Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ordination - Analysis - A Clear Pattern of Commissioning - Part 1 of 3

The terminology of laying on of hands seems to be the thread that ties these commissioning passages together from the Old Testament to the New Testament. There is no pattern when it comes to who is supposed to physically do the laying on of hands, but there seems to be a strong indication that even if the whole congregation is not involved, the ones involved are representatives of the congregation. There is much evidence that the Lord is the one who needs to initiate and direct such commissioning, hence the repeated association of prophecy. This is not surprising, for as servants of the Lord, our duty is to do what He commands us: nothing more, nothing less. There is also much evidence for the centrality of prayer in said commissioning. Again, this is not surprising, for prayer should be central to the life of a believer.

Some might argue that the New Testament passages also show a pattern that commissioning should only be done for deacons and elders, but that would not be doing the data justice. In Acts 13, we do not see a commissioning of elders, but of traveling evangelists or missionaries. It is often assumed that Timothy was an elder at Ephesus, but it is much more natural to see him as an apostolic aid.[1] Just from these two comments, we are left with only one passage describing the commissioning of elders (1 Tim 5:22) and, depending on one’s understanding of deacons and Acts 6, possibly one passage describing the commissioning of deacons (Acts 6:1-6). Yet, one last argument will be entertained; it rests with the variety of terms used for the appointing/calling/choosing of people in the New Testament. Two terms are used for the appointing of elders. Paul uses kathistēmi when referring to Titus’ job to “appoint elders in every city” (Titus 1:5). Incidentally, this is the same term used by Luke in Acts 6:3, when the apostles ask for seven men whom they “may appoint.” Unlike Paul, Luke uses cheirotoneô to refer to the appointment of elders by Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:23). The same term, cheirotoneô, is used by Paul for the appointment of traveling companions in 2 Corinthians 8:19. One could easily hypothesize that due to the use of similar appointing terminology, the traveling companions were also probably similarly commissioned for this task. Such a conjecture is given further validity from the Latin Vulgate’s use of ordino, ordinare to translate cheirotoneô in 2 Corinthians 8:19, and from the etymology of cheirotoneô which ties it to the stretching or raising of hands.[2] This therefore opens the door for any number of other commissioning scenarios besides the commissioning of elders and deacons.

[1] See for example: Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 187, 263; Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, 772n82; Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 323.

[2] See DELG, s.v. “χείρ;” BDAG, s.v. “χειροτονέω.”

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