From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology [1]

In both the Old and New Testaments, the term "elder" indicates one of advanced age (Heb. zaqen [זָקֵן]; Gk. presbyteros [Πρεσβύτερος]) who had a office of leadership within the people of God.

The Old Testament . We are not informed about the origin of this office, which was also known outside Israel ( Genesis 50:7;  Numbers 22:7 ). It probably developed from the tribal structure, the elder being the head of a family or tribe. The basic criterion of age was significant, for it connoted both the experience and wisdom that comes with age ( Deuteronomy 32:7; cf.  1 Kings 12:6-8,13;  Psalm 37:25 ) and the respect owing the elder ( Lamentations 5:12 ). Growing older, however, did not necessarily mean growing wiser. Wisdom could be with the young rather than the old. Therefore elders had to be chosen carefully. Elders could serve locally as elders of a city ( Judges 8:14 ), regionally as elders of a tribe ( Judges 11:5 ), and nationally as elders of the nation ( Exodus 3:16 ).

The key duties of the elders could be summarized as being the twofold task of judging and discipline generally, and of ruling and guiding the people in an orderly way. In this manner the elders were to be in God's serve and to be instrumental for the preservation of life with God in the covenant community.

With respect to the task of judging, elders were appointed in the wilderness wanderings by Moses, with the cooperation of Israel, in order to help him judge the people ( Exodus 18:13-26;  Deuteronomy 1:13 ). In the promised land, elders were also to be appointed to maintain justice locally ( Deuteronomy 16:18;  21:18-21;  22:15-19;  Ruth 4:1-12 ), but a higher tribunal of priests and a judge existed for difficult cases ( Deuteronomy 17:8-9 ).

The ruling task of elders was theirs from earliest times. Their leadership position was evident from the fact that Moses had to go to the elders, he would have to go to Pharaoh ( Exodus 3:16-18 ). The elders' position of authority was also clear from their asking Jephthah to lead them in the fight against the Ammonites ( Judges 11:4-11 ), from their seeking a king from Samuel ( 1 Samuel 8:4-5 ), and from their anointing David king over all Israel ( 2 Samuel 5:3;  1 Chronicles 11:3; cf.  2 Samuel 3:17-18; cf. also the presence of the elders in  2 Samuel 17:1-4 ). The elders' leadership was evident in other ways as well. Along with the priests, they were responsible for seeing to it that Israel walked obediently in God's ways. They too received the law, which had to be read every seven years ( Deuteronomy 31:9-13 ). They had to make sure that the law functioned and that God's people remembered the mighty Acts of God ( Deuteronomy 27:1;  31:28;  32:7; cf.  2 Kings 23:1-3 ). Faithful elders were of great importance to keep the nation faithful to their God ( Joshua 24:31;  Judges 2:7 ). Indeed, the elders' first responsibility was to God. In this way they would serve the well-being of Israel.

To do their vital tasks of judging and ruling, elders were to be capable men who feared God and were upright ( Exodus 18:21,25 ); they were to be wise, understanding, and experienced ( Deuteronomy 1:13 ); and they were empowered by the Holy Spirit ( Numbers 11:16-17 ). Although bad counsel could be given (4:3), generally good advice was expected and that characteristic became associated with the elder.

The Intertestamental Period . The office of elder survived the Babylonian exile, but not without change. As previously, elders were in positions of leadership both in the homeland ( Ezra 10:14 ) and Babylon ( Jeremiah 29:1;  Ezekiel 8:1;  14:1;  20:1,3 ). With the disintegration of the tribal unit, influential families came to fill the void of authority left by the breakdown of the clan. Whereas the elders' authority once derived from their position within the tribe, real authority now became based on the prominence of a particular family and an aristocratic ruling class emerged.

By the second century b.c., we read of a council comprised of aristocratic elders (cf.  1 Maccabees 12:6;  14:20; Josephus, Antiquities, 12.3.3 ), which by the first century was known as the Sanhedrin (Josephus, Antiquities, 14.9.3-5). Although elders were historically the oldest members, in later times they became less important compared to the priests and scribes and the term "elders" came to signify lay members. This is the situation encountered in the New Testament, where the triad of chief priests, scribes, and elders is often referred to as the Sanhedrin ( Mark 11:27;  14:43; also cf.  Matthew 16:21;  Mark 15:1 ).

The New Testament . The office of elder in the New Testament church cannot be fully understood without the background of the Old Testament local elder, an office still functioning in New Testament Judaism with duties pertaining to discipline and leadership (cf.  Luke 7:3; and the implications of  Matthew 10:17; and  John 9:22 ). The first Christians were Jewish and the office was familiar to them. Thus Luke did not need to explain his first reference to Christian elders in  Acts 11:30 .

New Testament elders ( presbyteroi [   Titus 1:5-9; and  1 Timothy 3:1-7 ). The term "elder" stresses the connection with the age of the office bearer, while the term "bishop" emphasizes the nature of the task that is to be done. A distinction is made (in  1 Timothy 5:17 ) between those elders who rule well, especially those who labor in the preaching and teaching (who are now called ministers), and others (who are now referred to as elders and whose full-time task is directing the affairs of the church).

With respect to the duties of an elder, there is a continuity with the basic tasks of the elder in the Old Testament. All elders have the task of oversight and discipline of the congregation ( Acts 20:28 ) and all have the responsibility to rule and guide the people of God with the Word in a manner that is pleasing to God ( Acts 20:29-31 ). Also elders in the new dispensation are to preserve and nurture life with God in the covenant community ( 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 ). In executing this task they are in the service of their risen Lord (to whom they will have to give account  1 Thessalonians 5:12;  Hebrews 13:17 ) and they are empowered by his Spirit ( Acts 20:28; 1Col 12:4-6).

The elders' task of oversight and discipline can be described in terms of keeping watch and shepherding on behalf of the great shepherd Jesus Christ. In Paul's farewell to the Ephesian elders he said: "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood" ( Acts 20:28 ). The pastoral character of this task of oversight is also indicated when Peter writes: "To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away" ( 1 Peter 5:1-4 ).

With respect to the elder's task of ruling and guiding, he has been set over the congregation ( 1 Thessalonians 5:12;  1 Timothy 5:17 ). He is a steward of God ( Titus 1:7 ), a manager of God's household who administers the spiritual treasures of the mysteries of God (1Col 4:1; cf.  Matthew 13:11,52 ). Of prime importance, therefore, is to be the administration of the glad tidings. False doctrine must be opposed and the true safeguarded ( Acts 20:28,31;  Titus 1:9-11 ). Like their Old Testament counterparts, the elders are to see to it that the gospel and the demands of the Lord are imprinted in the hearts and lives of God's people ( 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12;  2 Timothy 2:24-26 ).

In light of the awesome responsibilities, it is not surprising that the prerequisites of the office are high ( 1 Timothy 3:1-7;  Titus 1:6-9 ). The elder must be a blameless and God-fearing man who shows the fruits of the Spirit in his walk of life. He must also be able to teach others the way of the Lord, and confute heretics ( 1 Timothy 3:2;  2 Timothy 3:14-17;  Titus 1:9 ), but not be quarrelsome ( 1 Timothy 3:3 ) or enter into senseless controversies ( 1 Timothy 1:3;  6:4-5 ). A good knowledge of the Word of God is therefore essential.

The necessary qualifications for the office suggest that elders must be chosen very carefully. They are not to be recent converts ( 1 Timothy 3:6 ) and must have proven themselves ( 1 Timothy 3:7 ). Elders could be simply appointed ( Titus 1:5 ) although congregational participation may very well have been involved in at least some instances.

In  Revelation 4:4 the twenty-four elders sitting on twenty-four thrones surrounding the throne of God probably represent the entire church (twenty-four for the twelve patriarchs of the Old Testament and the twelve apostles of the New Testament cf.   Revelation 21:12-14 ). These heavenly elders wear white garments, have crowns of gold, and worship God (4:4,10-11; 5:7-10; 11:16-18; 19:4).

