the weblog of Alan Knox

Recent Converts as Elders?

Posted by on Dec 21, 2009 in elders, office, scripture | 25 comments

My previous installment of “Scripture… As We Live It” was based on Acts 14:23:

And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. (Acts 14:23 ESV)

In this passage, Luke records that as Paul and Barnabas traveled back toward Antioch, they stopped in the cities that they had previously visited and “appointed” elders among the believers in each of those cities. More than likely, only a few months to a year had elapsed since Paul and Barnabas had first proclaimed the gospel in those cities.

As Lionel and Jeff pointed out in the comments of my other post, this seems to contradict what Paul later writes to Timothy:

He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:6 ESV)

So… is this a contradiction?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 12-21-2009

    Alan, could one reason be that the church in Ephesus at the time Paul wrote to Timothy was already well-established, making that requirement more realistic and completely possible? The new churches that he re-visited after his first missionary journey were full of new converts. In a situation where there are only new converts to pick from, I think you pick those who are otherwise qualified (Titus 1:5) and work from there. What thinkest thou?

  2. 12-21-2009

    I suspect not. The converts were primarily from the believing Jews. So they would have probably be new only to the concept of Christ as Messiah. At that point in history, the separation between Judaism and the church was not very distinct. In all the places Paul visited in this first journey, there was much fruit from the synagogue. Later, the division became more obvious.

  3. 12-21-2009

    recent might be kind of a matter of perception here, how long could any Christians have been believers at this point? A few years?

  4. 12-21-2009

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  5. 12-21-2009

    Paul wrote to Timothy many years after his Galatian experience.

    Timothy, by the way, had seen those recent converts fail as elders when the Judaizers came into town.

    Paul’s advice in 57 AD (1st Tim) does not contradict his experience in the late 40’s (Acts). It shows Paul had grown.

  6. 12-21-2009


    I’ve read your chronological reconstruction, and it is quite intriguing. The problem that I see with you hypothesis, however, is that Judaizers appear to be problems in later letters as well, especially Philippians, which also had leaders (i.e. “bishops and deacons”).


  7. 12-21-2009

    Hello everyone,

    Thanks for the comments. Could it be as simple as the fact that people became more mature in Christ through 6 months of discipleship then than after years and years of what we call discipleship today?

    The word for “new convert” is used in the LXX and Philo for a shoot of a plant just coming out of the ground. (Thus, Paul’s use is metaphorical.) Perhaps those “6 month old” believers had grown beyond the “new convert” period because of the way they discipled one another.


  8. 12-22-2009

    Alan, I’m confused. Yes, the Philippian overseers whom Paul addresses would not have been new converts, but why should their presence preclude Paul from mentioning aspects of a Judaizing gospel? There are still problems, always, and even qualified elders can do well to be reminded about them.

    On your six months theory, is that an effort to harmonize Acts & 1Tim? I don’t see the need. We are never told which behaviors in Acts are worth emulating and which are not. Should we defend the seven circumcised gentiles who kept the god fearing widows segregated at dinner time? Or Philip the evangelist, when he refused the Holy Spirit to a man who could not be circumcised?

    Was Paul right to enter the Temple with a shaved head? We don’t know. Luke doesn’t tell us what to think about James’ harsh opinions either. Luke just reports them. In the same way, you and I must decide for ourselves if P&B’s relatively easy-bake eldering was erroneous or if it was ‘kosher’.

    The principles we’re discussing aren’t in as much dispute, I don’t think. Clint Eastwood said “It’s not the years, it’s the mileage”, but I’d still beware beware the slippery slope of “six months”… although that alone would probably be a step in the right direction for most new church plants. :-)

  9. 12-22-2009


    Actually, I’m not trying to harmonize Acts and 1 Timothy. (By the way, I think 1 Timothy was written before Ephesians.) I’m simply making an observation based on what I understand about discipleship from other parts of Scripture, including Acts. Of course, our idea of one passage is often influenced by our understanding of other passages, theology, or history… i.e. your suggestion that Acts 14:23 represents “easy back eldering” :)

    I brought up Judaizers because I thought that was your reasoning for seeing the appointment of elders as erroneous in Acts 14:23. I thought you had said (elsewhere, not here) that the influence of Judaizers in Galatia taught Paul that it was wrong to appoint elders so quickly. However, we see Judaizers throughout the NT – both in different cities and in different time frames – even in the later epistles when Paul had apparently learned to appoint more established believers as elders.


  10. 12-22-2009

    Ah. No. I’ve said it was the failure of the Galatian elders to withstand the Judaizers (a complete and total failure, judging by Paul’s epistle) which convinced Paul they’d been appointed too quickly.

    Do you mean you put 1 Tim during Paul’s Roman imprisonment?

    I do think you’re trying to ‘apologize’ for the verses in your post. There’s nothing wrong with that, when it’s necessary. I just don’t think it’s necessary in this case.

  11. 12-22-2009

    I am enjoying this dialouge.

    So Bill and Mr. Adams you believe this was wrong and/or necessary but should be different today?

  12. 12-22-2009


    I believe that Paul wrote 1 Timothy sometime between the events recorded in Acts 18:21 and Acts 20:5. I would guess it was either just after Paul first passed briefly through Ephesus in Acts 18:19-21 but before he returned to Antioch in Acts 18:22, or it was when Paul was getting ready to return to Antioch and sent Timothy (among others) ahead in Acts 20:5 to wait for him at Troas.


