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Ordination in the sense of setting aside officers of the church for a certain work by the laying on of hands was practiced in apostolic times (1Tim.4.14; 2Tim.1.6), but it is nowhere described or enjoined. No great emphasis was placed on this rite.

The separation and commissioning of particular persons by the church for the work of the Christian ministry; but the outward calling by the congregation should correspond to and be consequent on the inward calling of the Holy Spirit. There is general consent that essential to the form of ordination are prayer and the laying on of hands, in accordance with what seems to have been the practice of the apostolic church. It is true that in the accounts of the calling of the Twelve (Mark 3:13ff.) and the commissioning of the Seventy (Luke 10:1ff.) it is not said that Christ prayed and laid hands on them; but this does not rule out the possibility that He did so. On the other hand, it might be concluded that a direct dominical commissioning rendered these acts unnecessary.

There is specific mention of prayer and the laying on of hands in connection with the appointment of the Seven (Acts 6:6) and the setting aside of Barnabas and Saul for the work of evangelism (Acts 13:3, where fasting is added). It is important to notice that the Seven were men “full of the Spirit and wisdom” as a prerequisite to, not a result of, their appointment, and that Barnabas and Saul were set apart by command of the Holy Spirit and were “sent on their way by the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:2, 4; cf.6:3). Paul himself insists that it was Jesus Christ who appointed him to the ministry and that his apostleship came to him, not through men, but from God and by the will of God (see 1 Cor. 1:1; 2 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 1 Tim. 1:12; 2 Tim. 1:1). To the same effect Christ assures His apostles that it was not they who had chosen Him, but He who had chosen and appointed them (John 15:16); and Paul admonishes the Ephesian elders to take heed to all the flock over which the Holy Spirit had made them bishops or overseers (Acts 20:28). In the Pastoral epistles, Paul refers to the charism which was given to Timothy by prophetic utterance when the elders laid their hands on him (1 Tim. 4:14; cf. 5:22; 2 Tim. 1:6) and instructs Titus to appoint elders in every town of Crete (Titus 1:5). Within the biblical perspective, then, ordination is primarily an act of God's calling and appointment, and only secondarily an act of the church, which by prayer seeks to know and follow the will of God.

ORDAIN, used by the Eng. VSS to render a large number of Heb. and Gr. terms in both testaments. The verb “to ordain” and the noun “ordination” have undergone semantic changes since Tudor-Stuart usage. The modern sense of “being installed in a specific office” is not implied in the overwhelming number of usages in the KJV. In general the term as used in the KJV and later editions refers to four different types of activities: 1. set in a determined order, 2. initiate, establish, 3. to decree, issue a command and 4. install in the office of a religious functionary. These divisions are purely contextual and secondary and do not necessarily arise out of the specific use of certain verbs except in the case of 4. which is separately developed in the NT, on the basis of the OT institution.

1. A number of occurrences of Heb. verbs “to arrange” and the like are rendered “ordain” (Ps 132:17, et al.). This usage is obscure but widely distributed as in Hebrews 9:6. It is used of sets of similar objects and their distribution, RSV more accurately renders “prepare,” but this has the shortcoming that not all the original terms so tr. can be limited to such a meaning. JPS renders “order” which is the best choice, for all of the passages are difficult.

2. A number of occurrences of Heb. verbs “to give” and the like are rendered “ordain” in the sense of planning and establishing as of celebrations, rituals and offerings (Num 28:6; 1 Kings 12:32; Ps 8:2, 3; Isa 26:12). In the extended meaning “prepare” it is used to render several Gr. terms “to prepare” (Gal 3:19; Heb 9:6.) The RSV renders most of these passages by “ordain” or “prepare” as the case may be.

3. In a few passages the notion of God’s authoritative command is rendered “ordain.” This sort of context is found in the OT only in Esther 9:27, but frequently in the KJV rendering of the Apoc. (1 Esd 6:34; 8:14; Tobit 1:6; 8:7, et al.). This usage appears widely in the NT (Acts 16:4; KJV; Rom 7:10; 1 Cor 2:7, et al.). In such contexts the idea of God’s law as His spoken and established will is foremost. The terms in the original are not so formal and thus the RSV rightly renders “promise.”

4. The most important sense in which “ordain” appears is that of installing or elevating a special officer of the congregation. In the OT this applies specifically to the anointing of prophet, priest and king. It is used also of the special officer-religious figure, the Messiah. In fact, he often is denoted as the servant par excellence in a number of prophecies. The classic debate as to whether or not the ordination of the NT minister is a sacerdotal investiture has raged for centuries. The Catholic theologians, both Gr. and Rom., maintain that such was the case, while Reformed and Arminian groups have refused such notions. The usage of terms, particularly, Gr. τίθημι, G5502, “put or place” and the compound form, Gr. καθίστημι, G2770, appears in John 15:16; 1 Timothy 2:7 and Titus 1:5, and shows that the apostolic congregation was merely demonstrating the choice of God. The elemental condition for ordaining, setting apart the specific individual, was his proven loyalty to the Gospel and his success as a member of the congregation. Thus “to ordain” was only to acknowledge the function of the individual. All the offices of the congregation were functional and in no sense sacerdotal. The formal ceremonial installation which became characteristic of the Church in the Medieval period is not implied or expressed in the original sense of the terms. In such cases the RSV often renders “appointed,” which does not quite satisfy the meaning of the terms. In Acts 16:4 the text should be rendered “judged” or “reached” (RSV) but not “ordained” as KJV.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

or-dan’, or-di-na-shun (Latin ordinare, "to set in order" "to arrange"; in post-Augustan Latin "to appoint to office"; from ordo, gen. ordinis, "order," "arrangement"): In the King James Version the verb "to ordain" renders as many as 35 different words (11 Hebrew words in the Old Testament, 21 Greek words in Apocrypha and the New Testament, and 3 Latin words in Apocrypha). This is due to the fact that the English word has many shades of meaning (especially as used in the time the King James Version was made), of which the following are the chief:

(1) To set in order, arrange, prepare:

"All things that we ordained festival,

Turn from their office to black funeral."

--Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, IV, v, 84.

This meaning is now obsolete. It is found in the King James Version of Ps 132:17; Isa 30:33; Heb 9:6 (in each of which cases the Revised Version (British and American) or margin substitutes "prepare"); 1Ch 17:9 (the Revised Version (British and American) "appoint"); Ps 7:13 (the Revised Version (British and American) "maketh"); Hab 1:12 (also the Revised Version (British and American)).

(2) To establish, institute, bring into being: "When first this order (i.e. the Garter) was ordained, my Lord" (Shakespeare). So in 1Ki 12:32, "Jeroboam ordained a feast in the 8th month" (12:33); Nu 28:6; Ps 8:2,3; Isa 26:12; 2Es 6:49 the King James Version (the Revised Version (British and American) "preserve"); Sirach 7:15; Ga 3:19.

(3) To decree, give orders, prescribe:

"And doth the power that man adores

Ordain their doom " --Byron.

So Es 9:27, "The Jews ordained .... that they would keep these two days according to the writing thereof"; 1 Esdras 6:34; 2 Esdras 7:17; 8:14 the King James Version; Tobit 1:6; 8:7 the King James Version (the Revised Version (British and American) "command"); Additions to Esther 14:9; 1 Macc 4:59; 7:49; Ac 16:4; Ro 7:10 the King James Version; 1Co 2:7; 7:17; 9:14; Eph 2:10 the King James Version.

(5) To appoint ceremonially to the ministerial or priestly office, to confer holy orders on. This later technical or ecclesiastical sense is never found in English Versions of the Bible. The nearest approach is (4) above, but the idea of formal or ceremonial setting-apart to office (prominent in its modern usage) is never implied in the word.

Ordination: The act of arranging in regular order, especially the act of investing with ministerial or sacerdotal rank (ordo), the setting-apart for an office in the Christian ministry. The word does not occur in English Version of the Bible. The New Testament throws but little light on the origin of the later ecclesiastical rite of ordination. The 12 disciples were not set apart by any formal act on the part of Jesus. In Mr 3:14; Joh 15:16, the King James Version rendering "ordain" is, in view of its modern usage, misleading; nothing more is implied than an appointment or election. In Joh 20:21-23, we have indeed a symbolic act of consecration ("He breathed on them"), but "the act is described as one and not repeated. The gift was once for all, not to individuals but to the abiding body" (Westcott, at the place). In the Apostolic age there is no trace of the doctrine of an outward rite conferring inward grace, though we have instances of the formal appointment or recognition of those who had already given proof of their spiritual qualification.

(1) The Seven were chosen by the brethren as men already "full of the Spirit and of wisdom," and were then "appointed" by the Twelve, who prayed and laid their hands upon them (Ac 6:1-6).

(2) The call of Barnabas and Saul came direct from God (Ac 13:2, "the work whereunto I have called them"; Ac 13:4, they were "sent forth by the Holy Spirit"). Yet certain prophets and teachers were instructed by the Holy Spirit to "separate" them (i.e. publicly) for their work, which they did by fasting and praying and laying on of hands (Ac 13:3). But it was utterly foreign to Paul’s point of view to regard the church’s act as constituting him an apostle (compare Ga 1:1).

(3) Barnabas and Paul are said to have "ordained," the Revised Version (British and American) "appointed" (cheirotonesantes, "elect," "appoint," without indicating the particular mode of appointment), elders or presbyters in every city with prayers and fasting (Ac 14:23). So Titus was instructed by Paul to "appoint elders in every city" in Crete (Tit 1:5).

(4) The gift of Timothy for evangelistic work seems to have been formally recognized in two ways:

(a) by the laying on of the hands of the presbytery (1Ti 4:14),

(b) by the laying on of the hands of Paul himself (2Ti 1:6). The words "Lay hands hastily on no man" (1Ti 5:22) do not refer to an act of ordination, but probably to the restoration of the penitent. The reference in Heb 6:2 is not exclusively to ordination, but to all occasions of laying on of hands (see Imposition of Hands). From the few instances mentioned above (the only ones found in the New Testament), we infer that it was regarded as advisable that persons holding high office in the church should be publicly recognized in some way, as by laying on of hands, fasting, and public prayer. But no great emphasis was laid on this rite, hence, "it can hardly be likely that any essential principle was held to be involved in it" (Hort, The Christian Ecclesia, 216). It was regarded as an outward act of approval, a symbolic offering of intercessory prayer, and an emblem of the solidarity of the Christian community, rather than an indispensable channel of grace for the work of the ministry. (For the later ecclesiastical doctrine and rite see Edwin Hatch’s valuable article on "Ordination" in the Dictionary of Christian Antiquity)

D. Miall Edwards

See also

  • Ordain, Ordination
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