Cornelis Van Dam

Bibliography . G. Berghoef and L. De Koster, The Elders Handbook: A Practical Guide for Church Leaders  ; W. Hendriksen, Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles  ; idem, More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation  ; G. W. Knight, III, The New Testament Teaching on the Role Relationship of Men and Women  ; J. B. Lightfoot, The Christian Ministry  ; J. Piper and W. Grudem, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism .

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [2]

Within the community of God’s people, God marks out certain people for responsibilities of care and leadership. The Bible refers to these people by a number of words, one of them ‘elders’. This is the word that the Old Testament uses for those in Israel who exercised leadership in the community ( Exodus 24:1;  Deuteronomy 21:1-6;  Ruth 4:2-11;  1 Samuel 8:4; see Ruler ), and that the New Testament uses for Jewish officials who administered Jewish affairs through the synagogue councils and the Sanhedrin ( Mark 15:1;  Luke 7:3;  Acts 4:5; see Sanhedrin ; Synagogue ). It is also the word that the New Testament uses for leaders in God’s new community, the church ( Acts 14:23;  Acts 15:4).

Developments in church leadership

The first Christian church was in Jerusalem, and in its early days its leadership came from the group of apostles whom Jesus had earlier appointed ( Acts 4:37;  Acts 6:2;  Acts 11:1). God did not provide these apostles with a master plan of detailed procedures upon which they were to structure the church, whether in Jerusalem or elsewhere. Instead he left them to respond to the church’s needs as his Spirit directed them. As the church grew, they introduced whatever organizational arrangements they considered necessary (e.g.  Acts 6:1-6).

As the church expanded into neighbouring regions and countries, the apostles had increasing responsibilities outside Jerusalem. Soon the church in Jerusalem had its own group of governing elders, and these were distinct from the apostles ( Acts 11:30;  Acts 15:6). The practice of appointing elders was later copied in other churches ( Acts 14:23), though there is not enough information to indicate whether the form of church government was the same in all the churches.

The New Testament speaks consistently of leaders in the churches, though it does not always give them an official title ( 1 Corinthians 16:16;  Galatians 2:9;  1 Thessalonians 5:12;  Hebrews 13:7;  Hebrews 13:17). Even where the Bible recognizes a title, the emphasis is usually more on the work the elders do than on the office they hold ( Acts 20:17;  Acts 20:28;  1 Thessalonians 5:13;  1 Timothy 3:1;  1 Peter 5:1-3).

English versions of the Bible use various words for church leaders – ‘elders’, ‘overseers’, ‘guardians’, ‘bishops’. These names are translations of only two words in the Greek of the original New Testament, presbuteroi and episkopoi, and both words seem to apply to the same office and person. For example (quoting the RSV), in  Acts 20:17 Paul sends for the elders (presbuteroi) of the Ephesian church, but when they arrive (v. 28) he calls them guardians (episkopoi). Likewise in  Titus 1:5 he tells Titus to appoint elders (presbuteroi), and then in the same sentence (v. 7) he calls them bishops (episkopoi). In reference to any specific local church, the Bible always speaks of a plurality of elders ( Acts 14:23;  Acts 20:17;  Philippians 1:1;  1 Thessalonians 5:12).

Responsibilities of elders

Elders are likened to shepherds over a flock. They are the leaders of the church, whom God has placed over the church to guide it and care for it ( Acts 20:28;  1 Timothy 3:5;  1 Timothy 5:17;  Hebrews 13:17;  1 Peter 5:1-3; see Pastor ; Shepherd ). Others in the church can help the elders by taking responsibility for many of the practical ministries of the church. In this way they give the elders more time for the important pastoral ministries God has entrusted to them ( Acts 6:2-4;  James 5:14; see Deacon ).

All elders should have some ability at teaching ( 1 Timothy 3:2), though some will be more gifted than others, and therefore more occupied than others, in public preaching ( 1 Timothy 5:17). Through their own ministry and that of teachers from elsewhere, elders should provide the church with teaching that is upbuilding and protect it from what is harmful ( Acts 20:28-30;  Titus 1:9). Elders must therefore be people of discernment ( 1 Timothy 1:3-7;  1 Timothy 6:3-5;  2 Timothy 2:14-16;  2 John 1:7-11).

In addition to having qualifications in relation to gift and ability, each elder must fulfil certain minimum requirements in relation to his character and behaviour. As a leader he is in a position of example to others, and therefore his family life and public reputation must be of the highest order ( 1 Timothy 3:1-7;  Titus 1:5-9). Any accusation of wrongdoing against an elder must be supported by witnesses. If the elder is proved guilty, he should be publicly rebuked, again because of the high standards required of those in positions of leadership ( 1 Timothy 5:19-20).

Appointment of elders

The Bible gives no specific instructions concerning how elders are chosen or appointed. In the case of the churches that Paul and Barnabas established in Galatia, the first elders were appointed by those who planted the churches ( Acts 14:23). Normally, people should not be appointed elders too soon after their conversion, because time is needed for Christian character and spiritual gift to develop ( 1 Timothy 3:6;  1 Timothy 5:22). If a church is left without elders, it is liable to lose direction ( Titus 1:5;  Titus 1:10-11).

Those who have the responsibility to appoint elders must realize that only the Holy Spirit can really make a person an elder ( Acts 20:28;  1 Corinthians 12:11;  1 Corinthians 12:28). They should also make sure, through prayer and consultation with the church as a whole, that those whom they appoint are those whom the church recognizes as elders. Church members must have confidence in their leaders if they are to respect them and heed their instruction ( 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13;  Hebrews 13:17). They should also give the elders suitable payment for the work they do and the time they spend in the service of the church ( 1 Timothy 5:17-18; cf.  Galatians 6:6).

With the passing of years and the growth of the church, additional elders will be needed. Certain believers may recognize the direction in which their spiritual gifts are developing and desire to be elders ( 1 Timothy 3:1; see Gifts Of The Spirit ). People in the church will recognize his gift; in fact, elders have a responsibility to train those who appear to have leadership ability ( 2 Timothy 2:2; cf.  Acts 13:5;  Acts 16:1-3). The example of the apostles in the early church suggests that the existing elders are the ones who make the appointment ( Acts 1:21-26; cf.  1 Timothy 4:14;  1 Timothy 5:22), but before doing so they find out the mind of the church ( Acts 6:3; cf.  Acts 15:22).

Some may be tempted to avoid eldership because of the difficulties and tensions that come with it ( 1 Peter 5:2 a). Others may be tempted in the opposite direction, and try to use the position of elder to further their personal ambitions ( 1 Peter 5:2 b,3). Elders can learn how to be true shepherds of the flock by following the example of the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for it ( 1 Peter 5:4; cf.  John 10:11;  Ephesians 5:25).

Holman Bible Dictionary [3]

zaqen presbuteros

Elders in the Old Testament From the beginning of Israelite history, the elders were the leaders of the various clans and tribes. When the tribes came together to form the nation of Israel, the elders of the tribes naturally assumed important roles in governing the affairs of the nation. Moses was commanded to inform the “elders of Israel” of the Lord's intention to deliver Israel from Egypt and to take the elders with him to confront the pharaoh ( Exodus 3:16 ,Exodus 3:16, 3:18 ). Similarly, seventy of the elders participated with Moses at the covenant meal at Sinai ( Exodus 24:9-11 ). As the task of governing Israel grew in complexity, part of the burden was transferred from Moses to a council of seventy elders ( Numbers 11:16-17 ).

During the period of the Judges and the monarchy, the elders were prominent in the political and judicial life of Israel. They demanded that Samuel appoint a king ( 1 Samuel 8:4-5 ); they played crucial roles in David's getting and retaining the throne ( 2 Samuel 3:17;  2 Samuel 5:3;  2 Samuel 17:15;  2 Samuel 19:11-12 ); and they represented the people at the consecration of the Temple of Solomon (1Kings 8:1, 1 Kings 8:3 ). In the legal codes of Deuteronomy the elders are responsible for administering justice, sitting as judges in the city gate ( Deuteronomy 22:15 ), deciding cases affecting family life ( Deuteronomy 21:18-21 ,  Deuteronomy 22:13-21 ), and executing decisions ( Deuteronomy 19:11-13;  Deuteronomy 21:1-9 ).

