Friday, January 08, 2016

Older Short Book Reviews on David Hill and Francis A. Sullivan--Biblical Semantics and Ecclesiology

Two more book recommendations include:

(1) Greek Words and Hebrew Meanings: Studies in the
Semantics of Soteriological Terms
. Cambridge
University Press, 1967. (Author) David Hill.

(2) From Apostles to Bishops: The Development of the
Episcopacy in the Early Church
. New York/Mahwah, N.J.:
Newman Press, 2001. (Author) Francis A. Sullivan.

Hill's main thesis is that biblical Greek (both LXX
and NT) changed the meaning of certain ancient Greek
terms or at least added a new meaning to these words.
Hill attempts to demonstrate this general thesis in
his well-documented work and does a fairly decent job,
it seems. One point that I find of interest in Hill's
study is his willingness to make words the proper
objects of semantic inquiry, "since the word is a
semantic marker, a pointer to a concept or field of
meaning which must be clarified and understood" (Hill,
p. 18). Nevertheless, he also stresses the
importance of taking both the "immediate context" and
the "historical context" of any given word or text
into consideration when performing exegesis or word
studies. In order to understand the terminology of the
GNT, one must also "deal with the meaning of their
[i.e., Greek words] Old Testament Hebrew equivalents"
(ibid, 19).

Francis A. Sullivan's study should interest those who
wonder about apostolic succession or the development
of bishops in the ancient church. Was the transition
from apostles to bishops a deviant move or one
that was faithful to the original intentions of Christ
and his designated apostles? Sullivan, who is Roman
Catholic, looks at the issue quite fairly and makes
concessions that are surprising at times.
Whether one agrees with his conclusion or not, it
seems that Sullivan is a careful, erudite and fair

At one point in his study, Sullivan writes:

"As we have seen, the 'great commission' in Matthew
28:19-20 included the command to 'make disciples of
all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.' Scholars
generally agree that the trinitarian formula reflects
a later development of baptismal liturgy. On the other
hand, it would be difficult to explain the importance
the New Testament attributes to baptism and its role
as a distinctive sign of Christian initiation if it
were not based on a command given by the risen Christ"
(Apostles to Bishops, p. 35).

In the context of his discussion, Sullivan is
examining the alleged primordiality of the Church's
so-called "sacramental ministry." But the point that I
want to draw attention to now, is what Sullivan says
about the "trinitarian formula" found in Mt 28:19-20.
Of course, I do not agree with this description of the
language found in the Matthean text, but what really
strikes me, however, is Sullivan's view that the
words found in Matthew 28:19-20 are based on
subsequent baptismal practices. I've noticed that
Protestant scholars also tend to believe that 28:19-20, as
it now appears in modern Bibles, is not an authentic
representation of words, which the "historical Jesus" might
have uttered. The words are sometimes not considered ipsissima
verba Christi

I've never been able to find solid textual evidence that discounts
the originality of the "Great Commission" contained at Matthew 28:19-20.
Yet there have been many who have doubted its genuineness or originality.
I have no problem with the text, as it now stands; maybe some reader has
researched this issue before.


David Waltz said...

Hi Edgar,

I have read Sullivan's book. The book is certainly and interesting one, and worth reading; however, with that said, I believe that it has some serious flaws, the most important of which (IMO) is whether or not a basic framework for a monepiscopacal form of church government exists within the pages of the NT. One recent patristic scholar, Dr. Robert Lee Williams (a Baptist), provides a different view than Sullivan in his monograph, Bishops Lists.

Personally, I prefer Williams take—over Sullivan's—due to his conservative position on the NT documents, which produces a more consistent unfolding of early church history than those folk who begin with the assumption that the NT has significant errors.

If you have the time (and interest), I have published a number of posts on the issue of monepiscopacy at AF (LINK).

Grace and peace,


Duncan said...

Edgar Foster said...

Hi David: For the record, and you probably know, I don't accept monepiscopacy at all. I've written various blog pieces on the subject from a lexical semantic perspective--for instance, episkopos did not mean "bishop" in the first century. In fact, it appears that this form of church governance did not rear its head until the 2nd century (possibly under Ignatius of Antioch). But I would like to read your posts, and I should accomplish that task at least some of the material within the coming months.

Duncan: Thanks for the article.

David Waltz said...

Hello again Edgar,

The NT terms for church officers/leaders were quite fluid and had multiple applications. The following I wrote back in 02/15 sheds some light on this issue:

>>...the terms elder/presbyter (πρεσβύτερος, presbuteros) and bishop (ἐπίσκοπος, episkopos) are certainly both used for individuals who filled the 'office' of what later came to known exclusively as that of the elder/presbyter; this fact does not address whether or not three distinct 'offices' existed in the Apostolic period which later came to be known as bishop/overseer, elder/presbyter, and deacon; as such, it is irrelevant. [FYI: I believe that four distinct 'offices' existed in the Apostolic period, and that the highest of the four—represented by the Apostles appointed by Jesus (plus Matthias)—became non-existent after the death of the Apostle John.]

It must be kept in mind that a number terms which later developed into limited and exclusive usage, had much broader application in the NT and early CFs. Not only were the terms elder/presbyter (πρεσβύτερος, presbuteros) and bishop (ἐπίσκοπος, episkopos) at times used for the same individual/s, but also the terms apostle (ἀπόστολος, apostolos) and deacon (διάκονος, diakonos). Peter is called an apostle and elder/presbyter; John an apostle and elder/presbyter; Paul an apostle and deacon; Timothy is designated as an apostle and a deacon. All four terms may be used of an 'office', but also have much broader usages.>> (LINK)

Grace and peace,