Virtue lies in the middle – Tuesday, 24th week in ordinary time- 1 Timothy 3: 1-13
Christian leadership has and must always be guided by norms. St Paul realized that the infantile Churches in the Aegean area of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) were in need of such direction. In this pericope, Paul focuses on three groups of people who are of importance in the Churches of this region. The English translation of the revised standard version of the Bible (RSV) lists them as bishops, deacons and women.
It is essential that we understand the terms before we understand the functions of leadership within the Church. The first in this list are Bishops. Episkope, the word used for Bishops, is a generic term which has not yet come to mean ‘bishopric’ as we understand it, in the modern sense of skull cap and mitre wearing bishops.
In Paul’s letters we see that he uses two different Greek words which in English are translated as Bishop. In some cases he uses the word presbuteros, which is used to indicate an ‘elder’ while in other cases he uses the word episkopos, which the RSV translates as bishop. The question is, are these two different offices?
Modern scholarship is unanimous in holding that in the early Church the presbuteros and episkopos were one and the same. But the question that begs itself is, ‘if they are the same, then why two names’? Presbuteros described these leaders of the Church as they personally were and Episkopos described their function. These ‘bishops’ were some kind of pastors in charge of house-churches with wider responsibilities in the community.
Paul holds the bishops to a high standard of accountability. They should be married only once; in its literal translation it implied that he must be the husband of one wife. He should be a man against whom no criticism (anepileptos) can be made, and must be sober (nephalios) indicating a more watchful and vigilant person rather than a drunkard; for wine was drunk more often than water, because water was often hard to find, or contaminated. However, he must not be paroinos (addicted to wine).
But there was more, for Paul demanded that the Bishops also have qualities of the heart. He called for them to be prudent (sophron) and well behaved (kosmios)- attributes that could not be separated; for if a man is kosmios in his outer conduct it is because he is sophron in his inner conduct. Above all he must be hospitable, have an aptitude for teaching, must not be a man who assaults others; he must be gentle, peaceable and free from the love of money.
Then there were deacons (diakonos in Greek). This word bears the general sense of servant or slave. At the heart of it all, deacons must be believers and doers of the word. The functions of deacons, in the early Church, lay in the sphere of practical service. The Christian churches inherited a magnificent organization of charitable help from the Jews. The synagogue had a regular organization for helping such people. The poor of the community were given enough food for fourteen meals, which is two meals a day for the week. This fund for the poor was called the kuppah or basket. In addition there was a daily collection of food from house to house for those who were actually in emergency need that day; this was called the tamhui or tray.
Most of the qualifications that were required of deacons were the same as that of the episkopos. One new qualification added was that they are to be straight talking, not dilogos or speaking with two voices (which should by common sense be applicable to all leaders).
The interesting category of leaders are the women who, “likewise must be serious, not slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things.” The interest in the text is not so much to their responsibilities but rather to their roles. As far as Greek goes, this word gynaikas (woman) could refer to the wives of the deacons or to women engaged in similar service. The ‘women’ mentioned here were more likely the latter than the former. In the early Church there were deaconesses. They had the duty of instructing female converts and in particular, of presiding and attending at their baptism, which was by total immersion.
The letter to Timothy, while giving us insight into first century Christian leadership also makes us aware of the lives that Christian leaders need to live today. While the letter of St Paul to Timothy and for that matter to the Colossians denounces particular asceticism’s as a form of experiencing the divine, it calls the Christian leader to live a holistic life; for virtue lies in the middle.
Fr Warner D’Souza
With help from the JBC and notes I made a long time ago but can’t recall the source.
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