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The Secret Codes in Matthew: Examining Israel’s Messiah, Part 4, by Kevin M. Williams

As you may remember, Abraham asked God to spare Sodom if there were only ten righteous men. In the Jewish mind, therefore, these ten became something of an “insurance policy” against God’s wrath.

A second reason for ten men, comes from Numbers 14:27, “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who are grumbling against Me?” In its context, the twelve spies have returned, and ten have given a bad report. Even though evil, the sages derived that the spies, less Joshua and Caleb, made ten, and the Almighty referred to them as a congregation.

The important message is, there was not one individual chosen as the leader. There was no consolidation of authority into one person or personality. Rather, the synagogue—or beit hamikdash (house of study)—functions on the co-operated effort of ten.

Among the ten, three were assigned to what was called “the bench of three.” They served as congregational judges, using the Scripture as their guide, to deal with issues in the community. Even to this day, a beit din (house of judgment) exists in the synagogue to handle matters of biblical law and due process.

These three came to be known not as rabbis, as some might suppose, but rather, and attested to in the New Testament, as “rulers” (Mark 5:22, John 12:42, Acts 13:15).

Rabbis were men who taught in yeshivas (academies), such as the School of Hillel, or the School of Shammai. They had disciples and often traveled about teaching object lessons gleaned from the world around them. The rabbi as a teacher attached to a synagogue would not occur until after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE and even then, they had little to do with running the synagogue. Their positions as teachers, the literal meaning of “rabbi” have been kept rather pure to this day.

That is not, however, true in church history, as we shall now see.

After the three “rulers” came the chazzan (literally, “he says”), another position still maintained in modern synagogues. Chazzan is Hebrew, but the Greek approximation is overseer or bishop. However, the bishop of today is nothing at all like the bishop Jesus and Paul knew.

He stood by him that read, with great care observing that he read nothing falsely or improperly; and calling him back and correcting him if he had failed in anything.4

In other words, the bishop called those who read from the sacred scrolls and oversaw their reading, to ensure that God’s Word was not corrupted either intentionally or accidentally. My, how that office has changed!

Within this structure of ten, there were three deacons or almoners who had the responsibility of seeing to the needs of the poor. In the Hebrew, they were called parnasin, which approximates into—of all words—pastors. The earliest role of the pastor was not as a teacher, a counselor, a hospital visitor, a carpet color chooser, or a religious authority at all. Pastors saw to the needs of the poor—particularly for the Sabbath. Again, how that role has changed!

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Category: Biblical Studies, Pneuma Review, Winter 2002

About the Author: Kevin M. Williams, Litt.D., H.L.D. has served in Messianic ministries since 1987 and has written numerous articles and been a featured speaker at regional and international conferences on Messianic Judaism.

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