A couple of weeks ago, a new blogging friend (Donald) and I had a good discussion on an old post called “The Phabulous Phoebe.” In those comments, Donald mentioned Paul’s relationship with Timothy, and how Paul referred to it as a father/son relationship. (See 1 Timothy 1:1-2 and 2 Timothy 1:1-2 as examples.)
These comments triggered a question in my mind: How did Paul think those who traveled with him and worked with him? Did he think of himself as being a superior with them being subordinates? Did he think of them all as equals?
Of course, we can’t ask Paul that question. And, he does not write a letter to tell anyone what he thinks about these various people. All we can do is consider how Paul referred to the people who traveled with him and how he referred to the people he worked with in the various cities where he spent time.
Why is this important? Not long after the apostle died, some of the Christians who came along after them began exhorting the church to form into a hierarchical system with the bishop at the top, elders under them, deacons under them, and everyone else under the official clergy. (Ignatius is one example of an early writer who proposed this type of hierarchy, although I don’t think his ideas caught on until many years after he died.)
Now, if you’ve read my blog for any length of time, then you know that I disagree with this line of thinking. I do not believe that Jesus or any of his immediate followers – including Paul – desired to see the church develop into some type of hierarchical organization.
Studying the way that Paul referred to the people who traveled with him and with whom he worked in various cities can help us understand a little more about the presence or absence of a hierarchy at that time. Obviously, this short study will not prove the presence or absence of a hierarchy among the church while Paul was writing as letters, but it is another point in the argument one way or another.
So, over the next few days, I’m planning to publish posts that examine the way that Paul referred to other people. Today, most of these people would be considered Paul’s “subordinates” – thus, the use of the term “subordinates” in the title of this post.
What do you think? Do you believe that Paul saw himself as being in a position of superiority while others were his subordinates?
Series: Does Paul refer to other Christians as superiors/subordinates?
- What did Paul think about his subordinates?
- Defining the terms
- The ways that Paul most often refers to other believers
- When Paul refers to other believers using father/child language
- Examining Paul’s use of the father/child language
- Does Paul use the term apostle to refer to a superior/subordinate relationship?
- When Paul DOES use the language of superiors and subordinates