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Church Government Part 5: Voting "in the Greek"

Barry is the founder and dean of Mindanao Grace Seminary, Philippines.


Voting "in the Greek"

A Pastor friend of mind shared with me a booklet he was reading on church leadership (see picture above). The vast majority of the book is helpful. However, I found the section on the selection of Elders and Deacons to be troubling.

The author (1) mentions the person Linski. Sadly, we do not even have the first name of the person. Neither do we have any citations. Even a high school student knows that if you quote a person you must give the source. What should be here is the full name of the person, the document from which the quotation is taken, and the page number. This allows the reader to confirm the source. Without such information, we can accredit any quote to any person. Perhaps, the author is referring to R.C.H. Lenski's work The Interpretation Of The Acts Of The Apostles. Unfortunately, I not have access to this commentary so I cannot verify the quotation. However, we will simply deal with the quotation as given.

“The word translated appointed is the Greek verb (xειροτονήσαντες), and any standard lexicon will tell you it means to choose or vote by the raising are stretching out of hands…”

Let us assume at the outset that this statement is true. If indeed the word does mean "to vote by the raising or stretching out of hands," then why is it in every occurrence in the New Testament "voting" is never mentioned? Why is it in the Book of Acts the word is translated as "appointed?" The burden of proof now is upon the author to take on the totality of New Testament textual criticism to prove that almost every translation is wrong. (NASB, ESV, HCSB, NKJV, NIV, Young’s Literal Translation, and the KJV uses the word "ordained").


Root Words

A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament (Zerwick, p. 99): "χειρο-τονήσαντες aor. ptc -τονέω (< χείρ + τείνω stretch out, sc. to vote) elect, appoint."

Note please the root words of the verb: “χείρ + τείνω stretch out, sc. to vote”

This is a classical “root word” fallacy. Compound words are not merely their parts. They form another word. D.A. Carson explains this:

“One of the most enduring of errors, the root word fallacy presupposes that every word actually has a meaning bound up with its shape and components. In this view, meaning is determined by etymology; that is, by the root or roots of a word… All of this is linguistic nonsense.” [2]

Strong’s Concordance does include “vote” as one meaning for the word. But, it also includes the possible meanings of “to elect, create, appoint.” This is known as a “lexical range.” Simply put, a word can have more than one meaning. What then, determines the translation of a word that has more than one meaning? Any student of hermeneutics will tell you that context is primary. If we need more insight, we can also consult the Bible to see how the word is used in other passages. Does this word mean "to raise hands to vote" or does it mean "to lay hands on to appoint"?

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary does acknowledge that there was a “stretching out of hands” but it was not the congregation.

“when they had ordained them elders—literally, 'chosen by show of hands.' But as that would imply that this was done by the apostles’ own hands, many render the word, as in our version, 'ordained.'” (3)

This would be in keeping with what we see in 1 Timothy 4:14: “Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was granted to you through words of prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.”

Elders "stretched out" and laid their hands on those whom they appointed. This is the consistent translation of the word for many lexical sources.

Greek New Testament Reader: “to choose, appoint.”

NASB Exhaustive Concordance: “to set in order, appoint”

Acts 14:23 (Strong’s Concordance) renders the word “ordained.”

According to Strong's, the word in this form appears in 2 Corinthians 8:19 and is translated by the KJV as “chosen” and by the NASB and ESV “appointed.” Nowhere in the Bible is this word every translated as “voted.”


(1) Jose Francis Martinez, "The Call to the Ministry"

(2) D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, Second edition, Baker, grand rapids, Mich, 1996, p. 28


Barry G Carpenter (author) from Mindanao, Philippines on November 07, 2020:

Carson has done extensive work in linguistic (please see his massive volume "And Introduction to the New Testament" and his much shorter and digestible book "Exegetical Fallacies."). What he is saying is that we must follow the rules of linguistics. Word have meaning and God is the creator of language.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on November 07, 2020:

Very well done. I have a bit of a logical linguistic quoted of Carson. If he is directly suggesting linguistics are bad he missed the call.

However if he takes it further regarding the concept of "root" to include that the root words in our Bible are determined by God, then we get to assume any method used in faith and by prayer and truth would be fine.

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