Wednesday, May 08, 2019

1 John in Greek

The following are videos going through the Greek of 1 John verse by verse:

1 John 1:1
1 John 1:2
1 John 1:3
1 John 1:4

God is Light
1 John 1:5
1 John 1:6
1 John 1:7
1 John 1:8
1 John 1:9
1 John 1:10

Our Advocate
1 John 2:1
1 John 2:2
1 John 2:3
1 John 2:4

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Through the Bible: Gospel of Mark

These are posts of my work on the Gospel of Mark as part of my project, "Through the Bible in Ten Years." Each Sunday I hope to put out a podcast and a video for a chapter.

I'm trying to keep up with explanatory notes, which I post for my patrons on Patreon as they ask for them. Then I'll likely self-publish these as they are ready.

Here are the podcasts and videos for Mark:

1.1 Introduction to Mark
1.2 Mark 1
1.3 Mark 2
1.4 Mark 3
1.5 Mark 4
1.17 Mark 16:1-8
1.18 Mark 16:9-20

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Old Testament Theology Podcasts

For this season I've been doing a set of verses relating to Old Testament theology each week. On Monday and Friday I look at the Hebrew of some key verses. On Wednesday I've been doing podcasts related to the theological topic of the week.

Here are the podcasts:

Theology of God
Sin and Atonement

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Through the Bible in Ten Years

Last weekend I began what I hope will be a ten year journey: "Through the Bible in Ten Years." Each Sunday I hope to put out a podcast and a video for a chapter. By summer the plan is a podcast/video on Sundays and Wednesdays.

I began last Saturday with an intro to the Gospel of Mark and then last Sunday gave a podcast for Mark 1. I'm trying to keep up with explanatory notes, which will be available to my patrons on Patreon. Then I'll self-publish these as they are ready.

Here is the page for Mark.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Lectures on Philosophy

My intention is to slowly accumulate video lectures introducing philosophy from one Christian point of view. Here is the introduction to philosophy that I wrote.

0. Is Philosophy Christian? (18 minutes)
1. The Questions of Philosophy (25 minutes)

2. Thinking Clearly (logic)
3. The Existence of God (philosophy of religion)
4. The Question of Evil (37 minutes, philosophy of religion)

5. What is a Person? (philosophical psychology)
6. Perspectives on Ethics
7. Perspectives on Society
8. Perspectives on Truth
9. Philosophy of Language
10. Philosophy of Science
11. Philosophy of History
12. Philosophy of Art

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Sermon Starters: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Date: 3/31/19
Location: Three Rivers Wesleyan Church
Text: Luke 7:36-50

I. Introduction
  • Family dinners can be awkward
  • I hadn't seen the movie, so I looked it up...
  • I don't mean to suggest that Jesus is an annoying dinner companion. Let's just say he sees right through us. 
  • And I don't mean to reinforce those personalities among us that think they are being like Jesus when they are as annoying as possible.
  • It's no use trying to be on your best behavior when Jesus comes to dinner. You just have to submit and let him reveal you to yourself. 
  • Dinners with Jesus can be like a house call from a doctor (e.g., my father, my friend).
  • You can't afford not to invite Jesus to dinner.
II. The Body of the Sermon
     A. The Pharisee asks Jesus to dinner.
  • Seems odd. Why would he do that?
  • Not all Pharisees were bad. Luke aligns them with "the righteous" and "the healthy" (e.g, Luke 5:31-32). At the starting line, they were much closer to the kingdom than the "sinners."
  • One big take away: Let people surprise you. Leave room for change.
     B. We live by stereotypes.
  • They help simplify the world for us--but they also skew the world.
  • The immediate context in Luke 7 - John the Baptist is demon-possessed, Jesus is a drunk.
  • We skew "out-group" individuals toward the bad.
  • All Baptists are... All Catholics are... All Democrats are... All Republicans are... All illegal immigrants are...
  • Jesus defies our stereotypes.
  • There is hope for a Pharisee. Who is your Pharisee--the religious person you think is not on the same page with God? The liberal? The conservative?
     C. There is hope for a sinner.
  • She is one. 
  • [We should ignore the parallels. Luke does not identify this woman with Mary nor a woman just before Jesus' arrest.]
  • Luke does not use "sinner" in the way we do ("We're all sinners.").
  • Luke neither justifies sin nor expects it of God's people. 
  • We all come with a debt, but we all must leave righteous--Jesus' words to the Pharisee.
  • Always leave room for a sinner to change. (Hitler?)
     D. Jesus sees things about ourselves we don't see.
  • The Pharisee didn't realize he was a debtor.
  • He didn't realize Jesus was his king. He didn't wash his feet.
  • He didn't realize Jesus was his family. He didn't kiss him.
  • So often we think we have everything figured out when we don't.
  • Harry Potter and Snape, my social media temptations
     E. Submission brings freedom.
  • She finds forgiveness.
  • They didn't realize he could forgive sins. 
  • They got stuck speck hunting--looking for the specks in the woman's eyes. They didn't see the logs in their own. 
  • Jesus always blows up our boxes and stereotypes.
  • Her faith saved her. It is the strange combination of Jesus' power and our submission.
III. Conclusion
  • Have you invited Jesus to dinner lately?
  • Who are the Pharisees and sinners in your life? Have you given them room to change?
  • What has Jesus been trying to show you, but you haven't been listening? It's often right below our conscious mind. It's like a gnawing that we don't acknowledge. It makes us lash out. It makes us angry. 
  • Submit to the doctor's prescription!

