Early Christian Decision-Making, Part 1: Did Americans Invent Church Voting?

There are legitimate questions for Christians to ask as they study their Bibles and become active in a church. Some questions are worth pursuing endlessly (questions about the character of Christ, for instance). Others have their limits, particularly when little or nothing is directly said in the Bible about them. As the discussion becomes long and drawn out, it also becomes, well, odd. We become either speculative or dogmatic without substance, since there is little in Scripture that substantiates our arguments. Whether Christians should vote, or did vote in the New Testament times is one of those types of questions. It is legitimate to ask, but limited in its worth. There is only one time in the Bible that Christians are directly said to have voted, where a proper Greek word for “vote” is used (2 Cor. 8:18-19).

Do not take me to mean that church order is unimportant. If you would look in my library at how many books I have on the subject, Church/Church Order, you would immediately understand that I do not take it lightly. There are several themes in the subject of Church Order which I am convinced are worthy of lengthy pursuit. One, for instance is church discipline. Another, the one I want to talk about, is group decision-making among Christians. Taking votes is one way of making a group decision. There are others. From a biblical perspective, the significant idea for churches is not vote-taking, but group decisions.

Group decision-making

In my study I have found that the New Testament directly refers to group decision-making by Christians after the resurrection of Christ 16 times (Acts 1:15-16; 6:1-6; 8:14-17; 11:22; 11:30; 13:1-3; 14:21-23; 15:1-3; 15:4-29; 15:22; 15:36-41; 16:9-11; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 / 2 Corinthians 2:5-11; 1 Corinthians 16:3-4; 2 Corinthians 8:18-19; 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5). No doubt I have overlooked a passage, which eventually someone will point out to me. If there are sixteen times in the Bible in which group decision-making is either described or instructed, it is an important biblical subject.

Of the sixteen, one is made by the core of the Jesus Movement as they awaited the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:15-16), one is made by the apostles (Acts 8:14-17), two are made by a missionary team (Acts 16:9-11; 1 Thess. 3:1-5), ten are made by a local church, one is described as a decision of the apostles, elders, and the church and finally, one is hard to specify by exegesis (Acts 13:1-3). I count it as a church example because the NT identifies the first line of accountability afterward as the sending church (Acts 14:26-27).

Strangely (for our thinking), the NT never once describes or instructs about how a group of elders or deacons makes its decisions (though no doubt they did make decisions as groups), not to mention how synods, councils, cardinals, make them. The biggest emphasis of the NT in the area of group decision-making is how the church made, or makes decisions. This fact isn’t hard to understand. The local church is the body of Christ in its locale. It is, as Paul says, “The temple of God” and “the pillar and ground of the truth.” So God put His emphasis there.

The American-invention myth

Church order has been a hot item in Christianity for centuries, motivating people (like yours truly) to write books, write constitutions and by-laws, hold seminars, end fellowship with one another, hatch plots, see visions, create hierarchies, remove authorities, kill, and create and disseminate myths. One myth peculiar to many American Christians is the notion that anything democratic in churches, including taking votes, started in the good old USA. After all, the US is the biggest democratic country to have existed in all of history. Saying that voting in churches began in America makes a great story line, but it is still just a myth.

Omitting for the moment the teaching of the NT about church order, there is a general consensus among church historians that Christian church organization was simple in its beginning. In time churches developed hierarchy and a clerical order. Still, the idea that the people of a church, or of a whole group of churches decided who would fill leadership roles did not die out until well into the middle ages.1

During the middle ages, the Roman Church especially adopted the doctrines of Pseudo-Dionysian writings. These taught that church hierarchy was patterned on the hierarchy of heavenly beings. By the 1300s, some began to raise their voices against Catholic hierarchy and called for congregational election of clergy.2

When the Reformation took place, most of its leaders, as they studied the Scriptures, were initially impressed with the congregational idea of church order, including the notion of electing pastors.3 Martin Luther, in fact, was the original “congregationalist” of the Reformation, and expounded that view in his tract, “The Right of a Christian Congregation.” In his Institutes (4.3.4-13; 4.4.10) Calvin states that the congregation is to elect the pastors. The Reformers had to modify their views of congregational authority on account of their political environments, but the Radical Reformers, otherwise known as Anabaptists, never changed their original idea of congregational decisions, including votes. Likewise, as the Reformation progressed in England, independent groups typically taught that the congregation had the right of electing its own officers and disciplining their members.4

So that I do not lose my audience, let me stop the history lesson with the fraction I have mentioned. But be aware of this: it all happened long before the Battle of Bunker Hill and the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Notes

1 See, for instance, Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol 1, Chapter 20; Edwin Hatch, The Organization of the Early Christian Churches; Fenton A.J. Hort, The Christian Ecclesia; Hans von Campenhausen, Ecclesiastical Authority and Spiritual Power; Hans Küng, Christianity, 116-130; Everett Ferguson, “The ‘Congregationalism’ of the Early Church,” in D.H. Williams, ed. The Free Church and the Early Church, 129-140).

