On the words and concepts ‘clergy’ and ‘laity’

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A number of years ago, a certain preacher frowningly called people who actively study the Scriptures on their own, “amateur theologians”. That is connected to such concepts as “clergy” and “laity”. What does the Bible say about those things?

The actual meaning of the words in question.

First, regarding the above-mentioned word “amateur”: It comes from the Latin amator which means “one who loves”. An “amateur” is someone who pursues an art or study, not for money but because he or she is interested in the subject or likes or loves it. Apply this to the phrase “amateur bible student”. In contrast to that, a “professional theologian” uses religion as a source of income.

The words “laity” and “clergy” mean “common people” and “priesthood”. Details:

The noun “laity” comes from the old Greek adjective laikos which meant “of the people”, “common”. The related verb laikoô was used in the meaning “to make common”, “to desecrate”. – Those who present themselves as “clergy” and view others as “laity”, put themselves on a “higher” level, above those whom they see as “common” people.

The noun “clergy” in its turn is connected to a claim or concept that some preachers have somehow “inherited” the lot which the tribe of Levi had in ancient Israel, under the Old Covenant. Clarification:

The word “clergy” comes via the Old English clerc, cleric, from the old Greek adjective klêrikos, “related to inheritances”. This has to do with the Greek text of the Septuagint version (LXX) which has in Deuteronomy 18:2 the word klêros, “inheritance”. That passage is about the Levites. Here is an English translation of it:

Deuteronomy 18:1 The priests, the Levites, even the whole tribe of Levi, shall have no part nor inheritance with Israel; the burnt-offerings of the Lord are their inheritance, they shall eat them. 2 And they shall have no inheritance among their brethren; the Lord himself is his portion, as he said to him. (LXXE)

A related passage:

Joshua 13:14 Only to the tribe of Levi he had given no inheritance; the sacrifices of the Lord God of Israel made by fire are their inheritance, as He said to them. (NKJV)

In short: The meaning of the words “the Lord himself is his portion” in Deuteronomy 18:2 is that when the Levites served in or by the sanctuary, they had a right to eat certain parts of the things that were sacrificed (offered) there.

There was even another aspect to this with the lot of the tribe of Levi. The Israelites had inherited a right to the Promised Land, from their forefather Jacob (whose other name was Israel). In the days of Joshua, when that land was divided between the tribes of Israel, the tribe of Levi was not given as much agricultural land as the other tribes. They received only smaller parcels around towns. To compensate for this, the Levites were given a right to a part of the other tribes’ agricultural produce in the land of Israel, see Numbers 18:20 and onward. That was the “tithe” part in connection with the Levites’ lot, and the reason behind it.

Again: Some preachers or “clergymen” have claimed or let it be understood that they have somehow “inherited” the lot which the tribe of Levi had in ancient Israel. In other words, they have claimed or felt that God has chosen them as “new Levites” or “a new priesthood”.

The matter of priesthood.

The Old Covenant had a mortal priesthood, but what about the New Covenant? Many churches have priests, but that is not based on what the New Testament teaches or what the saints practised. The saints had only one priest: The resurrected Jesus.

(Saints: In this article, that word refers to those who received the Holy Spirit in the first century.)

Consider for instance the apostle Paul: Was he a “clergyman”, and did he live on “tithes” and “offerings”, or in general at the cost of others? Many people have been caused to think that it was so, and many bible-translators have put into the New Testament wordings that make it seem so. But, a closer study of the New Testament, including the Greek text, shows that as long as Paul was a free man and in health, he supported himself through manual work. Acts 18 tells us that when he was in Corinth, he worked (as a tentmaker; that was his occupation). Acts 20 shows that when he was in Ephesus, he supported himself through manual work. 2 Thessalonians 3 records that when Paul was in Thessalonica, he and his companions “worked day and night”, so that they would not be a burden to anyone.

So, Paul was in fact an “amateur theologian”. That is: He was not in it for money. In a speech to the elders from Ephesus, he reminded them that they knew that he had always supported himself:

Acts 20:33 No one’s silver or gold or clothing have I coveted. 34 You yourselves know that these hands of mine have provided for my own necessities and for the people with me. (WEY)

The article rma023.htm has more on this, including Acts 20:35 and 2 Corinthians 9:7 and what they really mean and refer to. The article rma013.htm sorts out the matter of “tithes and offerings”. The article rea012.htm has some notes on what role elders had, in the saints’ fellowships.

On the concept ‘bible scholars’.

If a person receives a “scholarship”, that means that he or she studies, and does not work but lives at the cost of others. Linguistically, the root and original meaning of the word “scholar” has to do with “idleness”. Details:

The old Latin noun schola (scola) referred to “an intermission of work, leisure for learning”. (Later, the word schola was even used of a place for learning, whence “school”.) – The root of the Latin word scola is found in old Greek. In ‘Greek-English Lexicon’ by Liddell and Scott, the first and main definition for the noun scholê is “leisure”, “rest”, “ease”. The secondary meaning of that noun is given as “that in which leisure is employed”. The adverbial form scholêi is defined as “in a leisurely way, tardily” and “at one’s leisure, i. e. scarcely, hardly, not at all”.

In short: A scholar is a person who does not have a productive employment and has his or her life paid by others.

What did the apostle Paul teach in regard to matters of that kind? This, and much more along the same lines:

2 Thessalonians 3:10 For even when we were with you, we laid down this rule for you: “If a man does not choose to work, neither shall he eat.” 11 For we hear that there are some of you who live disorderly lives and are mere idle busybodies. 12 To persons of that sort our injunction—and our command by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ—is that they are to work quietly and eat their own honestly-earned bread. (WEY)

The context shows that Paul and his companions worked, “night and day”, so that they would not be a burden to anyone.

A note: Many bible-translators put into a number of New Testament passages wordings which might cause a casual reader to think that preachers should live at the cost of others. The articles rma023.htm and rma033.htm show what the apostle Paul said and taught in regard to that matter. And again, the article rma013.htm sorts out the matter of “tithes” and “offerings”. Look also under the heading “Money” on the index-page rkw431.htm.

The article rsa062.htm considers the matter of biblical, spiritual or religious authority on the human level – that is, the question, who can speak for God?

See also the “recommended reading” section, below.

Please tell others about this site. Please also link to it. The address to the table of contents page is biblepages.net/contents.htm

Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters.

An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → rsa092.htm

On Acts 20:35 and its meaning. The apostle Paul reminded the elders from Ephesus that it is more blessed to give than to receive, and he told them to follow his own example in that regard. → rma023.htm

On the matter of “tithes and offerings”. → rma013.htm

On what the Bible says about elders and their role in the saints’ fellowships. → rea012.htm

On the example the apostle Paul set, for others to imitate. → rma033.htm

What does the Bible say about authority? Who has biblical, spiritual or religious authority? Who can speak for God? → rsa062.htm

How did the saints of the New Testament choose their elders? Also, were those elders “ordained”, and did they function as “priests” of some kind? → rea022.htm

What does the Bible say about religious titles, such as “apostle”, “bishop”, “evangelist”, “father”, “pastor” and so on? → raa082.htm

Regarding money in connection with religion, look under the heading “Money” on the index-page rkw431.htm.

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