Leadership Structure of the Ancient Sect of the Nazarenes

Leadership Structure of the Ancient Sect of the Nazarenes

By James Scott Trimm

Many of you over the years have told me that you are uncomfortable with “organized religion”. Yet Scripturally we all know that YHWH is not an author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33) that He desires that everything be done on a decent and orderly manner (1 Corinthians 14:40).

We know that built into the Torah was a structure of order. Moses “sat and judged” (Exodus 18:13), established lower Assemblies of Elders on the tribal levels (Exodus 18:13-27) and a Great Assembly of 70 Elders (Numbers 11:16f). The Torah lays out a whole system for the functioning of these bodies (Deuteronomy 16:18-17:13; 19:15-21).

The early Nazarenes likewise were structured with an “Assembly” of “Emissaries and Elders” (Acts 15:4) and a structure of leadership:

"Listen to the voice of your teachers and submit your neshomot like they must give an account to Him for you, that they may do this with joy and not in grief for this is not profitable to you."
(Hebrews 13:17 HRV, see also 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13)

In fact the Matthew 18:15-20 process which is key to guaranteeing Nazarenes due process and protecting us from religious Overlords, is founded on, and requires the existence of this structure with an Assembly with the power to “bind and loose”.

As much as some are distrustful of organized religion, our Nazarene forefathers did not live in a sort of religious anarchy. A restoration of the ancient sect of the Nazarenes ultimately must include a restoration of the ancient Nazarene governing structures.

There is only one Body of Messiah (1 Corinthians 12:12-13; Romans 12:5) and we are obligated to endeavor to keep the unity of the Body in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:4). The unity of the Assembly of Elohim is absolutely a priority to YHWH (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 1:10; 12:12-13; Ephesians 4:1-6 & 1 John 1:7).

In fact the Scriptures tell us that dividing the Assembly of Elohim into sects and factions is a “work of the flesh” comparable to murder and idolatry (Galatians 5:20; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13; 3:3; 11:7-18 and 2 Peter 2:1) (see my blog The Sin of Sectarianism at http://nazarenespace.ning.com/profiles/blogs/the-sin-of-sectarianism)

In fact we are specifically told to disfellowship those who “cause divisions” from the Assembly:

"Now I beseech you, brothers, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you have learned; and avoid them."
(Romans 16:17)

But Matthew 18:15-20 makes it clear that disfellowshipment can only occur after a process which involves bringing witnesses before the Beit Din.

The logic is inescapable. Endeavoring to the unity of the Assembly of Elohim sometimes requires the unpleasant task of disfellowshiping those who engage in the sin of sectarianism. Disfellowshiping such persons requires a Matthew 18:15-20 process. And a Matthew 18:15-20 process requires leadership structure, an Assembly of Elders with the power to bind and loose.

Many leadership structures have been proposed by Christian Churches over the centuries but few if any of them truly reflect the leadership structure of the ancient sect of the Nazarenes.

After years of research and study I am now ready to lay out the following reconstruction of the ancient Nazaerene leadership structure. This reconstruction is based on studying the Scriptures in their original language and interpreting them in light of what we know of Second Temple Era Judaism from the Dead Sea Scrolls, Mishna, Talmud etc.

Of course the head of the Body is the Messiah (Colossians 1:18; 2:10-19) but under his headship we have earthly leaders to help maintain the unity of the Body:

11: And He gave some: emissaries, and some prophets, and some proclaimers, and some pastors, and some teachers,
12: For the perfecting of the Set-Apart-Ones: for the work of the service; for the edification of the body of the Messiah,
13: Until all of us become one and the same, in the trust and in the knowledge of the Son of Eloah: and one complete man, according to the measure of the stature of the fullness of the Messiah.
14: And we should not be infants, who are shaken and turned about by every wind of the deceitful teachings of the sons of men, who by their craftiness are plotting to deceive:
15: But we should be steadfast in our love, that [in] everything we may grow up in the Messiah, who is the head.
16: And from Him the whole body is fit together, and is tied together in all the joints, according to the gift that is given by measure to each member, for the growth of the body, that its edification might be accomplished in love.

(Ephesians 4:11-16)

Note that the leadership structure is key to the unity of the Body. How did this leadership structure work?

The leadership structure under the headship of Messiah was lead by a pair of men. In the Mishna this pair was called a ZUG (“pair”). In the Torah the pair were Moses and Aharon. In the Mishna the pair occupy two offices: NASI and AV BEIT-DIN. The pair give testimony to the headship of Messiah following the Torah principle of a matter being established by two or more witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15).

