Office or function? The search for church leaders in the nascent Pauline communities

September 14, 2011

In our study of 3 Cor 2.1, where Stephanas and the presbyters who are with him address Paul, the question of how the author portrays Stephanas, whether as a presbyter or a bishop, comes up.  This has us searching into the primary and secondary literature to find clues about how we should understand this text.

In Philippians 1.1, Paul addresses the bishops and deacons at Philippi.  So lo and behold, the office of bishop already existed in the time of Paul–so is it so hard to believe that Stephanas was actually a bishop?  Well, not so fast, says my professor Gordon D. Fee, in his magnificent commentary on Philippians (NICNT, ad loc):

The origin of the word episkopos as a title for one form of leadership in the NT church is shrouded in mystery, and therefore an object of scholarly debate; but there can be little question that in Pauline usage, as with all his designations of church leaders, it first of all denotes a “function,” rather than an “office.”

Fee stands in a long line of Protestant scholars who are essentially anti-clerical in their orientation and who are uncomfortable with the New Testament’s apparent sanction of church offices like bishops and priests, whose abuses have been so frequent throughout the history.  Emphasis on function instead of office means that such people designated bishops or deacons were supposed to care for rather than lord it over the Christians in their charge.  But then one wonders what an “office” is in the first place, and if, by such standard definitions of the term, the bishops and deacons in Paul’s day fit the definition.

Therefore in brainstorming, we decided that there were some essential and some optional characteristics of an office.  The essential elements of an office would be:  (1) Election: a method of selection of officeholders; (2) Duration of term:  a fixed term or  lifetime appointment; (3) Function:  the duties of the officeholder; (4) Authority:  the ability to carry out the functions; (5) Title:  without an official title, it is arguable that no office exists.  Some other features may be optional:  (6) the possibility of remuneration; (7) an impeachment procedure; (8) a written policy which may include qualifications for the officeholder, duties, scope of authority, a setting of the salary and election and impeachment procedure (in the absence of a written text, customs or even ad hoc rules would exist); (9) a ceremony of induction.

As early as the Pastoral Epistles, it is clear that the offices of bishop/elder and deacons (and also possibly an office of widows) existed, and they feature most if not all of the elements listed above.  Fee considers the Pastoral Epistles to be authentically Pauline and writes in his NIBC commentary (ad loc. 1 Timothy 3:8–9; italics his):

However, as with “prophet” and “teacher,” the word seems to fluctuate between an emphasis on a function and a description of a position; by the time of Philippians it [“deacon”] describes an “office” (Phil. 1:1), whereas in the relatively contemporary Ephesians and Colossians diakonos still describes a function. Here, as in Philippians 1:1, it refers to a position of some kind.

Thus, Fee acknowledges begrudgingly in his earlier commentary that Phil 1.1 refers to an office,  so that we would conclude that even for him there is continuity between the terms bishop/elder and deacon in Philippians and the Pastorals.  I would argue that the burden of proof is upon those who wish to deny that Paul had designated the offices of bishop/elder and deacon as the standard procedure of his mission, for it baffles me how the churches could have survived without clearly designated officeholders who exercised apostolic authority in the absence of Paul.  Indeed, this is what Acts 14.23 says:

And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they believed.

German Prostestant biblical scholarship, however, argues that both the Pastorals and Acts come from a later age and therefore cannot attest to the primitive conditions in the nascent Pauline churches (Conzelmann, Acts [Hermeneia]; Haenchen, Acts; E. Schweizer, Church Order 26e, 7i) .  Of course, among the major arguments for rejecting the Pauline authorship of the Pastorals is their too advanced ecclesiology: i.e., we are faced with major case of begging the question.

I wonder in what sense Paul could have been a successful church planter if he had not, from the earliest days of his churches, done what Luke claims, appoint elders to lead the various churches.  It seems to me that the job of church planter like Paul would be (1) to travel to a new place and proclaim the gospel; (2) to train those who are receptive; (3) to select the natural leaders, among those that he taught, to take over in his absence; (4) to repeat.  It makes no sense that the Pauline mission could have been successful if Paul didn’t see as one of his main jobs the development of leaders.

It is only natural then to believe that Paul appointed leaders (Acts 14.23; Pastoral Epistles; Phil 1.1), that they held offices and titles and did not merely exercise functions, that those office and titles probably had the same names that they did later (i.e., bishop/presbyter and deacons–1 Clem; Did.), and that these offices then developed into the threefold structure of bishop, presbyters and deacons (Ignatius, Irenaeus).

