Friday, February 12, 2010

Ordination - Evidence from the New Testament - Acts 6:1-7 - Part 3 of many

Acts 6:1-7 recounts the appointing, kathistēmi, “to assign someone a position of authority” (v. 4), of the seven over the business of daily food distribution. Associated with this appointing, the New Testament records the action of the church and of the apostles in their commissioning of the seven. There are multiple elements to be noted in this passage. First, those chosen were to be from among the church in Jerusalem, and they were to be “of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” (v. 3). Second, prayer was central to the event (v. 6). Third, hands were laid on the seven (v. 6). The laying on of hands terminology used here is epitithēmi, “to lay/put upon,” used in conjunction with the term for hand, cheir, cheiros. This terminology is repeated in Acts 13:1-3, 1 Timothy 5:22, and with a slight variation in 1 Timothy 4:14 and 2 Timothy 1:6, that is with the use of epithesis, “laying on,” instead of epitithēmi. Fourth, this text does have some ambiguity about whose hands it is referring to: the apostles’ or the congregation’s.[1] Many commentators believe the hands in question to be the apostles’. Out of those, some see this as a congregational decision, but not a congregational laying on of hands,[2] and some seem to focus mainly on the apostles’ role.[3] On the other hand, the text does allow for the antecedent to be the ones who set them in front of the apostles, making this a congregational practice.[4] Fifth, while Culpepper sees a clear parallel in the structure of this passage with the structure of the Numbers 27:16-23 inauguration of Joshua by Moses,[5] this passage does not indicate that any power was transferred from the apostles to the seven. Sixth, Culpepper also notes a topical parallel with the Numbers 8:10 dedication of the Levites. [6] An argument could be made here that the apostles or the people were creating representatives to take care of a specific issue on their behalf.

[1] See Beverly Roberts Gaventa, The Acts of the Apostles, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003), 115.

[2] See for example F.F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 122, who states that “it was the community as a whole that selected these seven men and presented them to the apostles for their approbation; it was the apostles who installed them in office”; Culpepper, “The Biblical Basis for Ordination,” 478, states that “the insertion of Codex Bezae makes it clear that only the apostles laid hands on the seven, but the sense of the text is that the whole congregation performed this rite”.

[3] See for examples: Daube, The New Testament and Rabbinical Judaism, 237, believes that this is samakh performed by the apostles; Ammonius Catena on the Acts of the Apostles 6.6 in Francis Martin, ed., Acts, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT V (Downers Grove: IVP, 2006), 71; Jaroslav Pelikan, Acts, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005), 94-5.

[4] Jerome D. Quinn and William C. Wacker, The First and Second Letters to Timothy, The Eerdmans Critical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 398, suggest that “the text as it stands probably means that the whole assembly, including the Twelve, prayed and performed the rite.” Cf. Harrison, in Everett Falconer Harrison, Acts: The Expanding Church (Chicago: Moody, 1975), 106-7, is among many commentators who point this out as a possibility, but then argues against it. Harrison’s argument centers on the apostle’s statement in v. 3: “whom we may appoint over this business” (emphasis mine).

[5] Culpepper, “The Biblical Basis for Ordination,” 478.

[6] Ibid.

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