2 See, for instance, Marsilius of Padua, Defenson pacis, Trans. Alan Gewirth, New York: Columbia University, 1956.

3 E.g., James Tunstead Burtchaell, From Synagogue to Church, Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1994, 34-36.

4 See, for instance, William R. Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith, 18-142. Most confessions in this section of his book precede Baptist confessions).

[node:bio/jeff-brown body]

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Ed Vasicek's picture

Jeff said:

Quote:
Whether Christians should vote, or did vote in the New Testament times is one of those types of questions.

Jeff, well written article! But I would argue that these are two separate questions. No one has convinced me that we are instructed to imitate what the early church did, apart from that which is commanded. Whether the early church voted or not may not necessarily dictate what we do. The church is intended to embrace people of every kindred, tribe and nation -- and to adjust, as exemplified in the transition from a Jewish majority to a gentile majority in the churches and the resultant distinct local flavors of the church.

So, even if the early church did not vote by actually counting pros and cons, there is no prohibition against doing so. But this particular must be weighed against the concept that the elders are true leaders and that the church is to

Quote:
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
, as Ephesians 4:3 states.

In addition, we want to avoid meetings that are destructive rather than edifying:

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for your meetings do more harm than good.

When I look at churches that vote about everything (and how many splits they have), and I factor in personal experiences with nasty people who try to feel important by being obstructionists, my conclusion is that voting should be reserved and limited to big things, like approving a pastor or a large spending project. Every time you vote, you risk division. That, to me, is not making ever effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

"The Midrash Detective"

Pastor Harold's picture

Why don't we hear an argument for casting lots?
It was done by the early Church and is not forbidden.

Jeff Brown's picture

We probably differ here, Ed. I take a good deal of what is in the Book of Acts as normative for us today. Acts is what binds all the Epistles together. It gives them unity, coherence, and context. The command of Jesus to the apostles in Acts 1:8 is still relevant for Christians, namely "the end of the earth." The project isn't complete. General patterns in Acts need to be instructional for us as well. That is my persuasion. Perhaps you can tell me why I should not think that way. Writers like Debelius, Haenchen, and their followers that I have read, who do not take the book of Acts as normative did not convince me.

On the other hand, the instruction for much of what happened in Acts is given in the Gospels. The apostles simply made thorough application of Jesus' commands. I will bring that out in a later section.

Finally, Paul told the entire church in Corinth to take up their responsibility of making a decision together: once to carry out church discipline (1 Cor 5:1-13) and once to select representatives (1 Cor 16:3-4).

I am in agreement with you that voting is not always necessary, and should be reserved for bigger matters. There are other ways of talking things through. Cantankerous business meetings are often the fault, not so much of cantankerous people but rather poor leadership and/or hidden agendas (say, of leaders). Likewise, nearly all pastors starting out lack a trust in their people because they have not been trained as well as themselves. Some pastors never get over this bias. Lack of trust causes tension. Tension comes out eventually, for instance in church meetings. Pastors can teach their congregations how to do things when they come together for meetings. If the pastor really loves his people and is honest with them, they will eventually learn to be peacemakers. The first church we started in Germany, nearly 20 years ago, has yet to have experienced a single unhappy business meeting (we have not been there for 4 1/2 years). It actually works if leaders, above all, will take Jesus seriously for those events.

A lot of pastors, I think, don't understand why there are church meetings. They have them because everyone always has had them. So the church meeting becomes a headache or heartache until they find a well-reasoned argument to ban it. A careful study of group meetings and decision-making in the book of Acts reveals several important reasons why the meetings took place and how valuable they can be for a church. We simply need to meditate a while on what we have read. There are often fabulous things that come out of good church meetings, including things that bless a congregation for years. It is too bad that a lot of preachers lump all church meetings together an unspiritual concept.

I think that we are probably similar in thought about flexibility. My one published book about this subject is titled: "Form and Freedom." I think that speaks for itself.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Ed, and for giving me the chance to speak long. Hope no one named Eutychus fell out a window as they read this.

Jeff Brown

Jeff Brown's picture

Tell me what you are driving at, Harold

Jeff Brown

Shaynus's picture

The casting lots question came up in my mind too. I think churches in our American context should look at the best way to deliberate carefully and arrive at wise decision (whether elders or congregations or both).