Friday, March 29, 2019

Self-Published: A Horse Strangely Warmed

I decided to try to write a crowd sourced novella of about 100 pages over spring break. One thing led to another and, voila, here it is: A Horse Strangely Warmed: The Life of John Wesley as Told by His Horses. A. J. Thomas had the winning idea and I ran with it.

Here are some quotes:
  • "If your hoof is as my hoof, then give me some hoof."
  • "The best of all is, God likes horses."
  • "You have nothing to do but save soles."
And the lost verse of All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name
     Horses and cows and tiny cats
          In holey triumph join!
     Saved is the horse that doth believe
          From glue and bows of twine.

I read a couple books while doing research:

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Leadership: Evangelists 11

See bottom for posts in this series thus far.

6. Evangelists and Teachers
1. Three times in the New Testament we hear of a role called an "evangelist." Philip, one of the seven appointed in Acts 6, is called an evangelist in 21:8. 2 Timothy 4:5 tells Timothy to do the work of an evangelist. Finally, Ephesians 4:11 mentions evangelist as a role of ministry leadership in the early church. We would argue that an evangelist was something like an apostle who had not seen the risen Christ.

The fact that Timothy can be both a minister (diakonos) and an evangelist (euangelistēs) once again suggests that the leadership roles within the early church were not all mutually exclusive. Philip is never called a diakonos, so "evangelist" is the only role Acts ever assigns him. His daughters, as we have seen, were prophetesses.

What was an evangelist? Although it is dangerous to construct the meaning of a word from its root, we do note that the word gospel is at the root of this word. Given the form of the word, it would be natural to see an evangelist as someone who proclaims the gospel.

2. What was the gospel? It was good news. It was particularly the good news that Jesus is king. Paul speaks of the "good news concerning God's Son, who descended from the seed of David according to the flesh and was appointed Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead" (Rom. 1:3-4). The core of the New Testament gospel is thus the good news that Jesus reigns as the enthroned Son of God, with all that it entails.

We may see these overtones in 2 Timothy 4:5, for the context is the return of King Jesus to judge the living and the dead (2 Tim. 4:1). The surrounding verses suggest a good deal of warning, for judgment is the corollary of the good news of salvation. At that point the role of evangelist blurs into that of the prophet.

3. With Philip especially, we see that an evangelist could be mobile. That is to say, we think of evangelists moving around to proclaim the good news in various locations more than being situated in a single place. Timothy certainly ministered in more locations than simply Ephesus, although we do not know about the latter part of his life's ministry.

What then was the difference between an evangelist and an apostle? The most obvious difference, it seems to me, is that the apostles were all direct witnesses of the resurrection, while evangelists were not. Paul was an apostle because the risen Lord appeared directly to him. Timothy never received such a visit. Peter was an apostle because the risen Lord appeared directly to him. Philip never saw the risen Lord.

Although the New Testament does not use the word frequently, Ephesians 4:11 includes evangelists among those who ministered in the earliest church. Clearly many individuals fill this role today as well. I grew up in a church world where evangelists would go around preaching in revivals across America. Billy Graham was known as a great evangelist. Evangelists are individuals who go from place to place preaching the good news that Jesus is king, in hope that as many as possible will be saved.