Although elders were less prominent in the post-exilic period and the term was apparently not much used in Jewish communities outside Palestine, the “council of elders” was an integral part of the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem. In the New Testament, frequent reference is made to the elders of the Jews, usually in conjunction with the chief priests or scribes (for example,  Matthew 21:23;  Mark 14:43 ). In this context the elders, apparently members of leading families, had some authority but were not the principal leaders in either religious or political affairs. Elders did have leading roles in the government of synagogues and after the fall of the Temple became even more central to Jewish religious life.

Elders in the New Testament In the earliest Jewish Christian churches, at least the church in Jerusalem, the position of “elder” was almost certainly modeled after the synagogue pattern. Although there are few specific details about the function of elders in the Jerusalem church, they apparently served as a decision-making council. They are often mentioned in conjunction with the apostles, and some passages give the impression that the apostles and elders of Jerusalem considered themselves to be a decision-making council for the whole church ( Acts 15:1;  Acts 21:17-26 ). As the Jewish character of the Jerusalem church increased with the departure of Philip, Peter, and others more amenable to preaching to Gentiles, the synagogue pattern probably became even more pronounced in Jerusalem.

Other churches also had elders.  Acts 14:23 reports that Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in churches on their missionary journey. These elders do not seem to fit the Jewish pattern, however. In the address to the Ephesian elders Paul referred to them as overseeing the church and serving as shepherds of the church (  Acts 20:28 ). Paul did not use the term “elders” often usually referring to the functions of ministry rather than titles of offices. For example, in  Romans 12:6-9 , Paul referred to those with gifts for prophecy, serving, teaching, and several other aspects of ministry (compare  1 Corinthians 12:1 ). Although those exercising such gifts in churches are not expressly called elders, it is likely that at least some of them were elders. Thus, elders in the Pauline churches were probably spiritual leaders and ministers, not simply a governing council.

One of the most debated questions concerning the pattern of early Christian ministry is the relationship between bishops and elders. Some scholars believe the two terms are interchangeable; others argue that they refer to distinct offices. Nowhere in the letters of Paul is there any explicit reference to the duties of either, nor is there any listing of the qualifications of elders.  Titus 1:1 :  5-9 is the only passage which mentions both terms. The passage begins with a direction that elders be appointed in every town and continues with a description of the qualifications for a bishop. The context leads to the conclusion that the directions and the qualifications refer to the same persons, thus implying that the terms are interchangeable.

The qualifications in  Titus 1:6-9 and in   1 Timothy 3:1-7 apparently apply to elders. It becomes apparent that the elders were the spiritual leaders of the churches. Taken as a whole, the qualifications describe one who is a mature Christian of good repute, with gifts for teaching, management, and pastoral ministry. The only specific reference to the ministry of elders is the description (  James 5:14-15 ) of elders praying for and anointing a sick person. Although “bishop” usually occurs in the singular form, none of these passages indicate that there was only one elder in each congregation. The nature of the relationship between the various elders is nowhere described.

Although some translations use the term “ordain” in reporting the appointment of elders ( Acts 14:23;  Titus 1:5 ), there is little evidence concerning the church's practice of commissioning elders. The reference to laying on of hands in  1 Timothy 4:14 , as well as the analogous ceremony in commissioning the seven ( Acts 6:6 ), seems to indicate that the church did make formal recognition of their function, or office. With the possible exception of  1 Timothy 4:14 , however, none of the references to such ceremonies contain any implication that the ceremony gave the recipient any special status or power.

After the New Testament period, the structure of the ministry became more formalized. By the early second century, many churches were governed by one ruling bishop, assisted by presbyters (elders). These presbyters performed pastoral tasks, preached sermons, and conducted worship services. Often, perhaps usually, bishops were chosen from the ranks of the presbyters, thus making the bishops the “chief presbyters.” By the third century, as the Lord's Supper was increasingly conceived as a reenactment of the sacrifice of Christ, the priestly function became more central to the presbyter's role. Thus, the English word “priest” was derived from “presbyter.”

Fred A. Grissom

People's Dictionary of the Bible [4]

Elder. We find the "eldest servant" of Abraham's house "ruling over all that he had,"  Genesis 24:2; we have also mention of "the elders of Joseph's house," and the "elders of the land of Egypt,"  Genesis 50:7, obviously indicating the chiefs of Joseph's establishment, and high Egyptian officers. Moses was desired to convey the divine message to "the elders of Israel,"  Exodus 3:16; and they were both to accompany him when he demanded freedom from Pharaoh, and also to be the means of communication between Moses and the mass of the people.  Exodus 3:18;  Exodus 4:29;  Exodus 12:21. We are not told who these elders were, probably the leading persons in each tribe. We find them after the departure from Egypt,  Exodus 17:6;  Exodus 19:7; and from these, 70 were selected for special worship with Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu.  Exodus 24:1-2;  Exodus 24:9-11. Moses had, at the suggestion of Jethro, appointed officers to administer justice,  Exodus 18:26, but he seems to have required, further, a body of (if they may be so called) political advisers. Accordingly 70 out of the general class of elders were chosen, approved men; and on these the divine Spirit was especially poured.  Numbers 11:10-30. Possibly it was from this example that the Sanhedrin was afterwards constituted. There were "elders" of neighboring nations, synonymous with "princes," as of Moab and Midian,  Numbers 22:7;  Numbers 22:13, and of the Hivites.  Joshua 9:11. And we find the institution remaining in Israel through the whole history, under every change of government, and a certain authority exercised by them to which the people submitted. Sometimes they are mentioned as local magistrates, presiding over separate tribes or districts, and sometimes as the superior class, it is likely, acting generally for the nation.  Deuteronomy 19:12;  Deuteronomy 21:2-3;  Deuteronomy 21:6;  Deuteronomy 31:28;  Joshua 9:15;  Joshua 9:18-21;  Joshua 24:1;  Judges 2:7;  Judges 8:14;  Judges 11:5;  1 Samuel 4:3;  1 Samuel 8:4;  1 Samuel 16:4;  1 Samuel 30:26;  2 Samuel 17:4;  2 Samuel 19:11;  1 Kings 12:6;  1 Kings 20:8;  1 Kings 21:11;  2 Kings 10:1;  2 Kings 10:5;  1 Chronicles 21:16;  Ezra 5:5;  Ezra 6:7;  Ezra 6:14;  Ezra 10:8;  Ezra 10:14;  Jeremiah 29:1;  Ezekiel 8:1;  Ezekiel 8:12. Those who locally administered justice are said to have been termed "elders of the gate,"  Proverbs 31:23;  Lamentations 5:14; because that was the place where a court was often held.  Ruth 4:2;  Ruth 4:4;  Ruth 4:9;  Ruth 4:11. Elders are mentioned in Maccabean times, apparently distinct from the Sanhedrin,  1 Maccabees 7:33;  1 Maccabees 12:6. In the New Testament history they are associated with the chief priests and scribes, but yet not to be confounded with them.  Matthew 16:21;  Matthew 21:23;  Matthew 26:59;  Matthew 27:41. And an analogous class yet subsists among Arab tribes, viz., their Sheikhs, a word implying "old men." Officers of the Christian church are designated by elders,  Acts 14:23;  Acts 20:17; and regulations are given in regard to them,  1 Timothy 5:1;  1 Timothy 5:17;  1 Timothy 5:19; the Greek word for elder being Presbuteros . In every congregation of believers, as gathered by the apostles, a number of elders were ordained.  Acts 14:23;  Acts 20:17;  Titus 1:5. Their duty was to feed, oversee and look after the flock. They were called elders, overseers, or bishops,  Acts 20:28;  1 Timothy 3:5;  1 Peter 5:1;  1 Peter 5:3;  Hebrews 13:17, showing that their duties were similar.  Titus 1:5;  Titus 1:7;  Acts 20:28;  Philippians 1:1. The injunction, "Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine," shows, that the office, as ruler and teacher, is united.  1 Timothy 3:2;  1 Timothy 5:17,  Romans 12:8;  1 Thessalonians 5:12-13;  1 Peter 5:2;  Titus 1:9. They were local officers of congregations, sometimes called bishops or overseers. See  Acts 20:17;  Acts 20:28;  Titus 1:5 ff.;  1 Peter 5:1. The distinction in Scripture between the teaching and the ruling elder is not very clear, unless it can be found in  1 Timothy 5:17.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [5]