If those from Ted Bigelow's perspective are so concerned that we do things exactly biblical, why not cast lots to determine the best diaconate choice? It seems to be a theme of scripture that the Lord determines every lot cast? What don't we do it? Are we slaves to our more democratic modern culture? Are we scared of making decisions via that method? Or maybe we have more light now after the canon has closed?

Jeff Brown's picture

Hi Shaynus.

The casting of lots was one of the chief methods used during the time of Christ to determine which priests would perform ministry on what days . That equalized the ministry for all the priests, rather than letting a High Priest show favoritism. It also obviously got them involved in all priestly ministries. One has to remember that there were many priests in Jesus' time, so that it was necessary to have a method of determination.

The casting of lots was also used in Greek democracies. Again, the concept was that equality should determine who fulfilled what post, rather than the exercise of favoritism or aristocratic action. Casting the lot is a great equalizer. It is quite democratic. F.F. Bruce, in his Greek Text Commentary on Acts, p.112 says that Acts 1:15ff mirrors the election of magistrates in Athens rather well.

In the case of Acts 1:15ff, the people for whom lots were cast were two selected by the group (I conclude that the 120 selected the two, as do most commentators). As the group did not feel adequate to select beyond this point, they left the decision between the two to the Lord, relying on the lot. This was, after all, the choice of a twelfth apostle. The action fits very nicely in the context of Jewish understanding of selection process.

The casting of lots by a Christian group does not appear in Scripture after Acts 1. I would conclude that after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, there was no more need for the Lot. Since the Holy Spirit indwelt and guided all believers from that point on, they could depend on immediate guidance. It is not just the Elders who are guided by the Spirit. All believers are. The apostles had a great respect for this truth and let them make group decisions.

This is explained by Strack and Billerbeck in their commentary (2:596-97), albeit in German. C.K. Barrett's commentary on Acts also explains the idea. The phrase "to cast lots" is used frequently in the LXX and Josephus with the same wording as in Acts 1, and these references together would help one understand what was happening among the 120 before Pentecost.

Jeff Brown

Ted Bigelow's picture

It is sometimes asserted that Acts 1:15-24 mirrors the kind of democratic elections that should mark the church. Supposedly it teaches a model for the kind of congregational authority that would mark the coming church — an authority even apostles submit to. The congregation of 120 persons put forward Barsabbas and Matthias (Acts 1:23) and chose Matthias. Their action displays two essential features of congregational polity. The apostles submitted themselves to congregational choices, and congregations, not leaders, select for themselves those who serve them in ministry. [See Cowen, Who Rules the Church?, 86; James Leo Garrett, “The Congregation-Led Church,” 70; Erickson, Christian Theology, 1075; Grudem, Systematic Theology, 921; Ben Merkle, 40 Questions, 38–39; From the Presbyterian side, see Thomas Witherow, An Inquiry into the Scriptural Form of Church Government (London: James Nisbet and Co., 1867) 36. ]

Yet, neither the congregation nor the apostles chose Matthias. Jesus did. Everyone else looked on as the risen Christ chose whom He wanted through the use of lots. On this point I disagree with you, Jeff my brother. I'll argue here in this post that the congregation only listened in as Peter’s explained the criteria for the twelfth apostle (Acts 1:21–22), and looked on as the eleven apostles drew lots.

Acts 1 is an apostolic chapter from beginning to end. In the latter half it shows Peter and the other apostles ruling and leading 120 people. Peter said the twelfth man must have witnessed the Lord’s earthly ministry “beginning from the baptism of John… until the day He was taken up from us” (v. 22, cf. John 15:27, 6:62).7 The 120 had no power to alter his criteria and add a thirteenth apostle. Nor could they know who met Peter’s qualifications. Only the apostles would have known since they too were with Jesus from beginning to end. So when verse 23 says “they” put forward two men, who was “they,” the 120, or the apostles? The “they” of verse 23 refers to the “us” of verse 22 — the apostles. In fact, the word “they” refers to the apostles every time it is used in Acts 1, so when verse 26 says “they cast lots,” it isn’t referring to the 120, but the apostles. In other words, the congregation had no role whatsoever in the choosing of the twelfth apostle, except as onlookers.

Casting lots was a decision-making process used only when the larger interests of national Israel were at stake, such as Joshua’s land distribution and certain national sacrifices, and priests. Selecting the twelfth apostle was an important decision for national Israel because Judas had committed suicide. Yet Jesus had said, “I assure you: In the Messianic Age, when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on 12 thrones, judging the 12 tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28, HCSB). Judas’ twelfth seat of “ministry and apostleship” (v. 25) to national Israel needed replacement and the apostolic use of lots reflected their discerning biblical guidance in light of Christ’s future promises to them and Israel.

