Monday, November 27, 2006

Defining Terms - Apostle

Eddie asks whether the term "apostle" had a general sense, rather that the proposed, non-technical, semi-technical and technical senses. This seems to me to be a very good question, but one hard to answer. Thus far, I am happy with the view offered by Howard Marshall who states:
αποστολοσ is used throughout the NT as a Christian technical term for the authorised representatives of Christ or the churches who are engaged in particular tasks, usually connected with missionary work, including the establishment and supervision of churches, and who have delegated authority for the purpose.
[Marshall, The Pastoral Epistles, pg. 118]
I am happy with the notion that the term apostle has its roots in the Hebrew concept of a Shaliach. Legally speaking, “The-one-whom-a-person-sends (shaliach) is like the sender” (m. Ber. 5:5). Thus, an apostle is a divine representative sent on specific task in the authority of the sender - [who has authority over the recipients?]
The early apostles were commissioned by Jesus to go in his authority to perform certain tasks. This is where the term develops a distinctly Christian flavour in that they became the leaders of and in the community due to their distinctive relationship to their authoriser, i.e., Jesus himself. This gave them authority over the receivers. So long as the apostle is moving in the trajectory of the authoriser, he has authority.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Junia - an Apostle?

Suzanne McCarthy has put us in her debt with her series on Junia, the female apostle.
Reading through Romans 9-16 by Jimmy Dunn, I was struck by the intense discussion about the now famous Junia(s). Was she a woman or a man? What's the difference? Was she an apostle? Married? Sister? WHAT?
The assumption that it must be male is a striking indictment of male presumption regarding the character and structure of earliest Christianity... The straightforward description "the apostles" and the following clause, together strongly suggest that Andronicus and Junia belonged to the large group of those appointed apostles by the risen Christ in 1 Cor 15:7. That is, they belonged most probably to the closed group of apostles appointed directly by the risen Christ in a limited period following the resurrection. This would give Andronicus and Junia a higher status in the eyes of Paul and of others...
We may firmly conclude that one of the foundation apostles of Christianity was a woman and wife... That they had been converted before Paul puts them among the earliest Palestinian Christians, probably the Hellenists in Jerusalem (Acts 6-8)... These were Jewish Christians, but also apostles, and indeed apostles "prominent" among the earliest leadership of the first church(es)...
[Dunn, Romans 9-16, pg. 895]
Scholarship has made this discussion very fascinating, and the comments of Suzanne McCarthy aid some of the interesting technical bits that all play a major part in this complex discussion of women in the leadership of earliest Christianity...

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Who were the "Apostles"?

My partner in crime poses the question: What do you suggest this "historical distinction" then consisted of? Are you suggesting that the terminology originally reserved for the twelve was then extended to include others?
It appears, but I'm not certain, that Jesus elected various disciples who then became apostles who were entrusted with a mission. N. T. Wright notes that “Jesus intended to establish, and indeed succeeded in establishing, what we might call cells of followers, mostly continuing to live in their own towns and villages, who by their adoption of his praxis, would be distinctive within their local communities.”[Wright, JVG, pg. 276] It appears that this was the fundamental vocation of an apostle. A basic job description for an apostle would look something like this:
  • Delegates of Jesus/Holy Spirit sent to proclaim his victory to the nations.
  • Established communities of disciples dedicated to the mission of Jesus.
  • Transmit and explain the teachings of Jesus and the founding apostles.
  • Signs and wonders should confirm the ministry of the apostolic
  • Strategically release new ministries of leadership and church planting
  • Encourage Christian communities and deal with specific areas of concern/sin
  • Gather resources for further apostolic exploits
How far apostolic authority went, beyond the elders into the local church, we can only speculate on. However, there are some fascinating scripture from which to speculate. My basic contention at this point is that the historical distinction is simply that some apostles were disciples of the historical Jesus, or had an encounter with the risen Jesus, other apostles were commissioned by the Holy Spirit and Church leaders [Acts 13]. Unless we import confusion and arbitrary distinctions into our enquiry, the basic view is that there was a continual widening and inclusion of people who could be apostles [Epaphroditus, Titus, Silas, and others] who could plant churches, lay proper foundations and do the things described above. There does not seem to be any formal distinctions of authority or sphere of influence.
This leads me to think that there were apostolic teams [Paul never travelled alone, but was always accompanied by others, perhaps offering "on the job" training so that they could be further released into apostolic work {this is my understanding of Titus in 2 Cor 8}]. Overall, I think this radically affects central assumptions of many scholars and calls their view to account for the various distinctions with evidence and argument, instead of assertions. It also calls for more faithful bible translations, because many of the versions obscure the crucial passages by offering an interpretation that rests on shaky foundations.
Thoughts, comments, criticisms? I welcome them all...