1. Leadership Before Christ
2. An Apostle in Town
3. House Church Leadership
4. Prophecy in the Church
5. Ministers and Pastors

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Books I've Published

I wanted to have a post up of the books I've written and published the normal way (here are books I've self-published).

Academic Books 
Books for the Church
Devotional Books on the New Testament

Books I've Self-Published

I've published around 30 books the normal way with a publisher. I've also self-published a number of pieces, especially pieces that I've blogged into existence. Here is a list of them (not in chronological order):

My Three Novellas
Two more to come and then I'll self-publish the whole series in a single volume. These cover these key events in salvation history from Gabriel's point of view.
Biblical Studies
Theology and Philosophy
Various forays into theology:
Reflections on Founding of Wesley Seminary

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Leadership: Pastors 10

See bottom for the whole series
3. On one occasion, the New Testament uses the word "pastor" or "shepherd" in relation to a leadership role in the early church: Ephesians 4:11. It is unlikely that such a "pastor" was a minister like we have today. Rather, this is probably another way of referring to an elder or overseer in a church.

1 Peter 2:25 pushes us in this direction. "You were straying like sheep but you have returned now to the shepherd and overseer of your lives." Jesus is of course the good shepherd (John 10:14). He is the great shepherd (Heb. 13:20), the one that God brought up from the dead.

Although we might think today of a pastor being soothing or being a minister in the role of a counselor, the image is clearly one of keeping the sheep safe and in the right place. A shepherd brings errant sheep back to the fold. A shepherd guards the sheep from enemies and hostile forces. So a shepherd is not a passive or soothing role but the role of one who is ready to fight for the sheep and discipline them if necessary to keep them on track.

Accordingly, Ephesians 4:11 is probably thinking of the role of an elder or overseer when it uses the word pastor. We have argued that this was not likely a role for a single individual in a given church but a group of individuals. They collectively guided the church in the right direction.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Leadership: Ministers/Deacons 9

See bottom for posts in this series thus far.

5. Ministers 
1. We now come to one of the most important roles in the New Testament church, one that I believe has been under-estimated. The word diakonos means "minister." It is often correlated to the modern deacon, but I believe this connection is more misleading than helpful.

When you mention deacons, Acts 6 often comes to mind. In this chapter there is an argument over the distribution of food to Christian widows in Jerusalem, and seven men are appointed. A deacon in a church today is thus a person who helps with the more mundane--rather than spiritual--ministries of the church. The problem is that Acts 6 never calls these individuals "deacons" and everything we know about these particular men shows them as "preachers."

Stephen of course immediately starts proclaiming the gospel in the synagogue. His "evangelizing" is so prophetic that he gets stoned for it. Philip similarly is called Philip "the evangelist" in Acts 21:8, and he spends the better part of Acts 8 proclaiming the good news throughout Judea and Samaria. The bottom line is that Acts 6 is neither a sure indication of what a deacon was in the early church nor are these servants of the church depicted as limited to doing the kinds of things deacons do today.

2. In Philippians 1:2, Paul greets the overseers and deacons of the church at Philippi. This suggests two categories of leadership in that church. The first category are the "overseers," which we have already indicated are elders, a council of individuals providing wisdom and overall guidance to the community of faith. Paul never of course mentions such a group in his other churches--including Corinth--so we have to infer that the other churches had such elders at this stage from Acts 14:23.

What was a diakonos? When we look at Jesus' use of the word, we get a picture of what is sometimes called "servant leadership." "The one who is greatest among you must be your diakonos" (Matt. 23:11). The king in the Parable of the Wedding Banquet calls his servants or attendants, his diakonoi, to bring him the inappropriate guest to throw him out (Matt 22:13). Similarly, at the wedding at Cana, Mary tells the diakonoi to do whatever Jesus tells them to do (John 2:5).

From these instances of servants in the Gospels, you might think that the traditional role of a deacon is looking right. But consider how this word "minister" is used in Paul's letters. Paul calls the emperor a "servant" or "minister" (diakonos) of God for the good of the Romans. In Romans 15:8 he speaks of Christ becoming a "servant" or "minister" of the Jews to confirm the promises to the patriarchs. In several passages he calls himself a "minister" or "deacon" of his churches. [1]

It would thus seem that the role of minister was more significant than merely waiting tables. The diakonoi of the early church were apparently servant leaders who did a good deal of the actual "work of the ministry." As we have seen with words like elder, more than one leadership title might fit the same person. So Peter could be both an apostle and an elder. Paul could be both an apostle and a "minister."

