First Century Congregational Structure-Part 4

The Nasi, or Rosh Knesset< of the believers in Jerusalem was Ya'akov (Jacob or James). He is a zekan, an elder or "overseer." For an example of this structure, let's say there are five messianic synagogues in Jerusalem. Each of these congregations would have at least three elders (zekanim). Their guidebook was the Torah and these congregations were independent of each other. So, that means that there are fifteen elders in Jerusalem, with a Nasi called James (his actual name was Ya'akov, or Jacob). In the books "History of the Jewish People, from Yavneh to Pumbedisa, Part II, p 68" and Eusebius' "Ecclesiastical History" it says that up to 133 AD, all bishops (zekanim) were Jewish. By 325 AD and the Council of Nicea, no bishops were Jewish who attended the council and it was the purpose of the council to "root out the last vestiges of Judaism within the church." So, you can see a massive shift in emphasis from a Torah based faith grounded in Jewish leadership to a Gentile, westernized mindset by 325 AD. That is only the root of the problem and why Christianity is not grounded in the Torah like the believers in the first century. For more information on what happened, see our series "Replacement Theology" on this site. The Rosh Knesset is not higher than the other elders, so "James" did not have more authority than the other 15 elders in our example. He was the spokesman, or chairman. Zekanim were not paid for leading their congregations. They were not "voted in" by other members. He is appointed by another zekan. This was because they wanted to keep people from coming in for money, a hireling. When someone feels called to the ministry today, he goes to Bible School or Seminary and he is taught administration and the Bible (but not very deep and often inaccurate). They do not follow the first century model of congregational structure and function at all. Now, by believer, I mean the guys who talked and learned from Yeshua himself, the guys who wrote the Gospels and Epistles. Not once did they hear from the mouth of the Messiah that this model was wrong and that a "new" one would be instituted. John 4.19-24 says "Salvation is of the Jews" and the time "now is" (present tense) when true worshippers would worship the Lord. The Jewish people were given the concepts for the Kahal. Some were already worshipping in "spirit and truth" and this was before the cross and the resurrection. Rom 3.1 says that the Jewish people were given the oracles of God (The Torah/Scriptures). In 1 Tim 1.5-9 and Titus 3.1-7 we have the qualifications for a zekan. In 1 Pet 5.1-2 we have their duties and attitude. He is to be able "to teach" (1 Tim 3.2). We don't have the depth of the Scriptures they did in the first century, but we need to be working toward it. A zekan should know the Torah. In the first century, a child at 5 years old began to learn Leviticus by heart. By 10, they knew the Torah and all 613 mitzvoth, the festivals, the sacrifices and how to do them, all the dietary laws and so on. By 13 they had "mastered" the Oral Law and went through a "bar mitzvah" where they were now responsible themselves before the Lord. When one wants to be a zekan, he is saying he knows all of the above. The Hebrew believers in Heb 5.12 through 6.2 needed to be taught the oracles, the foundations, and should have been teachers. For example, one of the elementary principles in Heb 6.2 is eternal judgment, so this has to do with eschatology. So, one needs to master all aspects related to these things. What do we know about spiritual warfare? What is a buckler? What is a stronghold (50 different types)? How many types of shields are there? What sword do you use in what situation? There were different types of bows. Paul talks about armor in Eph 6.12-18 but he is quoting Isa 59.17. Christian commentaries will deal with Roman armor, but Paul is talking about Israeli armor. You have to know that. How many have been "beat up" in spiritual warfare? What does "pulling down strongholds" mean? Let's look at this one, tiny aspect of spiritual warfare and relate to the "foundation" in Heb 6.1-2. A city had walls built on a foundation. When the city (you) was attacked, people were sent against the wall to pull out stones to destabilize the wall. Others were sent to dig tunnels under the wall, to try and pull it down. The problem is, these are risky jobs and you usually get killed or severely wounded. They are called "sappers" and they are those who undermine your walls and foundations. They will try to pull down your "fortifications" but you can also do this to them. But, we need to understand warfare to understand spiritual warfare. This is just one, tiny aspect of everything that a zekan needs to master and teach. The word "halakah" means "how to walk" in the commandments and this should be a part of our training. Num 15.37-41 talks about the "tzitzit" but how do you do it. It talks about a blue cord, called "techelet", that should be a part of the tzitzit, but what color is that? Where do you go to find it? This spoken about many times in the Scriptures and there have been many books written about it. What if you have never seen tzitzit and we say to you "draw tzitzit." What would you do. We need to understand all passages, phrases, idioms and words in Scripture. What are the different types of immersions? 1 Tim 3.1 says that the desire to be a zekan (elder) is good, but ask "Have you read the Scriptures and do you want to learn?" Attitude is important. A "tzaddik" is a righteous man (meaning "saint") who continues to improve every year. In Jewish thought, there are four types of talmidim (disciples). They are a sponge, a funnel, a strainer and a sieve (Mishnah, Avot 5.13-18). You must have an attitude like a sieve and "hold on" to the good because you won't learn everything overnight. We can't go up to the Temple and see how the "laying on of hands" (called "semichah") was done. We must reconstruct it with bits and pieces through study. So, some advice if you want to be an zekan/elder. You must make sure you are called and set your face like flint (Isa 50.7). You need to find out what things you need to know and teach. Instead of spending your money on Bible schools and seminaries, buy books, go to Israel, visit good teachers, get on good teaching websites, learn Hebrew and invest in the right things. Reconstruct the ancient paths (Isa 58.11-12) but it won't be easy because you need to know what the ancient paths were. Follow God's ways. People won't understand you and they will say all kinds of things about you, but keep going even if you find yourself alone. What do people know about prayer? It is one of the 13 Principles of the Faith (p 248-255, Hertz Siddur) and says that to the Lord alone we should pray, and it is not right to pray to any other being besides him. It is considered worship and homage (p 251, notes on #5, Hertz siddur). In Part 5, we will pick up here and begin discussing the functions of the zekanim (elders) and how these functions can be done by others as well. We will see how these functions equip the tzaddikim (the saints, believers) in the congregation to do the work of the ministry, and how that is not the work of the zekanim. They are to teach the people to do the work of the ministry. We have much more to talk about in discussing the first century congregational structure.

Posted in All Teachings, Articles, Idioms, Phrases and Concepts, Questions, The Tanach, Understanding the New Testament

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