Acts 28:11-16 – Paul in Rome

Front of the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls - Roma - Italy

Saint Paul Outside the Walls in Rome

Christianity came to Rome before Paul, but we have very little idea of how it got there or how closely it was aligned with Jerusalem.  As Luke tells the story, Christianity did more out from Jerusalem, to Samaria and Judea, then to major Diaspora Jewish communities – Antioch, then Asia Minor, Greece (Corinth) and finally Ephesus.  Paul’s mission to the gentile world began at Antioch in the Synagogue and his normal strategy was to find the synagogue in a community in order to reach the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles first, then he moved into the marketplace in order to reach Gentiles.

It is possible that the Roman church was not Pauline in theology, having been founded by Jews after Pentecost.  We know that the letter to the Romans was sent five years before this time to a mixed congregation of Jews and Gentiles, but we have no idea how that letter was received by the community in Rome.

Ben Witherington suggests Paul was the first to bring the gospel of grace through faith and gentile salvation apart from the Law to Rome (Witherington, Acts, 785).  This is entirely possible, since the only reference we have to pre-Pauline Roman Christianity is Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18) and the reference in Tacitus to Jewish rioting over Chrestus.  It there appears as though pre-Acts 28 Christianity in Rome was quite Jewish.

The similar questions arise when thinking about the Jewish community.  To what extent were the Jews in Rome in contact with Jerusalem?  What authority did the Sanhedrin have over synagogues in Rome?  (Or anywhere, for that matter.  In Acts 9 the High Priest requests that Christians be turned over to Paul, he does not order the synagogue to do anything!)   There is therefore a tension in Paul’s arrival – how will he be received?  Have Jews from Jerusalem managed to arrive before him?  If they had left about the same time as he did from Jerusalem they could hardly have traveled faster given the time of the year.  Paul has no idea if he will meet Jewish Christians who are predisposed to attack him, or whether they will be like the Bereans, more open to his teaching.

This uncertainty does not seem to bother Paul.  Once he finds lodgings in Rome he begins to meet with individuals in order to explain his presence in Rome and, likely as not, to explain his “side of the story.”  He is still the apostle to the Gentiles and his imprisonment will permit him to reach the household of Caesar.

Acts 20:25-31 – Paul and the Ephesian Shepherds

Bad WolfPaul’s plan is to by-pass Ephesus and meet the Elders at Miletus, thirty miles from Ephesus. What was the purpose of this plan? Paul’s desire is to get to Jerusalem as rapidly as possible, so he may have simply wanted to avoid Ephesus. Had he stopped there, he would have had so many obligations that he would have never been able to meet his schedule. He would lose more time in Ephesus than if he  meets the elders in Miletus. Another possibility is that Paul’s ship was scheduled to stop in Miletus, not Ephesus. One did not book travel on a passenger ship in the ancient world, all travel was on cargo ships and one was often at the mercy of the cargo-schedule

When the elders arrive, Paul warns them of trials they will have to face in the near future (Acts 20:25-31). Paul employs a common metaphor to warn the elders from Ephesus that they are about to face trials.  Since elders are appointed by the Holy Spirit to the task of shepherding the flock, the natural metaphor for an attack against the flock is a “savage wolf.”  The elders are to keep watch over the church in order to guard it against enemies.  But this also involves watching themselves – they are to be worthy shepherds! These “wolves” seek to tear the congregation apart, and at this point may refer to elements in Ephesus, whether Greek or Jewish, that see Christianity as a threat.

Paul also warns of threats which will arise from within the congregation itself.  Perhaps the most disturbing prediction is that these wolves may very well arise from within their congregation – some men will arise, distort the truth, and draw disciples away after them.

SheepThis is exactly the situation we find in 1 Timothy, a letter written by Paul several years later to Timothy while he worked in Ephesus.  The false teachers are “insiders,” people from within the church that are distorting the truth.  Based on 1 Timothy and  Acts 20:30, it appears that the false teachers were elders from within the Ephesian church. The are teachers (1 Tim 1:3, 7, 6:3) and the task of teaching in the church is given to the elders (1 Tim 3:2, 5:17).

It is important that we not read this with a 21st century view of church in mind.  The elders are likely presiding over small house churches.  A city the size of Ephesus would likely have had many house churches by the time 1 Timothy is written.  There may have been a few elders who hosted a church in their home that have departed from the body of teaching Paul taught for the three years he was in Ephesus.  It is these elders that Paul wants to discipline.

At this point in Acts, the “savage wolves” are in the future – or are they?  Paul’s plan is to by-pass Ephesus and meet the Elders at Miletus, thirty miles from Ephesus.  While it is possible Paul simply wanted to avoid obligations to meet with many people in Ephesus in order to get to Jerusalem as soon as possible, it seems to me that the problems which 1 Timothy addresses are already surfacing.  This meeting at Miletus, then, is a gathering of loyal elders who still can be trusted by Paul.

Is it possible that Paul’s speech reflects the situation of the post-apostolic church?  What happens when Paul dies? Who “takes over”?  It seems to me that Paul is telling these shepherds that they are now in charge of the flock, and they have to be on guard against internal and external threats to the health of the church.

This “guarding” function is an important application for modern churches since most threats against the church are not coming from the outside (the government is not our greatest enemy, believe it or not!), but from other Christians, “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

Book Review: Andy Chambers, Exemplary Life: A Theology of Church Life in Acts

Chambers, Andy. Exemplary Life: A Theology of Church Life in Acts. Nashville: B&H, 2012. 292pp. Pb; $29.99.   Link to B&H Academic

Andy Chambers is senior vice president for Student Development and professor of Bible at Missouri Baptist University in St. Louis. This study of Luke’s summary narratives is clearly evangelical. Chambers approaches Acts from the perspective of Christian faith and offers this study as a way of applying the book of Acts to contemporary church life.

ChambersIn the opening chapter of this monograph, Chambers describes how we “lost Luke’s theology of the church life” as a result of an over-emphasis on historical critical method. He is concerned here with the view Luke created fictional situations to present his view of how the church developed. The long shadow of F. C. Baur has prevented scholars from seeing Luke’s intention to describe the ideal life of the church in the summary narratives in Acts. Literary criticism and narrative theology has corrected this to a certain extent since these methods are focused on Luke’s rhetorical strategies as an author. Chambers will therefore make qualified use of contemporary narrative criticism, although he thinks Luke had specific intentions as the author of the text.

In his second chapter he describe summarization as a rhetorical feature of Acts. The first four of the features of summary narratives are found in a variety of Greco-Roman literature and Acts tends to include similar information. First, the summary narratives tell about church life as opposed to describing them dramatically. Second, summary narratives are unfocused general statements about church life. Third, narrative time accelerates in the summary narratives. Fourth, summary narratives depict an ongoing way of life in the Jerusalem church. One way that Luke describes this ongoing state is switching from an aorist to an imperfect verb in the summary statements. Chambers argues the change in sound of been inflicted verb would be picked up by an oral culture hearing the text read publicly.

In addition to these for standard features, Chambers notices a number of other items found in the Book of Acts. For example, since these statements are brief transitional summaries, they make only general references to time. Luke’s summaries usually follow chiastic ABA pattern and make frequent use of repetition. In addition, the summary statements tend to be culturally neutral. By this Chambers means they are not tied to Jewish practice.

His final and perhaps more controversial observation is that Luke only emphasizes the positive aspects of the Jerusalem congregation in summary narratives. Chambers does not think Luke downplays controversy or division in the early church in the narrative portions of his book, but he does omit this material in the summary statements. It is hard to imagine why Luke would include negative items in a summary statement intended to be an example to later church readers for how to “do church.”

Having clearly described Luke’s summarization strategy, chapters 3-5 of Exemplary Life carefully study each of the three summary narratives in the book of Acts. These summaries, Chambers argues, are Luke’s description of the “exemplary life” of the early church. A chapter is devoted to each summary narrative (Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-35; 5:12-16) in order to develop a long list of commitments made by the earliest believers. For example, it is well-known the believers in Acts 2:42-47 were committed to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to breaking bread together, and to prayer. But Chambers argues there were other defining features as well, such as fear of the Lord, signs and wonders, sharing in each other’s lives and possessions, daily fellowship (which included the practice of the Lord’s Supper). One important characteristic of the early Jerusalem church was caring for the needs of the community as well as whole city of Jerusalem.

Having created an impressive list of features of the ideal community from the three summary narratives, Chambers then examines four texts in which Luke describes Gentile communities. The goal is to demonstrate these Gentile communities share the same kind of features as the ideal, exemplary community found in the summary narratives. What he is looking for are “enriching echoes” of these summaries in the Samaritan mission (8:1-15 9:31), Antioch (11:19-30, 13:1-3), Ephesus (19-20), and Troas (20:7-12). Presumably these were chosen because the most clearly demonstrate the point Chambers wants to make, the ideal of Jerusalem was replicated in the Gentile churches.

Two minor critiques comes to mind here. First, the Samaritans are not exactly Gentiles, nor are the exactly Jews. A Christian community in Samaria may be implied by 9:31, but I am not sure 8:1-25 can be fairly described as the establishment of Gentile churches in the Pauline sense. Second, Chambers omits Thessalonica and Corinth, even though there are certainly Gentile churches established in both locations. This may simply be a matter of limiting the study to make the material manageable, or perhaps because these two particular Gentile communities would yield negative data not helpful for the ultimate thesis of the book. There is simply not much to work with for Thessalonica, but Luke devotes a nearly as much attention to Corinth as he does Ephesus, and far more than Troas. (To be fair, he frequently cites Acts 18 in his final chapter.)

In chapter 7 Chambers sums up his findings in order to demonstrate Luke offered the Jerusalem Community as an ideal for the later, primarily Gentile church to follow. This is the reason the summary statements are culturally neutral, lacking specific reference to the Jewish boundary markers. The boundary markers were undoubtedly practiced by the Jerusalem community, but since they were no longer relevant to the Gentile churches reading Acts, Luke has omitted them from the summaries.

He begins with a long list of 24 items found in the summary narratives and they uses these to create a biblical theology of “Church Life in Acts.” In the explanation following his list, Chambers shows how these items turn up one or more of the later Gentile churches, indicating Luke’s intention to encourage later readers follow the model of the earliest church. For the most part, this chapter lists non-controversial topics which ought to characterize any healthy church

However, some of the “exemplary features” are not necessarily found in the later texts, even if they are important features of Church Life. Chambers says “an exemplary church deliberately assimilates new believers,” citing the summary narrative in Acts 2:42 (147). But the later texts he cites in Acts do not necessarily support this point. Acts 11:26 only implies ongoing training and discipleship and 13:21 simply notes the proconsul Sergius Paulus believed and was astonished at the teaching of the Lord, but this is far from assimilated into a community committed to the Apostles’ teaching, fellowship, prayer and breaking of bread. Of the verses listed, only 20:18-20 (Paul’s speech to the Ephesian elders) clearly describes a community like Acts 2:42. Ultimately I think this extremely long list of characteristics of an exemplary church could have been more efficient, combining similar points in order to avoid this kind of problem.

Conclusion. Chambers has done what he set out to achieve. The summary narratives in the early part of Acts do indeed seem to be general enough to provide an example for later churches looking for a model for how to live as Christians. While I am less convinced the later reports in Gentile churches are true echoes of these summaries, in general Chambers makes an excellent argument that Luke’s intention was to provide a model of an ideal church for later generations to emulate. What is more, this point is quite preachable in an evangelical context. It is always difficult to know who to apply the book of Acts, especially the activities of the earliest church. Chambers does not want to apply the specifics, only the general example found in the summary statements. In the end, Chambers would say, this was Luke’s purpose for including such summaries.

NB: B&H did not provide me with this book, but I am sure they would have if I asked for it. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

What are the Qualifications for Elders? (1 Timothy 3:2-7)

The qualifications for the overseer are moral virtues which would be worthy of respect in the Greco-Roman world. He must be “above reproach.” Along with verse 7, this is the controlling theme of the whole passage.  Paul will repeat this for all members of the church in 5:7 and 6:14.

The husband of one wife.  This is the most controversial in terms of modern application.  This has been taken to mean that an elder must be married (rather than single or a widower) as well as an elder cannot have ever been divorced.

ExcellentSober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable.  These four virtues are all common in Greco-Roman ethical texts.  Sober-minded (νηφάλιος) and self-controlled (σώφρων) in fact, are often associated with the cardinal virtues in the Greek world. To be sober-minded is to be level headed and in control of one’s passions at all times. Paul has already used respectable (κόσμιος) in 2:9 for appropriate dress.  To be hospitable is a virtue among both Greeks and Jews (φιλόξενος means “a friend of strangers.”) 1 Clement 12:3 (about A.D. 95) used this noun to describe Rahab, Epicticus combines hospitable with respectable to describe the fall of Alexander.

Able to teach.  From this one exceedingly rare word (διδακτικός), elders are usually tasked with teaching scripture in church.   Philo (On Rewards, 27) used the word in a virtue list to describe Abraham, Yonge translates the word as “self-taught,” Rengstorf comments that Philo has in mind the virtue of Abraham “consisting or expressing itself in learning.”

Not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.  These vices are all commonly rejected by virtually every society – no one wants a leader who is a violent, greedy drunk! A drunkard is a good translation since the emphasis is “one given to too much wine.”  Moulton and Milligan (496) offer several examples of drunkenness and violence, “I sinned and was drunken in the night, in that I maltreated the brethren” (P.Lond 1914.27), although this dates to A.D. 335.

The next phrase is related to drunkenness. “Not violent” (πλήκτης) is sometimes translated as pugnacious, a bully. The verbal cognate appears in Aristotle, Ethics Eud. 2, 3.  “Gentle” stands in contrast to drunken violence, although the noun could be translated as courteous or tolerant.  “Not quarrelsome” is a single word (ἄμαχος) which means peaceful (anti-war, put it is used in non-military contexts, including a grave inscription by a husband describing his beloved wife (Cos 3259). A “lover of money” is greedy (ἀφιλάργυρος), a virtue found in instructions to people from midwives to generals (BDAG).

The family of the overseer is important: “He must manage his own household well.” This is far more than a single word, and Paul gives a reason for the elder to have a well-managed household: an elder is in charge of the household of God, if he is not faithful in his own family, he will not be faithful in the church either.  The verb (προΐστημι) means to exercise authority, or “be the head of” something, and the very is modified with the adverb “well.”  On the one had, this could be taken to mean he is a good leader in the home.  Josephus (Ant 8.300) used the word to describe the wickedness of King Jeroboam, who did not appoint kind rulers who would “govern righteously.”

But the verb can have the meaning of “have care for.”  In 1 Thess 5:12-13 this is the word used to describe the activity of the church leaders (they are to care for the needs of the church).  If a person does not take care of his family properly, why should he be trusted to care for the family of God in the church!

This description of a proper leader in the church opens up some problems for application, possibly because pastor’s children are held to a high standard and are often judged as little hellions. At what point does a pastor / elder use the behavior of their children as a measure of how well a pastor / elder has led in their home? This is something like the application of the Proverbs, all things being equal, raise up a child in the way they should go and they will not depart from it. But sometimes that does not happen and a child, through their own choices, seriously defect from the faith of their parents.  A bad child is not always the sign of a bad parent.

He must not be a recent convert.  Perhaps this is the problem with the overseers who have defected from Paul’s gospel, they were to quickly accepted as leaders in the church and were arrogant.  At least in the mid-first century, this might have been a real problem since it was probable that churches were established from only new converts. But by the early 60s it was possible that there were now second generation believers and people who had been Christians for many years.  Paul is advising that these mature believers be considered for leadership, not a recent convert.

The reason given is that they could become arrogant and fall into “condemnation of the devil.”  What does this mean?  Probably that the new elder would be judged like the devil, who also fell because of pride. How they “fall” might be a hint of the false teachers.  Their arrogance leads them to accept teaching that is outside of the faith passed from Paul to Timothy, they more easily accept new and innovative doctrines, perhaps of their own making, because they do not have the spiritual maturity to resist being on the “cutting edge.”

The Noble Task of Eldering (1 Timothy 3:1)

First Timothy 3 and 1 Titus 1 are well-known passages because the describe the qualifications for church leadership. We usually fret the most over the line about “one wife” and perhaps that the leader must have well-behaved children, but there is far more here than those two more controversial points.

TimothyLike the previous section, Paul’s main concern is that the church be organized and led in a way which gives it a good reputation with outsiders. This is also true in business: good reputations are hard to build, they take time. On the other hand, it does not take much at all to destroy a good reputation and develop a bad one.

If you have ever read a restaurant review online, you know that one bad experience can lead to a terrible review and potential lost business. One cranky customer who has bad food or poor service can leave a review (anonymously) online, and scare dozens of people away. The same is true for church.  A family could visit on a Sunday when things were not quite right in the nursery, the musicians were out of tune and didn’t really know the songs, and the pastor finished his sermon on the way to church. This family leaves “unimpressed” and never comes back, but they tell their friends that they tried “that church” and it wasn’t very good.

But Paul is not talking about “church shoppers” in this text, since that sort of thing did not exist in the first century. There are people in the congregation who are leaders in a local house church who have a bad reputation with the community. Maybe they have some shady business practices, or they are quick to bring lawsuits, or maybe they are known to attend the banquets at pagan temples and fully participate in debauchery. If the leader has a bad reputation outside the church, then they bring that dishonor with them when the “desire to be an overseer.” To remedy this situation, Paul tells Timothy (and by extension, the churches) to appoint people to the office of Elder and Deacon who are qualified spiritually and morally for the task.

First Timothy 3:1 is another “trustworthy saying.” In this case it is not a theological statement, but that the person who aspires to be a leader in the church “desires a noble task.” Desiring to be a leader of a local house church is not a bad thing at all, it is a noble task, or a “good work” (v. 1).

It is possible that this line betrays a problem in Paul’s churches in Ephesus. It appears that people were not wanting to serve as leaders in the church. There are several possible reasons for this. First, perhaps the false teachers had created a situation where good people were not inclined to challenge them, the did not desire to become involved in leadership because it meant challenging these false teachers. A second possibility is that the role of overseer or elder was not considered to be a job people wanted to do – it was not considered a “noble task.” It is also possible that people who were capable and qualified did not see themselves as up to the task of leading the church, perhaps for a combination of the previous two points.

One serious problem reading this passage is that we hear words like elder and deacon and immediately think of our modern “office” of elder and deacon. This is not necessarily going to help understand Paul’s view of church leadership. If at all possible, it is best for us to bracket out modern church practice for a few minutes and try to read Paul in the context of first century Ephesus.

Book Review: Justo González, The Story Luke Tells

González, Justo. The Story Luke Tells: Luke’s Unique Witness to the Gospel. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2015. 141 pp. Pb; $14.   Link to Eerdmans, including a short interview with González.

Professor Emerita at Columbia Theological Seminary, Justo González is known for his popular two-volume The Story of Christianity (1984) and three-volume A History of Christian Thought (Abingdon, 1987). In this short meditation on Luke’s Gospel, he offers a historian’s view of the theology of Luke/Acts. There is very little on authorship issues or whether the two books should be read together. Regardless of origin, González assumes the two books are to be read as a unit and his theological observations cover both books. González does not interact with other monographs on Luke’s theology nor is he particularly interested in exegetical details. There are no footnotes or references in these short reflections.

González, The Story Luke TellsIn the first chapter González makes a series of observations about Luke’s interest in history. Luke is the only author shows a particular interest in dating the events he discusses. He does this by placing the story of Jesus in a particular social, political and religious context by mentioning a number of characters by name who are known from history. Luke is also interested in geographic and political data. For example, Luke mentions the bay of Fair Havens on the island of Crete, the type of geographical detail a historian would include. One curious feature of Luke/Acts is that the history is unfinished, not only in terms of chronology but also geography (11). González suggests Luke wrote his history in this way in order to invite both the original and modern readers to continue the ongoing history of God’s work in this world (13).

In his second chapter González introduces the idea of typology frequently found in the Bible. By typology, he means patterns which repeat throughout the history. He first shows that God’s redeeming action in Jesus is a typology drawn from God’s redeeming action leading Israel out of Egypt. In Luke, Jesus is the Passover lamb; just as the blood of the lamb was used to redeem Egypt in the past now, the blood of the first born of God will redeem all people in Jesus. González’s second example is Luke’s development of an Adam/Jesus typology. While this is usually considered a Pauline idea, Luke connects Jesus and Adam in his genealogy and temptation. For González, these sorts of typological connections are not intended as foreshadowing, but to argue Jesus is the culmination of the plan of God. González says the fulfillment typology in Jesus is not necessarily the end since the church participates in the ongoing expansion of Christianity. We often forget Acts “is not only the history of the expansion of Christianity through the work of Paul and others; it is the beginning of the process through which Jesus Christ announces and claims his Lordship over all history and humankind” (27).

In the third chapter, Gonzalez traces what he calls the “great reversal.” He has in mind here the common biblical motif of the lesser being elevated above the greater (i.e., the younger son is given the blessing, the least likely son becomes the king, etc.) This great reversal is both religious and social (32). In Luke, those who had expect to enter into the kingdom usually are on the outside. In contrast, it is a Gentile or a woman who finds forgiveness in Jesus. For González this is the main idea of the Great Feast in Luke 14. The social aspect of this great reversal is seen in the story of Lazarus (Luke 16) where a poor man is elevated while a rich man finds himself in Hades. This theme of the poor entering into the kingdom appears repeatedly in the third Gospel. González points to the beatitudes, which are much more focused on riches and poverty in Luke’s Gospel than in Matthew’s. In Luke’s Gospel Jesus proclaims the year of “the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4), referring to the year of Jubilee, a time when the poor have their debts forgiven. In the Book of Acts, the great reversal includes people who were on the fringes of what it means to be a Jew, such as women, Samaritans, and Gentile God-fearers. González also detects the motive of a great reversal in the appointment of deacons in Acts 6 since they are drawn from the Hellenistic Jews.

One feature often observed about Luke’s Gospel is his interest in the female disciples of Jesus. Women are witnesses to who Jesus is from the very beginning of Luke’s Gospel. In his fourth chapter González surveys all of the women were featured in Luke in both Luke and Acts. Like many who studied this feature of Luke’s Gospel, González points out later church writers may have suppressed Luke’s interest in female disciples. He explains how the Western text of Luke’s Gospel reverses the order of the names Priscilla and Aquila. Gonzalez detects the work of a copyist who preferred putting the husband first. As a result of this sort of thing “much of what Luke has to say on the matter of gender lays hidden under layers of interpretation that we have received from earlier generations” (59).

