Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Are We Captives of Babylon?

"I see this same dynamic at play in the church today. So many Christians (both liberal and conservative) are disgusted to be in “exile” amidst the sinful, secular, bastions of empire. They curse the culture, they curse the government, and metaphorically hang up their harps and withdraw from the system. Since the system is evil, they choose to wash their hands of it and refuse to get involved."--Julie Clawson

Julie Clawson, over at Onehandclapping, put together this insightful post about the Jews during the Babylonian captivity and how their situation and attitude unfortunately reflects the Church's today.

Psalm 137 records the prayer/cry of the Jews for revenge against "God's enemies" after being taken into captivity. This is the same psalm that celebrates the enemies' infants being smashed against rocks:

O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us- he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.
-Psalm 137:8-9

For the life of me, I could not figure out how God could "endorse" this kind of prayer that advocates murdering innocent children. This is where discernment between descriptive truth and prescriptive truth comes in handy. Head over to Julie's blog to find out why this passage is descriptive of the Jews state of heart and mind and not a prescriptive truth from God on what the right state of heart should be.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Phoebe: A Deacon of The Early Church

"What was Phoebe's work? Was it material or spiritual? Was her chief duty to 'mend men's socks,' as one fellow put it? Was that the way she served, or deaconed the Church? The phrase "whatsoever business" (affairs) implies that she rendered a variety of service. It is not at all reasonable to suppose that the Holy Spirit would make such prominent and important mention of Phoebe if she did nothing more than mend socks for "many and for Paul." Can anyone honestly dodge the fact that she was an official?"--A. S. Copley

Phoebe is an intriguing character briefly mentioned at the end of Romans. Paul, who had not yet been to Rome, sends Phoebe to deliver his letter, what we now know as the book of Romans. Think, Phoebe was entrusted with the original scripture to carry over 800 miles, by boat, to the Romans. Letter carriers also were given verbal instructions to explain parts of the letter as they read it out loud to the recipients.

"I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also."--Paul, Romans 16:1-2:

There are three key Greek words used to describe Phoebe, adelphe, "sister;" diakonos, "deacon/minister/servant;" and prostatis, "patroness/protector."

English versions tend to translate these words found in this verse with technical accuracy, but fail to achieve contextual and consistent accuracy. If Phoebe was a man the words "diakonos" and "prostatis" would be translated as deacon/minister and leader/protector. But because Phoebe is a woman, translators opted for "servant" and "helper." The word helper is especially misleading. In English, "helper" connotates the weaker, less qualified aid that comes under a superior, more qualified leader and carries out their bidding or tends to their menial business to free the superior one to tend to more important matters. However, a helper in Hebrew and Greek was considered to be one of superior strength and status with superior resources, who was in a position to rescue or lift others out of dire situations. In fact, the word helper in Hebrew, ezer, is attributed to God 17 times in the Old Testament and a handful of times to the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. One who helps was seen as the stronger, not the weaker. The word prostatis literally means "a woman set over or put in front of others" and should be translated as protector or benefactor. Paul asks that the church (men and women) to come along side her and provide assistance with her affairs.

Paul is abundantly clear that Phoebe was a prominent leader in the church of Cenchrea because she helped him and many others. Prostatis is the feminine form of the Latin patronus, which means "one who is the legal representative of the foreigner." In Jewish communities it meant
the legal representative or wealthy patron. Phoebe somehow was the legal protector of the Christians at Cenchrea. In the Old Testament this noun is used of officials in charge of the work of the King (1 Chron 29:6) and of chief officers “who ruled over the people” (2 Chron 8:10). In its verb form the word means to be at the head of, to rule, to direct” and it is used of those who “rule” in the church (Romans 12:8, 1 Thess 5:12, 1 Tim 5:17).