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Weißt-du was “messy” bedeutet? On Coptic words of Greek Origin

September 10, 2011

A couple years ago I had the pleasure of meeting James Swanson, a lexicographer of the Greek NT, at a table he was manning at the book exhibition of the SBL conference.  We began to discuss the possibility of restoring a Greek text from a Coptic translation.  If a Greek word appears in the Coptic text, does that mean that that exact word was used in the original Greek?  Swanson responded, “Does the Coptic speaker even know that it is a Greek word?”  Coptic is a language with many loan words from Greek and it is highly possible, after hundreds of years or even a few years, that Coptic speakers were frequently unaware of the etymological origin of any given term.  Coptologists, such as my colleague on the Acta Pauli, Pierre Cherix, are acutely aware of this issue, and Cherix once took issue with me in a meeting of AELAC in Bex, Switzerland, when I suggested that a meaning of a certain Greek word in the Bodmer XLIX must have corresponded with Paul’s use of the term.

A friend of mine, Brigette, who has lived in Canada since her childhood, returned to her native Germany to visit family.  Her cousin brought her into her Schlafzimmer with an apology that her room was “sehr messy”.  Then, she turned to Brigette and said in all earnestness, “Brigette, weißt-du was “messy” bedeutet?”  Well, Brigette found this very funny since her cousin knew that she was fluent in English but somewhat rusty in German, having been in Canada so long, yet the cousin was apparently unaware that “messy” is a German word of English origin.  Of course, when and how the word “messy” entered the German language, I am unable to tell.

As a student of Coptic trying to do exegesis of Coptic texts, I find it a pity that Coptic dictionaries do not list Greek words.  For that one is forced to know the Greek language.  But this can lead to lexical errors, as a specialist like Cherix would be quick to point out.  Imagine if a grade school pupil looking up the word “preservative” in English, and it wasn’t in the dictionary.  The confused child approaches the teacher and says, “Teacher, I can’t find this word!”  The teacher then says, “Oh you have to look that one up in Le Petit Robert because it is a French word.”  So the little child goes to Robert and finds the following (s.v., “préservatif, ive”):

Capuchon en caoutchouc, en plastique très souple qui s’adapte au pénis, employé comme moyen de protection contre les maladies sexuellement transmissibles ou comme contraceptif. [i.e., a condom]

Unfortunately, we need a comprehensive dictionary of the Coptic language that also provides possible meanings for Coptic words of Greek origin.


Artemilla and the New Roman Woman

September 9, 2011

In AP IX, 17, Artemilla, the wife of Jerome, the Roman ἀνθύπατος in Ephesus, goes to see the prisoner Paul, who is condemned to die in the beast fight on the following morning.  She has put on somber clothing in preparation to see him.  Then, when Paul sees her he says (my trans.):

Woman, ruler of this world, mistress of much gold, citizen of much luxury, woman who brags of her apparel, sit upon the floor and forget your riches and your beauty and your boasts in your earthly status.  For these things profit you nothing, except you beg God, who considers crap what is formidable here but who freely gives what is marvelous there.  Gold perishes, riches are consumed, clothes become tattered, beauty becomes old, great cities are replaced and the world will be destroyed in fire because of the lawlessness of humanity.  Only God remains, as well as the adoption given through him, in whom it is necessary to be saved.  And now Artemilla, hope in God and he will rescue you.  Hope in Christ and he will grant forgiveness of sins and place upon you a crown suitable for freedom, so that you serve no longer idols with the smoke of fat offerings, but the living God and Father of Christ, whose is the glory forever and ever. Amen.

I have written in previous posts about the manner in which liberal interpreters are no more careful than evangelical apologists in their treatment of Christian apocryphal literature, and the interpretation of Artemilla’s conversion is no exception.  By many liberal interpreters, most notably Stevan L. Davies, Virginia Burrus and Dennis R. MacDonald, Artemilla is an example of a married woman who embrace chastity as means to autonomy and freedom from the patriarchal system.  Thus, they apply the sentiments and world view of modern feminism to the text, and they see Artemilla as a woman who seeks woman’s liberation.

Yet Paul, in his discourse to Artemilla, does not see her as a woman who is oppressed by patriarchy and marriage, but rather, as a member of the ruling class whose wealth bestows upon her a status of privilege.  But all the wealth upon which her status rests  is temporary and will burn in the eschatological fire, according to the beast fighter.  She must repent and embrace instead freedom in God and adoption into his family.  Only then, will she be able to experience salvation.

