We often speak of "the officers of the church." It is a question of grave importance whether we speak scripturally or whether we are using the language of Ashdod when we use such expressions. The word "office" signifies a position of authority into which men are placed, in which position they have the right to do certain things which they had no right or authority to do outside of that position. This is the sense in which the word "office" is used in the governments of this world; and it is the usual idea in the mind of anyone who speaks of an "office" or an "officer."
When a man has been lawfully elected and installed into the office of county court clerk, he has the authority then to issue marriage licenses and a great many other things of like character which he had no right whatever to do without being in that position. Such is the meaning of the word "office" in such fields. When a man has been duly installed into the office of governor, he then has the right to perform all the functions of that office. He has the right to call the legislature together, to veto bills passed, to exercise the pardoning power of the State, to commission certain other officers, and such like things, none of which could he do outside of that office, no matter how well he might be qualified. But is the word "office" used in this sense in the New Testament as it relates to the Lord's people and their work? Are any of the disciples in the Scripture so addressed? If so, then it is right. But if there be no such thing in the word of God, then the use of this word is wrong as now found and used among those claiming to be Christians. The word "office," it is true, is used a few times as applied to Christians, especially in the King James Version; and it should be profitable for us to briefly examine these passages.
The word is found in Romans 11:13, where Paul says: "For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office." Here Paul is made to speak of himself as an "officer," as having an "office;" at least, this is no doubt the implication intended by the translators and the unusual inference drawn there from. But in the American Standard, instead of "magnify mine office," it is rendered "glorify my ministry." The word "office" in the King James is from the Greek word "diakonia," which is found about thirty-three times in the Greek Testament, and only this one single time rendered "office." The word is elsewhere rendered "ministry," "ministration," "service," but nowhere else is it rendered as "office," and it should be clear that in this passage it does not mean "office" in the modern acceptance of that word. The word "ministry" means "work," or "service." "Ministering" to the saints means the work of aiding them, or relieving their necessities. The word is rendered thus in I Cor. 16:15, where it is said of the household of Stephanas "that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints."
The very fact that this Greek word occurs thirty-three times and is but this one time rendered "office" creates a doubt about its correctness, and is in itself an argument in favor of the ASV correctly rendering it as "ministry." And, besides, the passage itself shows that Paul uses the word to signify the work he was doing in teaching the Gentiles, and not the dignity or authority of an "office" as such. There is, therefore, no authority in the Greek for this word "office" in this passage, and still less for the idea usually attached to the word "office." Paul was only speaking of the WORK as an apostle to the Gentiles, and that he was faithful in doing that work.
The word "apostle" simply means "one sent." Nothing more than this inheres in this word and it is never used in the New Testament to signify anything other or more than this one simple fact. There is, therefore, no such thing as "the OFFICE of an apostle;" nor with the so-called "apostolic office" some inherent authority. God through Christ sent Paul to be a teacher of the Gentiles, and he was faithfully doing that work. When Paul spoke as the Spirit gave him utterance, his words were with AUTHORITY to be sure; but the authority of his words was because they came from God, and not because they came from Paul or because he was an "officer" or "officeholder." The authority was from God, but the work of presenting these words to the people was the WORK or MINISTRY of Paul. So Paul was only a worker, a servant, a minister and NOT an "officer."
Again, Paul says in Romans 12:4 "For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office." In this passage the word "office" is from a different Greek word (praxis), which literally means "work" or "deed." The word is found but six times in the Greek Testament, once rendered "works," four times rendered "deed" or "deeds," and once rendered "office." It has reference to what men do, not the dignity of position. And, besides, if this proves that any member of the body is an "officer," it proves that ALL are, and this proves entirely too much for the common idea. The true meaning is that all the disciples have a work to do not all the same work, but still all have a work or place of function in the body. There is nothing, therefore, in this passage to justify the popular, and increasingly prevalent, use of the word "office."
The next passage is in I Tim. 3:1: "If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work." In this passage there is no word in the Greek for the word "office." It is manufactured by the translators out of the word "episcope," from which the word "bishop" comes. This word is found four times in the Greek Testament. It is found first in Luke 19:44. This is where Christ was foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem; and in telling the inhabitants what should befall them, he adds: "Because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation." The same word is here rendered "visitation" that in I Tim. 3:1 is rendered "office" or "bishop." In this passage in Luke there is not a shadow of authority for the word "office," and so the translators did not give it. The same Greek word in Acts 1:20, when speaking of Judas, is rendered "bishoprick." In I Pet. 2:12 it is rendered "visitation" again. These are all the occurrences of the word in the Greek Testament. The meaning of the word is "inspection," "oversight," "visitation." There is, therefore, no authority in the Greek for the word "office" in I Tim. 3:1.
