Sunday, January 24, 2010

Ordination - Evidence in the Pre New Testament Context - Old Testament Part I

While Israel is not the church, Old Testament practices have the potential of not only giving insight into God’s desire for His people, but also of giving an understanding of the kinds of practices and concepts with which the early, mainly Jewish, church would have been conversant. A lexical and topical study of Old Testament passages dealing with the inauguration of people into specific positions within the nation of Israel, such as leaders, elders, kings, prophets, priests, Levites, etc., could provide much needed insight into the practice of ordination. Unfortunately, there is a paucity of passages describing such practices. As Culpepper notes, for example: “little is known about the ‘ordination’ of prophets, when there was some such ceremony.” [1] Indeed, all that is known of the anointing of Elisha (1 Kgs 19:16) is that he was to be anointed, and there is no description of consecration, dedication, or installation of Samuel (there is only a description of his divine call) or of Elijah, for example. Nevertheless, this scarcity of passages on the topic does not constitute divine silence on the issue. Passages such as the consecration of Aaron and his sons (Exod 29:1-37, Lev 8), the dedication of the Levites (Num 8:5-26), the installation of the seventy elders to share Moses’ burden (Num 11:16-30), the inauguration of Joshua (Num 27:12-23), the anointing of Saul (1 Sam 9:27-10:25), the anointing of David (1 Sam 16:1-13; 2 Sam 2:1-7; 5:1-5), and the anointing of Solomon (1 Kgs 1:31-40; 1 Chr 29:21-25), do give us some insight into Old Testament practices.

In these passages, one can discern four main trends in practices: the ceremonial washing or purification of those being consecrated or dedicated, the offering of animal sacrifices to the Lord, the anointing with oil, and the laying on of hands. [2] Of interest to this paper are only the trends which find parallels in the pages of the New Testament. Therefore, no matter what one’s view of the tripartite nature of the law and its application to New Testament believers, [3] one will quickly agree that the first two trends, since they find no attestation in any of the practices of the New Testament church, are of no value to our discussion. [4] As for the anointing with oil, the New Testament describes various anointments of Christ with oil and the anointing of the sick with oil. Obviously, the anointing of the sick with oil is not pertinent to our discussion. As for the anointing of Christ, it is directly related to His death in Matthew 26:12, Mark 14:8, and John 12:7. This is not an anointing associated with a setting apart for a specific role or function, but a symbolic preparation for the Messiah’s substitutionary death. Therefore, the anointing with oil is irrelevant to the discussion in this paper.

This leaves only one practice that could have had some impact on the New Testament community as a setting apart custom: the laying on of hands. We will discuss this practice next time.

Go to Part II

[1] R. Alan Culpepper, “The Biblical Basis for Ordination,” Review and Expositor 74, no. 4 (Fall 1981): 473.

[2] The practice of ceremonial washing or purification is found in the consecration of Aaron and his sons and in the dedication of the Levites. The practice of sacrificing an offering is found in the consecration of Aaron and his sons, the dedication of the Levites, and the anointing of Solomon. Also of interest here is the fact that the Levites themselves were presented as an offering to the Lord. The practice of anointing with oil is found in the consecration of Aaron and his sons, the anointing of Saul, the anointing of David, and the anointing of Solomon. The practice of laying on of hands is found in the dedication of the Levites and the inauguration of Joshua.

[3] For a discussion on the topic see Stanley N. Gundry, ed., Five Views on Law and Gospel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), and Maël Disseau, “Is the Mosaic law tripartite? (Some final thoughts)” [on-line]; available from; Internet.

[4] One could hypothesize that these practices are no longer needed, because the work of Christ on the cross has cleansed believers from their sins by paying the required sacrifice, and, while interesting, this line of inquiry is outside the scope of this paper.

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