Elder (in OT). The rudimentary form of government which prevailed amongst the Hebrews in primitive times grew out of family life. As the father is head of the household, so the chiefs of the principal families ruled the clan and the tribe, their authority being ill-defined, and, like that of an Arab sheik, depending on the consent of the governed. In our earliest documents the ‘elders of Israel’ are the men of position and influence, who represent the community in both religious and civil affairs (  Exodus 3:16;   Exodus 3:18;   Exodus 12:11;   Exodus 17:5 f.,   Exodus 18:12;   Exodus 19:7 ,   Numbers 11:16 ,   Deuteronomy 5:23;   Deuteronomy 27:1;   Deuteronomy 31:28 ): the ‘elders’ of   Exodus 24:1 are the ‘nobles’ of   Exodus 24:11 . Josephus sums up correctly when he makes Moses declare: ‘Aristocracy … is the best constitution’ ( Ant . VI. viii. 17). The system existed in other Semitic races (  Numbers 22:4 ,   Joshua 9:11 ,   Ezekiel 27:9 ,   Psalms 105:22 ). After the settlement in Canaan the ‘elders’ still possessed much weight ( 1Sa 4:3;   1 Samuel 8:4;   1 Samuel 15:30 , 2Sa 3:17;   2 Samuel 5:3;   2 Samuel 17:14 f.,   1 Kings 8:1 ). And now we find ‘elders of the city’ the governing body of the town (  Ruth 4:2; Rth 4:9 ,   1 Samuel 11:3 ,   1 Kings 21:8; 1Ki 21:11 ,   2 Kings 10:1;   2 Kings 10:5 ); the little town of Succoth boasted no fewer than seventy-seven (  Judges 8:14 ). Deuteronomy brings into prominence their judicial functions (  Deuteronomy 16:18;   Deuteronomy 19:12;   Deuteronomy 21:2 ff;   Deuteronomy 22:15 ff;   Deuteronomy 25:7 ff.), which were doubtless infringed upon by the position of the king as supreme judge ( 1Sa 8:20 ,   2 Samuel 15:4 , 1Ki 3:9 ,   2 Kings 15:5 ,   Isaiah 11:5 ,   Amos 2:3 ), but could not be abolished (  1 Kings 20:7 ff.,   2 Kings 10:1 ff;   2 Kings 23:1 ). During the Exile the ‘elders’ are the centre of the people’s life (  Jeremiah 29:1 ,   Ezekiel 8:1;   Ezekiel 14:1;   Ezekiel 20:1 ,   Ezra 5:9 ff;   Ezra 6:7 ff.; cf. Sus 5), and after the Return they continue active (  Ezra 10:8;   Ezra 10:14 ,   Psalms 107:32 ,   Proverbs 31:23 ,   Joel 1:14;   Joel 2:16 ). It is not improbable that the later Sanhedrin is a development of this institution.

J. Taylor.

ELDER (in NT). See Bishop; Church Government, 6 ( 2 ).

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [6]

Age is the standard of dignity in a patriarchal system. Hence, the office of elder was the basis of government; as in our "alderman," the Arab sheikh = "old man" ( Joshua 24:31;  1 Kings 12:6). The institution existed when Moses first opened his divine commission to Israel. Even in their Egyptian bondage they retained their national organization and government by elders, who represented the people ( Exodus 3:16;  Exodus 4:29;  Joshua 24:1-2). After the settlement in Canaan they were named "elders of Israel" or "of the land" ( 1 Samuel 4:3;  1 Kings 20:7) or "of the tribes" ( Deuteronomy 31:28) or "of the city," ( Deuteronomy 19:12, compare  Deuteronomy 16:18;  Ruth 4:9;  Ruth 4:11).

They retained their position under the judges ( Judges 2:7), the kings ( 2 Samuel 17:4), in the captivity ( Jeremiah 29:1), and on the return ( Ezra 5:5); and in New Testament times as one of the classes from which the Sanhedrin members were chosen, and are associated with the chief priests and scribes ( Matthew 16:21;  Matthew 21:23;  Matthew 26:59;  Luke 22:66), "the presbytery of the people" (Greek). Ecclesiastical elders or presbyters (from whence "priest" is contracted) of the Christian church were a class of church governors borrowed naturally from the synagogue; especially as cases occurred of whole synagogues and their officers embracing Christianity. (See Synagogue ; Bishop; Deacon; Church )

Paul ordained them on his first missionary journey (compare  Acts 14:23). The four and twenty elders (Revelation 4) represent the combined heads of the Old and New Testament congregations, the twelve patriarchs and twelve apostles; answering to the typical 24 courses of priests, "governors of the sanctuary and governors of God" ( 1 Chronicles 24:5;  1 Chronicles 25:31).

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [7]

An overseer, ruler, leader. Elders, or seniors, in ancient Jewish polity, were persons the most considerable for age, experience, and wisdom. Of this sort were the 7- men whom Moses associated with himself in the government: such likewise afterwards were those who held the first rank in the synagogue as presidents.

Elders, in church history, were originally those who held the first place in the assemblies of the primitive Christians. The word presbyter is often used in the New Testament in this signification; hence the first councils of Christians were called Presbyteria, or councils of elders.

Elders in the presbyterian discipline, are officers, who, in conjunction with the ministers and deacons, compose the kirk sessions, who formerly used to inspect and regulate matters of religion and discipline; but whose principal business now is to take care of the poor's funds. They are chosen from among the people, and are received publicly with some degree of ceremony. In Scotland there is an indefinite number of elders in each parish, generally about twelve.

See Presbyterians It has long been a matter of dispute, whether there are any such officers as lay-elders mentioned in Scripture. On the one side it is observed, that these officers are no where mentioned as being alone or single, but always as being many in every congregation. They are also mentioned separately from the brethren. Their office, more than once, is described as being distinct from that of preaching, not only in  Romans 12:1-21 : where he that ruleth is expressly distinguished from him that exhorteth or teacheth, but also in that passage,   1 Timothy 5:17 . On the other side it is said, that from the above-mentioned passages, nothing can be collected with certainty to establish this opinion; neither can it be inferred from any other passage that churches should be furnished with such officers, though perhaps prudence, in some circumstances, may make them expedient. "I incline to think, " says Dr. Guise, on the passage  1 Timothy 5:17 , "that the apostle intends only preaching elders, when he directs double honour to be paid to the elders that rule well, especially those who labour in the word and doctrine; and that the distinction lies not in the order of officers, but in the degree of their diligence, faithfulness, and eminence in laboriously fulfilling their ministerial work; and to the emphasis is to be laid on the word labour in the word and doctrine, which has an especially annexed to it."

Smith's Bible Dictionary [8]

Elder. The term elder , or Old Man as the Hebrew literally imports, was one of extensive use, as an official title, among the Hebrews and the surrounding nations, because the heads of tribes and the leading people who had acquired influence were naturally the older people of the nation. It had reference to various offices.  Genesis 24:2;  Genesis 50:7;  2 Samuel 12:17;  Ezekiel 27:9. As betokening a political office, it applied not only to the Hebrews, but also to the Egyptians,  Genesis 50:7, the Moabites and the Midianites.  Numbers 22:7.

The earliest notice of the elders acting in concert as a political body is at the time of the Exodus. They were the representatives of the people, so much so that Elders and People are occasionally used as equivalent terms; Compare  Joshua 24:1 with  Joshua 24:2;  Joshua 24:19;  Joshua 24:21 and  1 Samuel 8:4 with  1 Samuel 8:7;  1 Samuel 8:10;  1 Samuel 8:19.

Their authority was undefined, and extended to all matters concerning the public weal. Their number and influence may be inferred from  1 Samuel 30:26 ff. They retained their position under all the political changes which the Jews underwent. The seventy elders mentioned in Exodus and Numbers were a sort of governing body, a parliament, and the origin of the tribunal of seventy elders called the Sanhedrin or Council. In the New Testament Church, the elders or presbyters were the same as the bishops. It was an office derived from the Jewish usage of elders or rulers of the synagogues. See Bishop .