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

What is an "Apostle"?

Paul uses the term αποστολος (“one who is sent”; cf. John 13:16) in three basic senses: (1) in a general, non-technical sense, of an emissary, delegate, representative, or messenger commissioned by people for a specific task (2 Cor 8:23, of Titus’ two companions; Phil. 2:25, of Epaphroditus); (2) in a semi-technical sense, of a Christian with a particular, permanent commission from Christ or the local church (Rom 16:7, of Andronicus and Junia[s]; 1 Cor 9:5-6, of Barnabas, by implication [cf. Acts 14:4, 14]; 1 Cor 15:7 and Gal. 1:19, of James, the brother of Jesus; and possibly 1 Cor 4:9, of Apollos, by implication from 1 Cor 4:6; and 1 Thess 2:7, of Silas); (3) in a technical sense, of the Twelve (1 Cor 15:5, 7; Gal 1:17; cf. Luke 6:13) and of himself (1 Cor 9:1; 15:9) as commissioned directly by Christ for permanent and distinctive leadership in the universal church. With regard to apostolic status, Paul recognised no distinction between himself and the Twelve (1 Cor 9:1, 5; 15:8-10; 2 Cor 11:5; 12:11; Gal 2:6). For Paul’s view of the qualifications for apostleship (in sense [3]), see [2 Cor] 12:12.[1]
These distinctions are ubiquitous among scholars of early Christianity and yet they have a tradition of being asserted and not demonstrated. But I wish to suggest that the distinctions between non-technical, semi-technical and technical senses of the word “apostle” are in fact dubious and an unnecessary imposition on the texts of the New Testament. The prevailing assumption must be challenged and an alternative model should be offered. The alternative that I propose is simply that we may infer a historical distinction between apostles who were disciples/witnesses of Jesus and those who were not, but that this did not amount to a theological difference in leadership or authority that the apostles had. The New Testament demonstrates a wide understanding of apostolic ministry and apostolic succession that is not limited to the Twelve or to Paul. There are a variety of apostles engaged in various apostolic ministries. The burden of this claim is the purpose of my current research.
What do you think?

[1] M. J. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Eerdmans, 2005), pg. 128

Friday, November 10, 2006

Propositions on Barth

Kim Fabricus sets out a beautiful propositional response to the great Rabbi of the Church, Karl Barth. He notes this delightful quote:
theology is the servant of the church, “called to perform the simple task of being the place where the church evaluates its own proclamation against its given norm, revelation” (John Webster).
I think this admirably captures a significant part of what it means to be an academic Christian. Be sure to read all the propositions and learn from a great teacher.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Quotes of the Day

The bible’s witness to its subject matter is always true; the interpreter’s witness to the text, by contrast, suffers from various forms of existential short-sightedness, confessional tunnel vision, and cultural myopia. Yet the vocation of the interpreter is to be nothing less than a witness to the truth of the text and hence to the subject matter that it attests...
To become a Christian is not to become a subscriber to a philosophy; it is to become an active participant in God’s triune mission to the world, following Jesus in the power of the Spirit to speak and act in ways that fit the new created order "in Christ."
Kevin Vanhoozer: “Lost In Interpretation? Truth, Scripture, and Hermeneutics” in Whatever Happened to Truth? ed. Andreas Kostenberger (Crossway, 2006) pg. 93-129