How can the Apostle Paul call himself a "blasphemer" and the "chief of sinners" and then go on to lay out expectations for the bishops and the deacons to live above reproach?
In this episode, Andrea Bakas provides an in-depth word study which unveils powerful imagery stemming from episkopos and diakonos. We look to First Timothy to understand what is expected of bishops and deacons, functional leaders of the church who are reminded to manage their households well.
Read the full episode transcript here.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You're listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. Father Timothy Lowe, our co host and former rector of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute is in the studio, as is our guest, Andrea Bakas. Hello, Father Timothy and welcome, Andrea.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 0:30
Andrea Bakas 0:32
Thank you. Hi, Hollie. Hi, Fr. Tim.
Hollie Benton 0:34
Andrea Bakas has had a lifelong interest in religious studies and attended Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, focusing her studies on Scripture and scriptural interpretation. She is the founder of the Los Angeles Bible lecture series. She is a nurse practitioner in orthopedic surgery and holds master's degrees in nursing and public health. Andrea too hosts a podcast on the Ephesus School Network entitled Vexed, inspired of course by St. John Chrysostom's paschal homily. I'm so excited to have you join us today, Andrea.
Andrea Bakas 1:08
Thanks, Hollie. I'm happy to be here. Currently, I have some new episodes, I have a four-part series on the matter of our translations of the Bible, and why the translation that we read in English is a problem. So that's a good one. That's a good series to jump in on if you're a new listener.
Hollie Benton 1:25
Oh, great. I'm a listener too. So I'm really excited to have you here with us. In preparing for our episode today on Doulos, you made the brilliant suggestion of looking to the very specific offices of leadership described in First Timothy, particularly the episkopos, which we call bishop in English and the diakonos, which is the Greek word for deacon of course. If we were to try to describe a bishop or a deacon without referring to the Epistle of First Timothy, I suspect we would rely on our own personal experience. Perhaps we've seen a hierarchical liturgy at which the bishop presides. We might have a decent grasp on the functional role of a deacon. Perhaps we are well acquainted with a bishop or even friends with a deacon and assume that their friendly character traits make them a great deacon. Maybe those outside the Orthodox tradition could assume that a bishop or a deacon is like a CEO or a manager for a church. But if we call ourselves Christians, and by extension, lifelong students of the Bible, it's always good to check the source, isn't it? So what does scripture say about the episkopos and the diakonos? And why should scripture format our understanding of these important leadership roles for the church, rather than just our own experiences of bishops and deacons? So in what ways does the overall context of the Apostle Paul's letter to Timothy provide broader insight into the function of Bishop and Deacon?
Andrea Bakas 2:56
Yeah, wow. On a sort of basic level Scripture is really our only reference for the teaching. We spend far more of our time in church and observing our bishops and our deacons and our clergy and what we think they should be doing or how they function. But I think we're obligated to go to scripture for what is a bishop and what is a deacon. I don't think we have any choice. It's just too easy to, to behave in ways that aren't aligned with that. So it's always a good idea to check in with Scripture. So if we just take one of Paul's letters, First Timothy as our reference today, mostly because we find a lot of instances of Bishop and Deacon, the way we translated into English in that particular letter, it's one of what's called the pastoral letters of Paul. So as I do on my show a lot, I start from word study. I go to the text, I look up what is the word in Greek, the way that it was written in the original and just sort of investigate what it means. And then read the letter, you know, read the entire context for information. So if we look in First Timothy, the word that we translate as bishop is episkopos. So what does that mean in Greek? Well, it's a compound word. So we have epi-, which is generally a preposition, it can mean in this case over or on. And skopos is a noun, that means fundamentally to peer into, to look upon something with the eyes in particular. And interestingly, it means to look into the distance as to a mark or a goal ahead. By implication, an observer or a watchman. There's almost like this anticipation that they're waiting for something. So episkepomai, the verb, means to look upon, as I said before, with the eyes, again by implication to see how one is doing and then we have translations to visit. So a bishop, we translate episkopos, a bishop is basically an overseer, a watchman, the way that it's used in the Bible is the one who visits. Now in the Bible, the one who visits usually is the Lord, is the senior. It carries with it especially in this particular letter, the implication of judgment, right, it's measuring, it's not a visit to break bread or to have a laugh. It's a visit to measure people's conduct against the teaching, to see if people are conducting themselves correctly in alignment with the teaching, with Paul's teaching. And this is a heavy charge for Timothy in the letter. And if you read it, you can feel the weight on Timothy in the tone of the letter for this charge as bishop.
Hollie Benton 5:51
So let's focus on this office of bishop. I'd like to read the beginning passage in First Timothy chapter three. Here it begins, "The saying is sure, if anyone aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money, he must manage his household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way. For if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can you care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, or he may fall into reproach and the snare of the devil." So this passage is just loaded with what people might even see as practical wisdom. I wonder how this description is so different from what all Christians are called to be? Aren't all Christians called to be temperate, sensible, dignified, gentle, and no lovers of money? And then it strikes me that the Apostle Paul, who is above even the bishops, introduces himself at the beginning of the letter, if you look at First Timothy chapter one, he introduces himself as a blasphemer, a persecutor, an injurious and the chief of sinners. And yet he is laying out the expectation of bishops. So what's going on with this juxtaposition?