Translators also the conveniently choose the word "servant" for diakonos instead of minister or deacon, but this is an inconsistent interpretative-choice based on the biased theological supposition that asserts a woman could not be an "official" deacon/minister, so Paul must have meant that Phoebe was an everyday servant with no leadership role in the church whatsoever. However, this is not how Paul used the word diakonos in his letters, nor does it fit the immediate context of his introduction of her. Paul, who had not yet been to Rome, vouches for Phoebe to verify her leadership role in the church, so the people will cooperate with her and join in on the mission she was on. Why would Paul entrust a "table waiter" to be his representative 800 miles away to a church he had never been to and give her the sole responsibility of delivering and explaining what would become scripture and ask the church in Rome to assist her in whatever work she was there to do? This is obviously missionary language and an official recommendation for Phoebe.

Paul consistently used diakonos to describe an official leadership position and tied it with the ministry of the word, evangelism, missionary work, preaching and teaching the gospel to others with authority from God to do so.

Paul applies diakonos to Phoebe in the same way he applies it to himself and to other colleagues in his ministry who preached, taught, and lead. He described her as a (or even the) deacon of the church in Cenchrea.

Consider these scriptures:

Col. 1:23-25: "...Of this church I was made a minister (diakonos) to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God..."

1 Cor. 3:5: "What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants (diakonos) through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one."

Ephesians 3:7: "Whereof I was made a minister (diakonos), according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power."

2 Corinthians 3:6: "Who also hath made us able ministers (diakonos) of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life."

1 Thessalonions 3:2: "And sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister (diakonos) of God, and our fellowlabourer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith..."

Ephesians 6:21: "But that ye also may know my affairs, and how I do, Tychicus, a beloved brother and faithful minister (diakonos) in the Lord, shall make known to you all things.."

Also see: 2 Corinthians 6:4, 2 Corinthians 11:15, 2 Corinthians 11:23, Phillipians 1:1,1 Timothy 3:8, 1 Timothy 3:12, and 1 Timothy 4:6.

Paul consistently ties being a "deacon/minister/servant" with preaching the word, teaching the word, nourishing others with the word, holding onto good doctrine, and being a vessel through which others come to Jesus. So are we to think that because Paul addresses a woman with this title that all of a sudden the word diakonon means something other than it's official usage in the early church? That these women remained silent and only waited tables? (nothing wrong with waiting tables and doing domestic chores, Christ washed his disciples feet. The point is that doing those acts does not preclude one from teaching, preaching or using whatever spiritual gift they have been endowed with in the midst of the entire church body.)

Paul's form even denotes that Phoebe is an official deacon/minister in the church of Cenchrea. He calls her diakonon in its masculine form. If he wanted the Christians in Rome to believe she was some sort of waitress, he would have called her a doulos or used the feminine form for "servant," but no, he uses the masculine, official term consistently used throughout the new testament to describe a specific leadership role within the church.

Advocates for women priests concur:

"Are we to change the meaning of the exact same words just because they are applied to a woman? When a man is called a deacon, it means he was a leader in the church, could be as prominent as Stephen, but a woman is called a deacon, it means she nothing but a letter carrier with no leadership authority to guide others in the church into a closer walk with Christ. The early Greek Fathers certainly understood Phoebe to have been an ordained minister. Clement of Alexandria (150 - 215) speaks of the ‘women deacons’ (diakonoi gunaikes) whom ‘the noble Paul mentions in his letters’. Origen (185 - 255) states: ‘This text (Romans 16,1-2) teaches with the authority of the Apostle that also women are instituted as deacons in the Church’. And may we omit the testimony of Pliny the Younger, Roman governor of Bithynia (112 AD), who reports that he arrested a group of Christians whose two female leaders bore the title of ministrae (Latin for diakonoi)?"---from

How the role of deacon got separated from preaching, teaching, and leading is the product of church tradition, not biblical precedent. Paul regularly ties the role of "diakonon" to teaching the gospel to others.

I thought the writer of this website explained the evolution of diakonon well:

Yes, "diakonos" can mean servant, but in Pauline ecclesiological usage "servant" takes on the nuances inherent in "Servant of the Lord" language from the OT, especially in regard to Moses. While non-ecclesiological usage could refer to someone who does menial task, anyone who is referred to as a diakonos in ministry takes on a high status. In fact, according to context, diakonos is often translated as "minister".Moreover, the fact that Phoebe is listed as a diakonos "of the church Cenchrea," makes likely the diakonos is an official position. This is all the more obvious when we take into account that Paul is giving formal introduction to her to the Roman churches. Such formal introductions were commonly given in letters of referral, which this epistle contains for her. In such letters, the referrer would normally emphasize the referee's official capacity.--from Treasures Old and New Biblical Texts.