Lots, or anything like them, should never be used in any church in any decision-making. Yet they were wisely used in Acts 1, and even though Paul didn’t fit Peter’s selection criteria (vv. 21–22), even he recognized and submitted to their validity in choosing the twelfth apostle (1 Corinthians 15:5).

Acts 1 reveals a congregation that decided nothing and exerted no rule. They listened in as the apostles prayed to the risen Christ “You, Lord, show which one of these two you have chosen” (Acts 1:24). Jesus, not the 120, chose Matthias to be His twelfth apostle through His sovereign control of lots (Acts 1:26, 6:2, Proverbs 16:33). To believe the congregation made the choice of the twelfth apostle, and not Jesus, insults Him. To then claim this patterns how He wants leaders selected in the church is dangerous.

To believe someone other than Jesus Christ chose his own apostle presents several problems. First, it reflects an reduction in his authority while yet ascended to the place of all authority. He is no longer directly ruling, by now delegating, and that delegation is through the use of something impersonal - lots. IOW, now that He is exalted, His involvement in decision-making is not even through the sovereign control of men, but inanimate things. Second, it reflects ignorance in the apostles, for they mistakenly prayed, "show us which one you have chosen." According to the congregational theory, they should have prayed, "show is which one we should choose." Third, it masks the predestination inherent in the text. for they pray, "show us which one you have chosen." The verb is not only aorist, pointing to a past event choice of Christ that is now viewed in its completion (constative aorist), but is also middle voice, meaning the apostles are pleading with Christ to make His own choice.

For this reason it is likewise mistaken to think the apostles chose the 12th man. No, Matthias was Jesus' personal choice for the 12th apostles (Acts 6:2, 1 Cor. 15:5).

Pastor Harold's picture

Ted and Jeff gave great answers. I just hear so much talk about sticking with Scripture, and I am in total agreement with that notion. However, some make more out of a text than Scripture makes out of it. I am not referring to you in any way Bro Jeff, you did an excellent job. When some one pronounces an absolute where I thought the Word seemed neutral, I want to hear more to examine my former views.

Jeff Brown's picture

Ted,

Let's please make something clear. I never asserted that Matthias was chosen apostle by congregational vote. I asserted that he and Barsabas were put forth as nominees by the 120, but that this group felt inadequate to make the final choice.

I also think that it is very much worth considering, as you have said, they felt only Jesus was the one to choose an apostle. And I am in agreement with you that this event had to do with future promises to Israel. I am glad you have stated this and I affirm it completely. And debating about the method used unfortunately shifts the focus from the meaning of the event - alas, the discussion is about church order this time. But even here in the fulfillment of prophecy there is a group dynamic, even if you say the group was the apostles. The group chose the method of the lot. Did Jesus ever choose anyone in the Gospels by casting the lot? There is more than just an act of Jesus from heaven in this event.

So please, Ted, put it to rest. I do not claim that the 120 chose Matthias. They left it up to Jesus and believed that He revealed His will through the casting of the lot.

There are four basic views of how the choices were narrowed to two:

1) The 120 chose them (most of the commentators I have read)
2) The apostles chose them (Richard Longenecker, a good exegete, has this position)
3) Peter chose them (this is actually the reading in some later Gk. MSS)
4) The two put themselves forth as the only candidates (Eckhard Schnabel, one of the best evangelical NT scholars in America)

Richard Longenecker argues for position two on the basis of the word "us" but not on the basis of the word "they."

While it is true that the lot was used at times in Israel's history to determine the Lord's will, it is also true, and was more often the case that whenever a great event was to take place, Israel was called together in a special assembly. This assembly of the 120, in the pattern of Israel's assemblies has as much to do with what took place in Acts 1 as the use of the lot. It should in no wise be diminished. With one exception (Exodus 14), I do not think that in any of those assemblies of Israel the action was at any time: the assembly sat still, held their tongues and simply looked on. I think that you will find just the opposite took place (but more on that in my next article). As a matter of fact, God normally has a lot more in mind for his people than to make them "onlookers."

Ted, you say, "In the latter half it shows Peter and the other apostles ruling and leading 120 people." It is easy to understand that Peter was leading the meeting. But where is your proof from the text that the rest of the apostles were ruling? This may indeed be true, but I do not see it anywhere asserted from Acts 1:12 on. Whether the apostles were "ruling," in fact, is hardly of any interest to Luke. He is telling how a 12th apostle was selected to replace Judas. Peter is described as leading and giving biblical explanation. That is all. Perhaps I am overlooking something in the text that you need to show me.