Paul uses the word diakonos of several co-workers in the mission. He calls himself and Apollos diakonoi in 1 Corinthians 3:5. 1 Timothy 4:6 calls Timothy a "minister" of Christ. Tychicus is called a faithful diakonos in Ephesians 6:21. Colossians 1:7 and 4:7 call Epaphras a minister. Although Philippians 2 does not call Epaphroditus a diakonos, he seems to fit into this same general category.

From these examples, it would seem that the deacons of the early church were far from the trustees of many modern churches. They seem much more like the pastors of today. The deacons of the early church seem to be very active. They are traveling on behalf of churches. They are doing the work of the ministry. We might think of elders as a stationary group to whom you go for wisdom. Then the deacons are the ever-moving servants of the church who give feet to the ministry.

We should not leave the topic of such ministers without mentioning Phoebe in Romans 16:1. The same word diakonos is used of her that is used of Epaphras, Tychicus, and Paul. Indeed, it is the same word used of Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:6. The word deaconess is completely inappropriate. The early church had female ministers, and she is even called a "benefactor" or patron of Paul. She was a minister of the church at Cenchraea, one of the port villages of Corinth.

[1] E.g., 1 Cor. 3:5; 2 Cor. 3:6, 6:4, 11:23; Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23, 25;

1. Leadership Before Christ
2. An Apostle in Town
3. House Church Leadership
4. Prophecy in the Church

Monday, February 11, 2019

Leadership: Tongues and Prophecy 8

Previous posts in this series:
2. Paul has nothing but positive things to say about prophecy at Corinth. When he sets downs rules to bring order to the congregation, his controls on prophecy are that prophets speak one at a time, with there being only two or at the most three (1 Cor. 14:29-32). Further, he makes it clear that prophesies are to be evaluated by other prophets.

On the other hand, he is much more regulative when it comes to tongues. The whole thrust of 1 Corinthians 14 seems to elevate prophecy over tongues (14:1-2). Prophecy is presumably one of the greater gifts (12:31), second on his list in 1 Corinthians 12:28 (tongues is eighth).

The tone of 1 Corinthians 14 is generally dissuasive from the use of tongues in worship. It is true that he twice adds the exception, "unless someone interprets" (14:5 and 13). However, notice that these are quite the minority of the chapter. The rest of 1 Corinthians 14:1-25 argues repeatedly against the use of tongues in worship. Even when he says he speaks in more languages/tongues than all of them (14:18), this is the lead up to a "but" [2]

In the end he says not to forbid speaking in tongues in the worship service as long as there is an interpretation (14:39-40). If there is an interpretation, like prophecy, they should speak one at a time, two or at the most three (14:27-28). Of course these instructions were written to the Corinthian congregation with a view to their specific issues.

Today, there are churches where everyone there seems spiritually uplifted even when there is no interpretation. And there are churches today where the church would split if tongues were spoken. The recontextualization of Scripture calls for spiritual discernment in different times and places. Paul's bottom line is that everything be done decently and in order (14:40).

3. The main point is that the early church--at least some of Paul's churches--were rather charismatic. Prophecy was far more an element of the early church than many of us realize today. When Ephesians 2:20 says that the church was built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, it is not likely thinking about the Old Testament prophets but the New Testament ones.

In every age, there is a tension between the church as structured and the church as prophetic. In the first century, the apostles provided the ultimate structure, followed by elders as they became established. Apostles had a clear lineage in the sense that the Twelve could trace their leadership identity to Jesus. Even those apostles who were not from the Twelve could trace their apostleship to a resurrection appearance from Christ. [3] They were the closest thing to an establishment at that time.

By contrast, prophets could come from anywhere. The Spirit could speak through either gender. The Spirit was the great equalizer, regardless of nation or tongue or social background.

Accordingly, false prophets soon became a concern. The latest books of the New Testament deal extensively with false prophets and false teachers (e.g., 2 Peter 2 and Jude). It is no surprise that books like 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus are concerned about church structure and the qualifications for a church leader.

Nevertheless, there is nothing in the New Testament that suggests the prophetic role came to an end at some point. 1 Corinthians 13:8 is not saying that prophecy as a function will cease one day but that any individual prophecy has a date stamp on it. 1 John 4:1 exhorts John's community to test the spirits, and it warns that false prophets will abound. But the ongoing validity of prophecy is assumed within the church.

