Monday, September 28, 2015

Elders in the Church: Who They Are and What They Do

* Notes from a Bible study on elders in the church.

The Church: Elders—Who They Are and What They Do

1.     Plurality of Elders

a.     Acts 11.30; 15.2—elders in the Jerusalem church

b.     Acts 14.23—“in every church”

c.      Acts 20.17—“sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church”

d.     1 Timothy 4.14—“by the presbytery”

e.     Titus 1.5—“appoint elders in every city as I directed you”

f.      James 5.14—the sick “must call for the elders of the church”

“This is a significant statement because the epistle of James is a general letter written to many churches, all the believers scattered abroad, whom James characterizes as ‘the twelve tribes in the Dispersion’ (James 1:1).  It indicates that James expected that there would be elders in every New Testament church to which his general epistle went—that is, in all the churches in existence at that time.”[1]

g.     1 Peter 5.1-2—also written to scattered churches throughout the Roman provinces in Asia Minor (cf. 1 Peter 1.1)

h.     Hebrews 13.17—the word “elder” is not used but leaders are mentioned

2.     Names and titles in the New Testament

a.     “Pastor”

“The English word pastor is derived from a Latin term that means ‘one who cares for sheep,’ and the English word pastor earlier meant ‘shepherd’ in the literal sense of one who took care of sheep (see Oxford English Dictionary, Vol. P, p. 542).”[2]

                                               i.     Ephesians 4.11

1.     “pastors and teachers” (NASB; NIV;NRSV)
2.     “shepherds and teachers” (ESV)
3.     “shepherd-teachers” (ESV footnote)
4.     “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers” (NLT)
                                              ii.     Interpretation issue: one group (pastor-teachers) or two (pastors and teachers)

1.     The article (“the”) precedes the first noun and is connected to the second noun with an “and” (kai) but the second noun does not have the article.

2.     One group view

“’Pastor’ is coupled with ‘teacher’ here, and together they denote one order of ministry.  In other words, the Greek construction favors interpreting this phrase as one office: the pastor/teacher.  There is not one office of pastor and a separate office of teacher.”[3]

3.     Two group view—both words are connected; there is some relationship between the two groups since both are joined by the one article.

a.     Pastors are a subset of teachers

“This text seems to affirm, both grammatically and exegetically, that all pastors were to be teachers, though not all teachers were to be pastors.”[4]

b.     Teachers are a subset of pastors

“If ‘teachers’ are a separate group, they can be understood as a special branch of shepherds (overseers, elders) responsible for instruction in God’s Word (cf. 1 Tim. 5:17).”[5]

                                            iii.     “Although this term is commonly used in our modern church context, the noun ‘pastor’ (or ‘shepherd’) is used only one time in the New Testament in reference to a church leader (although the verb ‘to shepherd’ and the noun ‘flock’ are occasionally found.”[6]

                                            iv.     Acts 20.28; 1 Peter 5.1-2—all elders are to “shepherd” the church of God

b.     Elders and Overseers—arguments that these terms refer to the same group

                                               i.     NOTE on language:

·      Elder = presbuteros

·      Overseer = episkopos  (sometimes translated “bishop”)

                                              ii.     Used interchangeably in same context

1.     Acts 20.17 “elders” (presbuteros ); Acts 20.28 “overseers” (episkopos)

2.     Titus 1.5 “elders” (presbuteros ); Titus 1.7 “overseers” (episkopos)

                                            iii.     1 Timothy 3.1-2—“overseers” used 2 x’s episkopos

“We must remember that Paul is writing to Timothy when Timothy is at Ephesus (see 1 Tim. 1:3, ‘remain at Ephesus’) and we already know from Acts 20 that there are elders at Ephesus (Acts 20:17-38).  Furthermore, in 1 Timothy 5:17, we see that the elders were ruling the church at Ephesus when Timothy was there, because it says, ‘Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor.’  Now the ‘bishops’ in 1 Timothy 3:1-2 also are to rule over the church at Ephesus because one qualification is that ‘He must manage his own household well… for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God’s church?’ (1 Tim. 3:4-5).  So here it also seems that ‘bishop’ or ‘overseer’ is simply another term for ‘elder,’ since these ‘bishops’ fulfill the same function as elders quite clearly do elsewhere in this epistle and in Acts 20.”[7]