This quotation from W.E. Vine, "An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words," bears out this same idea: "In I Tim. 3:1, the word. 'office,' in the phrase the office of a bishop, has nothing to represent it in the original; the R.V. marg. gives 'overseer' or 'bishop,' and the phrase lit. is 'overseership'..." We may render the word "oversight," and thus give a literal rendering of the passage, and properly relieve it entirely of the word "office," which has no right to be in the passage. This "oversight" is a work to be done, not an office to be enjoyed. Hence, Peter required that the elders shall take the "oversight" that is, attend to the work of overseeing the flock of God. "If any man desires the overseership, he desires a good work." This is the idea Paul expressed in the Greek of the passage in I Tim. 3:1.
The word "office" is also again found in this chapter, where Paul says in regard to deacons: "And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless" (verse 10). Here, again, there is no word in the Greek for the word "office." It was also manufactured by the translators out of the word "diakoneoo," from which the word 'deacon" is rendered. THE WORD "OFFICE" ORIGINATED IN THE MINDS OF THE TRANSLATORS, GROWING OUT OF THEIR RELIGIOUS EDUCATION, AND NOT OUT OF THE WORD "DIAKONEOO!" This word means "to minister, to serve, to wait, or to attend to, or serve." Paul certainly did not mean to impress Timothy with the idea that he was to make "officers" out of those disciples, but WORKERS. So far as can be learned about deacons, they were saints who were appointed to do certain work for or on behalf of the people, to serve in certain capacities, NOT to be exalted to the position or dignity of an office in the usual acceptation of that word.
Again, in the same chapter we have the expression: "They that have used the office of a deacon well .... " Neither is there any word in the Greek for the word "office" in this passage. It is just like the passage we have last examined, and literally means: "They that have ministered or served well .... "
These are the passages that apply the word "office" to Christians in the New Testament, and we have seen that not in a single one of them is the word "office" used in the common acceptation of that term. The word just simply indicates a work, or service, and not an elevated position of authority in the church. All the disciples are officers in the sense of workers, but none are officers in the sense of having authority conferred upon them by ordination.
In this article it is not intended to discuss the matter of ordination or appointment, but of one thing we are quite certain, and that is that ordination is NOT a process of installing men into office! In the New Testament it was only the arranging or placing of certain men who are competent to do certain things, to do certain kinds of work; and this ordination or appointment is not to impart to the persons appointed, arranged, or placed, any more authority or right to do that work than they had before, but it does give to them, and to those in whose behalf the work or service is performed, a greater awareness of the responsibility which falls upon both the overseers and the overseen in their relationship to each other.
Here is a very significant fact that needs to be fully understood in this day: All Christians, by virtue of their relationship as such, are kings and priests to God, and as such have the right to do any work in the body that they are competent to do! Any brother who is competent has the right to preach the gospel, baptize believers, attend to the table in the Lord's Supper, to reprove, teach, exhort, or admonish his brethren, or anything that the word of the Lord requires to be done; and all the ordinations that can ever be performed can give no more right to do these things than Christians already have.
If all would eradicate from their minds all idea of OFFICE or of being installed into any office by ordination, then perhaps the matter and process of what the New Testament means by appointment or ordination might soon be understood and controversy upon it cease.
These two words "appointment" and "ordination" are words chosen by the translators to convey their own ecclesiastical concept of church organization and church officers; even such as they had in their day and in the time since. These are unfortunate terms and our present-day concept is colored by the practice of Catholicism and denominationalism with all their ecclesiastical machinery of church officials, and with their offices and authority.
There are no classes or orders in the Lord's body. All authority in religion comes through the word of God. A bishop, no matter how much he has been ordained, has no arbitrary power to rule anyone, any group, anything. He must rule with and by the word of God must teach and enforce that word so that it shall be the ruling power. God's arrangement along this line is so utterly simple and completely foreign to the ways and thinking of men, that it proves to be a stumbling block and seems to be very complicated. The fault is with us and not with God. Our minds are cluttered up with the ideas and ways of the world. The old desire to be like the nations around us, to imitate their ways and practices, to give organic structure to the church in every way and set it up with church offices and church officials, who are installed and thereby put into positions of power and authority to rule over others, seems to us to be a necessity something that just has to be.
It is my studied opinion that there is no area of New Testament teaching that needs and deserves any more honest, careful, objective, and prayerful study than does this very matter. CAH