Critics of the “Two Structures” Theory. J. Eckhard Schnabel’s Objections Considered (2nd of 5)

J. Eckhard Schnabel is professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, and author of well-respected books on theology and mission. I commend Schnabel for his accurate description of Ralph Winter’s “Two Structures” theory. Schnabel writes:

Ralph Winter argues that the church always has two structures that are legit­imate and that contribute to the fulfillment of the Great Commission: the church or local congregation, which uses the model of the Jewish synagogue; and the mission society, which uses the model of Jewish and early Christian teams of missionaries. He suggests that the church can be understood, from a sociologi­cal perspective, as a “modality,” a structured community in which there are no differences of gender or age, while the missionary team is a “sodality,” a struc­tured community in which membership is determined by a second “decision” and limited as a result of age, gender or marital status.[1]

Blincoe: Here is an illustration of Ralph Winter’s “Two Structures” theory:

Schnabel’s first objection. Ralph Winter’s “two structures” theory depends on the reliability of our Lord’s reference to the mission of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:15, Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes so, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” Winter comments on this verse:

Very few Christians, casually reading the New Testament, and with only the New Testament available to them, would surmise the degree to which there had been Jewish evangelists who went before Paul all over the Empire—a movement that began 100 years before Christ. Some of these were the people whom Jesus himself described as “traversing land and sea to make a single proselyte.” Saul followed their path; he (Paul) built on their efforts and went beyond them with the new gospel he preached, which allowed the Greeks to remain Greeks and not be circumcised and culturally assimilated into the Jewish way of life. Paul had a vast foundation on which to build: Peter declared, “Moses is preached in every city (of the Roman Empire)” (Acts 15:21).[2]

Sadly, Schnabel holds the opinion that Jesus’ reference to the Pharisees’ mission in Matthew 23 referred to nothing real. Schnabel refers to our Lord’s criticism as “polemical” and “hyperbolic”.[3] Schnabel adds:

Nothing in this com­ment [by Jesus] forces us to interpret it in terms of a “burning zeal of the Pharisaic mis­sion,” since no Jewish, Greek or Roman texts unambiguously prove the exis­tence of Jewish missionary work among Gentiles. Assertions such as that of Walter Grundmann, who states that Jewish missionary activity “reached its cli­max at the time of Jesus and the apostles,”[4] are sheer inventions.[5] It needs to be noted that the early Christian missionary teams did not adopt the form of similar Jewish “teams” of missionaries, as there is no evidence for a missionary movement in Second Tem­ple Judaism.[6] Thus, Schnabel believes there was no Jewish mission in the first century. Therefore, Schnabel’s objection is not to Ralph Winter’s theory, but to our Lord’s actual words in Matthew 23. But why? What parts of the Bible do we abrogate when it pinches on our personal ideas? We disagree with Schnabel. So does Richard de Ridder. Richard De Ridder writes. “The word of Jesus in Matthew 23:15 would make no sense at all if the Jews never sought to win converts.”[7] De Ridder believes that “the Jews were motivated to some form of witness to their Gentile neighbors[8] . . [and] to others besides the members of the dispersed communities of the Jews.”[9]

Moreover, the Roman poet Horace (d. 8 BC) said that Jews forced people to become Jews.[10] This indicates, at least in Horace’s mind, that Jews were boldly inviting Gentiles to convert. Further disagreement to Schnabel can be found in the writing of Jonathan Brumberg-Kraus, professor of Jewish studies at Wheaton College in Massachusetts. I have learned to read the New Testament through Jewish eyes, and I think some of our theologians would gain some insights as well. Brumberg-Kraus holds the opinion that the Pharisees actually were a first-century mission society. We quoted Brumberg-Kraus at length here. Another writer, Israel Goldman, in his book Lifelong Learning among the Jews, wrote:

In every Jewish community, from Bible times to the 20th century, the hevrah—a duly constituted society for the promotion of certain specific occupational, charitable, religious, or educational purposes—was the most significant unit of voluntary association. Havurot were founded wherever there were Jews.[11]

We will do well to read the New Testament “through Jewish eyes.” Otherwise, we may read the New Testament without understanding its Jewishness. Oy vey. Ralph Winter believed there were two structures in the Jewish religion, the synagogue and the hevrah. The two Jewish structures existed prior to Christianity. Christianity borrowed the two kinds of structures from the Jewish religion.

Schnabel’s second objection. Schnabel has a second objection to Ralph Winter’s “Two Structures” theory. Schnabel believes that “Paul’s missionary work provides neither a paradigm” to justify the existence of mission agencies “nor principles or rules” which mission agencies today could employ.[12] There is no biblical basis for mission agencies, according to Schnabel. He notes Ralph Winter’s argument “that the modern mission society resembles the missionary team of Paul and his coworkers” as “a well-known example of using the New Testament for contemporary missiological purposes.”[13] In other words, Paul’s missionary bands do not provide a biblical basis for mission agencies. But why does Schnabel approach the New Testament with this assumption? We read the Bible to understand the way of the Lord. The Bible is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Paul understood mission to the unreached peoples required a separate administration from Peter, James and John’s ministry to the church where it already existed. Peter and Paul and the other church leaders met and shook hands, agreeing to recognize two administrative structures of God’s mission. See Galatians 2:7-10. We wrote about here about Paul and Peter’s meeting. Schnabel believes we cannot point to a biblical basis for today’s mission agencies. But why? The agreement reached by the earliest church leaders, to recognize two administrative structures of Christianity, seems “useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” What does the reader think?

Next: Critics of the “Two Structures” Theory. Bruce Camp’s Objections Considered

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[1] Schnabel, Paul, the Missionary: Realities, Strategies and Methods. 393

[2] Winter, “The Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Mission.”

[3] Schnabel, Early Christian Mission. 163-4.

[4] Ibid. 490.

[5] Ibid. 164.

[6] Ibid. 1578

[7] Richard De Ridder, Discipling the Nations (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1975). 94

[8] Ibid. 121

[9] Ibid. 122

[10]veluti te Iudaei cogemus in hanc concedere turbam.” Horace and John Carew Rolfe, Q. Horati Flacci Sermones Et Epistulae, Allyn and Bacon’s College Latin Series (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1901), Book

[11] Israel M. Goldman, Lifelong Learning among Jews: Adult Education in Judaism from Biblical Times to the Twentieth Century (New York: Ktav Pub. House, 1975).

[12] Schnabel, Paul, the Missionary: Realities, Strategies and Methods. 393

[13] Ibid.