The Nasi (“president”) occupied the "seat of Moses" (“Moses sat and judged” (Exodus 18:13), he served as Overseer General or Pastor General of the Worldwide Nazarene Assembly of Elohim. In fact the ancient Nazarenes may simply have refered to this office as MEVAKAR “Overseer”). The Nasi shall guide the community. The Nasi would feed (teach) and protect the sheep, however he did not have the power to disfellowship individuals from the community (that power shall rest solely with the Great Nazaerene Sanhedrin). He was the highest-ranking member and president of the Great Nazarene Sanhedrin He would preside over meetings of the Great Nazarene Sanhedrin and have the tie breaking vote in that body. Among the original Nazarenes Ya’kov HaTzadik seems to have first occupied this office. After the death of Yeshua, the Nazarenes recognized his brother James the Just as legal heir to the throne of David. For this reason the Nazarenes recognized James the Just as the Nasi of their Nazarene Sanhedrin (Acts 15). This is evident because there is scarecely any mention of James the Just prior to Yeshua’s death, however very early on he became leader of the Nazarene movement (Acts12:17; 15:13-29; 21:18-26 & Galatians 1:19; Eusebius Eccl. Hist. 2:23). According to the Apocryphal Goodnews of Thomas, it was Yeshua himself who named James the Just as their new leader:

"The students said to Yeshua: ‘We know you will leave us. Who is going to be our leader then?’ Yeshua said to them: ‘No matter where you reside, you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.’ "
(Goodnews of Thomas saying 12)

AV BEIT-DIN (Father of the Beit Din) – The Av Beit-Din jointly guided the Assembly under the Nasi. The Av Beit-Din also fed (teach) and protected the sheep, he also did not have the power to disfellowship individuals from the community (that power rests solely with the Great Nazaerene Sanhedrin). He was the second-highest ranking member of the Great Nazarene. He would preside over the Sanhedrin in the absence of the Nasi, and was the chief justice of the Sanhedrin when it sits as a criminal court. He also served as the Sergeant of Arms of the Great Nazarene Sanhedrin. Since he controlled who came and went from the meeting chamber, he was said to hold the “keys”. Because of this, and the major role he plays in the meeting in Acts 15, it is apparent that Kefa (Peter) was the first Av Beit-Din of the Nazarene Sanhedrin (Matthew 16:18-19; Acts 15:7). Notice in Acts 15:7 Kefa brings the room to order “when there had been much disputing” and presents the case (the traditional role of the Av Beit Din) while Ya’akov HaTzadik delivers the verdict (Acts 15:13-21).


This was made of a council of seventy elders plus the Nasi. This council is parallel to that of the seventy elders plus Moses described in the Torah (Numbers 11:16f). The Pharisaic version of this body is described in the Talmud as follows:

"It has been taught; R. Jose said; Originally there were not many disputes in Israel, but one Beth din of seventy-one members sat in the Hall of Hewn Stones, and two courts of twenty-three sat, one at the entrance of the Temple Mount and one at the door of the [Temple] Court, and other courts of twenty-three sat in all Jewish cities. If a matter of inquiry arose, the local Beth din was consulted. If they had a tradition [thereon] they stated it; if not, they went to the nearest Beth din. If they had a tradition thereon, they stated it, if not, they went to the Beth din situated at the entrance to the Temple Mount; if they had a tradition, they stated it; if not, they went to the one situated at the entrance of the Court, and he [who differed from his colleagues] declared, `Thus have I expounded, and thus have my colleagues expounded; thus have I taught, and thus have they taught.’ If they had a tradition thereon, they stated it, and if not, they all proceeded to the Hall of Hewn Stones, where they [i.e., the Great Sanhedrin] sat from the morning tamid until the evening talmid; on Sabbaths and festivals they sat within the hel. The question was then put before them: if they had a tradition thereon, they stated it; if not, they took a vote: if the majority voted `unclean’ they declared it so; if `clean’ they ruled even so. But when the disciples of Shammai and Hillel, who [sc. the disciples] had insufficiently studied, increased [in number], disputes multiplied in Israel, and the Torah became as two Toroth. From there [the Hall of Hewn Stones] documents were written and sent to all Israel, appointing men of wisdom and humility and who were esteemed by their fellowmen as local judges. From there [sc. the local Beth din] they were promoted to [the Beth din of] the Temple Mount, thence to the Court, and thence to the Hall of Hewn Stones."
(b.Sanhedrin 88b)

Now you will note that the so-called “Jerusalem Council” in Acts 15 consisted of a joint meeting of two councils, “the emissaries and the elders”. So next we will discuss the Assembly of Emissaries


Twelve Emissaries corresponding intentionally with the twelve tribes (Revelation 21:12-14) often known simply as "The Twelve" (1 Corinthians 15:5).

