Research Paper on Ecclesiology

In the Pastoral Epistles, we find considerable attention given to appropriate structures of leadership and to the qualities and behavior required from elders. Here it is clear that the elders of the churches are resident members of the communities, specifically male heads of households. The leaders are referred to as episkopoi, diakonoi, and presbyteroi, although little is said about their roles and responsibilities that would enable any clear distinctions to be drawn between the functions of the different “offices.” (Holmberg 34)

More attention is given to describing the qualities which must characterize such leaders. As has often been pointed out, these are essentially the stock characteristics of decent and respectable well-to-do persons in Greco-Roman society (Knight 77). The bishop or episkopos, among other things, “must mange his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way — for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?” ( 1 Tim 3: 4-5). Deacons likewise must “manage their children and their households well” ( 1 Tim 3: 12); this wording is surely an indication also that such households often included slaves as well as wife and children.

1 Tim 5: 17 is an important and revealing reference. The elders who rule well (the verb proistemi is used as in Rom 12: 8 and 1 Thess 5: 12), especially those who labor in word and teaching, are to be considered worthy of “double honor,” which should most probably be taken as a reference to a level of financial support (Knight 82).

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The legitimation then given in verse 18 for the support of elders — resident leaders in the community — is particularly noteworthy, for it uses two citations, both of which had been used in earlier times to legitimate the material support of itinerant leaders. The citation from Deut 25: 4, «you shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,» is used by Paul in 1 Cor 9: 9 to underscore the right of the traveling apostles to support. (Campbell 62)

The second citation, apparently referred to by the author of 1 Timothy as “Scripture” (graphe), along with Deut 25: 4, is the proverb of Jesus from the synoptic mission discourse which explains why the itinerant apostles can expect their support from others: “the worker is worthy of his wage” (Lk 10: 7; cf., Mt 10: 20). These scriptural and dominical legitimations for the material support of itinerant missionaries have here become legitimations for the support of resident elders. (Holmberg 101)

Assuming that the Pastoral Epistles are pseudonymous, it is most likely that their implied recipients, Timothy and Titus, are indeed implied, fictional, rather than real. The entire literary framework is a pseudonymous device to convey a sense of authenticity and apostolic authority. The letters present themselves as the instruction of Paul to two of his trusted and prominent co-workers. (Wedderburn 153)

This adds a further kind of legitimation to the appointment and position of the resident elders. The whole literary context of 1 Timothy, for example, is one in which Paul urges Timothy to remain in Ephesus ( 1 Tim 1: 3) so that he can ensure that sound teaching is followed, so that he can “teach and urge the duties” which the letter details (6:2b), faithfully guarding what has been entrusted to him (6: 20).

If the reference to “laying on of hands” in 5:22 is to a form of «ordination» -designating certain people as those in a position of leadership — as many commentators think (Campbell 80), then Timothy has a special charge to appoint leaders carefully. This responsibility is clearer still in the letter formally addressed to Titus, who, according to the letter, has been left in Crete in order to “appoint elders in every town” ( Titus 1:5).

This appointment of leaders is presented as Paul’s explicit instruction – “as I directed you.” (Towner 118) There follows a list of the qualities required of elders and of the bishop (Titus 1: 5-9). Thus the appointment and authority of resident leaders is legitimated as something commanded by Paul and enacted through his most prominent delegates.

Thus the author of the Pastoral Epistles supports and strengthens the position of the elders in the churches of his time; he seeks to ensure that positions of leadership are filled by those of an appropriate social standing -male heads of households.

The Pastoral Epistles are also fiercely polemical letters that expend considerable energy in labeling the opponents as “despicable deviants” 13 (e.g., 1 Tim 1: 4-7, 4: 1-3, 6: 3-10; 2 Tim 2: 14-26, 3: 1-9; Titus 1: 10-14.). The conventional nature of the polemic means that it is hard to «mirror read» from the Pastorals much reliable information concerning the beliefs, ethos, and practices of the opponents. (Towner 121)

On the specific subject of leadership among the so-called false teachers, little is revealed. However, it seems clear that the “false” forms of the faith allow women to take leading roles, or at least, that women regard themselves as legitimate teachers and propagators of this faith.

Why else would the author of 1 Timothy need to make the stern declaration. The author fears that, outside the structure of the household (5: 14), they will roam from house to house, “saying what they should not say” (5: 13). This can hardly with confidence be described as an itinerant form of missionary activity (though it may be that), but at the very least what we seem to encounter is a form of the faith, branded by the author of the Pastorals as false and Satanic, to which women are attracted and which they spread as they move from house to house (Towner 130).

For the author of the letters, who sees an intimate connection between the structure of the household, leadership in the churches, and socially respectable behavior, such younger widows should “marry, bear children, and manage their households” (Campbell 101). Forms of the faith, which operate outside of, or present a challenge to, the structure of the household are a threat.

Within the canonical Pauline corpus, then, a clear trajectory can be seen in which the locus of power and authority shifts from the itinerant apostles, Paul and his co-workers, to the male heads of households resident in the Christian communities, though this resident leadership is still legitimated in Paul’s name.

Certainly it is true that a number of householders had significant power and influence in the Pauline communities during Paul’s own lifetime. It is also true that the pattern of community life and structure which the author of the Pastoral epistles urges is not uncontroversially established; it is presented in the context of a harsh and vituperative polemic against those who see things differently. The extent of the transformation should not therefore be exaggerated, but neither should it be downplayed. (Holmberg 132)

Evidence from other early Christian epistles from the late first and early second century may also be drawn into this picture. 1 Peter, written from Rome sometime between 75 and 90 C.E., though it deals little with structures of leadership in the communities, addresses the elders of the communities to which the letter is sent ( 1 Pet 5: 1-4). These figures, who are probably resident leaders of seniority in both faith, age, and social position, are urged to exercise their pastoral role and “oversight,” episkopountes, willingly. And those who are younger are instructed to accept the authority of the elders (Towner 137).

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