Dianne McDonnell elaborates about the evolved meaning of diakonos and Phoebe's legacy in this article:
Phoebe: Traveling Through Time.

Friday, July 4, 2008

What About Women Elders and Deacons? Part 2

Elders and deacons in the early church were people who already served the church in a certain capacity according to gifting and were then recognized for it. They also were not limited to these roles or labels. For example, Stephan is considered to be the first deacon, but we know that while he aided the elders and served many, he also preached the gospel publicly and performed signs and wonders with authority.

"And Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people" (Acts 6:8)... "they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke..." (Acts 6:10).

So just because one serves others, does not preclude them from leading, preaching, or teaching. One can both be a "foot washer" and a bold leader in the church. That is the beautiful counter-cultural, counter-worldly possibilities of the redemptive gospel, where authority and service is shared and determined by giftings, not "status" or the amount of power you can exercise over another. We submit ourselves to others, cooperating with each other, and all ultimately [should] submit to Christ.

"Requirements" for Elders and Deacons.

Paul leaves Timothy on in Ephesus and Titus on in Crete to appoint elders and deacons and to combat widespread false teachings. Paul wants capable believers to fulfill these roles. Desired attributes for elders and deacons are found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.

The words for "elder/bishop" is presbyter/epikosmos and are masculine, as is the word diakonon, the word for deacon. Before "elder" became a leadership role in the church, it literally meant, "the aged" or "the elderly." However, the ministry of elders did not require a candidate to be literally old, but older or more mature in the faith. This is how the term elder was coined. Similarly, diakonon is masculine and literally means "servant" or "minister." This was a fitting title for this specific leadership role within the church because of Christ's admonishment found in Matthew 20:25-28:

But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

It should be noted that diakonon became an "official" word among Christians referring to a specific ministry/leadership role within the church and not just anyone who serves others, for ALL christians are called to become servants. But the mark of leadership in the Church should be through SERVICE to others, not the ability to control others and give orders.

presbyter and diakonon, while masculine in nature, are used in the early church, much how ekklesia and adelphos are used. Ekklesia, a feminine noun, means church or more literally, "the called out ones." Even though this word is feminine, we know that when ekklesia is used in scripture it includes men, too. Adelphos, masculine, is translated as brethren, and was also used to include both women and men when speaking of believers. We will see in the another post that Phoebe was called a diakonon, in it's masculine form, even though she is clearly a woman.

Presbytera, the feminine of presbyter, appears in 1 Tim. 5:2, while the masculine form occurs in the preceding verse (5:1). If 1 Tim. 5:1 refers to an elder who is to be entreated as a father (as indicated in older versions), then verse 2 refers to a woman elder who is to be entreated as a mother.

This next commentary I found through a commenter of CBE.

In 1st Timothy Chapter 3 and 5:17-19, Paul outlined in detail the office of the presbyter (elder). "After completing his list of qualifications for bishops and deacons (I Tim 3:1-10), he continued by including the women when he said, "qunaikas hosautos" or "women likewise." Hosautos links the entire list of qualifications into one single theme. It links the deacons with the bishops in verse 8 and then links them to women in verse 11. The usual translation for presbyter (elder) is "older men" and "older women" but the Greek word is the same one used for elders everywhere. If consistency is to be maintained, then "presbutero" and "presbuteras" should be translated as men presbyters and women presbyters. A more nearly correct translation would be, "Do no sharply rebuke a male presbyter, but appeal to him as a father, to the young men as brothers, women presbyters as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity."

