Sunday, March 27, 2016

Bishops in the First Century (Continued)

Hierarchy implies rank. In normal human hierarchies, one person is usually stands a little higher on the ladder than another. However, the first-century Christian Church was not arranged in this way.

Ignatius of Antioch may have proposed a three-point system of ecclesiastical rank, but the Primitive Christians knew of no such arrangement. Concerning EPISKOPOS, J. Rohde contends: "one is not to conclude from the [singular usage in 1 Tim. 3:2] that already a single bishop is assumed as a monarchical leader at the head of the community" (Exegetical Dictionary of the NT, Vol. 2:36).

Rohde reasons that the use of the singular in 1 Tim. 3:2 is generic and the context likely supports his view. He thus concludes:

"The monarchical bishop appears first in Ignatius. It
is not certain, however, whether Ignatius describes
existing conditions or sets up ideal requirements that
do not correspond to reality." (Ibid.)

Again, Christ taught: "The kings of the nations lord it over them, and those having authority over them are called Benefactors. You, though, are not to be that way. But let him that is the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the one acting as chief as the one ministering" (Lk. 22:25-27).

Based on these dominical utterances from our Lord, I have no problem acknowledging that there are individuals in the
congregation, who take the lead and even govern the Christian ecclesia (Hb. 13:7, 17). But I would no more call these men "leaders" than call myself the "leader" or "chieftain" of my family since my decisions are "binding" (in principle) as head of my family. But the family head is not necessarily the family "leader" (1 Cor. 11:3).

One Catholic commentator believes that the term EKKLHSIA in Mt. 18:17 has reference to the local Christian community (A.T. Robertson explains this passage in a similar fashion). The Catholic scholar writes: "The local congregation is meant, whether in formal assembly for meeting or through its board of elders" (Daniel J Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew [Sacra Pagina Series], Collegeville, The Liturgical Press, 1991, page 269).

Jehovah's Witnesses take Jesus' words seriously and try to imitate what Harrington (S.J.) calls the "Matthean community." He supplements his observation about EKKLHSIA with these words:

"Against this common Near Eastern tendency toward
social hierarchy Matthew forbids the use of titles and
the exercise of highly authoritative roles (23:8-12) .
. . The resistance to hierarchically structured roles
and emphasis on equality is typical of sects in the
first generation. All the members have begun a new
life together and are to participate fully and equally
in the emerging community" (Harrington, op. cit., page

While I do not agree with Harrington's assessment of Matthew's Gospel as a whole, and while I do not accept his historical-critical presuppositions, his exegesis of Mt. 23:8-12 appears to be on target. If rejecting ecclesiastical hierarchy places me in company with the "Matthean community," then so be it!

To clarify the position set forth here, though, I have no problem with elders, ministerial servants (DIAKONOI) or different types of overseers supervising the ecclesia today.


Philip Fletcher said...

I like the part where the husband and father of a family, but he doesn't have to lead. Really the head of the woman and children is man and the head of the man is Jesus, it keeps everything in perspective likewise elders strive to keep this in mind, if they don't, then they don't remain elders for very long. More than likely they may never be an elder again if they don't humble themselves. It all comes down to leading by example. The scripture I like the most for elders, those taking the lead is found at Romans 12:10. That is what moves an elder to be a good elder and any christian to have the Christ like attitude.

Edgar Foster said...

Good thought from Rom 12:10. I checked the WT Library to see if husbands are ever called "leaders" of the family, and did not find anything. As you mentioned, elders take the lead (and so do husbands), but they are not leaders. They lead by example and must be servants as Jesus taught. See also 1 Peter 5:1-6.

Matt13weedhacker said...

Hi Edgar.

As with the theology of Ignatius of Antioch (discussed here on earlier occasions) I very strongly suspect that the "monarchical" (from "monarchy" = rule by one person) hierarchy found in what survives of his writings, have more than likely been corrupted during transmission. And should not be taken as authoritative.

That's my two cents worth for the discussion.

On a side point. I'm wondering if you have access to, in any way, an article on a passage Irenaeus' "Proof of Apostolic Teaching" 43?


J.P. Smith, "Hebrew Christian Midrash in Irenaeus," Biblica 38:1 (1957)

I had a PDF copy, but was lost when my old computer's died. It used to be available online for free, but no longer. It has to do with a passage where Irenaeus gives an unusual translation of the Hebrew of Genesis 1:1:

IRENAEUS OF LYONS (circa. 130-200 C.E.): "...So then we must believe God in all things, for in all things God is true. Now that there was a Son of God, and that He existed not only before He appeared in the world, but also before the world was made, Moses, who was the first that prophesied says in Hebrew: "BARESITH BARA ELOWIN BASAN BENUAM SAMENTHARES". And this, translated into our language, is: “The Son in the beginning God established then the heaven and the earth..." - (Chapter 43, "Proof Of The Apostolic Preaching" Translated by Joseph P. Smith, 1952.)

Tertulian mentions the same interpretation in Adv. Prax. 5.1, though not taking it as authoritative. Any help in finding this article, would be much appreciated. Thanks.

Kind regards.


Duncan said...

Much of this is recognised but is it put into action?

Philip Fletcher said...

It has always been lead by example. I've seen a lot of elders removed for trying to push their thoughts on the sheep, even if they are completely right if the other elders don't agree, it won't happen. That is the way it should be.
But particularly I've noticed in Christendom they don't lead in anyway, they pop off a lot with meaningless chatter. Still the judgement is Jehovah's. Yes being humble as Peter says is so important, modesty is also necessary. But even Jehovah acts with humility. That is the top my brother that is the top.

Edgar Foster said...

Hi Matt13,

Thanks for the point on Ignatius. I also tried finding the article you wanted, but our university only holds Biblica issues from 1998-present, which are on the web. It's possible that another university or library might have the article. For some reason, Biblica limits the issues that can be read online.

I wrote about this portion of Adversus Prax and Irenaeus a little in my M.Th. thesis. Here are my comments on the text in Adv Prax 5:

The first text that the skilled Christian rhetorician considers is Gen 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (In principio creavit Deus caelum et terram). He then discloses that “certain people” think the primitive cosmic account contained in Moses' first pentateuchal book should actually read: “In the beginning God made for himself a Son” (aiunt quidam et Genesim in Hebraico ita incipere in principio deus fecit sibi filium). However, Evans suggests that Tertullian has evidently “misunderstood his informant” since this imaginative reading does not seem to reoccur in other Patristic writings. Bernard Lonergan, on the other hand, defends the reliability of Tertullian’s report citing Clement of Alexandria (Stromata 6.7.58; 6.39.2), Jerome (Quaest Hebr In Gen 1:1), and Irenaeus as sources that support Tertullian.
In any event, Tertullian (for sound theological and textual reasons) appropriately rejects such a reading of Gen 1:1 and concludes that God subsisted in a solitary but self-sufficient or autarchic condition before the creation of the cosmos: “until the generation of the Son” (fuit ante mundi constitutionem as usque filii generationem).

See Lonergan, The Way to Nicea: The Dialectical Development of Trinitarian Theology, trans. Conn O'Donovan (London: Dartman, Longman, and Todd, 1976), 23-24. VL reads: “In principio fecit deus caelum et terram." The Latin Vg says: "In principio creavit Deus caelum et terram."

Edgar Foster said...

Duncan, thanks for the link, and that's a good point. Not too many churches and pastors follow this example in my area or in the USA.

Edgar Foster said...

Philip, I can only affirm what you say. Jehovah sets the example where humility is concerned, and I'm thankful for the way he conbdescends to deal with us lowly humans. The Governing Body (FDS) has often reminded us that elders are fellow workers rather than masters of our faith. They have a heavy load as Heb 13:7, 17 and James 3:1 show. Thanks, my brother.

Edgar Foster said...

Hi again Matt13weedhacker,

I didn't have time yesterday to say that the whole authentic writings of Ignatius is interesting. We clearly have some apocryphal stories about him, and one can't help but wonder which words of his are genuine.



Matt13weedhacker said...

Thanks for your comments Edgar.

A fact often overlooked, is that the Middle recension (considered to be "thee genuine" epistles by many) is always accompanied with/by the Long recension in the MSS (at least in the oldest version of the Middle rec. in Greek).

To my knowledge at least, know one has collated the MSS for the Long rec. Which is a pity. There should be a critical evaluation, rather than assumptions based on theological preferences in my book.

Recommended reading:

Kind regards, YB.