Easton's Bible Dictionary [9]

 Genesis 50:7 Numbers 22:7 Exodus 3:16 Exodus 24:1 Numbers 11:16,17 Deuteronomy 31:28 1 Samuel 30:26-31 Matthew 16:21 21:23 26:59

The Jewish eldership was transferred from the old dispensation to the new. "The creation of the office of elder is nowhere recorded in the New Testament, as in the case of deacons and apostles, because the latter offices were created to meet new and special emergencies, while the former was transmitted from the earlies times. In other words, the office of elder was the only permanent essential office of the church under either dispensation."

The "elders" of the New Testament church were the "pastors" ( Ephesians 4:11 ), "bishops or overseers" ( Acts 20:28 ), "leaders" and "rulers" ( Hebrews 13:7;  1 Thessalonians 5:12 ) of the flock. Everywhere in the New Testament bishop and presbyter are titles given to one and the same officer of the Christian church. He who is called presbyter or elder on account of his age or gravity is also called bishop or overseer with reference to the duty that lay upon him ( Titus 1:5-7;  Acts 20:17-28;  Philippians 1:1 ).

Webster's Dictionary [10]

(1): ( a.) An aged person; one who lived at an earlier period; a predecessor.

(2): ( a.) A person who, on account of his age, occupies the office of ruler or judge; hence, a person occupying any office appropriate to such as have the experience and dignity which age confers; as, the elders of Israel; the elders of the synagogue; the elders in the apostolic church.

(3): ( a.) A clergyman authorized to administer all the sacraments; as, a traveling elder.

(4): ( n.) A genus of shrubs (Sambucus) having broad umbels of white flowers, and small black or red berries.

(5): ( a.) One who is older; a superior in age; a senior.

(6): ( a.) Born before another; prior in years; senior; earlier; older; as, his elder brother died in infancy; - opposed to younger, and now commonly applied to a son, daughter, child, brother, etc.

(7): ( a.) Older; more aged, or existing longer.

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [11]

‘Elder’ preserves better than ‘presbyter’ the history of the title, which goes back to the fact that tribes wore governed by the heads of their component families. ‘Elder’ is probably the earliest name, after ‘apostle,’ for a Christian official ( Acts 11:30). See Bishop and Church Government.

A. Plummer.

King James Dictionary [12]

EL'DER, n. A species of duck.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [13]

(properly זָקֵן , Zaken'; Πρεσβύτερος , a term which is plainly the origin of our word "Priest;" Saxon Preoster And Presfe, Then Priest, High and Low Dutch Priester, French Prestre and Pretre, Ital. Prete, Span. Presbytero), literally, one of the older men; and because, in ancient times, older persons would naturally be selected to 'hold public offices, out of regard to their presumed superiority in knowledge and experience, the term came to be used as the designation for the office itself, borne by an individual of whatever age. (See Gesenius, Hebrews Lex. s.v.) Such is the origin of the words Γερουσία (a council of elders), senatus, alderman, etc.

I.' In the O.T. The term elder was one of extensive use, as an official title, among the Hebrews and the surrounding nations. It applied to various offices; Eliezer, for instance, is described as the "old man of the house," i.e., the major-domo ( Genesis 24:2); the officers of Pharaoh's household ( Genesis 1:1-31;  Genesis 7:1-24), and, at a later period, David's head servants ( 2 Samuel 12:17) were so termed; while in  Ezekiel 27:9 the "old men of Gebal" are the master-workmen. But the term "elder" appears to be also expressive of respect and reverence in general, as signore, seigneur, seseor, etc. The word occurs in this sense in  Genesis 1:7, "Joseph went up to bury his father, and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt" (Sept. Πρεσβύτεροι , Vulg. Senes). These elders of Egypt were probably the various state officers. As betokening a political office, it applied not only to the Hebrews and Egyptians, but also to the Moabites and Midianites ( Numbers 22:7). The elders of Israel, of whom such frequent mention is made, may have been, in early times, the lineal descendants of the patriarchs ( Exodus 12:21). To the elders Moses was directed to open his commission ( Exodus 3:16 . They accompanied Moses in his first interview with Pharaoh, as the representatives of the Hebrew nation ( Exodus 3:18); through them Moses issued his communications and commands to the whole people ( Exodus 19:7;  Deuteronomy 31:9); they were his immediate attendants in all great transactions in the wilderness ( Exodus 17:5); seventy of their number were selected to attend Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, at the giving of the law ( Exodus 24:1), on which occasion they are called the Nobles ( אֲצַילַים , lit. Deep-Rooted. i.e., of high-born stock; Sept. Ἐπίλεκτοι ) of the children of Israel, who did eat and drink before God, in ratification of the covenant, as representatives of the nation ( Exodus 24:11). In  Numbers 11:16-17, we meet with the appointment of seventy elders to bear the burden of the people along with Moses; these were selected by Moses out of the whole number of the elders, and are described as being already officers over the children of Israel. It is the opinion of Michaelis that this council chosen to assist Moses should not be confounded with the Sanhedrim, which, he thinks, was not instituted till after the return from the Babylonish captivity. (See Sanhedrim).

He observes that these seventy elders were not chosen to be Judges of the people, who had already more than 60,000 judges. He also argues that the election of seventy additional Judges would have done but little towards suppressing the rebellion which led Moses to adopt this proceeding; but that it seems more likely to have been his intention to form a supreme senate to take a share in the government, consisting of the most respectable persons, either for family or merit, which would materially support his power and influence among the people in general; would unite large and powerful families, and give an air of aristocracy to his government, which had hitherto been deemed too monarchical. He further infers that this council was not permanent, not being once alluded to from the death of Moses till the Babylonish captivity; that Moses did not fill up the vacancies occasioned by deaths, and that it ceased altogether in the wilderness. Wherever a patriarchal system is in force, the office of the elder will be found as the keystone of the social and political fabric; it is so at the present day among the Arabs, where the sheik (=the old man) is the highest authority in the tribe. That the title originally had reference to age is obvious; and age was naturally a concomitant of the office at all periods ( Joshua 24:31;  1 Kings 12:6), even when the term had acquired its secondary sense. At what period the transition occurred, in other words, When the word elder acquired an official signification, it is impossible to say. The earliest notice of the elders acting in concert as a political body is at the time of the Exodus. We need not assume that the order was then called into existence, but rather that Moses availed himself of an institution already existing and recognised by his countrymen, and that, in short, "the elders of Israel" ( Exodus 3:16;  Exodus 4:29) had been the Senate (Sept. Γερουσία ) of the people ever since they had become a people. The position which the elders held in the Mosaic constitution, and more particularly in relation to the people, is described under CONGREGATION (See Congregation).

They were the representatives of the people, so much so that Elders and People are occasionally used as equivalent terms (comp.  Joshua 24:1 with 2, 19, 21;  1 Samuel 8:4 with 7, 10, 19). Their authority was undefined, and extended to all matters concerning the public weal; nor did the people question the validity of their acts, even when they disapproved of them ( Joshua 9:18). When the tribes became settled the elders were distinguished by different titles, according as they were acting as national representatives ("elders of Israel,"  1 Samuel 4:3;  1 Kings 8:1;  1 Kings 8:3; "of the land,"  1 Kings 20:7; "of Judah,"  2 Kings 23:1;  Ezekiel 8:1), as district governors over the several tribes ( Deuteronomy 31:28;  2 Samuel 19:11), or as local magistrates in the provincial towns, appointed in conformity with  Deuteronomy 16:18, whose duty it was to sit in the gate and administer justice ( Deuteronomy 19:12;  Deuteronomy 21:3;  Deuteronomy 22:15;  Ruth 4:9;  Ruth 4:11;  1 Kings 21:8;  Judges 10:6); their number and influence may be inferred from  1 Samuel 30:26 sq. They retained their position under all the political changes which the Jews underwent: under the judges ( Judges 2:7;  Judges 8:14;  Judges 11:5;  1 Samuel 4:3;  1 Samuel 8:4); in the time of Samuel ( 1 Samuel 16:4); under Saul ( 1 Samuel 30:26), David ( 1 Chronicles 21:16), and the later kings ( 2 Samuel 17:4;  1 Kings 12:6;  1 Kings 20:8;  1 Kings 21:11); during the captivity ( Jeremiah 29:1;  Ezekiel 8:1;  Ezekiel 14:1;  Ezekiel 20:1); subsequently to the return ( Ezra 5:5;  Ezra 6:7;  Ezra 6:14;  Ezra 10:8;  Ezra 10:14); under the Maccabees, when they were described sometimes as the senate ( Γερουσία ;  1 Maccabees 12:6;  2 Maccabees 1:10;  2 Maccabees 4:44;  2 Maccabees 11:27; Josephus, Ant. 12:3, 3), sometimes by their ordinary title ( 1 Maccabees 7:33;  1 Maccabees 11:23;  1 Maccabees 12:35); and, lastly, at the commencement of the Christian aera, when they are noticed as a distinct body from the Sanhedrim, but connected with it as one of the classes whence its members were selected, and always acting in conjunction with it and the other dominant classes. (See Council).