  13. 12-22-2009

    So Alan,

    What are your thoughts. Today since we are more sophisticated and have a richer history/longer tenure then Paul do you believe that we should wait longer than Paul and that Paul was just doing this out of pure necessity? Did he even need to have elders so early anyway? It seemed that Paul felt as an Apostle that Elders were very important unless he wouldn’t have done it, unless of course he just made a bone head mistake being overly eager and later decided that a new covert (which is a relative term as Sido pointed out) should not be appointed like he did in the past.

    That leads to the next question (you don’t have to allow it LOL). But today we have the very odd task of planting churches without Apostles or Apostolic assistants. So since churches have already recognized elders should those be the guys sent out to plant would that be closer to the biblical model?

  14. 12-22-2009

    Alan, we’re essentially the same on 1st Timothy, then. I put it at Troas, a hand-off in person, precisely at Acts 20:6. (Btw, there’s no Antioch in ch.20, but I think you meant some place else.)

    Lionel, to speak functionally, I’d not necessarily expect those who are good at oversight and caretaking to be good at instigating, training or establishing. OTOH, I’d not rule out someone being gifted in all areas. Unless, of course, their name was Lionel Woods. ;-p

  15. 12-22-2009

    Hey Lionel,

    I’m not sure I understand your question to me. I guess I’m saying that if I were a missionary/church planter in some remote location with no access to local believers who had been in the faith for years and years, what does “not a new (or recent) convert” mean? If I’ve planted a new church, where do I go to start looking for qualified elders? I would have to look within. I think that’s part of what Paul told Titus to do on Crete because in that list of qualifications, being a recent convert is not mentioned and the churches on Crete seemed much newer to the faith than those in Ephesus. Paul viewed the Cretan churches, because they had no elders, as unfinished (NIV) or not in complete order (ESV). I think a recent convert is a relative term that cannot be universally applied to mean a certain number of years, but must be considered in light of other elder qualifications and the cultural/historical context and conditions of the moment.

    Does that help?

  16. 12-22-2009

    Just for the record, I never sign my name “Mikie”. That was a typo. :)

  17. 12-22-2009

    Thanks, Mike. I never noticed that lack in Titus. Interesting distinction…

    In the case of 1st Tim (especially when dating it where Alan & I do), a “recent convert” would also happen to be someone who had not known Paul’s leadership in planting that church. In contrast, presumably, everyone in Crete was familiar with Titus’ apostleship…

    Another key point: we don’t know for sure how long Titus had been on Crete or how long Titus’ Cretans had been in the faith before Paul’s letter. Some of those churches could easily be one or two years old at the time of Paul’s writing.

    Potentially, that could render this whole discussion moot. Of course I don’t think it does. :-)

  18. 12-22-2009

    Thanks Mike! Yes I do understand. So you are saying today we have enough qualified men to not need to do the from within perspective like in Titus? Do you still hold that they should come from within or it is okay to go outside the congregation to bring “qualified” elders in?


    Thanks for confirming what the Lord has shown me all along in reference to my great giftedness. I always knew I was really special especially in light of other Christians around me 8)

    BTW, so you think the two can be seperated today? The instigating/starting and the oversight/caretaking? Mostly what I see is the oversight/caretaking being a prerequiste for the instigating/starting.

  19. 12-22-2009

    Lionel said: “Mostly what I see is the oversight/caretaking being a prerequiste for the instigating/starting.”

    Where, pray tell, do you see that?

  20. 12-22-2009

    I think that if we were to apply Paul’s practices today, then churches would appoint/recognize people as elders who they know, who they’ve spent time with, and who’s lives demonstrate a Christ-like character as much as, if not more than, the other believers around them. Thus, “not a recent convert” would look different for each church.

    As far as apostolic workers today, I think that’s a completely different question. I’m not comfortable mixing the two discussions.


  21. 12-22-2009

    Every church plant I have ever seen Bill

  22. 12-22-2009


    How would the church start? Today we already have churches on every corner who were not started this way nor have they appointed elders this way (if they even have elders 8) )

  23. 12-22-2009

    You said: So you are saying today we have enough qualified men to not need to do the from within perspective like in Titus?

    Me: No, I’m not saying that at all. Quite the opposite.

    You: Do you still hold that they should come from within or it is okay to go outside the congregation to bring “qualified” elders in?

    Me: Yes! Within.

    You to Alan: How would the church start? Today we already have churches on every corner who were not started this way nor have they appointed elders this way (if they even have elders).

    Me: But not everyone or everywhere. God has a remnant. :)

    In comment #20, I think Alan nailed it.

  24. 12-22-2009

    As far as I can tell, churches begin when disciples make disciples. God sends some disciples away from their home in order to make disciples (apostolic workers). If there is no church in that area, then the disciples become the church, otherwise they become part of the church that is already in that area. Those traveling, disciple-making disciples (apostolic workers), then move on to another area – wherever God sends them – or perhaps they settle in that area and become part of the church in that area.

    What would that look like today? Well, I don’t think it would look like what we normally see (i.e. a group of trained people moving to a place to start a church with a staff, budget, etc.). This seems backwards to me. Somehow, we should start with discipleship.

    By the way, Two years ago, I got into a discussion with a church planter who followed the pattern I described above: started with staff, finances, budget, programs, mass mailouts, etc. I asked him about discipleship… I asked him about the church being people… he said they would focus on people and discipleship once everything was “launched.” Here it is two years later and they’re developing bigger staff, bigger budgets, finding a better pace to meet, etc. I don’t hear much about people from him. I’m sure the people are there, but they seem to be low on the priority scale to me.


  25. 12-24-2009

    Alan et al.,

    Maybe we should ask Guy Muse (the M blog) what his experience is. He talks about new churches all the time and how they are established.