The preaching of an encratite gospel, a decision for sexual continence, and a refusal by Artemilla to sleep with her husband are all completely lacking in this text.  It is a complete misreading to see it as a chastity story (Burrus) or as written by women who have renounced sexual relations (Davies).  Rather, the text becomes more coherent in the light of studies like The New Roman Women by Bruce W. Winter, which demonstrates how women like Artemilla already experienced a large measure of freedom and autonomy, for their privileged status made it possible to dominate their domus, their slaves, their lovers, and at times, even their own husbands, while showing too little respect for the Roman laws and the customs that dictated propriety.


God’s Righteousness in 3 Corinthians 4:12

September 9, 2011

3 Cor 4:12-18 states (my trans.):

12 But God, the almighty, because he is righteous and he did not want to annihilate his own creation, 13 caused the Spirit through fire to descend into Mary the Galilean, 15 so that, by this same pershing flesh, by which the Evil One exercised his reign, he was defeated and convinced that he was not God.  16 For Christ Jesus saved all flesh by his own body, 17 so as to consecrate a temple of righteousness in his own body, 18 by which we have been liberated.

Beginning in 4:12, 3 Cor starts to detail how God initiated his plan of salvation for humanity. At this point, the logic of the text begins to look like a significant passage in another Pauline letter: Romans 3:19-22. There, Paul says:

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it– the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

In 3 Cor, the problem that needs to be solved is that the creation was in danger of annihiliation by God (which God did not wish to do). Similarly, in Romans 3 the major problem is that every person is found guilty before God. The solution, on the other hand, is δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ, which is through the πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ for all who believe. These two phrases, δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ and πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, have themselves become centers of controversy in Pauline scholarship. Scholars dispute whether δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ refers to something God grants to believers or else an aspect of his character, over which scholars likewise debate. As for the phrase, πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, the dispute circles around whether it is “faith in Christ” or “the faith/faithfulness of Christ”. One scholar who represents the New Perspective on Paul, N.T. Wright, argues for an interpretation of Romans (e.g., Romans, NIB 10,  ad loc.) which seems to be confirmed by 3 Cor 4:12-18 here. His position is that the righteousness of God is God’s own faithfulness to his covenants, which included promises to save Israel and the world, and that πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ is Christ’s own faithfulness, the ministry and death resurrection by which God has kept his promises. 3 Cor 4:12-14 closely parallels Wright’s interpretation of that epistle. That is, here, it is because God is righteous that he sends the Spirit to Mary in order to bring Jesus into the world in flesh, and it is in that flesh that Christ saves all flesh. God’s righteousness mentioned in 4:12 provides a motive for him to save the world, not destroy it. If one asks how God’s righteousness could provide a motive for him to save the world, the simplest answer seems to be along the lines that Wright suggests for Romans: to be righteous, God must keep his promises, or else he would be a liar, because God promised to save the world in his covenants. Thus to be righteous, he must become the world’s saviour.


An example of the liberal use of Christian apocryphal literature

September 6, 2011

As mentioned in the last post, Tony Chartrand-Burke, Prof. at York University, has panned the treatment of Christian Apocryphal literature by the evangelical scholars, who have written with apologetic motives. While agreeing with him in part, I mentioned in passing that evangelicals who have been stung by such criticism should take heart.  I wrote: “It is not as if liberal scholars, who are not specialists, are any more accurate in their treatment of Christian apocryphal literature.”

One such example is the funny little book by Stevan L. Davies, The Revolt of the Widows: The Social World of the Apocryphal Acts (1980), Professor of Religious Studies at Misericordia University.    As a doctoral student I borrowed the book from one of my professors.  I spilt coffee on it one day, and upon returning the book I confessed my misdeed and offered to pay for a new copy; my prof responded with a wink, “Don’t worry about it.   After all, it is not a very good book, is it?”

Chief among  Davies’ faults is his assumption of a single coherent community behind the five major Apocryphal Acts (Peter, Paul, John, Andrew and Thomas).  It is widely acknowledge that this is a methodological faux pas.*

*See in this regard, Jean-Daniel Kaestli,  “Les principales orientations de la recherche sur les Actes apocryphes des Apôtres.” In Les Actes apocryphes des Apôtres.  Christianisme et monde païen, ed. François Bovon, 49-61. Publication de la faculté de théologie de l’Université de Genève. Geneva: Labor et Fides.  (56-57, “La nécessité d’étudier chaque texte pour lui-même”).