Andrea Bakas 7:32
Well, there's literary play here, but also one of the threads in Scripture, and certainly in Paul's letters, this is not new. It's the pattern of the Old Testament too in the teaching of the Old Testament, you don't get credit for things. And not only that, but we're not Paul's judges, whether he is, you know, a sinner or a blasphemer, or he was, it doesn't matter. He's coming with authority in the letter to tell Timothy, what's what. I think that's the risk, as a modern hearer of this text, is that we want to interpret it as an ethical treatise, you know, that it's about our perfect behavior. But that's really not the emphasis in the letter. The teaching is primary. Now, obviously, I think there's some practicalities here, there is a standard of conduct to keep good order in the household. In order for the teaching to be promoted, there has to be order they have to behave properly. I also remember the background culture here is helpful to understand that we're talking about the Roman household. The kind of pattern of social life was discussion, the meal, the Roman household, the discussion whether it was philosophical discussion or discourse led by the pater or mater familias who decided what was to be discussed. Paul is trying to rally those folks to his teaching. Paul is trying to teach Timothy, you have to behave in a particular way because the business is the teaching. It's not the ethical behavior. That's the point. It's just useful, right? It's just a tool to get from A to B.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 9:12
I think Paul likes to exercise his authority in his teaching in a manner that leaves us without an excuse for our sinfulness. And his self reference is always negative, the worst of sinners, the least of the brethren, blasphemer, and so on. And yet, I'm your Father, First Corinthians, and here. It's interesting that he exercises his authority sort of counter -intuitively, not by telling us how great he is, but by how great God is and has shown mercy. And therefore if I'm the worst, which means technically we're better than him. We have no excuse. So the standard is still a standard as you say for moral ethical behavior and abilities. But I think it's a way of squeezing us, humbling us by his own self humiliation. And then he flexes his muscle and says, but I'm the boss. I'm the apostle, I'm your father in the faith. It's a brilliant way to both smack, by smacking yourself first. And therefore you can never be accused of arrogance. And so I think something for us to learn here as he teaches us.
Andrea Bakas 10:21
That's right. It's a rhetorical stroke of genius. I agree.
Hollie Benton 10:25
Yeah. And I would like to ask about this rhetorical question presented in the text itself, which I think is related to the inverse relationship of the apostle Paul, the chief of sinners, and the bishop who has to behave above reproach. The text asks, "For if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God's church?" So I'm thinking in the context of the whole of Scripture, there are so many characters who failed miserably at managing their own households, like Isaac, Jacob, Eli, Samuel, King David. Is this rhetorical question meant to keep one on the razor's edge, the pressure is always there to do well, but conceit in doing so will certainly ensnare you?
Andrea Bakas 11:11
Yes, exactly. Is it Hebrews where Paul gives his very concise exegesis of the entire Old Testament by pointing out these examples, and he lists them that their conduct, the way that they behaved in wicked ways, and not in keeping with God's teaching, they are warnings for us, he says, not to desire evil as they did. And so yes, I think you're right. I think it's constant pressure. It's leaving you with no excuse. It's like, these great figures from the Bible, well, they didn't really do very well, but you have to. Okay, if they couldn't do it, what about me? So yes, for sure. But you can't get out of it, right, you have to do it. And you can't take credit. You can't use it as a tool for arrogance. And you cannot use it as a tool to split the table. And that's the whole challenge. And I think that's why there's that constant tension. Because whenever an individual is built up, he's going to get arrogant. He's going to start behaving in a way that divides the table. And we know that that's definitely not permitted by Paul. And that's one of the things he's constantly battling in his letters, is the splitting of the table, meaning more than one teaching. He says, No, it can't be. So these bishops and deacons have to behave properly in order to serve the teaching, not to serve themselves, but to serve others by serving the teaching. So it's a practicality thing, but you're right.
Hollie Benton 12:43
The pressure is on with my sin ever before me, right?
Andrea Bakas 12:47
You can't get out of it.
Hollie Benton 12:49
So how about this passage now related to the deacons? Here it is: "Deacons likewise, must be serious, not double tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for gain, they must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first, then if they prove themselves blameless, let them serve as deacons. The women likewise must be serious, no slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things. Let deacons be the husband of one wife, and let them manage their children and their households well, for those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith which is in Christ Jesus." So it seems the role of teacher is a major distinction between Bishop and Deacon otherwise, there's a lot of similarities with the expectations of behavior laid out for both a bishop and a deacon. What other differences or similarities stand out here between the diakonos and the episkopos?
