Monday, February 8, 2010

Ordination - Evidence from the New Testament - Part 1 of many

If you are thinking that things are not very clear so far, you might be looking forward to looking at the New Testament evidence for some clarity. Sorry, things are not much clearer in the New Testament record. As mentioned earlier, a lexical investigation of the English word ‘ordain’ in the NKJV reveals that it is used to translate seven different Hebrew and Greek terms, and in none of the New Testament passages in which ‘ordain’ appears is it used with the meaning of “to appoint or admit to the ministry of the Church.” A New Testament understanding of ordination will therefore have to be gleaned from passages which seem to offer a pattern of appointing or setting aside and their associated Greek terms. Passages in the New Testament dealing with appointing/calling/choosing for a specific task include: the appointing of the twelve (Mark 3:14; Luke 6:12-13), the appointing of the seventy (Luke 10:1), the choosing/appointing of the seven (Acts 6:1-7), the setting aside/appointing of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:1-3), the appointing of elders (Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5), the choosing of emissaries by the churches (such as Acts 15:22; 2 Cor 8:19), and the appointing of Paul (1 Tim 2:7; 2 Tim 1:11). In addition, as indicated earlier, if there are any parallels between the New Testament practices and the Old Testament practices of ordination, they may be found in the practice of laying on of hands.[1] Attention, therefore, traditionally has been placed on additional passages that refer to the laying on of hands also, even though these passages might not explicitly relate to appointing practices (1 Tim 4:14; 5:22; 2 Tim 1:6).

In the above list of Scripture passages, one discerns a clear grouping of passages that affirm the concept of appointing/calling/choosing, but which furnish no information as to praxis.[2] These passages are not totally void of benefits for the present discussion. They provide insight as to who did the choosing and who was chosen and for what purpose: Jesus appointed the apostles, the seventy others, and Paul in some of the above passages; in other passages, the apostles, the elders, and/or the whole church chose messengers, helpers, and traveling companions; Paul and Barnabas, as well as Titus, appointed elders. In addition, these passages also provide a list of terms associated with appointing/calling/choosing, whose lexical variety demonstrates the lack of a single unifying term used for this concept of appointing/ calling/choosing.

In the next several days/weeks we will look at these terms and these passages to try to make some sense of the New Testament evidence.

[1] Culpepper goes as far as seeing the laying on of hands as “central in ceremonies of Christian ordination” (Culpepper, “The Biblical Basis for Ordination,” 471).

[2] These passages include Jesus’ appointing of the twelve in Mark 3:14, which uses ποιεω, “make, do, or cause,” but which BDAG suggests could be translated “appoint” as in Hebrews 3:2; and Jesus’ choosing of the twelve in Luke 6:13, which uses εκλεγομαι, “to choose (for oneself).” This latter term is also used in Acts 15:22 for the choosing of the men who were supposed to travel to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas and report the advice given by the church of Jerusalem by word of mouth. Likewise, Luke 10:1, just states that Jesus also appointed seventy others; here αναδεικνυμι, “to assign to a task or position,” is used. In both 1 Tim 2:7 and 2 Tim 1:11, Paul speaks of his appointing as a preacher, etc. and uses the term τιθημι, “to assign to some task or function.” The choosing of traveling companions is described by χειροτονεω, “to elect or choose someone for definite offices or tasks,” in 2 Cor 8:19. The same term is used of Paul’s and Barnabas’ appointing elders in every church. Καθιστημι, “to assign someone a position of authority,” is used in Titus 1:5 for Titus’ responsibility to appoint elders in every city. All definitions are from Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, ed. and trans. William F. Arndt, F. Wilber Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker [BDAG], 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000).

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