Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Ordination - Evidence from the New Testament - χειροτονεω - Part 2 of many

A few words should be said about one of these terms: χειροτονεω (cheirotoneô), “to elect or choose someone for definite offices or tasks.” The nineteenth century Baptist theologian John Gill, based on comments made by Beza, Erasmus, Vatablus, and H. Stephanus,[1] states:

ordinary officers, as elders and pastors of churches, were chosen and ordained by the votes of the people, expressed by stretching of their hands; thus it is said of the apostles, Acts xiv. 23, When they had ordained them elders in every church, χειροτονησαντες, by taking the suffrages and votes of members of the churches, shown by the stretching out of their hands, as the word signifies; and which they directed them to and upon it declared the elders duly elected and ordained.[2]

While this understanding of cheirotoneô is supported by BDAG, which states that it is “lit[erally] ‘stretch out the hand’ in voting,” and agrees with this understanding as used in 2 Corinthians 8:19, BDAG does suggest that the text of Acts 14:23 “does not involve a choice by the group; here the word means appoint, install, w[ith] the apostles as subj[ects].”[3] Based on the rest of the writings of Gill in this section of his work, it is evident that he was very careful not to allow anything that could open the door for hierarchical-archbishopcy. This could be the reason for his insistence on a congregational use of cheirotoneô in a passage that does not support it.[4] Nevertheless, this corporate understanding of cheirotoneô and its tie to hand raising should be kept in mind when thinking about the topic at hand.

More central to the present discussion are two passages in that list found in the book of Acts: Acts 6:1-7 and Acts 13:1-3, where the church commissions[5] some believers for a specific task. In the next post we will begin looking at New Testament passages starting with these two.

[1] Gill, in John Gill, Complete Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity, new ed., vol. 2 (London: Bradbury and Evans, 1839), 581nx, states that “Χειροτονησαντες, per suffragia delegissent, creassent: so Beza, Erasmus, Vatablus, H. Stephanus. Ortum est hoc verbum ex Græcorum consuetudine, qui porrectis manibus suffragia ferebant – Beza in Act 14,23.”

[2] Ibid., 581.

[3] BDAG, s.v. χειροτονεω.

[4] Gill further states that “though there was χειροτονια, a stretching out of the hands; yet there was no χειροθεσια, imposition of hands, used at the ordination; neither of extraordinary officers, as apostles; nor of ordinary pastors or elders of churches, in the times of Christ and his apostles” (Gill, Complete Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity, 581). While Gill’s comment is technically correct, for χειροθεσια is not found in the Greek New Testament or in the LXX, here again, it seems that Gill is pressing his point by apparently ignoring the possible parallel use of επιθεσις in conjunction with χειρ in 1 Tim 4:14 and 2 Tim 1:6, so as not to allow for the ordination practices of the Roman church.

[5] For the time being, the term ‘commission’ will be used instead of ‘ordain’, so as not to confuse or bias the discussion.

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