Thus they are associated sometimes with the chief priests ( Matthew 21:23), sometimes with the chief priests and the scribes ( Matthew 16:21), or the council ( Matthew 26:59), always taking an active part in the management of public affairs. Luke describes the whole order by the collective term Πρεσβυτηριον , i.e. eldership ( Luke 22:66;  Acts 22:5).. Like the scribes, they obtained their seat in the Sanhedrim by election, or nomination from the executive authority. (See Age).

II. In The New Testament And In The Apostolical Church . In the article BISHOP (See Bishop) (1:818 sq.), the origin and functions of the eldership in the N.T. and in the early Church are treated at some length, especially with regard to the question of the original identity of Bishops and presbyters (or elders). Referring our readers to that discussion, we add here the following points.

1. Origin Of The Office. No specific account of the origin of the eldership in the Christian Church is given in the N.T. "The demand for it arose, no doubt, very early; as, notwithstanding the wider diffusion of gifts not restricted to office, provision was to be made plainly for the regular and fixed instruction and conduct of the rapidly multiplying churches. The historical pattern for it was presented in the Jewish synagogue, namely, in the college or bench of elders ( Πρεσβύτεροι ,  Luke 7:3; Ἀρχισυνάγωγοι ,  Mark 5:22;  Acts 13:15), who conducted the functions of public worship, prayer, reading, and exposition of the Scriptures. We meet Christian presbyters for the first time ( Acts 11:30) at Jerusalem, on the occasion of the collection sent from the Christians of Antioch for the relief of their brethren in Judaea. From thence the institution passed over not only to all the Jewish Christian churches, but to those also which were planted among the Gentiles. From the example of the household of Stephanas at Corinth ( 1 Corinthians 16:15) we see that the first converts (the Ἀπαρχαί ) ordinarily were chosen to this office, a fact expressly confirmed also by Clemens Romanus" (1 Corinthians c. 13). Schaff, in Meth. Quart. Rev. Oct. 1851; Apostolic Church, § 132. "The creation of the office of elder is nowhere recorded in the N.T., as in the case of deacons and apostles, because the latter offices were created to meet new and special emergencies, while the former was transmitted from the earliest times. In other words, the office of elder was the only permanent essential office of the Church under either dispensation" (Princeton Review, 19:61). The Jewish eldership, according to this view, was tacitly transferred from the Old Dispensation to the New, without express or formal institution, except in Gentile churches, where no such office had a previous existence (comp.  Acts 11:30;  Acts 14:23).

2. Functions Of The Elders. The "elders" of the N.T. Church were plainly the "pastors" ( Ephesians 4:11), "bishops, or overseers" ( Acts 20:28, etc.); "leaders" and rulers" ( Hebrews 13:7;  1 Thessalonians 5:12, etc.) of the flock. But they were not only leaders and rulers, but also the " regular teachers of the congregation, to whom pertained officially the exposition of the Scriptures, the preaching of the Gospel, and the administration of the sacraments. That this function was closely connected with the other is apparent, even from the conjunction of 'pastors and teachers,'  Ephesians 4:11, where the terms, as we have already seen, denote the same persons. The same association of ruling and teaching occurs  Hebrews 13:7 : 'Remember them which have the rule over you ( Ἡγούμενοι ), who have spoken unto you the word of God ( Οἵτινες Ἐλάλησαν Ὑμῖν Τὸν Λόγον Τοῦ Θεοῦ ), whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation' (comp.  Hebrews 13:17). Especially decisive, however, are the instructions of the pastoral epistles, where Paul, among the requirements for the presbyterate, in addition to a blameless character and a talent for business and government, expressly mentions also ability to teach ( 1 Timothy 3:2): 'A bishop must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, Apt To Teach ( Διδακτικόν ), etc.; so also  Titus 1:9, where it is required of a bishop that he shall hold fast the faithful word as he hath been taught ( Ἀντεχόμενον Τοῦ Κατὰ Τὴν Διδαχὴν Πιστοῦ Λόγου ) , that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers'" (Schaff, 1. c.). It is not improbable (indeed, several passages in the New Testament seem clearly to favor the notion) that many persons were ordained elders in the apostolical age who were not, and could not be, separated from their temporal occupations. "At first, those who held office in the Church continued, in all probability, to exercise their former trades for a livelihood. The churches would scarcely be able (as they were mostly poor) to provide stipends at first for their pastors" (Neander). Nevertheless, men specially called and fitted for the work, and devoted to it, were entitled by the Christian law, as set forth by the apostles, to be supported by the people; but there was no distinction of rank, honor, or authority between those elders who had stipends and those who had none, unless, indeed, the latter, who, following Paul's example, "worked with their own hands" that they might not be chargeable to the churches, were held in greater honor for the time. The principle that full ministerial title may stand apart from stipend is fully recognised in modern times in the system of local preachers (q.v.) in the Methodist Episcopal Church (see Steward, On Church Government, Lond. 1853, page 128).

"After the pattern of the synagogues, as well as of the political administration of cities, which from of old was vested in the hands of a senate or college of decuriones, every church had a number of presbyters. We meet them everywhere in the plural and as a corporation: at Jerusalem,  Acts 11:30;  Acts 15:4;  Acts 15:6;  Acts 15:23;  Acts 21:18; at Ephesus, 20:17, 28; at Philippi,  Philippians 1:1; at the ordination of Timothy,  1 Timothy 4:14, where mention is made of the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery; and in the churches to which James wrote,  James 5:14 : 'Is any sick among you? let him call for the Presbyters Of The Congregation, and let them pray over him,' etc. This is implied also by the notice ( Acts 14:23) that Paul and Barnabas ordained elders for Every church, several of them of course; and still more clearly by the direction given to Titus ( Titus 1:5) to ordain elders, that is, a presbytery of such officers, in every city of Crete. Some learned men, indeed, have imagined that the arrangement in the larger cities included several congregations, while, however, each of these had but one elder or bishop; that the principle of congregational polity thus from the beginning was neither democratic nor aristocratic, but monarchical. But this view is contradicted by the passages just quoted, in which the presbyters appear as a college, as well as by the associative tendency which entered into the very life of Christians from the beginning. The household congregations ( Ἐκκλησίαι Κατ᾿ Οϊ v Κον ), which are often mentioned and greeted ( Romans 16:4-5;  Romans 16:14-15;  1 Corinthians 16:19;  Colossians 4:15;  Philemon 1:2), indicate merely the fact that where the Christians had become very numerous they were accustomed to meet for edification at different places, and by no means exclude the idea of their organized union as a whole, or of their being governed by a common body of presbyters. Hence, accordingly, the apostolical epistles also are never addressed to a separate part, an Ecclesiola In Ecclesia, a conventicle, but always to the whole body of Christians at Rome, at Corinth, at Ephesus, at Philippi, at Thessalonica, etc., treating them in such case as a moral unity (comp.  1 Thessalonians 1:1;  2 Thessalonians 1:1;  1 Corinthians 1:2;  1 Corinthians 5:1 sq.;  2 Corinthians 1:1;  2 Corinthians 1:23;  2 Corinthians 2:1 sq.;  Colossians 4:16;  Philippians 1:1, etc.). Whether a full parity reigned among these collegiate presbyters, or whether one, say the eldest, constantly presided over the rest, or whether, finally, one followed another in such presidency as primes inter pares by some certain rotation, cannot be decisively determined from the N.T. The analogy of the Jewish synagogue leads here to no entirely sure result, since it is questionable whether a particular presidency belonged to its eldership as early 'as the time of Christ. Some sort of presidency, indeed, would seem to be almost indispensable for any well-ordered government and the regular transaction of business, and is thus beforehand probable in the case of these primitive Christian presbyteries, only the particular form of it we have no means to determine" (Schaff, 1.c.).

