Posted by: mattcolvin | March 12, 2007

Ordination 2: Was Timothy a Pastor? or What?

I continue my series of posts on ordination. I find it astonishing that since George Gillespie, few Reformed writers have had anything to say about the topic. Yet Hebrew 6:2 refers to the laying on of hands as an “elementary principle” and “foundational doctrine” of our Christian faith, listing it alongside baptism and the resurrection of the dead. There is a wide array of arrant opinions held by famous theologians without any reckoning with the Jewish background, or any attempt to read the NT’s accounts of ordination in light of that background. We can find such ignorance on both low-church and high-church extremes of the Reformed spectrum. Augustus Strong, the Reformed baptist theologian, says of ordination,
“Ordination confers no authority — it only recognizes authority already conferred by God…Mr. Spurgeon was never ordained. He began and ended his remarkable ministry as a lay preacher. He revolted from the sacramentalism of the Church of England, which seemed to hold that in the imposition of hands in ordination divine grace trickled down through a bishop’s finger ends and he felt moved to protest against it…He refused the degree of Doctor of Divinity, and said that “D. D” often meant “Doubly Destitute.” Dr. P. S. Henson suggests that the letters mean only “Fiddle Dee Dee.” (Systematic Theology, vol. 3)
So on the one hand, we have anti-sacramental Baptists saying that ordination does just about nothing. Just as they are against baptism doing anything objective, so they are against ordination doing anything objective. On the other hand, we can find theologians like J.W. Nevin, who held that ordination, and ordination alone, gives a man the right to represent Christ in the church’s liturgy:
“The office is a necessary organ of the Body of Christ, and as such it is the bearer of a divine supernatural power that may never be measured safely by any common standard. Ordination does convey, in this sense, objective virtue or force, such as no man in the ordinary course of things can be allowed to possess without it.” (Nevin, The Incarnation, in Nichols, ed., The Mercersburg Theology, p. 72-3)
Nevin held that a tactile apostolic succession was necessary, and denied that any “purely Republican assembly” of laymen could “originate a valid ministration of mystery of grace contained in the gospel.” He called it a “heresy” to say that the Church is before the ministry in order of existence.

My concern in this series is to examine history and Scripture sine ira et studio to determine what the Bible actually teaches about ordination and the NT ministry.

In my first post, I argued that the diction and grammar of Acts 6, the OT’s typology of ordination, and the Jewish background of the performative ritual of laying on of hands all combine with one voice to deny that the apostles laid hands on the Seven in that chapter.

In this particular post, I want to consider Timothy and Titus, who are often advanced as examples, either of the first bishops, or of pastors ordained by Paul. The books addressed to them are called the “pastoral epistles,” but we cannot let that prejudice the issue. What office did they hold?

Church tradition refers to Timothy as a bishop of Ephesus, but this is without any basis in the Bible. There does not seem to be any reason why he could not have taken up the pastorate in Ephesus after the close of the NT. But he does not seem to be a bishop in its pages. The point I want to argue is this: if Timothy is not a bishop or an elder, if he is not an officer of the church, then the instructions to him are not to be applied to church officers without careful consideration of how their functions might be similar to the job Timothy did hold. For instance, Jeff Meyers reads 1 Tim. 6:11 (“But you, O man of God…”) as an address to pastors as over against laymen, and grounds his preference for pastors reading Scripture in the liturgy on 1 Tim. 4:13: “Paul writes to Pastor Timothy: ‘devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture.'” (See this post.)

So, was Timothy a pastor?

He is never called one in the pages of the NT. He has no geographical appointment, but appears to be sent by Paul wherever Paul cannot be present himself. He is, in effect, a copy of Paul, the apostle’s apostle, the shaliach of the shaliach. Let’s take these points one by one.

Timothy is a co-author of 2 Corinthians along with Paul: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth…” The same pairing occurs in Philippians: “Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.” (Interestingly, note that elders are not mentioned. The bishops, or “overseers” just are the elders.) Timothy and Silas are co-authors with Paul of the 1st and 2nd epistles to the Thessalonians. So Timothy shares in the apostolic authority Paul exercises to direct diverse and geographically disparate churches. No pastor in the NT has such power.