The office of Emissary is in Hebrew SHALIACH, meaning: Envoy, Legate, Emissary, Deputy, or Agent (it is commonly translated "Apostle"). The office of SHALIACH is Judaism refers to one who is empowered to act legally on behalf of the person or body which dispatched him. A SHALIACH acts with a sort of "power of attorney" for whom he represents. The Twelve would have been an administrative body which was empowered to act on behalf of YHWH and His Assembly in logistical matters. Not only might they deal in practical matters such as buying and selling property, but they also acted as traveling representatives of the Assembly acting as prophets, teachers, proclaimers, and shepherds. As such they also oversee matters of doctrine in the community, just as the Assembly of Elders oversees matters of halacha.

The Twelve were a trim streamlined administrative body. They were appointing Overseers to establish local Assemblies is implied by the fact that they often traveled and planted new Congregations in various parts of the world.

This body had a parallel in the Essene community in the body known as the ETZAT HA-YACHAD (Assembly of the Union/Community):

"In the Assembly of the Union there shall be twelve men and three priests who are blameless in the light of all that has been revealed from the whole Law, so as to work truth, righteousness, justice, loving-kindness, and humility, one with another. They are to preserve faith in the land with self-control and a broken spirit … when such men as these come to be in Israel, then shall the Assembly of the Union truly be established, an ‘eternal planting’…"
(Manual of Discipline; 1QS 8:1f)

The process for replacing members of this Assembly is recorded in Acts chapter one. The remaining Emissaries nominate two candidates and a final decision is determined by casting lots.

Note that the Essene ETZAT HA-YACHAD was made up of "twelve men and three priests" and it is unclear whether these were twelve men plus three priests, or twelve men, three of whom were priests.

This does have an amazing parallel with the Nazarene Assembly of Emissaries. Three of the Emissaries: Kefa, Ya’akov and Yochanan were often singled out by Yeshua for special attention, taken aside by Yeshua for special instruction (for example Matthew 17:1; 26:37; Mark 5:37 etc.) these three are called by Paul "three pillars" (Galatians 2:9). Thus three of the Assembly of Twelve served as the "Three Pillars".


Clearly "Kefa, Ya’akov and Yochanan" of old (Matthew 17:1; 26:37; Mark 5:37; Galatians 2:9) had a special role in leading the community. They were often singled out by Messiah as a sort of special inner circle (Matthew 17:1; 26:37; Mark 5:37) and formed “the Pillars”. According toe the Mishna (m.San. 1:3) and Talmud (b.San. 13b) the laying on of hands to give S’MIKHA (“authority”) to teach, was given by a court of three judges. It is no accident that Paul went to these three pillars to receive “the right hand of fellowship… that we proclaim among the goyim” (Galatians 2:9). These three pillars seemed to have the function of S’MIKHA and the power to approve appointments made by the Nasi.

In the Talmud the Beit Din was headed by not just a "pair" but by a third office:

"Our Rabbis taught: When the Nasi enters, all the people rise and do not resume their seats until he requests them to sit. When the Ab-beth-din enters, one row rises on one side and another row on the other [and they remain standing] until he has sat down in his place. When the Hakam enters, every one [whom he passes] rises and sits down [as soon as he passed] until the Sage has sat down in his place."
(b.Horayot 13b)

On the local level there was a similar leadership structure.

MEVAKAR (Overseer) or "Pastor/Shepherd" he would the local congregation, feed the sheep and protects them from wolves. The Mevakar did not have the power to disfellowship.

COUNCIL OF ELDERS – The local council ideally had twenty-three seats including the Overseer who would preside over its meetings. The council had to have at least three seats filled in order to function. Any decision of this council may be appealed to the Great Nazarene Sanhedrin, however the Av Beit Din would determine which cases would be heard by that body.

SHAMISH – This office was held by any volunteer appointed by the Overseer to assist in the logistics of running the local congregation (as depicted in Acts 6:1-5). Ideally each congregation would have seven.

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