First Century Congregational Structure-Part 6

We left off last time talking about the fact that you must that you must first decide to learn, then decide what to learn and find out how to accomplish it. Then you need to develop a plan. Once you do that, you must carry out what you have learned and work your plan. Here are a few suggestions.

The first thing we did was to learn the festivals. You will get a great insight into prophecy that will keep you away from many so-called “prophets” out there that will sensationalize events and try to get you off track. Learn the idioms, phrases and concepts associated with these things and it will help you interpret Scripture correctly. Learn to work in Hebrew, which opens up many Jewish writings.

Take a topic at a time. Start out with the Temple and the sacrifices or Jewish history. Get into Jewish Eschatology through the festivals and find yourself a good teacher who knows what they are doing. There are websites that you can learn from and many good books. If you need help, write us and we can recommend a few things to help. Try to get ahold of anything that will give you insight into the first century because that is when the Gospels and Epistles were written and the writers were coming from a first century, Jewish context.

You will need to move cautiously because you will be moving into areas that you don’t know much about, but at the same time you are becoming dangerous to the enemy. You will be sifted like wheat and sand, and “torn apart” in many ways, even by family. As long as you were going the Christian thing, with Christmas and Easter, Valentines Day and Sunday you were fine. But when you start moving into the things of God from a Jewish context, you will meet with much opposition. You will be in a spiritual war and not know what hit you. When you get into this the enemy will not leave you alone.

There is no “back door” in this area. You either move toward the truth or suffer the consequences (Luke 9.62). A word of advice is needed here, keep your mouth shut. Don’t try and “overhaul” everyone you see. Be quiet and learn. There is a saying that says, “I would rather be quiet and appear ignorant, than to open my mouth and remove all doubt.” Don’t “show off” your knowledge. Once you have learned, the Lord will give you the time to share it, and it may not be fun then either. Remember, flesh and blood can’t reveal anything like this and the truth contained in it, only the Spirit of God can. You will save yourself a lot of grief if you learn to be quiet before you are ready.

Now, back to the zekanim and few concepts. In 1 Tim 3.2 it says that a zekan should be “the husband of one wife.” Many interpret this to mean that a zekan cannot be divorced, but that is not true. Many Christian denominations will not ordain someone who has been divorced, using this verse to substantiate this false teaching. According to many scholars, Moses divorced Zipporah (Exo 18.2) after the Exo 4.24-26 incident or sent her away for her safety. The point is, many believe he divorced her and it did not invalidate Moses as a zekan. Husband of one wife does not mean divorce, but one wife at a time (non-polygamous). In the first century, there were polygamous marriages.

The Mishnah discusses a zekan in this area, and it tells us that polygamy was not allowed with a zekan. 1 Tim 3.2 also tells us that a zekan must be “temperate” meaning “even tempered.” He also must be “sober-minded” meaning “reasonable and sensible.” When you begin to follow the Lord in a Torah-based way, believing that Yeshua is the Messiah, you will have contact with many sincere people, but you will also come across those who we call “granolas” which are fruits, nuts and flakes. Don’t get a “granola” as a zekan, they need good common sense. It also says in our verse that a zekan must be hospitable. Hospitality in the first century middle east is the model, not our western concept of it. 1 Tim 3.6 also says that a zekan must not be a “novice” or a new convert.

A new convert/novice can destroy a person because they are not ready to deal with the Scriptures, the contentions, the controversies and the criticisms they will endure. A person called into this type of leadership must wait till they are ready. Keep in mind, there is a difference between being “called” and “sent.” Another functionary we will look at is called a “batlan.” In modern Hebrew it means “no good” because he won’t work. However, in the first century, he was a wealthy man who didn’t need to work and applied himself to studying Scripture. This is crucial because most leaders today do not know the Scriptures. They make wrong choices and don’t know what is going on, and they allow people who don’t know the Scriptures either to make the choices.

There are usually at least 10 “batlanim” in a community. We see them in Acts 6.1-6. In v 2, we see “the twelve” and these are the shaliachim (apostles) who are also zekanim (elders). In v 4, we see that their purpose was to “prayer and to the ministry of the word” which means their task was to know the Scriptures in order to lay a proper doctrinal foundation. Many have heard the song “If I were a Rich Man” from “Fiddler on the Roof.” The main character wants to be rich so that he can study the Torah seven hours a day. That is a “batlan.”

In Avot, which means “the Sayings of the Fathers” it says to aspire for wealth so that you can be free to devote yourself to study Torah, devoting your life to the people and to God. It will also allow them to start the children young into business, to make a living. 1 Tim 3.8 talks about “deacons” and the Hebrew word for that “chazzan” or “shammash.” Today a “chazzan” is the cantor, but not in the first century. Their role was “servant” to the congregation. An example of the word “shammash” is seen in the Menorah and the nine-branched Chanukiah. The middle light is called the “shammash” and it lights, or serves, the other lights. The “shammash” is a picture of the role of the Messiah, which is to give light (John 1.4-9). The shammash was the janitor, or he waited tables and took care of the building. He cleaned, distributed food and locked the doors. He was the only paid person in the congregation.

However, his qualifications for the job was the same as a zekan. Today, a deacon is someone who is influential and popular, but in the first century they were full of the Ruach ha Kodesh (the Holy Spirit) and had the “chachmah” of God. They knew the Scriptures inside and out and were scholars, ready to give of their time. He was also the “disciplinarian” within the congregation. He made sure the children were not “out of hand” especially during prayer time, like the Borchu, Shema, Amidah and the Kaddish, all prayers that Yeshua, the shaliachim and Paul knew and prayed. He is the “shaliach” within the congregation because he would go get the scrolls to and from the Ark, which was usually an ornamental box that held the scrolls.

In Luke 4.16-20 we see him in action. Yeshua goes to Nazareth and attends the synagogue there. He stood to read at the “bema” (1 Cor 5.10) and the scroll of Isaiah was handed to him by the chazzan or shammash, the shaliach (sent one) of the congregation. When Yeshua was done, he closed the scroll and gave it back to the attendant (the chazzan/shammash). There are more than one in a congregation and they work together. The qualifications for a chazzan/shammash was the same as a zekan, they had to know the Scriptures (Acts 6.3). The qualifications for every function of the congregation was the same, from blowing the shofar on Rosh ha Shannah, to reading the Torah, to the maintenance of the building.

Concerning the non-Jews in the Galut, or dispersion, these things were also observed. Rom 1.16 says that the same gospel goes for both Jew and Gentile, and that includes congregational structure. 1 Cor 11.1-2 says that the Corinthians were to be imitators of Paul, as he imitates Messiah. He praises them because they remember him, and they hold fast to the “traditions” he taught them. Now, the word “traditions” is the word “paradosis” and it means traditional and biblical law found in the Torah, the only Bible they had. This word is also used in 2 Thes 2.15 and 3.6.

So, it is evident that Paul taught the Gentiles in the dispersion Jewish concepts and the Torah, which included how a congregation was to be set and function. The purpose for all this to give you an idea of what Paul and the first century believers did and what they were aiming for when they functioned in, or set up a new congregation. You will see that it is not the same thing that we see today because we have discarded the biblical model for a Hellenized, Greek thought, western model. We want to familiarize you with the “ancient paths” and get you thinking about what changes may need to be made from here on out.

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

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