Alan Knox on Sending and Resending

Alan Knox, while reflecting on the the sending and resending of Epaphroditus in Philippians, posted on his blog some thoughts on the relationship between a church, a person sent out from the church (such as an apostle/missionary), and people to whom he/she is sent. In this case, the purpose for which Epaphroditus is sent is for service, representationally, that is, he was sent to serve Paul in the stead of the Philippian church, and then he was sent back to the church as a representative of Paul.

I certainly want to affirm the relationship we find being describing in this passage between Paul, Epaphroditus and the Philippian church. And I do think this passage does inform the biblical theology of mission, however, I wonder though, having just read Schnabel’s Paul the Missionary, whether this is intended to be a rule, or a principle, or a paradigm, regarding Christian mission?

For Schnabel, rules are “direct commandments or prohibitions of specific conduct”; principles are “general frameworks that need to govern decisions concerning missionary work”; and paradigms “[provide] the fundamental categories through which we are to understand and interpret…the missionary task” (377-8).

Which of these three options does the sending and resending of Epaphroditus fit (Phil 2:25-30)?

Could there be another category for understanding questions such as these?



Add yours →

  1. Wes,

    I hope you get a good discussion going on this topic. By the way, notice that I said that representative service is one of the reasons that a church my send someone to another area… not THE reason. I said, “Thus, one reason that a church would send someone (‘an apostle’) to another location is because of their desire to serve the people in that location.”

    Did you know that “apostle” and “missionary” come from the same term (one a Greek transliteration and the other a Latin transliteration).


    • Alan,

      I hope I did not misrepresent you. I actually appreciate what you said on your blog, and will comment there shortly. I’m just trying to integrate what I’ve been reading with, well, what I’ve been reading!


      • Wes,

        I don’t think you misrepresented what I said. I simply wanted to clarify that I do not think representative service is the only reason for a church to send someone (as an apostle/missionary, i.e. “one who is sent”). On the other hand, this is the reason that Paul gave that the Philippian church sent Epaphroditus.

        I don’t think I understand the nuances of the difference in Schnabel’s categories. At least, I don’t think I understand them enough to place this example in his categories.


    • Alan,

      So, regarding term “missionary”, I take it from your comments that because etymologically it refers to “one who is sent” that it should thereby be defined as such–in the most general sense. Or, are you saying that the modern day term missionary is equivalent to the first century apostle? Or both? As a follow up, are missionaries apostles? If so, why?

      Going back to Schnabel’s categories, I suppose I could have elucidated a little bit. Overall, these three categories relate to the application, or contextualization, of the biblical text to contemporary praxis.

      A rule would be something that is directly proscribed or prescribed. He gives the example of the rule in Gal 1:9-10 against preaching another gospel. I suppose this would be a “do-this don’t-do-that” category. (I truly wonder how many of these we can find in Scripture regarding mission?)

      A principle is more general and refers to ought-ness (from what I can tell from Schnabel). Based on these texts/themes, we do well to do these things, or not to do these things. He gives the example of 1 Cor 14 of the principle of intelligibility. Based on this, a missionary takes extra pains to speak in the language that is intelligible to the gathered congregation.

      A paradigm is the broadest category, but (in my mind) perhaps the most important. It is a reality defining category. Schnabel gives the example of Paul’s identification of himself and his co-workers as “slaves” and “workers”. This defines something about the nature of the missionary task itself.

      I think these three are distinguishable. Perhaps the only thing left unanswered by all three categories is the standard normative/prescriptive question. Then again, perhaps his categories transcend that question altogether.

      All that being said, if I had to categorize the sending and re-sending of Epaphroditus in one of these three categories, I think if would be a principle of sorts. Of what, I’d need to think about it a little more. It really makes me wonder if there isn’t some category or classification other than the three Schnabel gives.


  2. Wes,

    I’ll follow your lead on the categorization of Epaphroditus. 🙂

    I suppose we can define “apostle” or “missionary” however we want to define and use the terms today. Obviously, the range of meanings of words change over time. However, when we compare those words back to Scripture, we also have to recognize the changes. Doing so, we might determine that it is not valid to equate the uses.

    For example, if we make a distinction today between “missionary” and “apostle”, I think we have to recognize that this same distinction would not apply in Scripture, since the two terms are simply transliterations from different languages of the same term/concept.


    • Alan,

      Me, lead? No way man! I’m following you! 🙂

      Regarding the definition of missionary, I appreciate the study of the term! Much ink has been spilled over this very question, of which I’m certain you are quite aware. I’ve been reading Hesselgrave on Church Planting, McGavran on Church Growth, as well as some other lesser known missionaries and missiologists, all who struggle with whether or not to equate “missionary” with “apostle”. Some are all for it, some are not. Then you have biblical theologians like yourself, Schnabel, Köstenberger, etc., who are interested, and rightly so, with the language of movement (in this case sending) in the New Testament. The question then is also how does the missional/apostolic language affect the definition of a missionary?

      Both questions are very good ones to have.

      I think if we are going to equate missionary with apostle, we need to use the term in its most general sense. This is because there are three (at least?) different uses of the term in scripture. There are the twelve apostles (or “the twelve); there is Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ; and there are other apostles like Barnabas et al. The post-biblical literature keeps the term in the ever increasingly general sense until it passes out of use. I think if were are to revive the term, it should never be used of anyone in anything more than the most general sense of “sent one”. The definition you have been using.

      Does the use of movement language change how we define a missionary? Perhaps it does. I say ‘perhaps’, but I don’t mean that negatively! I definitely think both Timothy’s and Epaphroditus’s example are being upheld to the reader of Philippians as is Paul’s sending of them to the church. How then is this mission? Schnabel uses this entire instance and others as examples of Paul keeping in contact with new churches through coworkers:

      The theological, ethical and spiritual consolidation of the churches was the fundamental concern of Paul. The available evidence relates that when Paul sent his coworkers to other cities, he always sent them to existing churches he had established earlier (196-200)

      This describes what may have been going on, but what does is prescribe?

      Trust me! I want to say that his example is very important to us, so when I’m discussing this, I’m trying above anything to learn, and I’m trying to pin my beliefs to scripture. Yet I’m also trying to consolidate a number of held beliefs. So thank you for bearing with me in this discussion if I keep going back and forth and not giving a conclusion. I’m not certain I have a hard conclusion on this yet.


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