Friday, February 5, 2010

Ordination - Evidence in the Pre New Testament Context - Rabbinic Judaism

Some have suggested that the New Testament practice of ordination has its roots in rabbinic Judaism’s practices;[1] therefore, while heeding Culpepper’s warning to take “special care,” pre 70 A.D. Jewish practices will be briefly examined. According to Stancil, Löhse argues for a connection between the rabbinic practice and the New Testament practice stemming from the similar practice of laying on of hands.[2] Daube concurs and emphasizes that in rabbinic times samakh was “restricted to two uses,” one of which was “the ordination of a Rabbi.”[3] Daube thus proceeds to imply that the New Testament practices were based on the rabbinical practices. Culpepper disagrees, stating that “evidence for the laying on of hands prior to A.D. 70 as a ceremony in which individual teachers authorized their students to teach is lacking, and whether it was practiced at this time is debated.”[4] Due to the uncertain historicity of the practice of laying on of hands at the time of the writing of the New Testament, and due to the clearer evidence found in Old Testament practices, it would seem wise to disregard rabbinic evidence about the laying on of hands for the research at hand. This does not imply ignoring all rabbinic tradition, since other practices and traditions might be enlightening for one’s understanding of the New Testament.

Stancil highlights that there existed other similarities and some significant differences between ordination in rabbinic Judaism and in the New Testament, besides the laying on of hands. The similarities he points to are the New Testament existence of the office of elder, which he believes “was a direct borrowing from Judaism,” and that the ordination of a rabbi made a rabbi’s ministry universally valid in any synagogue, as he assumes was the case with the ordination of an elder.[5] If historically valid, the first similarity might point to some validity in using rabbinic tradition to inform the New Testament tradition. As for the second similarity, it is only beneficial if a direct relationship between the rabbinic and New Testament practices is found. With regard to differences, Stancil identifies the following: the rabbinic ceremony granted new authority to the new rabbi, the want-to-be rabbis were required to complete a course of study before their ordination, rabbinic practices lacked the accompaniment of prayer, and there was a lack of focus on the impartation of the Spirit in the rabbinic rite.[6] While his comments are thought provoking, the presence of differences coupled with the lack of concrete evidence for similarities suggests that the best approach is not to focus on rabbinic tradition for the research at hand.

There are other initiation ceremonies that existed in pre 70 A.D. rabbinical practices. Culpepper describes the “elevation to the chair” rite of appointment to the Sanhedrin and lesser courts, which, while interesting, finds no parallel in the New Testament and therefore is of no interest to the research at hand, even if this were, according to Philo, the type of ordination associated with the seventy elders (zāqēn, presbyteros) of Numbers 11:16ff.[7] Moreover, Daube mentions that he sees a tie between the seven chosen in Acts 6 and the ‘Seven of a City’: seven dignitaries chosen to look after the affairs of a Palestinian city who had power of administration, so much so that “the Seven of a City are as if they were the city itself.” Daube unfortunately does not give any specifics of the ceremony associated with the inauguration of the seven, except for the fact that he categorically states that it did not include the rite of samakh.[8] The absence of the rite of samakh renders the inauguration of the seven unhelpful for this research. At the end of the day, the arguments for the rabbinic roots of New Testament ordination lack substance.

In the next several posts we will look at New Testament "data" and then we will finally put it all together.

[1] This is the main hypothesis of the work of Daube in Daube, The New Testament and Rabbinical Judaism. Stancil also refers to the work of Edward Löhse in Edward Löhse, Die Ordination im Spätjudentum und im Neuen Testament (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1951). In regard to the word of Löhse, Culpepper suggests that Löhse’s “anachronism and over-generalization in this area, . . . provoked vigorous discussion since the publication of” his work in 1951. “In particular, Lohse’s conclusion that ‘Christian ordination was modeled on the pattern of that of Jewish scholars, although early Christianity filled it with a new covenant’ has been sharply challenged” (Culpepper, “The Biblical Basis for Ordination,” 474).

[2] Stancil, “The Practice of Ministerial Ordination among Southern Baptists,” 18.

[3] Daube, The New Testament and Rabbinical Judaism, 229.

[4] Culpepper, “The Biblical Basis for Ordination,” 475. Culpepper asserts that “most evidence dates from A.D. 200 or later and at points tendentiously attempts to root prevailing practices in the past” (Ibid., 474). He also concludes his section on “Jewish Procedures” by calling for more research to sort out and clarify the evidence and stating that “until the origins of various traditions are determined more accurately, one cannot be dogmatic” (Ibid., 476).

[5] Stancil, “The Practice of Ministerial Ordination among Southern Baptists,” 22. One has to wonder if Stancil is not being anachronistic when he makes a parallel to present practice when dealing with ordination “extending beyond the confines of the ordaining congregation.” There is no evidence in his writing that he is here pointing to New Testament or early church evidences for such a practice.

[6] Ibid., 22-4.

[7] Culpepper, “The Biblical Basis for Ordination,” 474-5. Culpepper is more comfortable with this ordination evidence because it is drawn from a tradition described in the Assumption of Moses which “dates from the opening decades of the first century A.D. or earlier and is the only evidence for ordination in pre-Christian Judaism.” Here, interestingly, “no laying on of hands is mentioned.”

[8] Daube, The New Testament and Rabbinical Judaism, 237.

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