Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | March 29, 2008

What from the Jewish community is presevered in Christianity?

The Culture from which the Church emerges (Lesson 2: Part 5)

 In many respects the organization of the Church is influenced a great deal by Judaism.  We see this in the continuation of the office of apostle.  There are records from the first century of synagogues sending out apostles on missionary endeavors.  The institution of apostle was a cultural as well as religious office, which goes far back into Israel’s history with biblical evidence going back to Abraham. For instance, the office of Apostle is seen when Abraham sent his servant Eliezer into Padan-Aram to find a bride for Isaac. He was sent on an apostolic mission with the authority to act on behalf of the household of Abraham to engage in a marriage contract.  The closest modern analogy to this office is demonstrated in the legal practice of a “the power-of –attorney”.  This concept of apostolic authority stands behind the use of the office in the New Covenant, which is manifested very succinctly when Jesus says of His apostles “what you bind on earth will be bound in heaven” (Matthew 16:19).   

This statement and overall perspective we have portrayed has implications for the theology of the Apostleship.  In the ancient world as well as in the modern world I can give my power of attorney to someone, but you cannot grant that same power on my behalf to the power of attorney. The handing over of power has to be direct, it is important to clarify that the succession of power is not second hand.  This necessity of direct succession is the purpose for the great amount of time and energy that Paul gives in defending his apostolic authority.  After all he was one born out of due time (1 Corinthians 15:8), which subjected his office to criticism and doubt.  All the other apostles knew Jesus during His earthly ministry, were specifically called and empowered prior to His death.  Although, Paul was directly called by Jesus on the Damascus Road (Acts 9), it was known by all that this was not the ordinary way that the apostolic succession was implemented in the New Covenant.  Paul is an apostle according to the criteria of being immediately called by the Lord Jesus, but in an unusual manner after His earthly ministry.  He also views himself as the last apostle (1 Corinthians 15:8), which necessarily infers that his was a unique calling that was an exception not intended to be normative.  This is important since it presents problems for Mormon, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches that depend on apostolic succession to support their views.  It is a problem, because the apostolic office as presented in the Scriptures was a temporary and extraordinary office intended to be foundational for the Church not normative (Ephesians 2:20).  

We also observe that the office of Elder was present in Judaism, and is carried over into the polity of the Church.  However, the role of Elder in Judaism was not designated to supervise the worship of the synagogue, which was left to the ruler of the synagogue.  The Elder’s primary responsibility was providing oversight in the civic realm and not primarily in cultic realm.  The Church transforms this institution to supervise the worship and life of the Christian community.  This is possibly in recognition to the inherent differences in nature between the old and new covenant.  The church in this age does not possess the same dominion over civic life as the church in the old covenant.  Thus, we find continuities in the scope of the position (reigning), however discontinuities in the realm of the position (cultic in lieu of civic). 

Another office in the New Testament Episkopos, which is often times rendered as Bishop.  However, the more accurate rendering of this term would be Overseer or Supervisor.  The questions surrounding this office include: Is the office of Elder and the Overseer the same or distinct?  Is the office of Minister or Pastor to be understood as a distinct office than Elder or the same?  Episcopalians and Presbyterians have a different understanding of the meanings of these terms.  Consequently, the early history of the ancient Church is interpreted in different ways by these different groups.  We can conclude that the evidence is sketchy and meager, thus is not conducive to providing much influence over determining the correct view.  The extra biblical evidence however is fairly clear that by 150 AD the Church everywhere has made a distinction between the office of Elder and Bishop.  In 100 there is a figure like Ignatius of Antioch arguing vigorously that the Bishop is different than the Elder.  However, this was not a universal position held by the Church during this period.  Paul appears to use the terms interchangeably in Titus (Titus 1:5-16) and the following are some observations that support this conclusion: 

·         We must beware of reading back into 1st century texts the 2nd century understanding of what a Bishop is.  Today we see them as an Overseer of many different Churches in an area, more of an administrator.  To read this back into the biblical use of the term would be a profound mistake.  The best modern analogy to describe the situation during this period is to view the Bishop like a Senior Pastor where there were many ministers in a large congregation.  It is more appropriate to acknowledge that he was always primarily a preacher and a teacher, not an administrator.  This is supported by John Chrysostom’s treatise on the priesthood that argues the Bishops role and responsibility is primarily about preaching.  

·         The Greco-Roman culture was profoundly hierarchical in their thinking they assumed everything in society and in heaven was arranged as such.  They possessed a pyramid structure for the different classes in society.  This carried over to there thinking about Christian matters as well.  When you live in world of thought like that it is irresistible to not apply this to everything (i.e. the Church).  They concluded that the Church must be set up this way.  This presupposition contributed tremendously to the debate of Episcopal versus Presbyterian methods of Church.

We will continue to discuss additional influences that Judaism had in Christianity in our next entry.

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