Presiding Bishopric, IV.

With the revelations of November 1 and 11, 1831 helping to define the role of the bishop,[1] you can see that the road was being paved for more bishops in the Church. As temporal ministers, it was only a matter of time before more were called as Church population increased (when Partridge was called there were about 150 members in Ohio). At first, two population centers developed: Zion (Missouri) and Kirtland (Ohio). Bishop Partridge was a leading voice in governance in Zion. At the end of 1831, another bishop, Newel Kimball Whitney, was called for the Kirtland area (by that time Ohio membership numbered about 1,500) and among other things to work in tandem with Partridge in the United Firm (UF — the Church “corporation” if you will). Partridge, Whitney and their counselors formed an important financial administrative body in the firm. Whitney was relatively well off and his business operations in Kirtland became the heart of the firm there.[2]
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Priesthood in the Era of the New Testament, 7.

Recall the wandering prophets. An early church administration document (handbook), dated from the first century called the Didache (did-ah-kay) talks about this and the problem of prophets. The wandering prophets are liturgical authorities, they can administer the sacrament for example. But apparently some, or many, of the churches are not comfortable with the prophets, and the Didache shows this–the prophets are sometimes not all they claim to be as in, freeloaders. The transfer of sacramental duty to local authority is logical and there is an element of safety there, trust. This is a positive thing for elders/bishops too. It takes them out of just handling funds and property, taking care of the physical, and puts them on the spiritual side of care as well. And it makes possible more regular celebration of the ordinances (and in modern revelation you see a sympathetic emphasis: “it is expedient that the church meet together often to partake of the sacrament”).[1]

But this also plays into the changes of concept, titles, the priesthood and restriction of action. Once elders—bishops—took over the title of priest, that is, they become the “priesthood,” there was already a well-developed spiritual character attached to the name. After the golden calf incident in the Israel story, the tribe of Levi was not like the other tribes, they became exclusive ritualists. And the priests had a growing list of impressive external restrictions associated with the tabernacle and so on. At the time a priest was on duty, he had to separate himself from his family, he couldn’t have sex with his wife, wore special clothing, vestments, and generally removed himself from the worldly aspects of the people, became purified, before entry into the presence of the LORD.[2]
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Priesthood in the Era of the New Testament, 6.

By the early 2nd century, at least in some churches, and you can see this in Ignatius(35?-107?) of Antioch’s letters, there is a new practice of having one of the presbyters be a kind of head of the other elders, and Ignatius encourages this, it’s a feature that gives advantage in his eyes. The pattern is evolving to one bishop (overseer), a group of presbyters, and a group of deacons. I think it’s important to understand that there isn’t any notion of Melchizedek or Aaronic orders. It’s much like early Mormonism. There are simply offices, and they develop a pecking order, like that of the early Mormon Articles and Covenants. See my paper on early Mormon priesthood teachings in Dialogue

Ignatius the Martyr. (Image: Wikipedia)

Ignatius the Martyr. Legend is that he was John’s (brother of martyred James) pal. (Image: Wikipedia)

Ignatius wrote letters to the church in Rome, but that fellowship didn’t seem to have this pattern in play. It took another half century before this pattern showed up in Rome and this was probably because the church in Rome was still heavily Jewish, and governed out of the synagogue pattern, lots of elders, a council.
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Priesthood in the New Testament Era Church, 5.

After Jesus’ death, Christians followed the patterns of the synagogue and administered the Christian fellowship in each locality by a group of elders, or “presbyters.” Of course, there were the apostles and the great missionaries like Paul, and there were prophets. Prophets don’t seem to be located teachers, they travel, and they have liturgical authority, and they preach, but they don’t seem to be missionaries per se. [I’ll come back to prophets in the final post of the series.]

