Signpost for Sunday 22 September 2013: Jer 8:18 – 9:1; Ps 79:1-9; 1 Tim 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13
I was going to take a leaf out of Brye’s book and ignore Timothy this week again because it’s not just that Saul of Tarsus didn’t write those two, it’s the fact that scholars now agree that the letters to Tim were written twenty of more years after the tent maker had died. But then I realised that’s the whole point when we read these letters.
First off, it’s not a question of mistakenly attributing the letters to Paul. It’s quite simply that two thousand years ago, and for quite a few centuries after that, people thought nothing of writing proclamations, speeches and letters of instruction under the name of an important dead person. So whoever wrote the letters to Timmy (and Titus) would have felt they were simply borrowing Saul’s reputation and thus his right to be taken seriously.
Secondly, this letter is exactly that – a set of instructions: this is the way we Greco-Roman communities do things in first century churches. The writer is trying to get everyone (sorry, I can’t resist this cliché) singing from the same hymn sheet, whether they like it or not.
My point is that we are looking at a record of how the first and early second century Church behaved. These are the rules and conventions of church at the time.
There are always rules and conventions about going to church, aren’t there? When I was a boy, all the women wore scarves in church. All the men took their hats off. Today I go to a church where one guy always arrives late on his bicycle and dressed in his day-glow lycra. He arrives just before communion and leaves before the dismissal. Nobody bats an eyelid. Rules change over the years.
Read on a bit further you see how much the rules have changed since verses 9-15 were penned. It’s stuff like this that annoys people and leads them to reject many other things. Well, there are lots of things I don’t like about church, but there aren’t many things I don’t like about Jesus and God. God doesn’t go to church; he doesn’t need to. I go because I like to be reminded it’s not all about me, but I wouldn’t set foot inside any church that still operated under the directives in verses 9-15. Nevertheless, I reckon Saul of Tarsus would have been quite happy to lend his name to verse 4.