When considering the reasons to support any form of hierarchy or stronger delegate authority passed down through a hierarchical structure in church environments, one finds that there are a number of people that point at Peter and James as examples of “Singular Leaders” in the early church as a support for using a hierarchical model of church leadership.
This writing intends to clarify that all evidence that points to Peter or James as singular leaders is not strong enough to use them as the basis for sound doctrine. There is evidence that James was called out specifically on a few occasions identifying him separately from others in Jerusalem. There is no clear evidence that he was in a role of pre-eminence. If he had been, this would have been in direct conflict with the specific and direct teachings from Jesus on how the disciples should relate to one another.
In order to establish sound doctrine, it is necessary to separate prescriptive instruction in the Bible from descriptive instruction. While the Bible does communicate heavily through word pictures, parables and analogies we have to be aware of the separation between the prescriptive aspects of the Word of God and the descriptive ones. This is especially important when it comes to establishing sound (i.e. healthy) doctrine.
The support for singular leaders to support the modern day concepts of church hierarchy is not prescriptive and only minor evidence can be found in the descriptive text. The descriptive text should not be taken in a direction that is different from the prescriptive teaching of Jesus on the same type of subject matter. Descriptive text should be understood in light of prescriptive portions of scripture.
Interesting Scripture Attempting to Support Singular Leaders
I would have never thought to include the following scripture as support for the idea of singular leaders to support church hierarchy. However, in conversation with some who believe singular leaders and some form of hierarchy is necessary I was provided with the following scriptures as support.
- Revelation 2:1a – “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:”
- Revelation 2:8a – “To the angel of the church in Smryna write:”
- Revelation 2:12a – “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:”
- Revelation 2:18a – “To the angel of the church in Thyratira write:”
- Revelation 3:1a – “To the angel of the church in Sardis write:”
- Revelation 3:7a – “To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:”
- Revelation 3:14a – “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:”
Specifically, the word for “angel” is pointed to as evidence of the idea of singular leaders in church settings.
The greek work for “angel” in transliterated form is angelos (Strong’s #32). The word is most often applied to spiritual beings who serve God. However, it is applied to humans in some cases.
- Referring to John the Baptist being sent with a message from God in advance of Jesus’s ministry
- Matthew 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27
- Messengers from John the Baptist asking Jesus a question
- Luke 7:24
- Messengers from Jesus sent ahead to make preparations in an upcoming location
- Luke 9:52
- An affliction in Paul’s flesh analogized as a messenger from Satan
- 2 Corinthians 12:7
- Referring to Spies sent to Jericho before Israel’s victory who interacted with Rahab
- James 2:25
In looking at all of these usages, they are not the transfer of authority to a person EXCEPT for the scope of a message that is being delivered. This matches the idea of transmitted authority, not positional authority. The scope of the authority is limited to a specific action or message and does not grant permanent rights.