In the fifth chapter, González surveys Luke’s view of salvation. While the title “savior” is a very Lukan term, the source of the image is the Old Testament. Terms like “redemption” and “to redeem” only appear in Luke, but the Christian reader often overlooks the Old Testament background of the Redeemer who is the “holy one of Israel” (Isaiah 41:14). But there is more to word savior in the context of the first-century Roman world. Gonzalez asks what the shepherds might have thought about “salvation” in Luke 2:1. For peasants living under the oppressive and exploitive Roman Empire, hearing an announcement of salvation may have brought to mind the end of Roman rule in Judea. Undoubtedly the angels’ announcement included salvation from sin, but that salvation would have looked like a New Exodus to Jewish shepherds. While the shepherds had an incomplete understanding of the angels’ announcement, but we too have an incomplete understanding if we are not aware of the political dimensions of salvation. Another aspect of Luke’s view of salvation often overlooked is the language healing. When Jesus heals, Luke uses the language of salvation. Modern over-emphasis on healing in contemporary Christianity obscures Luke’s theological point. This does not mean God will not heal, but it does mean that while we proclaim the message of salvation of the sins of eternal life “we also have to proclaim the same message in the sense of liberation from every power of evil” (74).

In the sixth chapter examines the frequent use of food and drink in Luke’s Gospel. In Luke 7:34 Jesus’ opponents describes him as a “glutton and drunkard” because he frequently shared meals with sinners. In many cases in Luke, a meal is an opportunity to announce the great reversal. González uses the Sabbath meal at the home of Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7) as an example. The Pharisee expected to be saved, but it is the sinful woman who goes away justified (82). There is, however, a great deal more to be said about meals than González is able to cover in this short chapter. Who Jesus eats with is often very important in the Gospel and I expected more historical and sociological commentary on meaning of table fellowship in this chapter. There is also an eschatological aspect to these meals, Jesus is demonstrating who he is by inviting everyone (poor and rich) to participate in his messianic banquet.

Luke’s Gospel begins with four of the most important hymn in Christian tradition. The Book of Acts also includes several stories where early Christians worship. These meetings appear to include food, the reading and instruction from Scripture (González calls this the service of the Word). González has a great deal to say on the Lord’s Supper, pointing out all the Gospels include the Last Supper and all highlight the eschatological dimension of the meal. The last supper “points to the future, to the feast of the wedding of the lamb, to a time when people will come from the east and the west and north and the south and eat in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:29). We have “sadly often lost that eschatological dimension of the Lord’s supper” (101). González connects the Last Supper to several examples of breaking bread in the Book of Acts. However. I am not convinced all of the references to “breaking bread” refer to Communion in the strictest sense. One such example is the storm in Acts 27. Paul does “take bread,” “give thanks” and he does “break the bread” before they begin to eat. The verbs are found in the Last Supper, but at least in my mind it is unlikely Luke intended this “last supper” on the boat as communion meal. Most of the participants were not Christians. Nevertheless Gonzalez thinks the meal provides hope for those who are traveling with Paul.

The final chapter of this book concerns Luke’s theology of the Holy Spirit. González surveys the passages in Luke’s Gospel which do not have parallels in the other Gospels. In doing so he is highlighting Luke’s particular view of the activity of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is active in Jesus’s birth in early years, the Holy Spirit accompanies Jesus into the desert and when he returns to Galilee Jesus is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. González thinks it is significant that Luke uses the language of the “filling” with respect to the Holy Spirit. This looks back to the Old Testament, using Micah 3:8 for example. While the prophets were “filled with the Spirit of the Lord,” Eph 3:19 also prays that the readers would be “filled with all the fullness of God” (114). In the entire New Testament only Luke uses the word “to fill” to refer a person’s inner emotions: people are filled with rage, filled with villainy and deceit, filled with joy, and filled with the Holy Spirit. Since all these phrases commonly used among Christians today it is clear Luke’s contribution to the Christian doctrine of the Spirit is unparalleled in the New Testament (116).

Conclusion. While this book is not a full-blown theology of Luke/Acts, it is a simulating meditation on the theological contribution of Luke. It would make an excellent supplemental text for a college or seminary Gospels class, but it is accessible to the layman who wants to have an overview of a few of Luke’s major themes. The chapters are short enough the book could be used as in a small group Bible study.


NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Published on   on Reading Acts.