Catherine Kroeger, a bible scholar, speaks about the existence of female elders in the early church"
"Titus (2:3-5) also gives a list for those who hold the title of presbytis, the  feminine word that
corresponds to the masculine presbytes. In some versions presbytes
is translated elder,
while the feminine term in the next verse is rendered "old woman." Though often translated
as "old woman," presbytis was used in early Christian literature to denote female presbyters

(Lampe, Patristic Greek Lexicon lc 2B).
There is a qualification list for these women: reverent
in life style, not slanderers or addicted to much wine. They must be hieroprepeis (worthy of
the priesthood), again an indication of fitness for a special office.They were also to be
"teachers of good things.""

While Paul admonishes older women to teach younger women, he does not limit their teaching.
In a world where the sexes were segregated in nearly all aspects of life, even in the home
(separate entrances and rooms for each sex), naturally women would be teaching women more
than they would men. But this is not because women teaching men is inherently wrong, but it
was just not practical in this culture. However, women could easily gain entrance to certain
sectors of society and bring the gospel to places that men could not always, such as leper colonies
and other places where the poor and sick were kept, including men.

Paul also instructs older men to teach younger men, but we would never conclude that this limits
older men from teaching the entire congregation when they gather. It is common sense that
older men would be natural mentors to younger men and older women would be mentors to
younger women. This, however, does not mean they have nothing to offer the opposite sex when
teaching the Gospel or using their gifts in midst of the entire body.

Also, every other passage dealing with presbyteros in the pastorals is taken to refer to
officeholders, including two passages in this same chapter of 1 Timothy (5:17, 19).

The main reason cited for excluding women from serving as deacons and elders is the phrase
mias gunaikos andra translated in most English versions as "husband of one wife," which is
viewed as a
requirement for eldership and deaconship. Since women cannot be the "husband of
one wife,"
it is assumed that only men are permitted to perform these roles within the church.
People who use the "husband of one wife," clause to exclude women from this role, must also then use it to exclude single men, remarried men, widowers, and men without children or men with only one child or still young children. These admonishments from Paul are not so much qualifications are they are disqualifications for people certain scenarios, i.e., men with multiple wives, rebellious children, and so forth, not that they have to HAVE a wife and children, but IF they do, this is what is acceptable. "The husband of one wife," clause seems not to be a qualification, but a disqualification for polygamist men.

The options of "husband of one wife"--

A man must be presently married to one wife, in other words, he cannot be a polygamist, Polygamy was common among MEN in Roman, Greek and even Jewish culture. It is the only gender-related "requirement," and since men were the only ones allowed to have more than one spouse, it is natural that Paul would only direct it to the man. The rest of the qualifications are all in gender-neutral language in the original Greek with words like tisi, which means person or one. Although most English translations use the the pronoun "he," the original greek uses the word "one."

We know polygamy existed in the culture. When people were converted it was from that culture, and the problems of the culture were promptly imported to the church.

If one maintains that a man MUST be married in order to serve as an elder in the church, this is problematic for a few reasons. One Paul, who was notoriously single, would be excluding himself from this office, even though he refers to himself as an elder in Philemon 1:9. Where Paul applies it to himself ("I Paul, the elder"). Many English versions simply translate this verse as "I Paul, the aged" or " an old man," but the word in the Greek is presbyters, the word Paul regularly uses to describe a leadership role in the church. In the context of this verse, he is appealing to the church to heed his words because he is an elder, not just because he is literally old. Plus, Paul views singleness as an asset to ministry, not a hindrance. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul wrote that he wished everyone could be like himself, celibate and single, so they could serve the Lord without distraction or divided interests. Would Paul wish everyone to be this way and yet forbid the ones who were single from filling such a key leadership role?

Catherine Kroeger also believes the husband of one wife clause was meant specifically to disqualify polygamous men from serving in this capacity.

"The direction that a male elder have only one wife appears to serve as a specific
disqualification for those with multiple wives. It is not necessary, however, for an elder to be married at all. Indeed, the Apostle Paul maintained that his singleness gave him far greater freedom to further the cause of Christ (1 Cor 7:32-35)."

The next posts will look at women deacons and elders throughout church history and Phoebe, who Paul calls a deacon. Forgive me for the length, but it's been quite a while since I've posted anything of substance. :)