The Biblical Requirements for Elders: Part 2

The Greek Words Used for Elders/Pastors

There are several words used interchangeably in the NT for the leadership office usually termed elder/pastor. I detail each below, along with the words based on the more flexibly-used terms related to age (elder, rank).

 


Words related to Oversight and Management

The first two words are used primarily to connote management and oversight.

ἐπισκοπέω [episkopeo, G1983, verb: to look upon, inspect, oversee, look after, care for]
ἐπίσκοπος [episkopos, G1985, noun: an overseer]

The verb form occurs twice, but only once In the context of the leadership of the Christian assembly:

1 Pet 5.1-3
Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.

The noun form occurs 5 times, but only 4 of those are in the context of the Christian assembly:

Act 20.28
Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

Phi 1.1
Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Tim 3.2
An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach

Tts 1.7
For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain

 


Words related to Shepherding, Tending a Flock

The next two words make use of the metaphor of tending a flock, shepherding, or nourishing:

ποιμαίνω [poimaino, G4165, verb: to feed, to tend a flock, keep sheep; to rule, govern, manage]
ποιμήν [poimein, G4166, noun: a herdsman, esp. a shepherd; manager]

Act 20.28
Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

1 Pet 5.1-3
Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.

Eph 4.11
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,

 


Words related to Being of Full Age or Rank, or the (enduring) office of Elder

These are the most flexible of the terms that may be associated with the elder/pastor position in the NT. In some contexts it is difficult to decide whether the term is used of the enduring office (the elder) prescribed by the Lord for the assembly, or simply is used to reference a person (both male and female) who is of full age, rank, or has a position of respect based on his/her age. In the list below, I show examples of both (with the bulk being examples of the enduring office of the assembly).

πρεσβυτέριον [presbyterion, G4244, noun; body of elders]

πρεσβύτερος [presbuteros, G4245, adj: elder, a person of age; a term of rank or office; may also simply mean elder in the Jewish community]

πρεσβύτης [presbutēs, G4246, noun: an old man, an aged man]

πρεσβῦτις [presbutis, G4247, noun: an old woman, an aged woman]

συμπρεσβύτερος [sympresbuteros. G4850, noun: fellow elder]

1 Tim 4.14 [πρεσβυτέριον]
Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery.

Act 14.23 [πρεσβύτερος]
When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

Act 15.2,4,6,22-23; 16.4; 21.8 [πρεσβύτερος]
15.2
And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue.
15.4 When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them.
15.6 The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter.
15.22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas—Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, and they sent this letter by them, “The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings.
16.4 Now while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe.
21.8 And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.

[These events took place at a time still relatively early in the life of the Gentile church, likely before Paul wrote the epistles to Timothy and Titus. The context of each of these references is primarily Jewish or within the locale of Jerusalem and is therefore likely that elder refers to a person of age and respect common to the Jewish culture rather than to the enduring office prescribed by the Lord for the (then new) Christian assembly.]

Act 20.17 [πρεσβύτερος]
From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church.

[This is most likely a reference to the enduring office of elder in the (new) Christian assembly at Ephesus, especially in view of the context of verse 28.]

1 Tim 5.1-2 [πρεσβύτερος]
Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers, the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity.

[The local context favors the view that elder here refers to age, not the office of elder.]

1 Tim 5.17,19 [πρεσβύτερος]
The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. … Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses.

[The context of v17 (“elders who rule well”) shows that Paul had in mind the office of elder, not merely the age and/or rank of the person to whom he referred. This understanding is also completely compatible with the context of v19 (“Do not receive an accusation …”), since the elder was to be held to both the highest standard and accountability.]

Tts 1.5 [πρεσβύτερος]
For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you,

[The context favors the enduring office of the Christian assembly.]

Tts 2.3 [πρεσβῦτις]
Older women
likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good,

[This is an example of the feminine noun form used to describe merely an older woman, one who has, by her behavior, earned respect.]

Phm 1.9 [πρεσβύτης]
yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you—since I am such a person as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus—

[Since there is no evidence in the NT that Paul the Apostle was an elder in any local assembly at any time, the context demands that we understand this as it is translated here, “Paul, the aged”.]

Jam 5.14 [πρεσβύτερος]
Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;

[The context appears to favor the enduring office of the Christian assembly.]

1 Pet 5.1 [συμπρεσβύτερος]
Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed

[The noun used here is πρεσβύτερος prefixed by the Greek preposition σύν (with).]

 


The Titles of Pastor, Elder, Overseer and Shepherd all refer to the same Enduring Office of Elder

There are two passages in the NT which combine multiple words–presenting them essentially as synonyms–from the lists above to describe the enduring office of the Christian church, and thereby corroborate completely the detailed requirements enumerated in 1 Tim 3.1-7 and Tts 1.5-9.

1 Pet 5.1-3
Therefore, I exhort the elders [πρεσβύτερος] among you, as your fellow elder [συμπρεσβύτερος] and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd [ποιμαίνω] the flock of God among you, exercising oversight [ἐπισκοπέω] not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.

Act 20.17,28
From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders [πρεσβύτερος] of the church. … Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers [ἐπίσκοπος], to shepherd [ποιμαίνω] the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

As you can observe clearly from these, both references combine the noun and verb forms of the root words from each of the lists above to detail the actions and responsibilities of the single office of elder/pastor/overseer.

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