III. In The Early Church (Post-Apostolic). Very soon after the apostolic age the episcopacy arose, first in the congregational form, afterwards in the diocesan episcopacy. (See Episcopacy). Until the full development of the latter, elders or presbyters were the highest order of ministers. No trace of ruling elders, in the modern sense, is to be found in the early Church. There was a class of Seniores Ecclesie in the African Church, whom some writers have supposed to correspond to the ruling elder; but Bingham clearly shows the contrary. The name occurs in the writings of Augustine and Optatus. In the Diocletian persecution, when Mensurius was compelled to leave his church, he committed the ornaments and utensils to such of the elders as he could trust, fidelibus senioribus commendabit (Optatus, lib. I, page 41) In the works of Optatus there is a tract called "the Purgation of Felix and Caecilian," where is mention of these seniores. Augustine inscribes one of his epistles, Clero, senioribus, et universae plebi: "To the clergy, the elders, and all the people" (Epist. 137). According to Bingham, some of these seniores were the civil optimates (magistrates, aldermen); the Council of Carthage (A.D. 403) speaks of magistratus vel seniores locorum. Others were called seniores ecclesiastici, and had care of the utensils, treasures, etc., of the church, and correspond to modern churchwardens or trustees (Bingham, Orig. Ecclesiastes book 2, chapter 19, § 19; Hitchcock, in Amer. Presb. Review, April 1868).

IV. In The Modern Church.

1. In the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England, and the Protestant Episcopal Church, the word "priest" is generally used instead of "presbyter" or "elder" to designate the second order of ministers (the three orders being bishops, priests, and deacons). (See Presbyter);(See Priest).

2. In the Methodist Episcopal Church but two orders of ministers are recognised, viz. elders and deacons, the bishop being chosen as Primus Inter Pares, or superintendent. (See Episcopacy). For the election, ordination, duties, etc., of elders, see the Discipline Of The Methodist Episcopal Church, part 2, chapter 2, § 15, and part 4, chapter 6, § 2. The Presiding Elder is appointed by the bishop, once in four years, to superintend a district. For the nature and functions of this office, (See Presiding Elder).

3. Among Congregationalists, the only Church officers now known are elders (or ministers) and deacons. Ruling elders were recognised in the Cambridge platform (q.v.), and their duties particularly pointed out; but neither the office itself nor the reasons by which it was supported were long approved. Ruling elders never were universal in Congregationalism, and the office was soon everywhere rejected (Upham, Ratio Disciplinae, 1844, § 38, 39; Dexter, On Congregationalism).

4. Among Presbyterian churches (i.e. all which adopt the Presbyterian form of government, whether designated by that name or not) there are generally two classes of elders, teaching and ruling elders. The teaching elders constitute the body of pastors; the ruling elders are laymen, who are set apart as assistants to the minister in the oversight and ruling of the flock. Together with the minister, they constitute "the Session," the lowest judicatory in the Church. (See Presbyterian Church). They cannot administer the sacraments, but aid at the Lord's Supper by distributing the elements to the communicants.

1. In Scotland, ruling elders constitute, with the ministers, the "Kirk Session." The Form Of Government annexed to the Confession Of Faith asserts that 'as there were in the Jewish Church elders of the people, joined with the priests and Levites in the government of the Church, so Christ, who hath instituted government and governors ecclesiastical in the Church, besides the ministers of the Word, with gifts for government, and with commission to execute the same when called thereunto, who are to join with the minister in the government of the Church, which officers reformed churches commonly call Elders ." "These elders are chosen from among the members, and are usually persons of tried character. After their acceptance of office, the minister, in the presence of the congregation, sets them apart to their office by prayer, and sometimes by imposition of hands, and concludes the ceremony of Ordination with exhorting both elders and people to discharge their respective duties. They have no right to teach or to dispense the sacraments. 'They generally discharge the office, which originally belonged to the deacons, of attending to the interests of the poor; but their peculiar function is expressed by the name "ruling elders;" for in every question of jurisdiction they are the spiritual court of which the minister is officially moderator, and in the presbytery of which the pastors within the bounds are officially members the elders sit as the representatives of the several sessions or consistories' (Hill's Theolog. Instit. part 2, section 2, part 171). In the Established Church of Scotland elders are nominated by the Session, but in unestablished bodies they are freely chosen by the people" (Eadie, Eccl. Cyclop. s.v.). The United Presbyterian Church has the following rules on the subject:

" 1. The right of electing elders is vested solely in the members of the congregation who are in full communion.

2. No fixed number of elders is required, but two, along with the minister, are required to constitute a Session. 3. When the Session judge it expedient that an addition should be made to their number, the first step is to call a meeting of the congregation for the purpose of electing the required number....

6. At the meeting for election a discourse is generally delivered suitable to the occasion. Full opportunity is first of all given to the members to propose candidates. The names are then read over, and, after prayer, the votes are taken, and the individuals having the greatest number of votes are declared to be duly elected.

7. After the election the call of the congregation is intimated to the elders elect, and on their acceptance the Session examines into their qualifications, and, if satisfied, orders an edict to be read in the church.

8. At the time mentioned in the edict, which must be read on two Sabbath days, the Session meets, the elders elect being present. After the Session is constituted, if no objections are brought forward, the day of ordination is fixed. If objections are made, the Session proceeds to inquire into and decide on them.

9. On the day of ordination, the moderator calls on the elders elect to stand forward, and puts to them the questions of the formula. Satisfactory answers being given, the minister proceeds to ordain or set them apart by prayer to the office of ruling elder. Immediately afterwards the right hand of fellowship is given to the persons thus ordained by the minister and by the other elders present, and the whole is followed by suitable exhortations."

2. The Form Of Government of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (book 1, chapter 5) contains the following: "Ruling elders are properly the representatives of the people, chosen by them for the purpose of exercising government and discipline, in conjunction with pastors or ministers. This office has been understood, by a great part of the Protestant reformed churches, to be designated in the holy Scriptures by the title of governments, and of those who rule well, but do not labor in the word and doctrine" ( 1 Corinthians 12:28). Chapter 13 gives the rules for the election and ordination of ruling elders. Each congregation elects "according to the mode most approved and in use in that congregation;" and the whole procedure is very similar to that of the U.P. Church recited above. The ordination is "by prayer" and the "right hand of fellowship," not by imposition of hands. The office is perpetual. The elders, with the pastor, constitute the Session; one elder from each church is a member of Presbytery and Synod; and one for every twenty-four ministers in each presbytery is sent to the General Assembly.

In the Reformed Church the elders are chosen for two years only, by the congregation or by the Consistory (Constitution of the Ref. Dutch Church, chapter 1, art. 3). They are entitled to membership in Classis and Synod as delegates (Constitution, chapter 2, art. 3). There is a form given in the book for their ordination, without imposition of hands. So also in the new liturgy prepared for the German Reformed Church.

3. Ruling Elders. The distinction between teaching and ruling elders originated with Calvin, and has diffused itself very widely among the churches which adopt the Presbyterian form of government; and the authority of the N.T. is claimed for it (see above, 2) in the Presbyterian "Form of Government" (book 1, chapter 5); in the Reformed Church Form Of Ordination (Constit. page 118); in the Lutheran Church Formula Of Government (chapter 3, § 6). The Congregationalists of New England admitted this distinction for a while (see above), but soon abandoned it.