Andrea Bakas 13:48
In the letter specifically, in this letter, there isn't a lot to help us distinguish. But if we again do our little word study, actually, it's kind of interesting. If you go to diakonos and its instances in the Bible, we have actually one of the root meanings, which I thought was interesting, has to do with running, physically running, literally running, running very quickly, running fast. One of the word studies, the etymology that is proposed, is that diakonos has to do with the raising of dust that happens by haste. When you're running in haste and you're leaving people in the dust we have that saying in English actually, it's kind of funny. It's a really interesting visual, that we have a deacon who's running around quickly and serving tables basically. I actually looked up the use of this word, actually, in the ancient Greek texts, specifically is used to do with serving food and drink. So that's the ancient Greek usages of diakonos. Now, I don't know if we have that specifically here in the Bible in Paul's letters specifically, but certainly one who serves tables in some fashion so I don't know how to make the distinction necessarily other than that the diakonos is not the boss, the bishop is the boss in this context. Diakonos is to do their bidding, so to take care of the needs of the table.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 15:12
I think you both already said it. The role of teaching directly related to the bishop, it still is, and that's its primary function and role is to oversee and to teach. You know, we even say it in the liturgy, "Rightly divide the Word of Truth." The deacon's role is more functional and practical, yet in terms of household behavior, we're all held to the same standard, which is something you've referenced early on, Hollie. Our problem is when we hear the word Bishop or Deacon, our brain immediately goes to some sort of liturgy, this action related to the common worship. That minimalization of the office, even though we know it's not true with the bishops who have their diocese and multiple churches, but it all sort of has been morphed into something that probably wasn't intended or even in Paul's brain, when he talks about these offices, relative to the local church, not a large geographical area that now defines bishops, and therefore their roles that have almost . . . like those of us who are priests who function as the teacher in the parish, realize that that's only two, three, four percent of what now we actually do. And that, to me has always been a point of tension, if not actual frustration, that the real substance of one's daily bread is about a whole bunch of other stuff: household management, but now it's the business part of the administration and the making sure the church can function financially and sustain itself. And then the endless projects and sometimes I think Bishop/Priest function as cheerleaders of their community and organization that has absolutely nothing to do with the descriptions we're hearing here in terms of teaching. And is it recoverable? Still, for us to understand, this is what we want our Bishop, we want him to teach, we want him to teach. Priests? We want him to teach in the name of the bishop, teach, teach, teach. If we do anything with this podcast here, it would be to get the people to understand this is the important thing. So for example, when a priest or deacon or anybody who goes up to give the Sunday sermon, because a layperson could do a sermon, it doesn't make a difference. But at that moment, they're in the office of teacher, and so they better have done their work. And we know most sermons are either titilations, exhortations, or something other, which I dare not mention here. But it's recovering the teaching part and the theological teaching, just going on and on and on. No, no, no. I want to hear, as you said, biblical texts, exegesis, what is their meaning, and the command then to do. Our teachers who, whenever they appear, whenever they're sitting on the Episcopal throne, functionally. I attended church, the subdeacon gave the sermon. So at that point, he was functioning as a teacher, when he got off the pulpit, he was back to being just a subdeacon, go and fetch the censor and come and do.
Andrea Bakas 18:08
I'm glad you brought that up, Father Tim, because in the letter, not just in this letter, but in other places, Paul is warning Timothy to not worry that he's young. Don't get hung up on your youth, as you say, because Timothy's role is functional, as you said. When he's functioning as the bishop for that particular Roman household, wherever he might be, he's the boss, no matter if he's 18 or 20 years old. If he's wielding the teaching, if he's sitting in the seat of teacher, he has the authority. It's not about him personally. It's about what he's carrying in his job he's there to do.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 18:47
Yes. Let no one despise your youth.
Andrea Bakas 18:50
Yes, I know, I love that phrasing, too. Yeah, I completely hear what you're saying about church today. And I suspect, you know, my dad is a priest. And I've sort of had a side seat to the goings on of church life for many years. But I think things are changing. I think demographics are changing, the way that people understand church is changing. I'm hopeful that perhaps with work like Hollie is doing and podcasts like this, just encouraging people to go and be students of Scripture can sort of, in a way, put some pressure on their parishes, on their communities, on their priests and bishops to recommit to teaching as a priority. But I agree there are lots of barriers and I don't think it's just Orthodoxy. I think any church today, organized religion, for reasons of practicality, functions like a business, so you're quite right. Those are the challenges, but the teaching is what distinguishes us. You can have a philosophical discussion at any social group. What's the difference between liturgy and an opera on a Saturday night, right? You have nice singing, maybe, in both places, but you don't go there for that. It's the teaching you go there to hear. That's the difference.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 20:05
Yes. And I just again want to re-emphasize to all of us is when I say teaching, I mean scriptural teaching. I don't want theology. I don't even want spirituality. It's just teach me the Scripture. And when someone does that, and I learned something new, let's say your podcast, it's life giving.
Hollie Benton 20:25
Thank you, Andrea. Thank you for the word study, the preparation, and thank you for your dedication, and the research that you do and the work that you do through Vexed.
Andrea Bakas 20:35
Thank you, Hollie.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 20:36
Andrea Bakas 20:36
Thanks for having me. It was fun.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai