Part D. Hellenization’s and biblical cultures

Are there differences between the Jews and the Gentiles regarding leadership?

Some of the local church during this period seemed to naturally organize themselves according to their normal customs of elders, and some did not.  For those that did not naturally organize leaders, instructions and coaching were needed and provided.

Therefore, one finds this trend in scriptures; When Hellenistic people are being addressed, there is more emphasis on doctrinal basics, relational aspects of church life, personal morality,  and how to resist Judaizers (false teachers who sought to bring the church under Mosaic Law). This is fitting because few Greeks had a worldview based Torah.

One also observes that when primarily Jewish peoples are being addressed, the emphasis is on foundational doctrines of grace and atonement, with very little emphasis on community matters, neighborliness, nor relationships with other believers.

During Paul’s missionary journeys to the Gentiles (Hellenized Greeks), he felt it necessary at times to send or leave behind Timothy in order to see the Gentile churches established. 

While potentially coincidental, Timothy happened to have a Jewish mother and a Greek father (Acts 16:1). Timothy was therefore very well-suited for helping churches comprised of diverse cultures and people. He was raised under such conditions! Paul circumcised Timothy for this task, something that was very non-Hellenistic for either of them to do. Timothy had unique insights having lived a life very familiar with Torah (the basis of Jewish civic society) and also wide and personal, ongoing exposure to Hellenized culture.

The Apostle Paul was also profoundly astute in matters of both Greek and Jewish life. Himself raised in the city of Tarsus (modern day Southern Turkey), a Greek-loyal and Hellenized city. Despite being born in a Greek city, Paul was schooled by Gamaliel (likely in Jerusalem) – one of the most revered leaders of the Sanhedrin – a religious court of sorts, and comprised of the best religious leaders of the time. 

According to Talmudic tradition, Gamaliel was considered the most highly esteemed on the Sanhedrin. A very religious and devout Jew. This was Paul’s mentor and teacher.

So we witness two men – Paul and Timothy – responsible for the establishment of the local church in Gentile contexts. These men were  both very acquainted with Jewish and Greek culture. These are only two of the persons God chose for the tasks of spreading the Gospel to the known world.

With this in mind… when one reads of qualifications for overseers in scripture, who is being addressed? You guessed it – Timothy! Paul – the older mentor of Timothy appears to be trying to help Timothy determine who should be an elder in these Hellenistic communities who were unaccustomed to having such things as elders.

Interesting to note – no similar example of teaching or outlining requirements for local church leaders is ever provided to a community comprised of mostly Jewish peoples. Students of Scripture should ask themselves why this is.

If one reads Hebrews, an epistle aimed at a traditionally Jewish audience, the only mention of church leaders (hēgeomai) assumes they’re already present. There is no teaching on identifying those leaders. See hēgeomai for more.

The Hebrews had no apparent need for the same kind of instructing that the Gentile churches needed regarding church leadership, or the communal aspects of church life.

They did however need some encouragement to yield to the attempts of their leaders to persuade them of Christ’s finished work. (See discussion on Hebrews 13:17)

This idea is bolstered by Jesus’s own words in the Gospels comparing how the Gentiles lead their people and how the disciples lead. Remember?

In James we witness that James is writing to Hellenized Jews ( vs 1:1 – “twelve tribes who were dispersed abroad”). He gives instructions regarding conduct and character that also are inline with the aforementioned themes of relationships, morality, etc. An astute student of scripture should ask – “why the mention of dispersed abroad?”, “why did he not address just the jewish people in general?”. Are you seeing a pattern here?

In fact, James ( a non-Hellenized Jew) very clearly blames some of the misunderstandings and troubles of his readers on Greek Epicureanism – an idea foreign to traditional Hebrew thinkers:

“What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?” – James 4:1

Again we can see a clear pattern of certain themes showing up in the writings to Hellenized peoples.


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