Calvin (Institutes, book 4, chapter 3, § 8) seeks a scriptural basis for lay eldership as follows: "Governors ( 1 Corinthians 12:2) I apprehend to have been persons of advanced years, selected from the people to unite with the bishops in giving admonition, and exercising discipline. No other interpretation can be given of 'He that ruleth, let him do it with diligence' ( Romans 12:8)... . Now that this was not the regulation of a single age experience itself demonstrates." This passage, however, occurs first in the 3d edition of the Institutes, 1543; it is not found in the editions of 1536 or 1539. The office of lay elders had existed before among the Unitas Fratrum, who were supposed to have borrowed it from the Waldenses; but these lay elders were only trustees or churchwardens. Calvin himself organized a lay eldership in Geneva, to be elected yearly, and seems afterwards to have sought a scriptural warrant for it. In so doing he formed a novel theory, viz. that of a two-fold eldership. "This cardinal assumption of a dual presbyterate was controverted by Blondel, himself a Presbyterian, in 1648, and again in 1696 by Vitringa, who, as Rothe says in his Anfange, 'routed from the field this phantom of apostolic lay elders.' Even the Westminster Assembly, when, in 1643, it debated the question of Church government, as it did for nearly four weeks, was careful not to commit itself to Calvin's theory of lay presbyters, refused to call them ruling elders, and in its final report in 1644 spoke of them as 'other Church governors,' 'which reformed churches commonly call elders.' Calvin's theory has also been controverted by James P. Wilson in his Primitive Government of Christian Churches (1833), and by Thomas Smyth in his Name, Nature, and Functions of Ruling Elders (1845). The drift of critical opinion is now decidedly in this direction. It is beginning to be conceded, even among Presbyterians of the staunchest sort, that Calvin was mistaken in his interpretation of  1 Timothy 5:17; that two orders of presbyters are not there brought to view, but only one order, the difference referred to being simply that of service, and not of rank. And if this famous passage fails to justify the Dual Presbyterate, much less may we rely upon the Προϊστάμενος , Έν Σπουδῇ , 'he that ruleth with diligence,' of  Romans 12:8, or the Κυβερνήσεις , 'governments,' of  1 Corinthians 12:28.

In short, the jure divino theory of the lay eldership is steadily losing ground. A better support is sought for it in the New-Testament recognition throughout of the right and propriety of lay participation in Church government; in the general right of the Church, as set forth by Hooker in his Ecclesiastical Polity, to govern itself by whatsoever forms it pleases, provided the great end of government be answered; and in the proved fitness and efficiency of our present Presbyterian polity, as compared either with prelacy on the one side, or Congregationalism on the other" (Hitchcock, in Am. Presb. Rev. 1868, page 255). Dr. Thornwell (Southern Presb. Review, 1859; Spirit of the XIXth Century, December 1843; reprinted in Southern Presb. Rev. July, 1867) sets forth a peculiar theory of the divine right of the ruling eldership, viz. that the ruling elder is the presbyter of the N.T., whose only function was to rule, while the preachers were generally selected from the class of elders. This view is also maintained by Breckinridge (Knowledge of God, subjectively considered, page 629); and is refuted by Dr. Smyth, Princeton Review, volume 33 (see also Princeton Review, 15:313 sq.). Principal Campbell (Theory of Ruling Elderships, Edinb. and Lond. 1866) aims to show that "elder" in the N.T. always means pastor, and never means the modern "ruling elder" (see Brit. and For. Elvan. Review, January 1868, page 222). He shows that the Westminster Assembly, after a long discussion, refused to sanction Calvin's view; but he seeks to find lay elders, under another name, in  Romans 12:8;  1 Corinthians 12:28, etc., and also in early Church History. For a criticism of his view, and a luminous statement of the whole subject of lay eldership, with a conclusive proof that there is no trace of it in the N.T., see Dr. Hitchcock's article in the Amer. Presb. Review, April 1868, page 253 sq. See also an able critical and historical discussion of the subject in Dexter, Congregationalism (Boston, 1865), page 120 sq. The scriptural right of lay elders is maintained in The divine Right of Church Government, with Dr. Owen's Argument in favor of Ruling Elders (New York, 1844, 12mo); in Miller, On Ruling Elders (Presb. Board, 18mo). See also King, Eldership in the Christian Church (N.Y. 1851); Muhlenberg, On the Office of Ruling Elders; M'Kerrow, Office of Ruling Elders (London, 1846); Engles, Duties of Ruling Elders (Presb. Board); Smyth, Name, Nature, and Functions of Ruling Elders (N.Y. 1845, 12mo); Bingham, Orig. Ecclesiastes book 2, chapter 20, § 19; Gieseler, Church History, volume 1, § 29; Neander, Planting and Training, book 1, chapter 2; Davidson, Eccl. Polity of N.T.; Watson, Theol. Institutes, part. 4, chapter 1; Schaff, Apostolic Church, § 132, 113; Rothe, Anfange d. christlichen Kirche, § 28, 29; Bilson, Perpetual Government of Christ's Church; Owen, Works (Edinb. 1851), 15:504.

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [14]

Elder, literally, one of the older men, and because, in ancient times, older persons would naturally be selected to hold public offices, out of regard to their presumed superiority in knowledge and experience, the term came to be used as the designation for the office itself, borne by an individual, of whatever age. But the term 'elder' appears to be also expressive of respect and reverence in general. The word occurs in this sense in , 'Joseph went up to bury his father, and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt.' These elders of Egypt were, probably, the various state-officers. The elders of Israel, of whom such frequent mention is made, may have been, in early times, the lineal descendants of the patriarchs . To the elders Moses was directed to open his commission . They accompanied Moses in his first interview with Pharaoh, as the representatives of the Hebrew nation through them Moses issued his communications and commands to the whole people ; they were his immediate attendants in all the great transactions in the wilderness seventy of their number were selected to attend Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, at the giving of the law , on which occasion they are called the nobles of the children of Israel, who did eat and drink before God, in ratification of the covenant, as representatives of the nation. In , we meet with the appointment of seventy elders to bear the burden of the people along with Moses; these were selected by Moses out of the whole number of the elders, and are described as being, already, officers over the children of Israel. It is the opinion of Michaelis, that this council, chosen to assist Moses, should not be confounded with the Sanhedrim, which, he thinks, was not instituted till after the return from the Babylonish captivity [SANHEDRIM]. After the settlement in Canaan the elders seem to have been the administrators of the laws in all the cities (;;;;; ). The continuance of the office may be traced during the time of the judges during that of Samuel under Saul and David . The elders of Israel are mentioned during the captivity , consisting either of those who had sustained that office in their own land, or were permitted by the Babylonians to exercise it still among their countrymen. We meet with them again at the restoration , and by them the temple was rebuilt . After the restoration and during the time of the Maccabees, the Sanhedrim, according to Michaelis, was instituted, being first mentioned under Hyrcanus II; but elders are still referred to in . Among the members of the Sanhedrim were the 'elders.' Like the scribes, they obtained their seat in the Sanhedrim by election, or nomination from the executive authority. The word elder, with many other Jewish terms, was introduced into the Christian church. In the latter it is the title of inferior ministers, who were appointed overseers among not over the flock (;;;; ). The term is applied even to the apostles . So also 'the Presbytery' certainly includes even St. Paul himself (comp. and ). Still the apostles are distinguished from the elders elsewhere . The elder was constituted by an apostle or someone invested with apostolic authority (; see also the epistles to Timothy and John). The elders preached, confuted gainsayers , and visited the sick . The word elders is sometimes used in the sense of ancients, ancestors, predecessors .

The Nuttall Encyclopedia [15]

A name given to certain office-bearers in the Presbyterian Church, associated with the minister in certain spiritual functions short of teaching and administering sacraments; their duties embrace the general oversight of the congregation, and are of a wider nature than those of the deacons, whose functions are confined strictly to the secular interests of the church; they are generally elected by the church members, and ordained in the presence of the congregation; their term of office is in some cases for a stated number of years, but more generally for life.