Yesterday, as I write this, I had a conversation with a deacon from a nearby congregation whom I happen to know fairly well who was talking about a paper he was working on concerning the contentious issue of women’s roles within the local congregation and liturgy. Without wishing to trample on the ground that he has set for himself with what is sure to be a lengthy paper, I received a question on a more general topic, albeit a related one, concerning the view of representation within the writings of Paul. What follows, therefore, is a discussion of this issue, since it is a somewhat large one and one deserving of a fuller discussion than I could give on my cell phone when I was originally asked while enjoying dinner.
The founding fathers of the United States were immensely proud of their understanding of the issue of representation and how it could expand the American Republic beyond the narrow confines of the small republics which the world had previously known up to that time. Direct democracy was something that could function well for small Italian republics like San Marino or the forest cantons of the Swiss Confederation, but the sprawling expanse of the United States was far too populous and broad for such methods to be successful in gaining legitimacy for authority. Representation was seen as the way for which a large number of people over a wide area could select someone to serve their interests in such a way that would allow for legitimacy as well as a manageable amount of people involved in the day-to-day decisions of governance. While such a system long worked well, contemporary representatives have forgotten that they are mere agents of the people and have fancied themselves to be a class of elites far above the common herd that they officially and often incompetently represent.
When we hear the word representation, our first thought is often matters of political interest like this. And this is not a wrong way of thinking. Representation is first and foremost an aspect of politics and authority, and we ought not to be surprised that the writings of Paul are so rich with political theory of a specific kind. If we do not think of Paul as being very much a political thinker, or the Bible as being a work that is rich in political insight, that failure to understand the politics of the Bible is due to the lack of respect that we give the Bible when it comes to speaking about the most important aspects of human life. In an age like ours where everything is viewed as political and where people tend to interpret the Bible through their own (often sadly mistaken) political worldview, it is of vital importance that we understand the biblical worldview on politics and political matters like representation, not least so that we can avoid straying to the right hand or to the left when it comes to applying the biblical perspective on these matters to our own behavior.
To be sure, the issue of representation in the Bible is far too broad of a subject to tackle even in a few posts, and is worthy of a treatment that approaches if it does not reach the length of a book. What will be attempted here is a more modest task, and that is an exploration of the issue of representation when it comes to the writings of Paul. As will be seen, this is sufficiently ambitious enough, as Paul himself used representation in a variety of complex ways, sometimes on multiple levels with the same specific representatives (as will be seen with a discussion of the role of Eve in his writings) in order to explain how it is that people were to live a godly life within the confines of the world in which we live. It should also be noted, in the interests of fairness, that many of the uses that Paul made for representation were timebound to our life on earth, and do not apply in the same way to those who have entered into God’s kingdom as spirit beings. That said, while we are human beings, we have lessons to learn about the relationship between God and humanity, and in learning how to respect God’s authority over mankind, and the superiority of Jesus Christ, we are also led to learn how to respect imperfect human authorities in various essential institutions.
Let us also note that Paul’s use of representation was not only deep but it was immensely broad as well. Far from limiting his view of representation to merely certain aspects of the Christian walk, his use of representation is broad enough to include all of humanity and all of the church in totalizing categories with single representatives from whom insight is drawn, and similarly, his view of representation not only dealt with how the church was to behave in decency and good order but also how it was that believers served as representatives in complicated ways both looking up towards God and looking down towards rebellious mankind. And though certain aspects of representation are timebound when it comes to our existence on earth, the lessons learned through those roles are eternal and reflect unchanging realities that will always be true. It therefore behooves us to pay close attention to how Paul frames representation and what implications Paul’s view of representation has for us.