In Luke 5 we have the conversion of Levi. It appears that he became an apostle almost straight away. Is that what is happening here?

  • 3
    disciple (follower) yes, apostle (sent one) no. – bruised reed Jul 1 '15 at 1:12
  • Hi curiousdanii, I attempted a stab at one question, whether Levi became a disciple at once. A few minutes after my answer you appear to have altered the question, so of course my answer no longer fits the question because you have changed it. As I am a newbie and you are highly experienced I am sure you are right, but what should I do now, as I have an answer in my name that clearly is an answer to a different question i.e. no answer at all.. – davidlol Feb 8 '16 at 0:47
  • @davidlol All I did was change the title to be consistent with the body, to ask whether he became an apostle straight away. – curiousdannii Feb 8 '16 at 1:26

Yes. From that point on Levi became a disciple of Jesus.

Levi left everything and followed Jesus. The Greek for left everything, katalipon panta, means abandoned all, forsook or deserted. The word for followed is in the imperfect tense, not a one-off action but a continuing state.

He didn't knock off for the day, he quit his job. He didn't sneak off early, he abandoned his post. That evening there was a party at his home to which Jesus was, of course, invited. Many other tax collectors were present. It was in part a Leaving Do in which many of his former colleagues came to say goodbye. It was also a chance for them to meet Jesus, and to understand for themselves what had prompted his resignation, and the new life he had chosen.

It was not until some time later, perhaps a few weeks, that Jesus chose from amongst his many disciples Twelve in particular. So whether or not Levi became one of the Twelve it did not happen immediately. Long tradition says that Levi and Matthew were one and the same person. St Augustine of Hippo in his Harmony of the Gospels Book 2 Chapter 26 thought so. In Matthew, Mark and Luke the story of the calling of a tax collector immediately follows the healing of the paralytic, and all say the calling of the tax collector was followed by a meal at his home, which led to identical complaints from the pharisees. It is widely conjectured that this was one and the same incident.

Luke and Mark refer to the tax collector as Levi, and include the name Matthew amongst the Twelve. If he is one and the same they may be referring to "Levi" as the name he used then, rather as we might refer to an incident involving the Duchess of Cambridge before her marriage as happening to a Miss Middleton. They may also have wished to avoid embarrassing Matthew by mentioning his former profession. Matthew, in his own gospel, refers to the tax collector as Matthew, modestly having no wish to hide his shady past. Similarly, whereas Luke refers to a great banquet, Matthew plays down the occasion as a dinner.

Following the Resurrection Matthew became one of the Apostles, as did all the Twelve disciples apart from Judas. The difference between a disciple and an apostle is that a disciple learns and an apostle teaches. During Christ's earthly ministry they were disciples, afterwards apostles.

So yes, Levi became a disciple immediately. He probably, though some reasonably doubt it, became one of the Twelve Disciples when they were called, a few weeks later. If so, after the Resurrection he became an apostle.

  • One of the accounts of choosing the twelve says "whom he also named apostles" if I remember correctly. If that quote is accurate, Levi presumably became a disciple immediately, then an apostle (even though the full meaning of the term was not yet understood) a few weeks later. – disciple Mar 10 '16 at 16:47

All three Gospel accounts of Levi's conversion are consistent: they do not mention anything intervening between Jesus' telling him to follow and his rising and following Him:

Matthew 9:9 (RSV)

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

Mark 2:13–14 (RSV)

He went out again beside the sea; and all the crowd gathered about him, and he taught them. And as he passed on, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

Luke 5:27–28 (RSV)

After this he went out, and saw a tax collector, named Levi, sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he left everything, and rose and followed him.

@davidlol has explained why Matthew is called "Levi" in Mark's and Luke's account, but "Matthew" in his own.


Levi never becomes a disciple or apostle, unless we assume that he is also called Matthew, but Luke's Gospel never makes this assumption.

The passage in Luke 5:27 is known to have been sourced from Mark, which mentions both Levi and Matthew separately, referring to Levi, son of Alphaeus, as a tax collector whom Jesus called to follow him (Mark 2:14). As with Luke, Mark never again refers to Levi, who is not mentioned in the full list of the twelve disciples (verses 3:14-19), where Mark introduces other disciples including Matthew, Thaddaeus, and James, son of Alphaeus. In this list, we do have a son of Alphaeus, although this disciple's name is James, but we do not have a tax collector (publican). In this gospel, as in Luke's Gospel, there is no good reason to see Levi and Matthew as being the same person.

Levi arose and followed Jesus in Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:28, but is never again mentioned in either gospel, leaving open the possibility that he changed his mind. Disciples are not meant to change their minds when called by Jesus, but it is only Matthew that recognises this issue and creates a solution. Its anonymous author resolves Levi's unexplained absence among the disciples simply by not mentioning Levi at all, and by having Matthew as the disciple who was a tax collector, in the parallel account at Matthew 9:9, then including him as "Matthew the publican" in the list of disciples at Matthew 10:3. Almost two thousand years of tradition have followed Matthew in holding that Levi and Matthew must be the same person. But this happens only in Matthew's Gospel, not here in Luke.

  • It's not that the tradition is contradicted by the evidence, though, although it can be argued that Levi and Matthew are two different people. Many Jews had multiple names at that time (many still do, I believe), like Simon Peter, Saul Paul, and Joseph Caiaphas. If we couple this with the fact that Gospels were written with an oral context in which the reader would have understood a priori, it becomes reasonable to believe that most readers of the Gospels would be expected to understand that Matthew and Levi were two names for the same person, and this tradition just got passed on to today. – Lucretius Jul 1 '15 at 4:14
  • @Lucretius Thank you for your view on this. It is true that a person could have two names. But we can't solve every puzzle by giving a person two names without biblical evidence that he really did have two. In this case, the only reason to believe that Levi and Matthew are the same person is that they are both referred to as tax collectors, but not in the same gospel (Mark & Luke vs Matt.). Since Matthew is believed (like Luke) to be derivative, it would be surprising that its author knew this, several decades after the time of Jesus. – Dick Harfield Jul 1 '15 at 6:40
  • Hatfield: I guess my theory is more convincing when one leans more to the Augustinian solution to the Synoptic problem. I won't straight out saying that the two-source theory is wrong, but the premise that the sources can't be eyewitnesses is unfounded, I believe. Anyway, if you see Matthew as written first, as an eyewitness, than my theory sounds far more plausible. – Lucretius Jul 1 '15 at 15:05
  • @Lucretius When you have some more Reputation you will be able to discuss your ideas in chat. Meanwhile, it is enough to say that these comments are not intended to discuss the fact that you disagree with an answer. Anyway, Markan priority is an almost total consensus among scholars, so when you do get a chance to chat you will have a chance to pit your ideas against the most respected in the business. – Dick Harfield Jul 1 '15 at 21:47
  • According to the Church Fathers, Luke and Mark used Matthew's other name, Levi, out of deference to Matthew, who, as an Evangelist, used the name "Matthew". Matthew himself, however, did not have any reservation about calling attention to himself in his own Gospel account. – user22553 Jul 9 '16 at 14:29

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.