Ted, you also say, "In fact, the word “they” refers to the apostles every time it is used in Acts 1 . . ." On what basis do you say this? Does a pronoun always have to refer to the first mentioned group in a Chapter of the Bible? I am guessing you would say no. But I wonder on what other basis you say this. You say that 1:26 "they" refers only to the apostles. One verse later, 2:1 "When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place." Does this refer also to only the apostles? If not, why not, since no new group is mentioned? In chapter 1, verse 14 an extension of the group is introduced: "These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers." This group is further expanded in verse 15: "And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples (altogether the number of names was about a hundred and twenty)."

So there is an extension of the group, numbering about 120 (the names were even recorded). Among the 120 assembled, the 11 apostles are included. I don't think there can be any dispute up to now from reading the text. In this entire group of disciples Peter stands up and speaks. Are you saying then, it is impossible to use the pronoun "they" for this 120 in Acts 1? If so, please explain your hermeneutical reasoning. If not, then "they" in verse 23 can certainly refer to the 120. And I would assert that indeed it does. The natural antecedent to "they" in verse 23 is the group denoted in verse 15, the 120. So then, the 120 decided on the two (and this 120 included the apostles).

Finally, Ted, you assert that the 120 could not have known who met Peter's qualifications for Judas' replacement. How can you possibly assert this, particularly when two people were selected (regardless of who selected them), who in fact were always present in the Jesus movement from the very beginning? At least two besides the apostles knew. And how did Matthew know? He evidently joined the movement shortly before the Sermon on the Mount. Did the apostles perhaps tell Matthew early on, which people had always been with Jesus from the beginning? So if they told Matthew, did they then inform no one else? Was this a secret kept among the 12? I hardly think so. I think that just like the other apostles informed Matthew, so they also informed other people along the way. This seems to me to be a natural question of people who joined the Jesus Movement: "How did it start? Who was involved at the beginning? What special roles did they play in the ministry?" And I would expect that the apostles were more than happy to inform them about the beginnings, and who was involved at the beginning. I answer this kind of question all the time when people get very interested in my church. Why indeed does Luke often insert what role a certain person played in the story of the Gospel, who later was part of the church, if these kinds of questions are not important to most every disciple? So indeed, I am rather convinced that a lot of people knew just who was involved as a disciple of Jesus at the very beginning.

Alright, your turn.

Jeff Brown

Jeff Brown's picture

Pastor Harold wrote:
Ted and Jeff gave great answers. I just hear so much talk about sticking with Scripture, and I am in total agreement with that notion. However, some make more out of a text than Scripture makes out of it. I am not referring to you in any way Bro Jeff, you did an excellent job. When some one pronounces an absolute where I thought the Word seemed neutral, I want to hear more to examine my former views.

I am glad that you find the discussion helpful, Harold. I hope it will continue to be.

Jeff Brown

Ted Bigelow's picture

Quote:
Let's please make something clear. I never asserted that Matthias was chosen apostle by congregational vote. I asserted that he and Barsabas were put forth as nominees by the 120, but that this group felt inadequate to make the final choice.

Got it. Did somebody say you did?
Quote:
I also think that it is very much worth considering, as you have said, they felt only Jesus was the one to choose an apostle. And I am in agreement with you that this event had to do with future promises to Israel. I am glad you have stated this and I affirm it completely. And debating about the method used unfortunately shifts the focus from the meaning of the event - alas, the discussion is about church order this time. But even here in the fulfillment of prophecy there is a group dynamic, even if you say the group was the apostles. The group chose the method of the lot. Did Jesus ever choose anyone in the Gospels by casting the lot? There is more than just an act of Jesus from heaven in this event.

I’m with you, Jeff.
Quote:
So please, Ted, put it to rest. I do not claim that the 120 chose Matthias. They left it up to Jesus and believed that He revealed His will through the casting of the lot.

I believe you!
Jeff, are there any textual indicators that show the 120 considered themselves Israel?
Quote:
Ted, you say, "In the latter half it shows Peter and the other apostles ruling and leading 120 people." It is easy to understand that Peter was leading the meeting. But where is your proof from the text that the rest of the apostles were ruling? This may indeed be true, but I do not see it anywhere asserted from Acts 1:12 on. Whether the apostles were "ruling," in fact, is hardly of any interest to Luke. He is telling how a 12th apostle was selected to replace Judas. Peter is described as leading and giving biblical explanation. That is all. Perhaps I am overlooking something in the text that you need to show me.