Second, Timothy is sent. This is the hallmark of an apostle or shaliach — indeed, both nouns have their roots in the respective verbs “to send” (Hebrew shalah and Greek ἀποστέλλω). Phil. 2:20: “I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Τimothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state.” Paul sends Timothy to the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 16:10, stating that he is to do the same job as Paul himself: “If Timothy comes, see that he may be with you without fear; for he does the work of the Lord, as I also do . Therefore let no one despise him.” Timothy’s work is the same as Paul’s. On several other occasions, Paul mentions that Timothy is doing “the work of the Lord” or is a “fellow-worker with me” or a “fellow-worker with God.” I would suggest that these terms should be taken as vivid expressions of the shaliach role, first of Paul, as an apostle sent by God or Christ to do Christ’s work, and then by Timothy, who, sent by Paul as Paul’s own shaliach, is likewise engaged in the same work as his master, and is thus, as it were, a second-order shaliach of Christ. (My wife wisecracks: “Yeah, he [sc. Christ] is so important that his secretary has a secretary!”) He is referred to by Paul as “my fellow worker” in Rom. 16:21. 1 Tim. 4:6 refers to Timothy as a διάκονος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ, a servant of Christ Jesus. It is unclear whether this is a more general appellation, or refers to his role as the delegate of Christ’s delegate. Nonetheless, the point is clear: Timothy is Paul’s plenipotentiary emissary, not a local pastor. He stands on one side with Paul as Christ’s representative, not on the other side with the Seven and other elders as the Church’s representative.

In keeping with James Jordan’s point about deacons being the personal servants of others, Luke uses the verb διακονέω of Timothy’s relation to Paul in Acts 19:22: “So [Paul] sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him (δύο τῶν διακονούντων αὐτῷ), Timothy and Erastus, but he himself stayed in Asia for a time.” Timothy is Paul’s deacon, not the deacon of a local church. He ministers to Paul, doing his work.

That Timothy is a virtual copy of Paul is underlined by 1 Cor. 4:16-17: “I urge you, imitate me. For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church.”

The so-called pastoral epistles are actually letters from Paul to his two shaliachim, Timothy and Titus, who are doing his work in areas where he is prevented from being present. What, then, are we to make of the directions to both men about appointing elders and deacons? The lists of qualifications for elders and deacons in these books are routinely taken as instructions for the church today as they appoint such officers by their normal means. But in the original historical context of these epistles, they were instructions to apostles, not to churches. Timothy and Titus were actually to appoint these officers, handling the organization of the churches in their regions with full power to reshape them and direct them during their formative years. This is the sort of thing that only a plenipotentiary representative of Christ himself can do, an exercise of raw apostolic power. After the apostolic age, things would have to continue by other means.

What I am arguing here is nothing new, really. Gregory Dix recognized this fact about Timothy in his essay on “Ministry in Early Church” in Kirk, ed. The Apostolic Ministry. If I recall correctly, R. Beckwith also recognizes that Timothy is a special emissary of Paul.

Let me remind my readers of what I argued in Part 1 of this series: the origin of the authority of an apostle of Jesus Christ is different from that of a local elder or pastor. The former is not answerable to men at all, and his appointment is not brought about through men. But an elder or pastor, if I am right about Acts 6 being the origin of the NT’s office, is not only chosen from among the congregation, but is selected by the same, and furthermore, ordained by the laying-on of hands of the congregation (not the hands of a bishop or apostle or other elders). The pastor thus acts as the congregation embodied in one man; if he represents Christ, it is only because he is a member of the congregation that itself represents Christ, and not because he has received ordination that derives from the apostles.

But what about Timothy’s ordination? Who ordained him? The usual Presbyterian reading of 1 Tim. 4:14 has it that he was ordained by “the presbytery,” by which we are given to understand that a bunch of elders gathered around him like football players in a huddle, and all laid hands on him. The “laying on of hands of the presbytery” (ἐπιθέσεως τῶν χειρῶν τοῦ πρεσβυτερίου) in this verse does not, however, denote such a group ordination. The genitive is not subjective. Daube points out that in every other occurence in the NT, πρεσβυτέριον denotes the Sanhedrin, and that the phrase ἐπιθέσις τῶν χειρῶν τοῦ πρεσβυτερίου is thus a word-for-word translation of the Hebrew semikath-zeqenim, the “laying on of hands of elders” — i.e. rabbinic ordination. The phrase says nothing about who did the laying-on of hands. It only specifies the ritual as semikath-zeqenim. It is only on this basis that we can make the verse square with 2 Tim. 1:6, which speaks in almost identical words of “the gift of God which is in you by the laying on of my hands.” Here it is Paul who, all by himself, laid hands on Timothy. This is what we should expect, given the role Timothy plays. Paul laid hands on him, and made him a copy of himself. His use of the term “laying on of hands of elders” in the earlier letter is a reference to this same event, but awkwardly designated with a translation of a Hebrew term that makes it sound as if Timothy were made an elder, or ordained by elders.

Paul’s admonition to Timothy in 2 Tim. 5:22 not to be hasty in the laying on of hands makes it sound as though this is a business that he can mess up all by himself – as indeed he can, if we are correct about the meaning of the laying on of hands.

