Christian Bishop's Wife
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23. Christian Bishop's Wife

Saint Paul's Teaching

Bishop's WelcomeThe Christian wife of a bishop in 1 Timothy 3.11 "is to be a woman worthy of respect." Interestingly, the word "Wife" is the same word used of a "deaconess," though technically this refers to women in the Early Church ordained to the order of deacons. It means that the bishop's wife has an authentic ministry of her own, besides her relationship to the bishop. "Although St. Paul mentions deaconesses at Cenchreae, and St. John Chrysostom considers the model appropriate for both sexes, deaconesses vanish from the church for hundreds of years until revived by Theodor Fliedner in Kaiserswerth, Germany in 1836. She founded a deaconess community among Lutherans." Episcopalians in Baltimore, Maryland, start similar work in 1855. The nineteenth-century deaconess movement involves women living in a community while carrying out traditional diaconate ministries, especially teaching and serving the poor in industrialized cities." The first deaconess, "per se" in the modern era, was Elizabeth Catherine Ferard of the Church of England in 1862. Women and men have an equally important role in both the Old Testament and the New Testament church. It is not gender but the person's spiritual and moral qualities that are the deciding factors for ministry suitability. The Scriptures clearly outlines those who have the qualifications for the role.

Jesus Own Household

James, Jesus' brotherJesus' household is of considerable significance and pre-eminent in the Early Church. Jesus calls himself "the householder" in Matthew 10.25 and, in the opposite sense, the household of Beelzebub. Beelzebub and his demons are an evil deity from the Philistine city of Ekron. Jesus also describes himself in Matthew 10.24 as "the master" and his disciples as "servants of the household." Even though Jesus' brothers and family do not figure prominently in Jesus' early earthly ministry, his brother James who is elsewhere called "Saint James the Just," comes to the fore to become a bishop (or president) of the church in Jerusalem. Another brother, Saint Jude, composes an epistle which is later accepted into the canon of the Bible, even though the Reformer Martin Luther didn't like it and called it "an epistle of straw!" Saint James and Saint Jude are of the line of David and half brothers of Jesus. Aside from these two half brothers in Matthew 15.35, there are also Joseph or Joses, and Simon. Two half-sisters of Jesus appear in early traditions whose names are possibly Mary and Salome. Jesus is conceived in Mary, his mother, by the Holy Spirit, whereas his half-brothers and sisters are Mary and Joseph's offspring.✞

Early Church Bishops

Bishop Arthur BrownEarly church bishops require specific leadership characteristics for their ministries. Those males who successfully manage their households are considered suitable and qualified to be Early Church bishops. We note that the same word for "bishops" may also be translated as "elders" or "overseers." Similarly, the Bishop appoints a deacon in the Early Church over a household or group of households. Saint Paul says that overseers have the care of all the churches. He writes in 1 Timothy 3.2-5, "Now the overseer (bishop) must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled. He must manage his own family (or "household") well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?" In some Bible versions, the word "family" substitutes for the word "household."

Husband of One Wife

Bishop Victoria MatthewsAs for a bishop today, an essential qualification for an early church bishop was "the husband of one wife." This scriptural phrase may be a warning against immorality and bigamy for a bishop or elder but never the less stands on its own merits. It is also an explicit prohibition from the Scriptures themselves against female leaders in the church. In our present society, this is another case of what is "politically correct" versus what is "Biblically correct." Saint Paul lists the moral and leadership characteristics required of a church leader. He writes in 1 Timothy 3.1-13 of deacons, "A deacon must be the husband of but one wife, and must manage his children and his households well." Though Saint Paul explicitly reserves bishops, deacons, and priests to married males, this does not mean that other leadership roles should also be male. One should also examine the qualities expected of a bishop's wife to clarify the female role in ministry, which is an important one.

Jesus Christ's Tomb

Jesus' Tomb OssuaryJesus Christ's tomb, his skull, and his remains are not particularly relevant to his family as they believe and know that his spiritual body is not there. When Emperor Constantine's mother, Helena (246-330 AD), a Christian, went to the holy land to find the principle places referred to in the New Testament life of Jesus, she found that many were not marked nor even known by the Christian communities. She built small chapels over the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of Eleona on the Mount of Olives. Pilgrims come to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and to the small shrine called "The Edicule" or the tomb of Jesus, which is probably the final resting place of the body of Jesus before the resurrection. In recent times, the marble slab placed there 1700 years ago has been uncovered to reveal "the holy bed." Scientists have analyzed the debris there and dated it as 1700 years old. They removed minute samples of mortar, which are determined to have come from 400 AD, which would authenticate when Emperor Constantine's (272-337 AD) mother Saint Helena (c246-330 AD) built the Edicule to indicate a particularly sacred spot in Christianity. Jesus Christ's family tomb is believed by some modern scholars to be near Jerusalem. They buried an ossuary or bone box in a tomb with some unusual and distinguishing marks on it. If of no other significance, this shows the deemed importance of all members of Jesus' family buried with their kindred in the same tomb.

Ossuary Markings

Human Skull RemainsContrary to our modern view, these items' location would not have been that relevant to early Christians because they believed in the resurrection of the body. The bones of Jesus' family are to be dealt with respectfully, but they are not necessary to the faith any longer. When the institutional church arose, and they discovered that some of the bones of the saints and even the tombs of the saints have healing properties, the church in Rome, as well as wealthy individual Christians in other places, started collecting bones of the saints, pieces of the cross, and nails. There is no doubt that the bones, physical remains, and even the gravesites of the Apostles and early saints contain healing properties. Many people are healed by touching the bones or even standing at a saint's grave. Only those with a genuine conversion usually have access to spiritual healing.

Jesus' Blood Line

Emperor VespasianIn 70 AD, Emperor Vespasian (9A-79 AD), in an attempt to wipe out the bloodline of Jesus and his followers' enthusiasm, ordered a search for descendants of Jesus, believing the line of David to be the royal household of the Early Church. Saint James, the brother of Jesus and leader of the church in Jerusalem after Saint Peter, was killed. He was regarded as the "Protector" or "Prince Regent" until the imminent expected return of his brother Jesus, the Messiah. The historian Eusebius (260-339 AD) reported that after the authorities killed James, another relative, a cousin of Jesus called Simon son of Clopas, became the Jerusalem congregation's leader. These family members were sought after and persecuted by the authorities to stamp out the Christian faith. It was now a threat because of the sheer numbers and influence of its adherents.

"Christian Bishop's Wife"
by Ron Meacock © 2019

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