Monday, December 3, 2012

Taking Care of God's Church: 1 Timothy 3:5

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In American courts, there is the principle of “Discovery Misconduct.” “There are many different types of misconduct,” but “one of the most common types is the withholding of evidence.” If “relevant information” that “would have affected the outcome of the trial" [jury’s decision, sp] is not provided , then the “court may order” disclosure of the information and “grant more time to review.” If evidence is not “disclosed that would favor the defendant” a mistrial may be declared by the judge.

In the “courtroom” of the American Church, not only is information not disclosed, but only one “lawyer” (gospel preacher) is allowed to speak to the “jury” of Christian listeners. I think the real Judge of the church Jesus—not the eldership—would have a problem with this, 1 Cor. 14:29-34. Some may think that “the truth” has already been settled, but perhaps thinking this way is the problem. When additional evidence is withheld, it must be allowed into court, because the purpose of the system is to allow the truth to come to light, not control the outcome.

Two years ago, I was involved in an intense discussion in a Sunday morning Bible class about the kind of "authority" God gives elders, so I prepared for the onslaught of "obey, submit, rule" passages that are misused to sustain and support the hierarchical interpretation of the verses that have these words. I came across some interesting information on two words/phrases in 1 Timothy 3:4-5. One is the word “rule” in the KJV (proistemi) [pro-ee-stay-me] and the other is the phrase “take care of” (epimeleomai) [epee-mel-e-oh-my].

‘Proistemi’ is translated "rule" in the KJV. Thayer does not even list "rule" as a usage. Strong gives it lastly, but the general idea is to "inspect” or “lead" as its compound of pros + istemi = "before + stand" shows. The interesting thing that I came across is the phrase “take care of” (epimeleomai) in 1 Timothy 3:5 which Paul tells Timothy was the purpose of a man being a ‘proistemi.’ 

Foremost, notice that being a ‘proistemi’ (manager, ruleth, rule) is an ability [qualification] of the man for the purpose of “taking care of” God’s church—not “managing or ruling” God’s church. His rule is only among his own family to show his maturity in these abilities so that he can, again, “take care of” God’s church. Jesus is the only Ruler/Lawmaker/Judge in His Church (James 4:12).

Here are 1 Tim. 3:4-5 in the NIV and KJV:
He must manage [proistemi] his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. If anyone does not know how to manage [proistemi] his own family, how can he take care of [epimeleomai] God’s church? (1 Tim. 3:4-5, NIV).

One that ruleth [proistemi] well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; For if a man know not how to rule [proistemi] his own house, how shall he take care of [epimeleomai] the church of God? (1 Tim. 3:4-5, KJV).
The phrase “take care of” (epimeleomai) is found only one other time in the NT in The Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:34-35. Again, this phrase, “take care of,” is stated as the purpose of the abilities/qualities of an elder in 1 Tim. 3:5. In 1 Thess. 5:12, Paul urges us to “know” them that "are over you" (proistemi) in the Lord and admonish us, and to esteem them highly for “their work’s sake.” What is their work? As I mentioned, the same phrase/word for "take care of" (epimeleomai) in 1 Tim. 3:5 is found only one other time in the NT, in the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:34-35. What did the Good Samaritan do? What was his work? His work was not to “rule.” His work was to “take care of.”

His work was to “take care of” the injured man on the side of the road. If we compare the Good Samaritan with "calling for the elders of the church to pray for the sick and anoint them with oil" (James 5:14), especially with James’ context of “works” accompanying prayers in 2:15-17: “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? ”and, then, also add Peter's comments about elders to be only "examples to the flock" and not to be "overlords" (1 Peter 5:1ff), we begin to see the picture of God’s elder.

The idea of "proistemi" (“rule,” KJV) is not control of other families, or to "get on to brethren" when they don’t come to church, or to steward portions of other families monies in a church treasury which those families should steward ‘at home,’ but to "pour oil" on their wounds like the Samaritan did with his own money (Luke 10:34-35).

To “lead by example” as Peter instructs (1 Pet. 5:3) in sacrificially serving (risking your life, taking care of like a shepherd, defending) others who are in need—to have and show mercy like Christ—the Chief Shepherd—did by example. This is a ‘proistemi’ (“ruler”) in God's sight. He "stands before," goes first, or leads by example of his character and "labor." This is God’s “rule,” or standard, for what all Christians are to be and do and what a “ruler” does.