A final note about Timothy: if I have correctly construed his job in the NT, then it is seems once Paul was dead, his job as an apostle’s apostle would presumably be over. He would then be quite free to serve as a pastor in Ephesus, in accordance with the church’s extra-biblical historical tradition.

Titus seems to be in the same position as Timothy: he has been “left behind” Paul in Crete, in order to do Paul’s work. Most notably, he is told to “appoint (καταστήσῃς) elders in every city.” Does this mean that he is to lay hands on them, thereby transferring to them the apostolic authority that he had from Paul? That is the opinion of J.W. Nevin, as summarized by J.H. Nichols:
The ministry as a continuing organ was of divine institution and commission in the Church. It did not derive its rights and powers from the people by delegation from the priesthood of all believers. They came rather in unbroken succession from the Lord’s commission to the Apostles.
But the text does not indicate a laying on of hands by Titus to make functional copies of himself in Crete. The verb used is the same one that the apostles use in Acts 6 to denote their role in the appointment of the Seven: namely, “look out seven men from among you…whom we may set over (καταστήσομεν) this need.” As we have seen in part 1 of this series, the apostles did not lay hands on, or ordain, the Seven; the congregation did. We may therefore presume that Titus’ role in Crete was likewise not to ordain men himself, but to oversee their ordination by the local churches. That is, he is acting as an apostle, a representative of Christ (because of Paul), and thus part of the foundation of the church, especially in the crucial, formative, early years. No “apostolic succession” of ordination is in view. He is not ordaining successors of himself or of Paul. He is overseeing the churches as they ordain elders to do their work.

In conclusion, I believe the Bible shows Timothy, Titus, and other such apostles’ apostles to have an authority peculiar to the apostolic age, extra-ecclesial in origin, and super-ecclesial in power. They are not properly church officers at all. Neither the way they are addressed, nor their functions, nor the details of their ordination allow them to be considered officers of the churches – unless we say that Jesus is an “officer” of each church. For it is His role that they filled vis a vis the churches. They were ministers of Christ in a way that your local pastor is not.



  1. […] taking two articles by James Jordan on eldership and maturity as his starting point, provides some insights that help to unlock this particular subject. One of the key observations in Jordan’s approach […]

  2. […] The myth of tactile apostolic succession (the idea of a continuous laying on of hands in ordination) was dissolved when I read Hermann Sasse’s examination of the concept of apostolic succession where he points out that the succession to an office is not the same as a succession of consecrations. There was no evidence to believe that there was a “passing on” of a charismatic power via ordination rather than a mere appointment of someone to a preexisting office. Furthermore with regards to the Pope as the successor of St Peter, there is also much evidence among the Fathers to suggest that the “Rock” referred to by Christ refers not to an office but to St Peter’s Faith, and even if we accept that there is such a Petrine Office which gets passed on, there is no historical evidence that this Petrine Office is passed on to the Bishop of Rome. (The excellent Steven Wedgeworth has a much more concise and thorough discussion on apostolic succession here. For exegetical treatment of biblical passages to do with the laying on hands, I recommend Matthew Colvin’s treatment here.) […]

  3. […] (I have discussed some of the phrases in 1 Tim. 1 in light of all this. See also my posts on the ordination of the Seven in Acts 6, and on the ordination of Timothy as Paul’s emissary.) […]

  4. […] Le mythe de la succession apostolique tactile (l’idée d’imposition des mains continue lors de l’ordination) a été dissoute lorsque j’ai lu l’examen que fait Hermann Sasse du concept de succession apostolique où il fait remarquer que la succession à un office n’est pas la même chose qu’une succession de consécration. Il n’y avait pas de preuve pour soutenir l’idée que l’on “transmettait” un pouvoir charismatique via l’ordination plutôt qu’une simple nomination à un office préexistant. De plus, en ce qui concerne le Pape comme successeur de Saint Pierre, il y a aussi beaucoup de preuves parmi les pères qui suggèrent que le “rocher” mentionné par Christ fait référence non à un office, mais à la foi de Pierre, et même si l’on acceptait un Saint-Siège qui était transmis, il n’y a aucune preuve que le trône de Pierre n’ait été transmis à l’évêque de Rome. (L’excellent Steven Wedgeworth a une discussion bien plus concise et profonde sur la succession apostolique ici. Pour un traitement exégétique des passages bibliques sur l’imposition des mains, je recommande ce qu’en dit Matthew Colvin ici. […]

  5. Would not the simpler conclusion be that Timothy and Titus were evangelists (2 Timothy 4:5)?

    The role described in the letters to Timothy and Titus is that of an evangelist (Ephesians 4:11-13).

    • Sure. And I agree that they are evangelists. But notice that IMMEDIATELY after Paul tells Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist,” he immediately says, “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.” In other words, whatever title we give to the job, it is Paul’s shoes that Timothy must fill.

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