On their journey back to Galilee, the Apostles began to dispute among themselves who was the greatest. In view of what follows, I do not believe their dispute was over which individual was the greatest. We need to keep in mind that one of the gifts of the Spirit is a diversity of administration or ministries (1Corinthians 12:5). One of the lessons Jesus had been teaching the Apostles concerned what life within the Body of Christ is like. There are four lists of the apostles recorded in the New Testament. It can be verified by comparing these lists that there are a few things that are always so. The lists are found in Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:13-15, and Acts 1:13.
Three names always occupy the same position within the lists. Peter’s name is always mentioned first. Philip’s name is always mentioned fifth and James, the son of Alphaeus, is always mentioned ninth. Thus the Twelve are divided in three groups of four, except for the list in Acts in which Judas Iscariot is missing, because he was dead and, therefore, not numbered in the 12th position. The other names may vary in their order in each of the four lists, but they never pass over into a different group. The word of God records our Lord having three groups of four Apostles each, who probably performed particular functions exclusive to that group, but their service ministered to the whole twelve member body.
Judas for example carried the bag (John 12:6). That is, he was the treasurer for the body, and his subgroup may have been particularly responsible for financial liabilities and for charitable contributions, and perhaps receiving donations (John 12:3-5) etc. James was the leader of this group judging from his position as the ninth man in all four accounts, but Judas was very outspoken and may have been jealous of James’ leadership (viz. it was Judas and not James who spoke out against what Mary had done for Jesus). Nevertheless, it was Judas who was chosen to carry the bag for the group.
Philip was the leader of the second group. In John 6:5-7 Jesus tested Philip concerning the feeding of the 5000. He asked Philip where they could get food for the multitude. Philip was concerned about the group’s ability to pay for the needed supplies to share with all the people. I suspect that Philip’s subgroup may have been responsible for how the group’s finances would be spent (cf. John 6:5-7), which may also have included benevolence toward those in financial need, although this was Judas’ concern in John 12:6. In other words, James’ group may have been responsible for collecting funds, but Philip’s group was responsible for spending or paying out the funds. Moreover, since Matthew was also a member of this subgroup, it may also have been responsible for record keeping, because Matthew was a tax-collector and had previously kept records.
Matthew may have kept a journal during the three and one half-year ministry of Christ, just as Luke did in his journeys with Paul. It does make sense that some kind of record was kept. Many people today keep prayer journals. I like keeping a record of my Bible studies. These men were often awed both with Jesus’ words and the things that he did. It doesn’t make sense that they would spend all that time with him and never write down a single word about what Jesus said or did. Matthew’s task in the world had been to keep records on everyone within his jurisdiction. Why would he suddenly stop keeping records of things that mattered to him? If this reckoning is reasonable, then all twelve of the disciples may have had input in Matthew’s Gospel. It bears his name, because he penned all of the words. The Gospel of Matthew was framed to disciple new converts, and probably was taken out of the journal that this apostle most likely kept during Jesus’ ministry. His Gospel narrative became the group’s teaching tool as more and more men and women of Judea left their old lives to embrace Jesus as their Messiah.
Finally, Peter, of course, is always mentioned first when any or all the Apostles are mentioned. Peter’s subgroup may have been responsible for organizational duties. This subgroup may have planned the groups trips, where they would stay etc. (cf. Luke 9:52, 54; 22:8) and may have had certain duties pertaining to making appointments for Jesus (cf. John 12:20-22).
Thus, the Lord seems to have been teaching his disciples the value of serving one another within the whole body—the Body of Christ. So, when the Apostles disputed among themselves which was the greatest, it had to do with which of the three groups was the most important. Don’t we often do likewise?