bits from bob....

Elders--Part 1

by Robert J. Young
©, 2001, Robert J. Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

I am continually amazed at the confusion in our religious word concerning leadership in the church. One group has deacons who lead, another bishops, another presbyters. Our Catholic neighbors have popes, cardinals, and fathers. One group hires pastors, and common courtesy has led to many addressing preachers as pastor. What does the Bible say? Amidst such confusion and conflicting practices and differing terminologies, is there a word from God?

One helpful passage is Acts 20. Verse 17 declares that Paul called the elders of the Ephesian church to meet him, so he might not be delayed in his journey. Here elder is a translation of the Greek ‘presbuteros.' The English word, presbyter, is merely a transliteration of the Greek word.
Again, in reference to the same group of men, verse 28 declares that these were the overseers. The Greek word is ‘episkopos.' 1 Timothy 3, the same word is translated by the English bishop.
Again in verse 28, these men--elders, overseers--were admonished to feed the church. The Greek verb is ‘poimaino.' In English, it means shepherd, and is so translated in 1 Peter 5, where Peter refers to elders as shepherds.

From these references in Acts 20:17ff, it becomes apparent that one group of leaders are called by at least three terms. These are called (1) elders (Greek, presbuteros), (2) overseers (Greek, episkopos), also translated into English as bishop, and (3) feeders, literally in English as shepherds, also the source of our English word pastor. From these it is clear that elders are bishops or pastors. Presbyters, shepherds, overseers are also terms which are used in Scripture to refer to this same group of leaders. These are not several distinct groups, but are one group.

These three concepts may help us identify the work elders are given to do. In the Old Testament, elders were those men who sat at the gate, and in the wisdom of their age, passed judgment upon those cases brought before them. They were judges, decision makers. There are times elders need to be peacemakers and settle feuds. They are at times decision makers, but their role is not limited to this area of work.
Overseers are those who superintend a work. Bishops have the oversight of God's church. In this sense, they have responsibility for guidance and direction.
Finally, these men were also to pastor or shepherd the flock. They were to feed the people of God. Hebrews 13 suggests the responsibility elders have here in giving account for the souls of those under their oversight.

Elders fulfilling God's tasks will find themselves involved in all of these are activities, which are reflected by the names used in Scripture to describe them.


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Last updated November 23, 2001.