Sure.
1) Peter stands up to speak in the midst of the brethren, not to attain consensus, but to lead. That’s leading.
2) His leadership consists in citing two criteria by which the 12th apostle must certainly be determined, not may be determined. This is ruling. I make a further assertion that Peter gained the 2 criteria from Jesus’ earthly ministry (John 15:27, John 6:62). Thus his ruling is built on the words of Christ and was not arbitrary.
3) The apostolic use of lots (go with me here) was not arbitrary, but in full cognition of the 12th apostle’s future ministry to Israel in light of Jesus words in Mat. 19:28. The congregation could not say, “hey, we think we should choose the 12th apostle by “blah blah blah criteria.” No, the matter was decided by those who ruled – the 11 apostles, as represented by Peter.
Quote:
Ted, you also say, "In fact, the word “they” refers to the apostles every time it is used in Acts 1 . . ." On what basis do you say this? Does a pronoun always have to refer to the first mentioned group in a Chapter of the Bible? I am guessing you would say no. But I wonder on what other basis you say this.

Sure.
We have two choices. The ‘they’ in v. 23 can either refer to the apostles (the “us”) in the close context of v. 22, or it can refer to the “brethren” 8 verses ago in v. 16. Luke isn’t that sloppy with his Greek to pass over the close referent and go back to a distant referent without very clear textual indicators of what he is doing. In the Greek, the distance is only 5 words from the “us” of v. 22, to the “they” of v. 23. It’s an easy call. You write, “The natural antecedent to "they" in verse 23 is the group denoted in verse 15, the 120.” But realistically, how could a referent 8 verses away be “a natural antecedent,” when there is a closer and more consistent antecedent only 5 words prior?

Quote:
You say that 1:26 "they" refers only to the apostles. One verse later, 2:1 "When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place." Does this refer also to only the apostles? If not, why not, since no new group is mentioned?

Sure.
Luke makes a clear distinction between the “they” of 1:26 and the “they” of 2:1. They ‘they” of 2:1 is “they all” (pantes). Had he been referring to the 120 in 1:26 he wouldn’t have needed to clarify in 2:1 that the group gathered on Pentecost was “they all.”

Quote:
Finally, Ted, you assert that the 120 could not have known who met Peter's qualifications for Judas' replacement. How can you possibly assert this, particularly when two people were selected (regardless of who selected them), who in fact were always present in the Jesus movement from the very beginning? At least two besides the apostles knew. And how did Matthew know? He evidently joined the movement shortly before the Sermon on the Mount. Did the apostles perhaps tell Matthew early on, which people had always been with Jesus from the beginning? So if they told Matthew, did they then inform no one else? Was this a secret kept among the 12? I hardly think so. I think that just like the other apostles informed Matthew, so they also informed other people along the way. This seems to me to be a natural question of people who joined the Jesus Movement: "How did it start? Who was involved at the beginning? What special roles did they play in the ministry?" And I would expect that the apostles were more than happy to inform them about the beginnings, and who was involved at the beginning. I answer this kind of question all the time when people get very interested in my church. Why indeed does Luke often insert what role a certain person played in the story of the Gospel, who later was part of the church, if these kinds of questions are not important to most every disciple? So indeed, I am rather convinced that a lot of people knew just who was involved as a disciple of Jesus at the very beginning.

Good point. Thanks.

Jeff Brown's picture

Ted,

Thanks for your answers. I am glad that we can discuss this rationally. Sorry for my delay in responding. I posted yesterday, but it didn't take. Now I have a chance again to repeat my response.

In answer to your first question, no I do not find any textual indicators in Acts 1 that the 120 are Israel. They were simply a part of Israel. I mentioned Israel as an assembly because you brought up how the lot was used in the time of Josua, and that this had bearing on Acts 1. I was emphasizing that it happened in the assembly of Israel.

With respect to Peter, you emphasize the word, "rule." I would emphasize "lead." But I think we can leave that there. Different translations translate words differently. Though I believe that the 120 chose the two candidates, I do not see this as consensus building. I am not sure why you mention consensus building. But in the case of consensus building, I would guess we have a difference of opinion. I do not distinguish between consensus building and leadership. It is virtually impossible to attain consensus in an assembled group of 120 people without leadership. Likewise, it is impossible to get a group of 120 to do anything without first laying ground rules as to how things are to be done. People who are involved in group decision-making are not interested in every detail of things.

But my real query was about how you could say that the apostles were ruling. And now I understand, you mean that they "ruled" through Peter. I will say, OK, that is a way of looking at it. I am still not convinced. Luke says nothing really about a plurality of apostles ruling. He emphasizes that they were all together, praying, and with one accord. Whether they were "ruling" does not seem to be important to Luke. Had Jesus ever told them they were to "rule" the other Christians? I don't think so. So this was not a concern for Luke at this point. This is not to say that the apostles were not to be the leaders. I just don't think you will find a verse where Jesus told the apostles to "rule" the other Christians. But I am willing to be corrected. Jesus did, however stress to Peter that he was to shepherd the sheep (John 21). So this was, I think, what Peter was doing. He was fulfilling the shepherd role, and was getting the whole group to take the right action. He obeyed Jesus right off the bat.

