Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:
Philippians 1:1 (KJV)
Bishops and deacons – It certainly appears that Paul was establishing churches, especially when he uses church oriented words like “bishops and deacons”. I don’t recall synagogues using this language in their structure, so clearly Paul left the synagogues to form churches that separated from the Jewish culture, right? Or are we being influenced by the preconceived theology of the translators once again?
Let’s look at the words and gain some cultural understanding to how Paul might have used them. First we’ll review the word episkopos which is translated several times in the New Testament as “bishop”. While we may align this with the more current definition of an “overseer of a church”, that’s not how Paul would have understood it. Paul didn’t believe in dividing the people from Judaism (and the synagogues) because he knew full well that the “new covenant” was for the house of Israel and the house of Judah according to Jeremiah’s prophecy (Jer. 31:31). He knew without a doubt that the people of The Way, or as he refers to them, the ekklesia, and the Gentiles joining them were to become a part of the two houses which at the time were still divided. It’s about bringing the nation of Israel, the twelve tribes, back together again. Paul knew this. He wouldn’t start creating antisemitic groups of people called “churches” to cause division even further. The translators on the other hand are the product of the early church fathers and the dictations of Constantine and the Ecumenical Councils. By that time, this antisemitic separation was already instilled in their theology and so they translated the text using words they were familiar with in the context of their church setting – ie. bishops and deacons.
So what is the cultural understanding of episkopos? Quite literally, it’s someone in charge of getting things done. And during this time, it would be those who were engaged in day-to-day battles against the other followers of The Way (yes, other Christians) that continually placed traditions of men in front of believing Gentiles in order for them to become a part of the commonwealth of Israel. While these other believers were following a very ingrained process of proselytizing Gentiles, they were metaphorically requiring the people to buy the wedding gift, and dress in their wedding attire BEFORE being invited to the wedding. But this isn’t the process. Rather the invitation needs to go out first. Grace comes first. The people are invited to become a part of Israel first, and then should fall inline with actually living like a man/woman of God in obedience. We receive the wedding invitation BEFORE buying the gift, and dressing in the appropriate attire.
I hope this is making sense. You’ll notice that Paul’s conflicts aren’t against non-believing Jews, but rather against believing Jews who were still wrapped up in traditions of men.
So now let’s review diakonos. It’s obviously where we get the word “deacons”. The words are the same, but the meanings have been greatly skewed from Paul’s time. Today we envision a deacon as an authoritative position, but it’s actually quite different. It’s the one who serves. These are the people who do the work. The work at this time was to teach the Gentiles Torah, break them of their pagan habits, and continually encourage them in Yeshua. Back to our metaphor – the Gentiles have been invited to the wedding, but they needed to know what to wear, and which store the wedding registry was at. The diakonos are the one’s who help them along, side-by-side.
The question now arises, regardless of what they actually mean, was Paul establishing new positions in a church-like community? The answer is no. While the title of these positions might relate to current churches we’ve experienced nowadays, positions such as these were already prevalent in the synagogue.
[These] Two offices perhaps arose on the model of the archisynogogos and hyperetes in the synagogue, although these served only in worship, and direction of the synagogue was in the hands of the elders.
Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 155
These two offices/positions were already apparent in the synagogues. Paul was merely using other Greek words that described the role clearly. In this same way, we might call an “elder” of our community a “leader”, or even a “minister”, or “preacher”. Using different words to describe the same role is not uncommon.
Before we cling to the idea that Paul created churches, we should stop to think about who Paul was, and the title he claimed up to his death – a Pharisee (Acts 23:6). And if I’m right, the church doesn’t have a position called “Pharisee”. So to put it accurately, Paul must of been a Pharisee of the synagogue of Yeshua, not a Bishop of the church of Jesus.