He is a “governor or manager” in the sense of first being and doing what all Christians are to be and do in their own families—not another's family. That’s dysfunctional. His example/abilities/qualities are his authority, and they are displayed in his own life for all to see and be “persuaded” by (Heb. 13:17). There is no “office” with a separate status of power over others. He simply "desires to do" a good “work” (1 Tim. 3:1).

Also, when noticing 1 Timothy 5:17 that "elders are to direct (proistemi) the affairs of the church," this is leading/inspecting/going first in the context of "taking care of widows (and I presume orphans) and handling money" (1 Tim. 5:1-16). One of the qualities/capacities/ abilities/maturities of elders is "not a lover of money.” An elder must “manage” (proistemi, "stand before," go ahead of others by example like the Good Samaritan in taking care of others, and be good at managing his own money, etc.)—his own household well—with all dignity (showing integrity, not hypocrisy) "keeping his children submissive" (because they will know if he is for real or not and show him no respect if he is not real and rebel), "for if someone does not know how to manage (proistemi) his own household," Paul writes, "how will he “care for” (epimeleomai) God's church?"

The "caring for" God’s church and “putting money at the apostles/elders feet” is distributing the money to widows, orphans, and others such as those in the famine of Judea (Acts 5:1ff; cf. 11:27-30; 1 Cor. 16:1-4). Now we are getting what the idea of 'directing the affairs of the church' and 'ruling,' or what being a 'proistemi' is for, in God's sight. It is completely for serving, protecting and honestly distributing money to those in need. And this is exactly how the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament understands ‘proistemi:’
The eight instances of proistemi…occur in the Pauline corpus and…in most cases seem to have the sense “to lead,” but the context shows in each case that one must also take into account “to care for.” This is explained by the fact that caring was the obligation of leading members of the infant Church…Thus Paul says in Romans 12:8…”He who gives let him do so with simplicity, he who cares (proistemi) with zeal, he who does good with cheerfulness…” so that the proistamenoi [plural for proistemi] are a special group separated by the Spirit for the primary task of caring for others....The position is the same in 1 The. 5:12. According to the context, the task of the proistamenoi is in large measure that of pastoral care, and the emphasis is not on their rank or authority but on their efforts…(Vol. 6, pp. 700-701).
These "works" are not what elders are to be doing "in addition to ruling," these are their 'delegated' works. Being an elder is not about controlling people with man made "expedient" laws. It has nothing to do with the American corporate, western Gentile, military style, top-down 'rule' that Jesus condemns in Matthew 20:25 where some Christians occupy a position of superior status and others are inferior. As Jesus said:

"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you....” (Matt. 20:25-26).

In his book ReImagining Church, Frank Viola writes:

“Some may wonder why the KJV obscures so many texts that have to do with ministry and oversight. Why does the KJV repeatedly insert hierarchical/institutional terms like “office” that are absent from the original documents?” [The Greek text does not have the word "office" in 1 Tim. 3:1 when referring to "bishop;" nor in 1 Tim. 3:10, 13 when referring to deacons, sp]. The answer stems from the fact that the Anglican Church (The Church of England) of the 17th century issued the KJV. That church rigidly espoused the wedding of the church and the state.”

“King James VI of Scotland ordered the translation that bears his name (King James Version). In doing so, the king acted in the capacity of the head of the Anglican church—the state church of England. He then directed the 54 scholars who authored the translation not to depart from "traditional terminology" throughout the project. For this reason, the KJV naturally reflects Anglicanism's hierarchical/ institutional presuppositions."

"Words like ekklesia, episkopos and diakonos were not accurately translated from the Greek. Instead they were translated into the—then—modern English words. Ekklesia was translated into "church;" episkopos was translated into "bishop;" diakonos was translated into "minister;" praxis was translated into "office;" proistemi was translated into "rule."

"Thankfully, some modern translations have sought to rectify this problem. They have "de-Anglicized" many of the ecclesiastical terms found in the KJV. They have accurately translated the Greek words that stand behind them. For example, ekklesia has been translated "assembly;" episkopos has been translated "overseer;" diakonos has been translated "servant;" praxis has been translated "function;" and proistemi has been translated "guard."

“The primary reason why our ideas on church leadership have strayed so far from God's will can be traced to our tendency to project Western political notions of government onto the Biblical writers—reading them back into the text. [I think this is being done with 'ruleth, rule' in 1 Timothy 3:4-5 instead of realizing that the purpose of being a ‘proistemi’ is to 'take care of'—not rule, sp].

