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“And having pointed out to them in every ekklesia older people…”
July 11, 2011, 2:29 am
Filed under: E Acts

In Acts 14:23 an incident occurs that we see no where else in the book of Acts. Here it is said that “Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.” The Greek word for “appointed,” “cheirotoneo,” used here in this verse is only used three times in the entire New Testament (1). It is used in a larger compound Greek word in Acts 10:41 describing how God had previously stretched out His hand or pointed out for Himself those who had witnessed Christ’s resurrection and in 2 Cor. 8:19 how Titus was pointed out by the churches to help carry the offerings with Paul to the brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. In all three instances it seems to describe an approval. In Vine’s Dictionary it means to “stretch forth the hands” and was used in the Greek culture as a word “primarily used of voting in the Athenian legislature assembly.” This gives the word a sense of pointing out something that is approved or shows approval.

Why is this word only used here in Acts? I’m not sure. There are varying opinions. Perhaps Paul only did it this once, realizing the error of having done this because of what happened to these churches in falling into legalism. This is if we think he “ordained” certain special people with a “title” or “position” over the body, which does not correspond to Jesus own words of having authority over others like the Gentile leaders. I am incline to believe their is a mistranslation and thereby causing a misinterpretation. It is my opinion that because the word “appoint” means to “stretch forth the hands” with some indication of approval, the sense is that Paul and Barnabas were merely pointing out something. This passage, using the literal Greek translation, says: “and having pointed out to them in every ekklesia older people…” (2) So Acts 14:23 really seems to describe Paul and Barnabas stretching their hands out (perhaps metaphorically), or pointing out to the body of Christ, those who were the older people, those living by Christ’s life, to indicate what living by the life of Christ was like versus an ordination or an official appointment like some would suggest.

In reading Paul’s letters to the churches his primary concern was for the expression, the manifestation of Christ in and through the body, the fruit of the Spirit, as they lived by the Spirit, the life of Christ. Older people, mistranslated as “elders,” were male or female persons who had learned to live by the life of Christ together in community. It is unknown exactly how long Paul and Barnabas stayed at each ekklesia that was formed during their first church planting mission but apparently it was sufficient time to help them know how to live by the Spirit and for some to have so been consumed by Christ to now be examples to the body of what living by Christ looked like. These are the ones the apostles pointed out. The body of Christ, if it is to fulfill the purpose of God in manifesting the Son, must know how to live by the Spirit together and express Him to and through one another so that His life may be expressed to family, friends, and the world around them. Even today how there is a need for the body of Christ to know how to live by the life of Christ! The body of Christ is a family, all brothers and sisters, each learning Christ together, but not all learn Christ at the same “rate.” These older persons, older spiritually perhaps, were only meant to demonstrate what living by the life of Christ looks like so that each member in the body could see Christ being expressed and in turn could better learn Christ, express their measure of the gift of Christ, loving one another as Christ loved them.

Paul and Barnabas proclaimed the good news, they preached Christ Jesus as the crucified and risen Lord, the Logos, or Word of God in whom we are to hear and believe and to live by faith. Christ Himself through Paul and Barnabas within their functioning as apostles were expressing Christ by the Spirit, through what was spoken. Perhaps the letter to the ekklesias in Galatia could be reminders of some of what they preached and taught:

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus…”
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”
“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
“Live by the Spirit…keep in step with the Spirit.”

There are other words that are translated “appoint” in the New Testament and I will look at some of the others in another blog. The body of Christ is called to express their Lord, to hear Christ and be taught by Him, living by the Spirit. May the Lord raise up, “point out,” “older persons,” male and female, in the body of Christ who know how to live by our indwelling Lord and can help others know how to express Him together in love by the Spirit, organically if you will, so that the body may grow to the fullness of Christ!

(1) W.E. Vine, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 34.
(2) Alfred Marshall, The Interlinear KJV-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English, 1975, The Zondervan Corporation, 391.

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8 Comments so far
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I agree that reading into the scriptures a mindset that there is a “ruling” person or persons that are appointed or ordained for leading others is a treacherous trap for the body of Christ. Did Jesus Christ appoint a leader among the 12, no! We are to look and focus upon Christ alone. This looking up to others is what births legalism and worship of a human leader. There is no person who is infallible and we will always be disappointed if we see someone other than Christ are our leader. Those who have a maturity in Christ can be recognized easily enough, but that recognition should never contain our focus and our trust as though we are led by that person. There is a big difference in seeing Christ in one another and being led by one of the one anothers of us. Look to no man, but to Christ alone. We are to worship in Spirit and in Truth. We are all “children” of our Father. None above, none underneath, but equal. Can Jesus Christ in me be more important then Jesus Christ in anyone else? No! All expressions of Christ in us are just as important.

Comment by Kat Huff

Great reply Kat and I agree with you 100% I would be interested John in hearing about your further investigation of this translated word “appoint.” I had always wondered about those passages. Makes more sense in the literal Greek: “pointing out something” and not appointing leaders over others in the body. Thanks John, This really helps my understanding of the passages.

Comment by Pam Frazier

Hi Pam, thanks for commenting, my eyes were a bit more opened to this as well when I looked it up. Amazing what we can learn from Him as we look at the basic meanings. Will be looking at some of the other words soon, :). Blessings sis.

Comment by John Wilson

Appreciate your comments Kat. I’m thinking that the only reason Paul and Barnabas pointed out the older persons was for the sake of helping the other brothers and sisters what living by Christ’s life looks like. Often Paul notes in his letters to look at how he is following Christ, his way of life, so that others can see what that looks like. For the past couple of years our group has been relearning what this means, baby steps if you will, but to have some who are a bit further down the road in living by the Spirit would be such a great help in the body moving forward and would venture that others would feel likewise. It is perhaps the reason many of us go to other groups who are living organically to learn Christ and see what it means to live by His life together. This was perhaps a way for Paul and Barnabas to help the body move forward to stay focused on having Christ formed in His body. Some thoughts any way. Blessings sis.

Comment by John Wilson

Yes, that does make sense organically speaking, bro Jon. It is just so frustrating that so many take something like this and turn it into a formation from the mind of man, meaning reign over or rule, instead of just being. It think it better to just leave it alone and Life will take care of it. To address it as a “thing” then the trouble begins, or as so it appears that way most of the time. Wonderful article bro John, well done. 🙂

Comment by Kat Huff

so true Kat, I have found most anything can be a controversy.

Comment by John Wilson

John, Please see above, that was meant for you.

Comment by Pam Frazier

Hi Pam, got it, :).

Comment by John Wilson




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