Posted by: vicholdsforth | February 11, 2010

The New Testament on Authority (Part 3: Paul and Peter)

In part 1 we looked at the Gospels and discovered that the authority Jesus specifically delegated to His disciples was limited, and not meant to be used upon other persons.  Next we looked at the Pastoral Epistles and discovered that the words “office of,” with the associated hierarchical implications, are absent from the original text.  We also learned that the Greek word episkapo (translated as “overseer” or “bishop”) has no authoritarian connotations whatsoever, but rather, emphasizes the benefit of the person being looked in on.  Today we’ll survey the writings of Paul & Peter.

2 Thess 3 is a good example of some of Paul’s more authoritative writing.  Paul issues “commands” 3 times in this chapter.  The Greek paraggellomen, “I command,” carries the connotation that the person is conveying a command that originated elsewhere, not that the messenger has authority to command or the command originated with the speaker.  Paul explicitly confirms this in 1 Thess:  “he who rejects this is not rejecting man but God” (4:8).  Paraggellomen is also used in 1 Cor 7:10 and 1 Thess 4:2.  This word choice stands in contrast with 1 Timothy 1:1, where Paul uses epitagayn Theou, “the command of God.”  When the command proceeds from the individual with the authority to command, the correct verb is epitagayn.  When the command is being relayed by a messenger, the correct verb is paraggellomen (see also 1 Cor 7:25).

It is also noteworthy to examine the various audiences to whom Paul and the other New Testament writers address their remarks.  Titus contains some of Paul’s most authoritative language:  “refute those who contradict,” (1:9); “they must be silenced,” (1:11); “rebuke them sharply,” (1:13); “declare and reprove with all authority,” (2:15); “insist,” (3:8); “have nothing more to do with anyone who causes divisions,” (3:10).  It is important to note that this strong language is reserved for those who are unregenerate and teaching falsehood.  Paul describes them as “liars and wicked beasts” (1:12) who “pay attention to Jewish myths [and] commandments of those who reject the truth” (1:14)… corrupt and unbelieving (1:15)…perverted and sinful, self-condemned.” (3:11).  Language directed at believers is much softer:  speak (2:1); encourage (1:9, 2:4); exhort (2:6); remind (3:1).

Similarly, Peter uses language like “urge” and “appeal” when speaking to believers.  A “doctor’s orders” metaphor is far more appropriate than a military one when thinking about authority in the household of faith. 1 Pet 5:1-5 provides a look at Peter’s handling of authority in the church:

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed:  Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.  And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.  Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older.  All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another…

In verse 5, Peter uses hupotagay, “submit,” not hupakouete, “obey.”  One of the definitions of hupotagay, “submit,” is to “yield to someone’s admonition and advice.”  The language of the rest of the New Testament, and this letter in particular, makes this the preferable definition of what Peter means by “submit.”  Recall also that “oversight” emphasizes the benefit of the one being looked upon, and lacks an authoritative connotation.  Also noteworthy is that this instruction is reserved for neoteroi,  translated “young men,” literally, the “recently born.”  I believe Peter is referring to new converts, not men in their 20s.  In any event, this instruction is explicitly directed at the young, not the entire congregation, as is evinced by the next clause, “all of you…” Clearly, Peter expects “the recently born” to submit to the elders in a way that is not expected of the mature.  In light of this text, along with Ephesians 4, 1 Cor 3:1-3, and Hebr 5:12-14, the only logical conclusion we may draw is that the Apostles expected believers to mature to the point that they no longer required the perpetual protection of the elders against false teaching.

Though one of the hallmarks of Paul’s writing is its forcefulness, he used authoritative language consistently and exclusively when heresy was in view.  Both Peter and Paul used much softer language when addressing believers.  Even in 1 Cor, a letter to a church with significant problems, Paul appeals, pleads, and warns.  When we pay careful attention to Paul’s word choices we see that he recognized that he was not issuing commands from his own authority, but merely relaying a message on behalf of the One in authority.  And the consistent expectation of the New Testament writers was that believers would not need to be protected by elders forever.


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