Book Review: Benjamin L. Merkle and Thomas R. Schreiner, eds. Shepherding God’s Flock

Merkle, Benjamin L. and Thomas R. Schreiner, eds. Shepherding God’s Flock: Biblical Leadership in the New Testament and Beyond. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2015. 320 pp. Pb. $18.99   Link to Kregel  Link to 31-page sample

Shepherding God’s Flock is a collection of essays by Baptist scholars on the topic of biblical leadership, primarily focused on elders in the local church. For the most part this is a very traditional conservative and Baptist view of church leadership. Do not let the conservative, pastoral appearance fool you. The essays in this collection are intentionally academic and are good examples of biblical and historical theology applied to the problem of modern church leadership. This is the second book I have read published by Kregel Academic which could have been published in their Academic line. (The other book was Joe Hellerman, Embracing Shared Ministry.)

ShepherdingIn an introductory chapter, James M. Hamilton Jr. examines the evidence Second Temple Period in order to determine if the Christian church borrowed leadership structures from the Old Testament or synagogue. While it is unlikely early church borrowed the idea of elder from the Old Testament, it seems obvious the organization of the synagogue had an influence on early Christian congregations. The problem for Hamilton is a lack of information on the organization of synagogues in the Second Temple Period. As he says, the office of elder is certainly analogous to the elders of a synagogue, but there are also serious differences. I think there is more to be said on how early congregations were formed but I am not sure there is much data shedding light on the period. Hamilton’s chapter is handicapped by its brevity. This is not his fault of course, but the topic of first century synagogues merits additional study.

Chapters 2-4 cover the New Testament data on church leadership. First, Andreas J. Köstenberger contributes an essay on “Shepherds and Shepherding in the Gospels.” By surveying the four Gospels Köstenberger develops several observations which inform pastoral leadership in the twenty-first century. After surveying the texts on shepherding in the Gospels, he concludes that it is critical keep the idea of shepherding Christocentric. The Gospels present Jesus as the Good Shepherd and Jesus gives his disciples a mandate to “feed my sheep.” Köstenberger uses the restoration of Peter in John 21:15-19 as a model for every Christian community. Biblical leaders must be involved in training new shepherds, and the ultimate model for shepherd leadership is Jesus.

Second, Benjamin L. Merkle traces “The Pattern of Leadership in Acts and Paul’s Letters to Churches.” Merlke’s dissertation was on elders and overseers in the early church (Peter Lang, 2003). This essay examines elders in the book of Acts as well as the non-pastoral Pauline letters. He first surveys the references to elders in the book of Acts (primarily ch. 14, 20), although he does briefly discuss the authority of the Jerusalem elders found throughout the book. He also includes the deacons (Acts 6) in his discussion even though they are not called elders. One problem for a study like this is that the non-Pastoral letters do not mention elders. Merkle therefore draws together evidence from the church letters where leaders are described (Gal 6:6; 1 Thess 5:12-13; 1 Cor 16:15-16; Rom16:1-2; Phil 1:1, etc.).  Most of these refer to teachers in the local churches, so it is not a stretch to refer to a teacher as an “elders.”

Third, Thomas R. Schreiner focuses his chapter on the Pastoral Epistles and 1 Peter (“Overseeing and Serving the Church in the Pastoral and General Epistles”). The Pastorals have the most biblical data on elders and church leadership, so Schreiner’s chapter the densest of the collection. In fact, it could have been divided into two chapters, one on Timothy and Titus and another on 1 Peter and the rest of the New Testament. Or the editors could have moved the material on women as elders into another chapter and provided more detail on that more controversial topic. Schreiner briefly discusses whether elders and overseers are the same office before surveying the instructions for appointing elders in 1 Timothy. Much of this chapter is concerned with the qualifications for elders. He observes that the character qualities in 1Timothy are expected of all Christians regardless of their level of leadership in the church.

Most readers will want to know Schreiner’s view on the nettlesome “husband of one wife” in 1 Tim 3:2. It is not surprising he advocates the traditional view that an elder must be male, although he is open to a divorced and remarried man serving as an elder depending on the circumstances and length of time since the divorce (98). Paul main concern, Schreiner argues, is that elders have extremely high moral character. One way of demonstrating both spiritual leadership skills is their control of their home. Schreiner briefly discusses deacons in this chapter argues Paul refers to women deacons as opposed to a male deacon’s wife (111). He does not see this as a contradiction to 1 Tim 2:12 since a deacon does not “exercise authority. He does not deal with 3:12 where “husband of one wife” is repeated for deacons.