That is not necessarily to say that we should have a "prophecy time" in our worship services. The form leadership and the use of spiritual gifts take will inevitably change from context to context. What persists are the functions of leadership and the gifts, not necessarily the form in which they are expressed or exercised.

[2] This verse reminds me of the girl that told a guy, "I like you, but I don't want to go out with you," and the guy only heard, "I like you."

[3] Although in the case of Paul, many no doubt disputed that he was truly an apostle.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Leadership: Chaotic Worship 7

1. Leadership Before Christ
2. An Apostle in Town
3. House Church Leadership
4. Prophecy in the Church
1. It was apparently a mess when the varied house cells came together for worship on the Lord's Day and to eat the Lord's Supper. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 11-14 to address the chaotic nature of worship. 1 Corinthians 14 seems to point to the use of tongues in worship as the focus of the issue, but 1 Corinthians 11 also shows that the participation of women in prophecy caused some awkwardness.

As Acts 2:27 indicates, a clear consequence of the coming of the Spirit was the exercise of prophetic gifts among women: "your sons and daughters will prophesy." Women of course prophesied in the Old Testament as well. When the male high priest in the days of Josiah wanted to verify that the Book of the Law was authentic, he took it to the prophetess Huldah, who apparently was his spiritual superior (2 Kings 22:14). Philip the "evangelist" also had four daughters who were prophetesses (Acts 21:9).

1 Corinthians 11 clearly indicates that the wives of the Corinthian church were full participants in the spiritual worship of the community. [1] The problem that Paul is addressing in this chapter resulted from the strange situation where 1) husbands and wives were in close association with other husbands and wives in close quarters, 2) indeed in a house, where women would not normally wear a veil, 3) and where women were speaking and prophesying to men who weren't their husbands.

Paul's solution is for the wife to make sure she is wearing her veil (1 Cor. 11:5). The passage likely refers to a hair veil, leaving the face uncovered. This veil indicated modesty/honor and, like a wedding ring today, made it clear that the wife was in proper relation to her own husband while prophesying to men who were not her husband. This chapter thus assumes that women will prophesy in corporate worship. Paul's goal is to create an environment where women can prophesy without shame or unnecessary turmoil.

Interestingly, Paul mentions prophecy in this passage as the second most important role in the church after apostle (1 Cor. 12:28). Accordingly, when he and Silas were with the Corinthians, he and Silas held the most important role. Then those women and men who had the gift of prophecy played the second most authoritative role in the church, even above teaching. As we have already said, he never mentions any elders at Corinth.

[1] Making it clear that, if 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 are original, they had to do with disruptive speech, not with spiritual or prophetic speech.

Saturday, February 09, 2019

Leadership: Elders and Overseers 6

Previous posts:

1. Leadership Before Christ
2. An Apostle in Town
3. House Church Leadership
3. So a city like Corinth might have had four or five house cells, all of whom could come together in assembly for the Lord's Supper each week in the large house of Gaius (Rom. 16:23). The house cells would be like Bible study groups today that meet in homes. They would each have their own personality.

Some would likely be loyal to Paul. There might be one that was more "conservative" and in line with Jerusalem. There might be some that were made up primarily of Jews and others of Gentiles. There might be some that were higher social class and others of much more lowly means. Some might consist of converts under Paul's ministry.

As church leadership structure developed, perhaps smaller house cells in a city eventually contributed one or two elders to a growing council of elders that served as a repository of wisdom for the "assembly at x." The greeting of 1 Corinthians still addresses a "church" in the singular (1:2), so Paul conceptualized the believers in this city as one assembly and one church. These may have come together each Sunday for a meal in the evening (1 Cor. 11:25). [3]

If they went by Jewish reckoning, perhaps this took place on what we would think of as Saturday night after sundown, since the Jewish day began at sundown. That would then allow smaller groupings to gather early in the morning on Sunday at dawn, the time when Jesus rose from the dead. They would not have Sunday off work, so we would expect them to meet early before then going about their day's activities.

4. We probably should not think that the elders of the early churches necessarily did much ministry. There were "ministers" (diakonoi) who actually did more of the foot work of ministry in the congregation. I am of the opinion that the group we sometimes have called "deacons" were actually the ones more like the "pastors" we know today. More on them to come.

Paul never uses the word elder (presbyteros) in any of his early letters. Only 1 Timothy and Titus refer to elders. Paul never speaks of elders in the church at Corinth or any of his early churches. He does refer to the "overseers" (episkopoi) of the church at Philippi, and these are probably equivalent to elders (Phil. 1:1).