Viola continues,

“When we read words like "pastor" "overseer" and "elder," we immediately think in terms of government offices like "president," "senator," and "chairman." So we regard elders, pastors, and overseers as sociological constructs (offices). We view them as vacant slots that possess a reality independent of the persons who populate them. We then ascribe mere men with unquestioned authority simply because they "hold office." (bold emph. mine, sp).

“The New Testament notion of leadership is markedly different. As previously stated, there’s no biblical warrant for the idea that the church leadership is official. Neither is there any scriptural backing for the notion that some believers have authority over other believers. The only authority that exists in the church is Jesus Christ. Humans have no authority in themselves. Divine authority is vested only in the Head and expressed through the body [or 'by example,' sp].”

“Good leadership, therefore, is never authoritarian. It only displays authority when it's expressing the mind of Jesus Christ. The basic tasks of biblical leadership are facilitation, nurture, guidance, and service. To the degree that a member is modeling the will of God in one of those areas, to that degree he or she is leading [cf. Acts 18:26; Romans 16:3-5, 15-16, sp]. It’s no wonder that Paul never chose to use any of the forty-plus common Greek words for ‘office’ and ‘authority’ when discussing leaders. Again, Paul’s favorite word for describing leadership is the opposite of what natural minds would suspect [see 1 Cor. 2:1-16, sp]. It’s diakonos, which means a ‘servant.”

It is not the elders responsibility to ensure that the truth is taught. It is every Christian's responsibility to see that the truth is taught. Elders are specifically forbidden from exercising authority over other Christians (Matthew 20:25-26; 1 Peter 5:1-5), and others who say, “If I submit to them, then they are not violating Christ’s command not to 'exercise dominion' over me" does not change these verses. Perhaps, we should not be ‘submitting’ in this fashion and should start standing up for Jesus, the only true Judge and Lawgiver in His “Courtroom,” especially since our system of allowing only one “lawyer” to speak and influence the “jury” is not His way of doing church (1 Cor. 14:29-34; cf. Acts 20:7).


Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon

Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible

New International Version

King James Version

Theological Dictionary of the New Testament

Reimagining Church:
I am only recommending Part 2: Leadership & Accountability and, especially, the Appendix that answers specific questions regarding specific verses about authority.

1 comment:

  1. Many times in sermons we hear, "This is a military word...." Simply because a word like "submit" (hypotasso) has a "military usage" does mean that a Bible writer's usage implies that military usage. It certainly does not mean that a few have power over the many, nor the right to run God's church with military structured authority. The church is not a religious version of the hierarchical military.

    The word "submit" also has a non-military usage, but when only one man is allowed to speak in the assembly of Christians, or he is the spokesman for oligarchical authority, or his peer group dominates the pulpit, then the agenda of the few goes unchallenged at the most important time. For example, concerning this word "submit," Blue Letter Bible says:

    "This word was a Greek military term meaning "to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader." In non-military use, it was "a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden."

    Check it out for yourself here:

    Did you see that? A "non-military" usage. Which definition do you think someone who teaches "love your enemies" would use? Which usage would you say Someone who teaches, "You know that the rulers among the Gentiles exercise authority, but it shall not be so among you..." would use? (Matt. 20:25). Or that "all power is given to Me..." (Matt. 28:20 would use?

    A "non military usage" has nothing to do with making laws for controlling others to submit to for "unity" or to avoid "chaos" or so people "don't get killed." Submit (hypotasso) is simply a respectful attitude all are to have toward one another--not obedience of inferior positions to superior positions. All Christians are to have this attitude--not just "the younger" (see Eph. 5:21).

    Also, why is the word "likewise" seemingly omitted from the traditional interpretation of 1 Peter 5:1-7? In this passage, the younger are told "likewise" submit to the elders. If the younger were told to "likewise submit," or "in the same way submit" (1 Pet. 5:5, NIV 2011), then that means the elders were to "submit" first by example which is why Peter says, "not lording it over, but being examples" (1 Pet. 5:3) which he heard from Jesus Himself (see Matt. 20:25).

    If "submit" means a "military word" that implies obedience to authority, then does this mean the younger can make laws of expediency to govern the church? Why would "submit" mean something different for some Christians when Peter says, "in the same way" for the "younger" to submit to the elders?

    I believe that we need to realize that churches of Christ have inherited the hierarchical combination of church and state/military, are reading this view back into the Bible, and are conducting a religious version of our current culture's view of authority.