Monday, June 1, 2009

The Senior Pastor - Evidence from the synagogue

Continuing our pursuit to find arguments for the necessity of a senior pastor takes us to extra Biblical evidence. Some might argue that one should look at the synagogue's structure to find a justification for a senior pastor, so we will start there.

Jalland, in his Origin and Evolution of the Christian Church, tries to make an argument for the emergence of a bishop, separate from the presbytery, and against the understanding that the terms for elder and overseer are used to represent the same office in the New Testament. While, as mentioned already in this paper, Baptists do not agree with his argument, Jalland presents a historical perspective on the synagogue which might give some insight into the synagogue's structure and might shed some light on the perceived necessity for, and origins of, a senior pastor.

In his description of the organization of the synagogue, Jalland makes much of the fact that a synagogue not only had elders, but it also "included the 'ruler' (archisynagōgos)"[1] of the synagogue. He then suggests that the Rom 12:8 reference to 'he who leads' (which he translates 'he that presides') might be the Christian equivalent to "the Jewish 'ruler of the synagogue',"[2] since it is his contention that the early Christian communities were Christian synagogues. To support his position even more, he points out that there was also a "prominent place assigned to the Kathēdra Moysis in the synagogue building," possibly in the same position "as the later episcopal kathēdra." He then conjectures that it was possible that this seat was "assigned to the archisynagōgos," and speaks of archeological evidence that might point to the fact that such a seat was present in "the earliest remains of a Christian church."[3] In the midst of this series of conjectures used to substantiate a historical trail from the synagogue ruler to the monepiscopacy, Jalland candidly admits some crucial issues. First of all he states that "admittedly the archisynagōgos had no specific liturgical function in synagogue worship,"[4] therefore making his role different from our understanding of a bishop or, more appropriately for the topic at hand, from the traditional understanding of a senior pastor figure. He also admits, even if buried in an endnote, that "possibly Acts xiii, 15 shows that the 'ruler of the synagogue' and the 'elders' were not always clearly distinguished."[5] This is because Acts 13:15 refers to rulers (plural) of the synagogue (singular). Therefore even with these possible parallels presented by Jalland, there does not seem to be a clear cut case for a traditional senior pastor figure in the synagogue setting, and while the synagogue 'ruler' is at times singled out by his title, this seems to be more of a functional distinction, not an authoritative distinction.[6] 

Therefore, the synagogue evidence could, at best, possibly point to a leader of leaders type of figure, but one needs to remember that the church is not equivalent to the synagogue, thus any parallel between the two can hardly be used to substantiate a need for a single senior pastor. Maybe we will have better luck with first and second century writings ...


[1] T. G. Jalland, The Origin and Evolution of the Christian Church (New York: Hutchinson's University Library, 1948), 34.

[2] Ibid., 89-90.

[3] Ibid., 91.

[4] Ibid., 91. As a matter of fact, he states that the rule’s “main duty was concerned with the selection of the readers of the scriptural lessons, and the preacher of the ‘discourse’” (Ibid., 34), and therefore he was not necessarily the preacher of the ‘discourse’.

[5] Ibid., 180n 93.

[6] Some authority figures are seen in the synagogue setting with possible typical pastor functions. The elders were to “pronounce sentence of excommunication against those who were judged to be notorious breakers of the law” (Ibid., 34-5). Also the ‘ministers’ were responsible to teach “the young and of inflicting corporal chastisement on those condemned to receive such punishment by the decision of the presbyterate” (Ibid., 34). In both cases these roles are in the plural and neither of them falls upon the ‘ruler’.

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