                                            iv.     Philippians 1.1—“overseers (episkopos) and deacons”

“Here it also seems appropriate to think that ‘bishops’ is another name for ‘elders,’ because there certainly were elders at Philippi, since it was Paul’s practice to establish elders in every church (see Acts 14:23).  And if there were elders ruling at Philippi, it is unthinkable that Paul would write to the church and single out bishops and deacons—but not elders—if their offices were both different from that of elders.  Therefore, by ‘bishops and deacons’ Paul must have meant the same thing as ‘elders and deacons.’  Although in some parts of the church from the second century A.D. onward, the word bishop has been used to refer to a single individual with authority over several churches, this was a later development of the term and is not found in the New Testament itself.”[8]

                                              v.     Elders and overseers are never listed as separate offices

                                            vi.     Elders are never given separate qualifications

                                           vii.     Why two terms?

“If the two terms represent the same office, then why was it necessary to employ both terms?  The reason could be explained by the general use of the terms: elder is more a description of character, whereas overseer is more a description of function.  It appears that originally various congregations preferred one term over the other. The Jewish congregations apparently favored the term presbuteros, while the Gentile congregations favored the term episkopos.  Over time, however, these two terms came to be used in the same congregations and could be used interchangeably since they referred to the leaders in the congregation.  It is likely that both terms remained due to the important connotations each term carried.  The term presbuteros conveyed the idea of a wise, mature leader who was honored and respected by those of the community.  The term episkopos spoke more to the work of the individual whose duty it was to ‘oversee’ and protect those under his care.”[9]

3.     Function of Elders

a.     They govern and rule in the church

                                               i.     1 Timothy 5.17

                                              ii.     1 Timothy 3.4-5

                                            iii.     1 Peter 5.2-5

                                            iv.     Hebrews 13.17 (cf. Acts 20.28)

                                              v.     1 Thessalonians 5.12-14

b.     They teach the word of God

                                               i.     Ephesians 4.11

                                              ii.     1 Timothy 3.2 à 1 Timothy 5.17

                                            iii.     Titus 1.9

4.     Installation and Ordination of Elders

a.     Laying on of hands—1 Timothy 5.22—context of 1 Timothy 5.17-22 is about elders

                                               i.     Other mentions of this action of laying on of hands:

1.     1 Timothy 3.10 regarding deacons

2.     Acts 6.6; 13.3

3.     1 Timothy 4.14 (cf. 2 Timothy 1.6)

b.     Prayer and fasting—Acts 14.23 (cf. Acts 13.3)

5.     Summary

a.     There should be a plurality of elders

b.     All elders shepherd the flock of God

c.      Elders govern/rule and teach in the church

d.     Elders are especially prayed for and marked out

     [1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1994), 912.
     [2] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 913.
     [3] Benjamin L. Merkle, 40 Questions About Elders and Deacons (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2008), 55.
     [4] Daniel B. Wallace, The Basics of New Testament Syntax: An Intermediate Greek Grammar (Grand Rapids, Mich. Zonderan, 2000), 126.
     [5] ESV Study Bible—note at Ephesians 4.11, page 2268.
     [6] Merkle, 40 Questions About Elders and Deacons, 55.  Merkle adds the following in a footnote: “The verb ‘to shepherd’ (poimaino) occurs in Matt. 2:6; John 21:16; Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2; Jude 12; Rev. 2:27; 7:17; 12:5; 19:15.  The noun ‘flock’ (poimen) occurs in Matt. 26:31 and John 10:16.  In Luke 12:32; Acts 20:28-29; and 1 Peter 5:2-3, the diminutive form (poimnion) is used.”
     [7] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 914.
     [8] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 914-915.
     [9] Merkle, 40 Questions About Elders and Deacons, 82-83.