With the death of the apostles, and they don’t seem to get replaced,—it’s not completely clear why—partly it seems to be that they were seen—and may have seen themselves—as more eschatological officers. They certainly governed the early church, but it seems that they wanted less and less to do with practical governance issues, and you can see this in the controversies that developed over the temple and Jews and Gentile converts. Anyway, they sort of withdraw from local matters, they separate to preach, and they die. Some were killed like Peter and James (brother of John), others we don’t know about, but they die (I’ll leave John out of this—the Johannine literature is a complication on its own and something I don’t want to get into here).[1]
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Priesthood in the New Testament Era, 4.

Stephen closed his sermon with some very offensive stuff: the LORD does not dwell in houses made with hands and so forth (he was negating the value of the temple) then he called the Jewish leaders stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, they always resisted the Holy Spirit, asking them rhetorically which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute, etc. you betrayed and murdered the Messiah. This of course made them very angry, and Stephen is stoned to death by order of the Sanhedrin.[1] There are a number of parallels Luke purposely calls out between Jesus’ death and Stephen’s death. I’ll note some of these later.
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Priesthood in the New Testament Era Church, 3.

I mentioned in the last post that another difficult problem comes up in Acts 15, where the issue was how Gentiles fit into the Christian community. That was a tough one, and it took a lot of time to reach a widely accepted resolution but, in fact, this first trouble in Jerusalem telegraphs the later one in a much deeper way than is always appreciated.

The decision of the apostles was interesting because it had positive effects in some ways but caused difficulties in others. Belief in Jesus was more important than unity over Judaism turned out to be one lesson. That is a useful and unifying thing in some ways. The downside was this: tolerating Jews with different beliefs within the body meant that those Christians brought conflict with other Jews in Jerusalem, not Christians, but Jews who shared doctrine with the Hebrew Christians. That kind of conflict brought trouble for the whole church, and we see this happened, and it had deep and unforeseen consequences.
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Priesthood in the New Testament Era Church, 2.

In the sixth chapter of Acts, Luke—writing from a ca. 90 CE perspective—narrates a very old tradition about conflict and dissent in the early Christian church. When we talk of this episode, we usually ignore the meaning of the outcome, which may be the most important influence on the course of Christianity after Jesus.

Luke tells us this (Acts 6:1):

in these days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists murmured against the Hebrews.[1]

“Hellenists” refers to Christian believers in Jerusalem who had a Greek/Gentile/Roman Jewish diaspora background in some way, Luke doesn’t explain, but he does give some names: Phillip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, Nicolas (the proselyte), all are Greek names. They are Jews, but the text draws a distinction between them and the “Hebrews,” meaning natives of the city perhaps. That both groups are Jews and Christians, is the important point. As Luke tells us about Hellenist leaders he makes sure to say that one of them was a proselyte (convert to Judaism) meaning that the rest of them were born Jews.
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Priesthood in the New Testament Era Church, 1.

We believe in the same organization that existed in the primitive church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.

Since the LDS Sunday Schools are studying the revelations of Joseph Smith this year, I thought I would contribute a little complication to our usually brief narrative of priesthood and our connection of that idea to the New Testament. Enjoy.

Once upon a time, Judaism and Christianity were one. That is, Christians were seen as a Jewish sect. You can see this in Luke’s account of what Paul says at Rome, Acts 28. The Jewish community there (it was pretty important, some Jewish high priests ended up there and the church there was likely established by missionaries from Jerusalem) speak about the believers in Jesus as a sect, a division of Jews.

17 After three days he called together the local leaders of the Jews; and when they had gathered, he said to them, “Brethren, though I had done nothing against the people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. 18 When they had examined me, they wished to set me at liberty, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. 19 But when the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar—though I had no charge to bring against my nation. 20 For this reason therefore I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.” 21 And they said to him, “We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brethren coming here has reported or spoken any evil about you. 22 But we desire to hear from you what your views are; for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.” [RSV][1]

While Paul worked mostly among Gentiles, it was because he was unable get Jews in the diaspora to listen to him. And he grew angry over Jerusalem Jews coming into his Gentile branches and breaking the rules agreed to about preaching to Gentiles. See his letter to the Galatians. [This looks ahead to part 3 of this series.]
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