‘Be Imitators Of Me’: Paul’s Model Of Leadership -- By: Andrew D. Clarke

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 49:2 (NA 1998)
Article: ‘Be Imitators Of Me’: Paul’s Model Of Leadership
Author: Andrew D. Clarke

‘Be Imitators Of Me’:
Paul’s Model Of Leadership

Andrew D. Clarke


In a number of letters, Paul urges his readers to imitate certain examples. The principal models are those of himself, Christ and God, but he also directs the attention of his readers to the behaviour of other individuals, and occasionally reminds them of the example of other churches. In addition to these injunctions to be imitators, there are also exhortations that his readers become ‘models’ for others to imitate. It would seem that both to imitate appropriate examples and to be an example to others are commendable characteristics of the Christian life. In recent years, questions have been asked regarding the motivation behind Paul’s use of these injunctions. This article seeks to reconsider the relevant Pauline texts and evaluate the author’s use of the mimesis motif.

I. Introduction

The noun ‘imitator’ ([συμ]μιμητής) and its related verb ‘to imitate’ (μιμέομαι) appear rarely in the New Testament, and predominantly in the Pauline corpus.1 To be an imitator is not an injunction which Jesus is recorded as explicitly enjoining upon his followers.2 This group of

words does not appear at all in the Old Testament,3 and the verb only appears some four times in the apocryphal writings of the Septuagint.4 For Paul, fitting objects of imitation variously include Christ or God, himself, his colleagues, other Christians, and other churches.

The believer’s ‘imitation’ of appropriate examples is clearly important to Paul. It is a practice which he not only commends, but it is one which he explicitly praises when it appropriately takes place (1 Thess. 1:6). Furthermore, it is a practice which he himself exemplifies—thus, ‘Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ’ (1 Cor. 11:1). Given the importance placed by Paul on this motif, it is significant that it has received relatively little attention either by scholars or ministers.5

This Pauline motif of imitation will be the focus of this article. It will be pursued by considering not only those passages where he explici...

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