Chapters 5-9 trace the historical development of elder leadership. These several chapters trace much of church history despite the fact that there was not a great deal of shepherding in medieval Roman Catholic Church. Michael A. G. Haykin (“The Development and Consolidation of the Papacy”) and Gregg R. Allison (“The Papacy from Leo I to Vatican II”) combined to cover church history and explain how the Papacy developed and eventually departed from a biblical model of church leadership. Each concludes with a brief attempt to tie this material to the overall theme of the book. Despite these being extremely interesting chapters to read I did not see them is strictly necessary in a book attempting to describe biblical leadership in the New Testament and beyond.

More on topic is Nathan A. Finn’s “The Rule of Elders: The Presbyterian Angle on Church Leadership.” Finn compares the Presbyterian leadership model with the Baptist congregationalism. The difference is primarily in the Presbyterian view of two types of elders. This is a very friendly chapter and even the critique Finn offers is not a stinging rebuke by any means. In a similar vein, Jason G. Duesing looks at “A Cousin of Catholicism: The Anglican Understanding of Church Leadership.” Like the chapters on Roman Catholicism, this essay is an overview of the history of the Church of English. While very interesting and engaging, it is not directly related to elder leadership churches today.

In the final essay in the historical section of the book, Shawn D. Wright studies “Baptists and a Plurality of Elders.” For me, this was a very interesting chapter because I less unaware of the internal debate among Baptists over plurality of elders. Like all Baptists, Wright is clear the Bible should determine how churches are organized and he is of the opinion a plurality of elders congregational model is the most biblical. Surveying the historical data, Wright shows many of the earliest Baptists in England held to plurality of elders, although this position was later often abandoned. There are at least five factors which influenced Baptists to not maintain plurality as a model for their churches. First as congregationalists, many Baptist churches doubted whether a plural elder system could be reconciled with congregational authority. Second, Baptist sometimes had unusual ways of reading the texts supporting plurality of elders. Third, Baptist confessions never mandated the plurality elders and were often intentionally ambiguous on the issue. Fourth, several prominent Baptist leaders opposed plurality of elders or at least downplayed the importance of elder leadership. Last, many Baptist congregations simply lacked of qualified men who could serve as elders. Wright examine each of these factors and surveys several responses to them from later Baptist thinkers. He concludes by observing the return to plurality of elders in recent years, a trend witnessed by this collection of essays.

Two chapters round out the collection by applying this biblical and historical data to present church leadership. First, Bruce A. Ware develops “A Theology of Church Leadership.” To some extent this essay repeats some of the material from Schreiner’s chapter. Ware emphasizes the New Testament clearly teaches Christ is the Chief Shepherd of the church (1 Peter 5) as well as the Builder of the Church (Matthew 16) and Lord over the Church (Eph 1:20). For Ware, the three Greek and six English terms used for leaders in the New Testament all refer to the office of elder. As might be expected he argues the office of elder in the New Testament is restricted to men (295) and he has a very conservative view in 1 Tim 2:12. Applying this to a modern situation, if a woman teaches a Sunday School class for both men and women, Ware believes this would violate 1 Tim 2:12. He also describes the role of deacons in the New Testament and concludes 1 Tim 3:11 allows for women to be deacons despite “husband of one wife” appearing for both elders and deacons. This seemingly contradiction is left unexplained.

In the final chapter of the collection Andrew M. Davis describes “What It Means Practically to Shepherd God’s Flock.” Davis is the only contributor to this collection who is a senior pastor and his essay offers pastoral advice based on the biblical model of eldership. It is not necessary to summarize all twelve of his “practical elements of Christian leadership” here. Like the other authors in this volume, he is adamant the organization of the church should be based on the New Testament. While it is possible a leader may learn something from popular (secular) leadership books, the ultimate authority must be the Scriptures. For Davis this means a plurality of elders in a congregational system, men who are committed to bringing God glory by leading people in personal sanctification and making disciples.

Conclusion. For the most part there is nothing new or shocking in this book. Since the authors identify themselves as Baptists and nearly all teach in Baptist seminaries, the general argument of the book will please people who are within that tradition, and possibly enrage others, especially on the “women in ministry” issue. The historical chapters take up a large percentage of the book and are very valuable, but I think the space would have been better used engaging both sides of the women-as-elders debate. In addition, all the essays advocate for a plurality of elders. While I happen to think this is the best position, I would have enjoyed reading a counterpoint from a Baptist writer who rejects plurality. All the writers are more or less in agreement on plurality of elders and (it appears) women in ministry, a dissenting opinion would have been a helpful addition.

While well-documented and scholarly, the essays are all written on a non-academic level. The book should be read by church leaders who are interested in what the New Testament has to say about elders and deacons.


NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.