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Ministries In The New Testament And The Early Church

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In This article Peter Schmidt looks at ministry in the New Testament and early church, comparing them to what we now understand to be ministry and office , with the aim of proving that offices as we know them, were not the explicit will of the historical Christ but were an evolution which occurred because of historical and cultural circumstances at a particular time and so we are not bound, Schmidt says to the structures we have in the Church today. He investigates this by looking at terminology and the early church history.


Church Office

Schmidt does a study of New Testament words, in the original Greek and comes to the following conclusions :

The Greek terms for office are not used for people in the Church but only for Jewish priests, gentile civil officials, the angels and finally for Christ.

The term for priestly office are reserved for Jewish priests

The terms for denoting office are nowhere used in the New Testament of those whom we now call ministers.

He says the first Christians didn't have long term perspectives on organization because of their eschatological expectation and Christ's problematic view towards religious organizations they seen themselves a primarily Charismatic and not an organization.

Apostle, The Twelve

Schmidt examines the Greek term for Apostle, which come from the root meaning 'to be sent', and points out that this title carries authority with it as the early Christians recognized the apostles as having authority over them.

Another argument he puts forward is that Christ would have been socially and culturally limited in choosing the Twelve. He says, that because the Twelve were symbolic of the Twelve Patriarchs of Israel, he could not have chosen women.

Also, he says that Christ had no intention of making the apostles Priests and this was a later development.

Finally in this section, Schmidt comments that it was not the explicit will of Christ to have a succession from apostles to bishops and that he never thought in terms of presbyter or deacons either.

A Charismatic Beginning

The Church started of as small charismatic house churches that had no need for a hierarchal system, Schmidt says, and brings our attention to the fact that the first Christians believed the Spirit was distributed equally among all, there was no notion of a elite few with more of the Spirit. Social pressure and persecution, he comments lead to a stronger focus on leaders, which resulted in the gradual loss of importance in Charisms.


Here he looks the Greek term for deacon, which had a broad meaning and was used for basically anyone who served. He notes, that this term which was for the Greeks a disgrace became for Christians the way of life, Christ being their primary example, as one who came not to be served, but to serve. He suggests women were deacons also, with the example of Phoebe.


He shows the Greek term means elder, one in a position of honour, a leader. The English word Priest is derived from this and because the meaning is different, Schmidt says it was transferred later. He points out, that elders were common as leaders in communities in Palestine at the time, so the Christians might have adapted it from there. He says Paul does distinguish the role from others on the basis of ontological change. From 1 Peter he concludes presbyters had a pastoral role and there was a distinction between Presbyter and Episkopoi.


In the classical Greek the term means overseer and it is used for an office in the New Testament , according to Schmidt. But a problem arises when we try to make a connection of succession from the Apostles to the Bishops


After looking at terms he goes on to the early church, looking at writings from fathers such as Clement of Rome and Ignatius. It is here Schmidt says, that we start to see a clear legalistic view and the evolution of office. No one before this time had a three fold ministry he says.

Talk of Bishops and there succession from the Apostles becomes very strong at this point in History.



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