Once there were councils of elders or overseers in Christian communities, they would have served to make important judgments. Given the patriarchal pull of the culture, we can expect that these councils would have eventually become overwhelmingly male, but we have no evidence that individuals like Lydia or Priscilla were not elders in their communities.

5. From 1 Timothy, Titus, and 1 Peter, we can see that the titles of elder and overseers both seem to refer to the same role. Titus 1:5-7 flows seamlessly from one term to the next in the same conversation. These are not solo pastors. These are a group of individuals providing wisdom and guidance to a community.

Peter refers to himself as an elder in 1 Peter 5:1, showing that the role of apostle and elder were not mutually exclusive. Then in 5:2 he speaks of the elders (presbyteroi) providing oversight (episkopeo). 1 Peter 2:25 also flows seamlessly from Jesus as the great "pastor" or "shepherd" (poimen) of our souls to Jesus as the "overseer" (episkopon).

The church structure in these letters distinguishes them from Paul's earlier letters, where the church seems far more charismatic and prophetic in flavor. Many will know that there is a lively debate among scholars about whether the Pastoral Letters belong to a period after Paul's death when false teaching was abundant and the need for a more developed church structure came into play. Although most evangelicals do not side that way, the debate reflects the uniqueness of 1 Timothy and Titus within the Pauline corpus. At the very least, they seem to reflect the church more at the end of Paul's ministry than at its beginning.

[3] Or did they meet for the meal on Thursday nights to mirror the Last Supper?

Friday, February 08, 2019

Leadership: House Church Leadership 5

Previous posts:
1. The arrival of the gospel in a city like Corinth was socially disruptive. The beliefs and practices of the synagogue were relatively uniform and stable prior to Paul's arrival in town. When he arrived, the synagogue is suddenly divided. Many Jews believe, including the synagogue leader. Others no doubt do not. Paul becomes a divisive figure in the Judaism in the city.

God-fearers are elevated. Where before they were peripheral figures not fully included in the synagogue, now they are equal participants. A wealthy Gentile Roman citizen like Titius Justus is now a person with power. [1] Is this individual possibly the Gaius of Romans 16:23 and 1 Corinthians 1:14?

The church as a whole can apparently meet in Gaius' house, suggesting a group of 40-50 (Rom. 16:23). Perhaps once a week they meet together to eat the Lord's supper, which seems to be a meal in 1 Corinthians 11. During the week, perhaps they meet in smaller groups in the houses or apartments of other believers. It is in these smaller groupings that factions in the congregation likely congealed.

You had Jews and Gentiles loyal to Paul. You had Jews and Gentiles who used Apollos as an excuse to undermine the first group. Perhaps you had Jews who preferred Peter and the Jerusalem approach over and against Paul. All the disagreements within the church addressed in 1 Corinthians reflect differing social groupings in the assembly.

2. The synagogue would have had a council of elders that provided leadership for it. We can imagine that such a collection of elders eventually formed for the house churches of the early church. A smaller house church probably would not have enough people for a full council. We can image that these cells often did not have ten people in them.

So it seems more likely that collections of elders first developed on a more city-wide basis, or that the churches of many cities did not have elders at all. Women in these churches quite likely played prominent roles not least because many of the first believers were women. A Priscilla or a Lydia likely were every bit as influential and played just as much a leadership role as anyone in their churches, whether they were called elders or not.

We should probably take Acts 14:23 in this developing way. Paul and Barnabas recognized leaders in individual house churches. They likely charged them with the ongoing continuation of worship and teaching in those locations. But these would mostly have been more like the size of our modern Bible studies than full blown churches like we have today. There were no church buildings.

So we can picture Paul designating Lydia as the leader of the church that met in her house or Priscilla and Aquila as the "elders" of the church that met in their house. [2] Then, perhaps, when you took all these individual elders in the individual house churches and looked at a city as a whole, this group might be called a council of elders for the city (e.g., 1 Tim. 4:14; 5:17). At this early stage, these things were likely very informal rather than formal structures. If a house church disagreed with the other groups in the city, there was nothing to stop them from going their own way.

[1] The name Titius Justus looks like a Roman name, perhaps Gaius Titius Justus or some such.

[2] There is the question of age. Were these women and men old enough to be considered "elders"? One way or another, formally or informally, we can imagine that they had the equivalent authority and power in their churches.