain to pray to God.  When the morning comes Jesus calls the whole group of disciples and chooses twelve of them ‘whom he also named apostles’. 

Luke use of the two terms – disciple and apostle – need clarification. Jesus had many disciples, men and women, gentile and Jew. From among this larger group he chose 12 as an inner circle. In Luke’s account he calls them apostles, a military title which means ‘one sent out on a mission’. The title therefore has an association with a job, a role, a function. 

Although the naming of them as apostles is contested, the list of the group Mark calls “The 12” in the gospel of Luke is largely consistent with the lists given in Matthew (10: 2-4) and Mark (3: 13-19). The three synoptic gospels and the Book of Acts agree on nine of the names – Simon (Peter); James; John; Andrew; Philip; Bartholomew; Matthew; Thomas, James, son of Alphaeus and Judas Iscariot. Only Luke has the other Simon as ‘the Zealot’ where the writers of Matthew and Mark name him as Simon the Cananaean. Luke also has a second Judas (son of James) although Matthew and Mark name him Thaddeus with the theory that he may have preferred this name after Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus. In Acts, the writer of Luke’s gospel replaces Judas Iscariot with Matthias. 

The Vatican list of the inner circle of 12 names is:  Simon; James (the Greater); John; Andrew; Philip; Bartholomew; Matthew; Thomas; James (the Lesser); Simon; Matthias and names Judas, son of James (Thaddeus) as Jude. 

To add confusion to the use of the terms disciple and apostle, Paul will use the term apostle for anyone in the early Church, including many of the women who lead communities, and the Church will call Mary Magdalene the Apostle to the Apostles. 

The action in this text takes place around Galilee. After Jesus chooses the apostles from the disciples, they go down to a level place [plain] (Luke 6: 17) and Luke’s offers his version of the Beatitudes (Luke 6: 20-26).  

Statues of some of the apostles and others saints above St Peter's Basilica, Rome.



In the Bible, mountains are a traditional place of encounter with God, Moses on Mt Sinai, Elijah on Mt Horeb [Sinai] (1 Kings 19), the mountain of the Transfiguration, the Sermon on the Mount. Luke does not name a specific mountain but the use implies a place of silence, solitude and nearness to God. 


Jesus prays more in Luke’s gospel than in the other three combined. It is significant that the writer of Luke has Jesus taking time away to pray before major events in the gospel.

‘…and when day came’

The morning is the time of new beginnings. The first witnessing to the Resurrection also occurs in the morning. Neither Matthew nor Mark mention that Jesus prays all night before choosing the apostles. The word used in Greek implies a night of work. 


A disciple is one who follows their rabbi (teacher) learning from them. They are a student. This text would indicate that despite Jesus’ rejection by the Pharisees, he has many disciples. 


The gospel of Luke is the only one where the apostles are chosen. There is a sense that they reflect the will of God discerned by Jesus through prayer.


The choosing of 12 reflects the time in the Old Testament of the 12 tribes of the covenant community of Israel. Jesus is seeking to renew the relationship between God and people. The number 12 originates from the 12 Tribes of Israel: the entire Israelite nation. The heavens were known to be the realm of God and reflect a sense of universality.


The term apostle refers to one who is sent with a message from their superior. The word comes from the Greek for ‘sent forth’. An apostle differs from a disciple in that a disciple is one who is following and learning, where an apostle has been commissioned to lead others. 

Questions for the teacher:

What is the text saying? What am I wondering about the text?
How can you enable your students to engage with the actual text? What might they wonder about?
What of this information is important to share with the students?

The world in front of the text

Questions for the teacher:

Please reflect on these questions before reading this section and then use the material below to enrich your responsiveness to the text.

How do you respond to the text?
What does the text tell us about the world that God desires? What might the Holy Spirit be asking you and asking us to do?
In what ways do you hope your students will respond to the text? What do you want them to know, believe and do?

Meaning for today / challenges

Jesus chose the apostles presumably for their potential for the role they would ultimately fulfil. This gospel is sometimes used in situations where people are commissioned for roles in the Church. For students, this text might be used to consider their own discipleship and whether there is something that they have the potential to do for God discerning their own gifts and talents.

A challenge with this text is that it is sometimes used to validate why the priesthood and diaconate in the Catholic Church are for males only. The argument being that since Jesus was a man and the apostles were all men that the priesthood is the reserve of men to represent Jesus.  

Church interpretation & usage

See above and below.

The apostles are revered in the Church for their roles in spreading the gospel. They are memoralised with various feasts throughout the liturgical year.  Saint Paul is also regarded as an apostle, referring to himself as this in various epistles.  Mary of Magdala is traditionally referred to as ‘Apostle to the Apostles’ being the first witness to the resurrection and the first to share the news with the apostles whose names are recorded scripturally.  

Liturgical Usage

This Gospel is used for the Feast of Saints Simon and Jude (Judas, son of James) on October 28. Saint Jude (Thaddeus) is the patron saint of impossible or hopeless causes.

It is also sometimes chosen for prayer or Liturgy of the Word for commissioning ceremonies with the sense that everyone is chosen or called by God to specific tasks.