Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Elders in Every City: The Origin and Role of the Ordained Ministry

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Elders in Every City: The Origin and Role of the Ordained Ministry

Article excerpt

Elders in Every City: The Origin and Role of the Ordained Ministry. By Roger Beckwith. Carlisle, UK and Waynesboro, Ga.: Paternoster Press, 2003. 103 pp. $9.99 (paper).

This is an impressive little book, for into only eighty-four pages of discussion the author compresses a huge body of data, so arranging it as to support a plausible thesis that the threefold Christian ministry of deacon, priest, and bishop has developed from a single office, that of the Jewish elder. The book's title comes from Titus 1:5, in which the Pauline author reminds his fellow worker in Crete to "appoint elders (presbyteroï) in every town as I directed you" (see also Acts 14:23). Beckwith s thesis is not a new one-Bishop J. B. Lightfoot held to a version of it-but here a great deal of Jewish literature, unknown or little known to Christian scholars until the mid-twentieth century, is marshaled in order to build what is arguably one of the better foundations for the elder-origin position.

In Beckwith s view, the term "elder" functions as a great umbrella, comprehending the broad categories of teacher and ruler, as well as the designations "Pharisee" and "scribe." Beckwith concludes that elders in the first century could be older males or senior (mature) believers of any age. Jesus was an elder, and so was Paul, the latter having been trained by the teaching elder Gamaliel. In Judaism, elders could be laymen or priests, but most belonged to the lay estate (pp. 28-41). Early on in the church's life, Beckwith argues, elders were closely linked with apostles (Acts 15:2-6, 22-23; 16:4; 21:18) and soon came to be seen as their successors (Acts 20:17). In two passages (Acts 20:28 and 1 Pet. 5:1-2) elders are identified with bishops; and in a third (Titus 1:5-7) the identification can be inferred easily. Beckwith concludes that during the latter years of the apostolic era the term "bishop" came to be applied to a chief presbyter who had been chosen and ordained by other elders. The Christian diaconate was probably a new office, referring to a servant or assistant of the chief presbyter (pp. 67-68).

In the course of his argument Beckwith makes a number of good points, among them his insistence that charismatic gifts were never separated from institutional ministries during the New Testament era (see 1 Tim. …

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