Due to changes in Australian .org.au domain requirements this site is moving domains to SINGLESPOON.ORG. Please update your bookmarks.

'Elder' in the Old Testament and New Testament

In many christian traditions, the role of elder is central to the general governance of the church. Different traditions have different understandings of what an elder is from administration or management to spiritual direction and oversight and also some traditions see this as a lay role and others an ordained role. No matter what the understanding all churches link their office of elder to texts within scripture. Since eldership is so important in the life of the church, I offer a general examination of the term "elder". The references below are in no way exhaustive. They were chosen to demonstrate the general feel for each word.

Before you begin, identify how your church defines elder, it might be helpful to use the categories I used above:

administration or management

· spiritual direction and oversight

· lay role

· an ordained role

I suggest that unless this material is of special interest or application that you choose a selection of these passages. Y

1) Elder: Zaqen - Old, Aged, Bearded

a) Ex 17:1-7

· What is the role of the elders?

· Is their role secular or spiritual leadership?

· Are they aligned with God's vision?

b) Ex 19:1-8

· What is the role of the elders?

· Is their role secular or spiritual leadership?

· Are they aligned with God's vision?

c) Lev 4:14,15

· What is the role of the elders?

· Is their role secular or spiritual leadership?

· Are they aligned with God's vision?

d) Num 22:4,7

· What is the role of the elders?

· Is their role secular or spiritual leadership?

· Are they aligned with God's vision?

e) Deut 21:1-9,19-21

· What is the role of the elders?

· Is their role secular or spiritual leadership?

· Are they aligned with God's vision?

f) Num 11:10,14,16,24-30

· What is the role of the elders?

· Is their role secular or spiritual leadership?

· Are they aligned with God's vision?

How well does this picture of elders match your conception of eldership in the church? My view is that this picture is of part of the secular government of Israel. In the last case they step beyond that. This is largely not sustained. The Elders tend to represent the people in witnessing and ceremonial occasions. In addition they are the investigators and judges for their society's laws.

2) Leader/Ruler: sar - Officer, Controller

a) Ex 18:13-26

· What is the role of the leaders?

· Is their role secular or spiritual leadership?

· Are they aligned with God's vision?

These leaders were probably drawn from the elders.

3) Elder presbuteros - Elder, aged person

a) Matt 15:2, Mk 7:3-5

· Who were the elders who created the tradition?

· Is this eldership as we practice it?

· Are they aligned with God's vision?

The traditions of the elders were the written framework of righteous living developed over the previous 2-300 years by the pharisaical movement. The pharisees were a lay movement - an attempt at reformation of the jewish religion. The elders were the scholars, the examples.

b) Matt 26:47,57,59

· Who were these elders?

· Is this eldership as we practice it?

· Are they aligned with God's vision?

The Sanhedrin was the government of the Jews. It was made up of the High Priest, the saducees and the pharisees-a total of 70 elders. The saducees were the high priestly party made up of the families and the friends of the high priest. They were generally outward looking and concerned with ensuring that they survived and had status in the Roman Empire. They tended not to be very spiritual. The pharisees on the other hand were attempting to fulfill what they saw as righteousness.

c) Acts 20:17, 28-32

· How do these elders practice their eldership?

· Is this eldership as we practice it?

· Are they aligned with God's vision?

d) 1Tim 5:17-25

· What things do they do as elders?

· Is this eldership as we practice it?

· Are they aligned with God's vision?

e) Titus 1:5-9

· What are the qualities of an elder?

· What is the role of an elder?

· Is it eldership as we practice it?

· Are they aligned with God's vision?

f) 1Pet 5:1-4

· What are the qualities of an elder?

· What is the role of an elder?

· Is it eldership as we practice it?

· Are they aligned with God's vision?

In both the Titus and Peter passage there is some indication that elders were essentially the ministers of the churches. There is an emphasis on preaching and also on pastoral care. Peter the Apostle also calls himself an elder.

4) Bishop episcopos - Overseer, Superintendent.

a) Phil 1:1

· What is the difference between an elder and an overseer?

· Who governed the church?

· How many of them were there?

b) 1Tim 3:1-7

· What is the difference between an elder and an overseer?

· Who governed the church?

· What qualities were necessary for an overseer?

· How many of them were there?

c) Titus 1:5-9

· What is the difference between an elder and an overseer?

· Who governed the church?

· What qualities were necessary for an overseer?

· How many of them were there?

At this stage we see that there is very little information about a ministry of eldership as we currently practice it. We have looked at some words that people have traditionally linked with this ministry. In the passages we have examined there is nothing compelling to link those offices or passages to eldership as we currently practice it. The passages in some cases, are very useful in describing the qualities that should be evident in a leader's life and ministry. Having said that "Does this mean that eldership as we currently practice it is wrong?" I take a very pragmatic view of governance structures. The short is that if elders, as your church describes them, enable the church to advance the kingdom of God then we should continue to have them.