Well, we probably will never agree on that one. But that is OK.

You have said that the referent for "they proposed" in v.23 is the "we" in v.22, and that if Luke had made reference all the way back to v.15, to the 120, it would have been "sloppy Greek." I am not sure that you would have an easy time proving that statement. Some very excellent Greek scholars (or NT Greek scholars), including Alford, H.A.W. Meyer, Simon Kistenmacher, Jackson and Lake, and Darrell Bock, all say that "they proposed" of v.23 refers back to the 120 in v.15. These writers come from a variety of confessions, so they didn't have an axe to grind. If this all has to do with sloppy Greek, most of them would have caught it. My guess is that the Greek expertise of each of those writers excells or excelled yours and mine together. In fact, Luke does exactly this distant referencing in Acts 2:37. His antecedent for "hearing this, they were cut to the heart" is all the way back in vv.12-13. He does it again in 11:18: "Hearing these things they became silent," where the antecedent is the group in vv.1-3. This sort of thing happens frequently in the New Testament. I don't think it is sloppy Greek.

I think that in drawing your conclusion, you have overlooked the fact that Luke's narrative includes persuasive speeches. In all three instances I have cited, a persuasive speech is included in the narrative. Luke frequently reintroduces the original group, to whom the speech is made, by recording their reaction in verb form, without renaming them. The speech is recorded, and then the narrative takes up again, "And they were . . ."

Finally, I argued that the group described with "they were all with one accord" in Acts 2:1 would need to be the same as the group in 1:23,24,26, since there is nothing in the text identifying a new group. You reply, that there is, namely, pantes, which then indicates the whole group in 1:15. This, however, would be a despotic sort of principle of interpretation, if correct, since 1:14 uses the phrase "These all (pantes) were," referring exclusively to the apostles. The phrase pantes esan is identical in 1:14 and 2:1. You cannot have it both ways. Either the construction pantes esan refers to the apostles in both cases, or it does not specially distinguish a group on its own. So I think that I am right. Acts 2:1 has to refer to the same group as is indicated in 1:23-26.

OK, that is my response.

Jeff Brown

Ted Bigelow's picture

Hi Jeff, SI is limiting my words in one post, so I have to be cryptic. Sorry.

Quote:
With respect to Peter, you emphasize the word, "rule." I would emphasize "lead." But I think we can leave that there. Different translations translate words differently. Though I believe that the 120 chose the two candidates, I do not see this as consensus building. I am not sure why you mention consensus building.

You misunderstand. What I wrote was: “1) Peter stands up to speak in the midst of the brethren, not to attain consensus, but to lead.”

The reason the word “rule” is important for me is b/c Peter establishes non-negotiable qualifications for the 12th apostle. The 120 couldn’t change them. That’s establishing a rule all others must submit to.

Quote:
But my real query was about how you could say that the apostles were ruling. And now I understand, you mean that they "ruled" through Peter. I will say, OK, that is a way of looking at it. I am still not convinced. Luke says nothing really about a plurality of apostles ruling.

Technically, I believe it is Christ ruling since I see the qualifications for the 12th apostle to be from Christ (John 15:27, John 6:62).

Because Peter gave qualifications, it wasn’t the apostles, or the 120 who selected the two men. It was the qualifications that chose them, and by default, eliminated all others. These two men were simply put forward because they were on two men in among the 120 who met the qualifications. To test this, ask yourself, “if the 120 put forward two others, named Jeff and Ted, who did not meet the qualifications, would the lots still have been chosen concerning us?”

Quote:
Had Jesus ever told them they were to "rule" the other Christians? I don't think so. So this was not a concern for Luke at this point. This is not to say that the apostles were not to be the leaders.

You misunderstood what I wrote. What I wrote was, “No, the matter was decided by those who ruled – the 11 apostles, as represented by Peter.” I didn’t say the 120 were being ruled, but the “matter” of choosing the 12th apostle was being ruled.

Quote:
I just don't think you will find a verse where Jesus told the apostles to "rule" the other Christians.

That’s not the way Scripture works. It rarely comes at us and answers our questions according to the way we might want it to. Our Lord requires us to take Scripture on His terms and as He wrote it, and not as canon law filled with casuistic entries covering all that might come to pass. It is holy communication. That’s why O.T. saints didn’t need Scripture to say, “do not be angry with your brother,” for Exodus 20:13 implies that anger is wrong (Matthew 5:21-22).

Quote:
So this was, I think, what Peter was doing. He was fulfilling the shepherd role, and was getting the whole group to take the right action. He obeyed Jesus right off the bat.

