Saturday, February 02, 2019

New Testament Church Leadership 1

1. Leadership before Christ
1. At some point around AD49, a Christian couple arrived at the city of Corinth named Priscilla and Aquila. I put the wife's name first because the New Testament typically puts her name first when it is referring to their ministry together. This fact suggests that she generally took the lead in ministry between the two.

Acts 18:2 mentions him first when the couple is first introduced. At that point they have just arrived at Corinth from Rome because the emperor Claudius had expelled Christian Jews from the city. However, she is mentioned first the other two times that the couple is mentioned in Acts. She is mentioned first in Acts 18:18 when they leave Corinth with Paul to go minister at Ephesus. Then she is mentioned first in 18:26, when the couple disciple a man named Apollos in the faith.

Once we realize how male-oriented the Roman and Jewish world was, we immediately find this word order striking. It suggests that Priscilla was more prominent in this couple's ministry than Aquila was. It suggests that she took the lead in relation to the church. Acts 18:26 makes this fact especially clear: when it came to discipling Apollos, Priscilla is mentioned first. This is of course the Apollos who would be the second great "minister" to the church at Corinth, following Paul.

When Paul greets Priscilla and Aquila in Romans 16:3, he mentions her first in the same breath that he speaks of both of them as co-workers with him. He goes on to greet the church that meets in their house. 2 Timothy 4:19 similarly mentions her first in its final greetings. He does mention Aquila first when sending greetings from them to the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 16:19).

The bottom line is that she must have been a spiritual force to reckon with, and none of these texts give any indication that she played some secondary role in their ministry. On the contrary, by far the most natural way to read these texts sees her taking the lead in spiritual things. Perhaps in worldly things like tentmaking he took the lead; we do not know. She seems more prominent in ministry matters.

2. Priscilla and Aquila arrive at Rome before Paul does. They had apparently become believers in Christ at Rome. We do not know exactly how the good news reached Rome. Perhaps some individuals heard the gospel of Jesus on the Day of Pentecost and took it back to Rome. "All roads lead to Rome," the saying went, so it was only a matter of time before some Jews would bring the good news there that the Messiah had come.

It is important to keep in mind that Christianity was not distinct from Judaism at this time and would not be for a long time. The first believers were Jews, and they did not see themselves as part of some new religion. For them, Jesus was the promised Messiah and so believing in him was in fact the culmination of all the promises to Israel. They were the true Israel. They were not abandoning Israel.

Of course belief in Jesus as Messiah was very controversial. As Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 1:23, the claim that God had let the Romans crucify the anointed king of Israel was a "stumbling block" to Jews. It was more than an insult. It was outrageous from an earthly perspective. The Messiah was supposed to be a conqueror, not a "loser." Those were more than fighting words. That was the kind of suggestion that could get you killed!

So it is no surprise that controversy over Christ became so heated in the synagogues at Rome that it not only came to the Roman emperor's attention. He expelled at least the Christian Jews out of Rome, perhaps also some non-believing Jews as well. The Roman historian Suetonius (ca. AD69-126) famously wrote that Claudius "expelled those Jews from Rome who were constantly making disturbances at the instigation of Christ." [1]

Priscilla and Aquila were apparently two of those expelled. We can see them telling other Jews in their synagogue at Rome that Jesus was in fact the Messiah, and we can see incredible controversy taking place. Finally, Claudius expelled those he thought were causing the trouble. The Romans did not like civil disturbances of any kind.

[1] Claudius 25.4. There is some debate of course whether this is a reference to Christ or some Jewish instigator named "Chrestus," but most think it is a reference to Christ, especially given Acts 18:2. The Jewish presence in Rome was so great at this time, that it seems far more likely that Claudius expelled a certain group of Jews rather than all Jews.


Martin LaBar said...

Happy Groundhog day!

Ken Schenck said...

And also with you!

Bob MacDonald said...

Your title, 1. Leadership before Christ. Could you elaborate on your intent behind this title. Or do you mean Leadership before Paul?

Ken Schenck said...

I suspect you have a good point. Before the church is what I think I had in mind.