Friday, December 25, 2009

Yarnell. “Οικος θεου: A Theologically Neglected but Important Ecclesiological Metaphor.” - A short review

Yarnell, Malcolm. “Οικος θεου: A Theologically Neglected but Important Ecclesiological Metaphor,” Midwestern Journal of Theology 2 (Fall 2003): 53-65.

In this essay, Yarnell attempts to restore οικος θεου to its appropriate level of importance among other Biblical metaphors for the church. After a thorough background check to substantiate his accusation of “general neglect,” Yarnell starts developing his defense for a renewal of interest in οικος θεου by pointing to the frequency and the importance of the uses of the metaphor. Yarnell identifies two types of uses of the οικος terminology: physical and relational. He points out that these are two “distinct images” and identifies Mark 11 and 1 Corinthians 3 with the concrete physical type. He postulates that these two uses “could easily transition into one another” and points to Ephesians 2:19-22 as an example. As for the relational use, he finds most evidence in the Pastoral epistles to which he dedicated almost half his paper.

The pièce de résistance for the relational use of οικος is 1 Timothy 3:14-16. Yarnell first resuscitates the notion of the Pastoral epistles as an ecclesiastical handbook by pointing to 1 Timothy 3:14-16 as the high point of the epistle. In this passage he finds his locus classicus, 1 Timothy 3:15, which describes the function of the epistle: to outline “standards of conduct in a set of social relationships figuratively know as ‘God’s household’.” Yarnell sees three levels of concern in this epistle: first, the church, then the family, and last, the state.

His analysis of the seventeen uses of the οικος family of terms throughout the Pastoral epistles expands his search to a wider set of terms which vary from “administration” to “steward” to “dwell.” Through this research, Yarnell demonstrates that “this family of words is used metaphorically of the church or of some part of the church” over half the time. The reader, though, is left wondering if looking at such a wide family of terms was actually needed to prove his point.

In the rest of the article, Yarnell summarizes his findings. After reminding his readers that “the ancient household was ‘the basic socio-political unit’ which had major religious and economic functions,” that “there was often a cult associated with a household’s god in which the householder functioned as the leader,” and that “household structure and terminology was frequently co-opted by religious associations,” he proceeds to identify five adaptations “of the structure of the household in the churches addressed in the Pastoral Epistles.” First, he sees a clear use of familial titles. Second, he sees the household as a locus of conversion and gathering. Third, he sees the household as a center of instruction. Fourth, he sees the household as a center of discipline. Last, he sees the clear identification of God with the householder (the father) figure. Finally, he also summarizes the Scripture references which refer to literal households.

While this essay provides good biblical data and did make a strong argument for the acceptance of οικος θεου as an important metaphor for the church, I was left wanting more elaboration on the outworking of this metaphor. It would also have been helpful for him to make a connection with and/or a distinction from the “family of God” metaphor.

1 comment:

Alan Knox said...

I agree. It would have been nice to see him connect οικος θεου with the many other familial terms in Scripture, and then deal with the question of whether this is metaphorical usage or not.


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