Again, because Peter gave Christ’s ruling qualifications, it wasn’t up to the 120 to take or not take the right action. What mattered was simply discovering all the men who met the qualifications.

Quote:
You have said that the referent for "they proposed" in v.23 is the "we" in v.22, and that if Luke had made reference all the way back to v.15, to the 120, it would have been "sloppy Greek."

You misunderstood what I wrote. What I wrote was, “Luke isn’t that sloppy with his Greek to pass over the close referent and go back to a distant referent without very clear textual indicators of what he is doing. In the Greek, the distance is only 5 words from the “us” of v. 22, to the “they” of v. 23.” You left out the “close referent…” part.

What we need are textual indicators that give us justification to pass over the close referent only 5 words away for a distant referent 8 verses away.

Quote:
In fact, Luke does exactly this distant referencing in Acts 2:37. His antecedent for "hearing this, they were cut to the heart" is all the way back in vv.12-13. He does it again in 11:18: "Hearing these things they became silent," where the antecedent is the group in vv.1-3. This sort of thing happens frequently in the New Testament. I don't think it is sloppy Greek.

Your examples assume I was saying sloppy Greek exists where there is large distance between a referent and its antecedent. However, what I said was that sloppy Greek is evident when the writer skips over a close antecedent and reaches back to a distant antecedent without giving clear indicators that he is doing it. It can happen, but great Greek writers like Luke gave textual indicators they were doing so.

I am saying Luke was not a sloppy writer of Greek. That is why you should take the close referent in v. 22, and not the distant referent in v. 15, no matter where the theology leads. But in the end, it doesn’t matter. Only two men met the qualifications, and it didn’t matter if the 11 put them forward, the 120 put them forward, or 6 billion put them forward. Only those who met the qualifications could be put forward.

Quote:
I think that in drawing your conclusion, you have overlooked the fact that Luke's narrative includes persuasive speeches. In all three instances I have cited, a persuasive speech is included in the narrative. Luke frequently reintroduces the original group, to whom the speech is made, by recording their reaction in verb form, without renaming them. The speech is recorded, and then the narrative takes up again, "And they were . . ."

I really like that point, Jeff. Well made. That draws a nice distinction between Peter’s speech and Luke’s narrative. Very persuasive. And I thank you for pointing it out to me. It might just make me change my mind on who put forward the 2 men!

Quote:
Finally, I argued that the group described with "they were all with one accord" in Acts 2:1 would need to be the same as the group in 1:23,24,26, since there is nothing in the text identifying a new group. You reply, that there is, namely, pantes, which then indicates the whole group in 1:15. This, however, would be a despotic sort of principle of interpretation, if correct, since 1:14 uses the phrase "These all (pantes) were," referring exclusively to the apostles. The phrase pantes esan is identical in 1:14 and 2:1. You cannot have it both ways. Either the construction pantes esan refers to the apostles in both cases, or it does not specially distinguish a group on its own. So I think that I am right. Acts 2:1 has to refer to the same group as is indicated in 1:23-26.

I think you make a strong case for the “they all” being only the apostles then, esp. b/c of 2:14-15: “But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: "Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words." For these men are not drunk…”

I had always thought it was the 120 who had the flames of fire and who spoke in tongues. But Luke only mentions the 12, and in v. 15, only mentions men (thereby saying women were not among those speaking in tongues.) But then this leads us away from the 120.

Joel Tetreau's picture

Ted and Jeff,

Thanks for the back and forth you two! You guys are dealing with the "main" textual/exegetical issues on the topic of decision-making. I've finished the bulk of my text and so I'm laughing at you two go at each other. I appreciate the spirit in which you are doing this. Frankly, you both have mentioned a textual point or two I had missed previously. They will go in my work - you'll both be cited.

Straight Ahead!

jt

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

Ted Bigelow's picture

Joel Tetreau wrote:
Ted and Jeff,

Thanks for the back and forth you two! You guys are dealing with the "main" textual/exegetical issues on the topic of decision-making. I've finished the bulk of my text and so I'm laughing at you two go at each other. I appreciate the spirit in which you are doing this. Frankly, you both have mentioned a textual point or two I had missed previously. They will go in my work - you'll both be cited.

Straight Ahead!

jt

Thanks Joel, but my head is spinning. Caught something in Africa, and I'm having a hard time going straight ahead. Maye the doc will get me straightened out this morning.....

Hey - I look forward to what you are writing. Can you tell me more?

Jeff Brown's picture

Ted,

I think that we have pretty much exhausted this one. Thank you for correcting my misunderstanding about your comments. It has been a profitable discussion that I have enjoyed.

Jeff Brown

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