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Survey on Elders and Overseers

Survey of Elders and Overseers in the NT 3/91 BC

ACT 11:30 This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

ACT 14:21 They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God," they said. 23 Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.


ACT 15:2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them. 6 The apostles and elders met to consider this question. 22 Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, two men who were leaders among the brothers. 23 With them they sent the following letter: The apostles and elders, your brothers, To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia: Greetings. 24 We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. 28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements:


ACT 15:35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord.

ACT 16:4 As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey.


ACT 20:17 From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. 28 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. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. 32 "Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.


ACT 21:23 so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow.


ROM 13:5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.


1CO 16:15 You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints. I urge you, brothers, 16 to submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in the work, and labors at it.

2CO 10:8 For even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than pulling you down, I will not be ashamed of it. 13:10 This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority--the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down.


PHI 1:1 Paul & Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:

1TI 2:12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.

1TI 3:1 Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.


1 Thess 5:12 But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and chave charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, 13 and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another.17 The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. 19 Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.


TIT 1:5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. 7 Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless--not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.


HEB 13:7 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. 17 Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.

JAM 5:14 Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.


1PE 2:13 Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, 25 For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

1PE 5:1 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed 2 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; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.


1PE 5:5 Young men, in the same way be submissive to the elders.  All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

1PE 5:8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

1PE 5:9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.


"ELDER" Theological Dictionary of the NT (Abridged & Edited) - Kittle

A. 1. "older," or simply "old," with no negative connotations but rather a sense of venerability. It then comes into use. 2. for presidents, members of various guilds, committees, village officials, executive committees of priests, and senior groups of different types.

B. Elders in Israel   1. Elders are presupposed in all strata of the OT. As the heads of large families or clans they are leaders of large units of the people. It is they who supervise the Passover and receive God's revelation at Sinai (Ex 12; 19).  The elders lead the attack on Ai and are specially summoned to the council at Shechem (Josh. 8; 24). A special group is appointed by God to share the burdens of Moses (Num. 11) and is validated by receiving a portion of Moses' spirit.   2. In the age of the judges and the monarchy elders are leading members of the municipalities who make decisions in political, military, and judicial matters. In addition, elders from the districts or tribes meet for common decisions (1 Sm 30). For examples of their functions, see Dt 19; 21.

C. Elder is a term that is also used for leading older scholars, who may often be members of the Sanhedrin. It is also reflected in the tradition that 72 elders, ie, those of good repute and scholarship, translated the OT into Greek. In later Judaism presbýteroi is also a term for local authorities and for members of synagogue councils. 


D. Presbyters in the Primitive Christian Community.

  1. The First Jerusalem Church. Acts 11:30 refers to elders in the first Jerusalem church.  The formation of a body of elders probably takes place as the apostles leave Jerusalem and James assumes the leadership. Its functions are patterned partly after the synagogue council and partly after the Sanhedrin.

  a.  Jms. 5:14 says that the elders should anoint and pray for the sick. These elders are not just charismatic older believers but officebearers.

  b. In Acts.14:23 Paul and Barnabas ordain elders in the Gentile churches. The address of 20:18ff. shows that they are to be overseers and pastors administering the apostles' legacy, following their example, and protecting the people against error. The designation of the elders as bishops in 20:28  is of special interest.

  c. In 1 Pet. 5:1ff. the writer addresses the elders and younger believers as though these were age groups, but obviously the elders are a college of officebearers with a pastoral function. The warnings of vv. 2-3 show that they have charge of the funds and exercise authority. Yet their powers are not autonomous, for they are responsible to Christ, who alone is called epískopos (2:25). The dignity of the office may be seen in Peter's self-designation as sympresbýteros, for if this modestly sets him alongside them, it also sets them alongside him.

  d. In 1 Tim. 5:1 age is obviously denoted by presbýteros, but elsewhere an office is at issue. The presbytérion is a college (1 Tim. 4:14). Titus is to ordain presbýteroi (1:5), and presbýteroi are to be rewarded if they rule well (1 Tim. 5:17) and protected against frivolous charges (5:19). Preaching and teaching are a special function of at least some of the elders (5:17). The bishops and presbyters seem to be much the same (cf. Tit. 1:5, 7ff.). Already, then, there may be a tendency for a leading presbyter to take over administrative functions within the presbyteral college_the probable starting point for the later development of the monarchical bishop.


  E. The Postapostolic Period and the Early Church.

  1. 1 Clement  defends elders who for some unspecified reason have been violently deposed by the church at Corinth. The presbyters here are to be honored as older people are (1.3); they constitute a patriarchal college. Within this college are leaders who are called epískopoi (44.1.6). The order is divinely instituted, deriving from God by way of Christ and the apostles. It has a cultic ministry, i.e., to present the church's offerings (44.4). The whole ordering of the congregation may thus be compared to that of Israel in the OT (40ff.), and this guarantees the inviolability of the presbyteral office. The deposed elders should be reinstated (57.1).

  2. Hermas mentions a college of presbyters (including bishops and deacons) with pastoral functions and a high dignity based on their apostolic associations   3.  In Ignatius there is a single bishop and the elders function as his council. The church must obey them as a spiritual order  but only within a hierarchy culminating in the bishop. The church's unity reflects the divine hierarchy of God, Christ, and the apostles  4.   For Polycarp the bishops and elders are virtually the same, as his initial greeting bears witness. The functions of presbyters include financial administration (11.1-2), discipline, pastoral care, and preaching. If there is any tendency toward the emergence of a single bishop, this is taking place within a presbyterian order.

  5.  In Papias the term presbyters is used for reliable and revered teachers of the authentic tradition. In his own work he wants to collect and present what he has learned from them. They are not the apostles but their immediate pupils, who are itinerants rather than officebearers in specific churches. 6. Familiar with the work of Papias, Irenaeus uses presbýteroi in a similar sense and states clearly that they are disciples of the apostles  Polycarp is one of them; a disciple of John, he taught the young Irenaeus. These elders sponsor both the acts and sayings of Jesus and the true exposition of Scripture. 7. In Clement the teaching office of the presbyters retains its freer form. The elders here are teachers of an earlier generation who have transmitted the early records and authentic biblical exposition either orally or in writing. They do not have to be pupils of the apostles nor to hold congregational office, which is of no great importance for Clement. An analogy may be seen to the rabbinic teaching succession.


OVERSEERS (from TDNTA -Kittle)

  Vb 1. In secular Greek: a. "to look upon," "consider," "have regard to" (something or someone), with such references as inspecting, supervising, having a care to, looking down on, or watching over (the gods); b. "to reflect on," "examine," "investigate" (something), e.g., a document, or virtue; c. "to visit," e.g., the sick (friends or the doctor).

  2. The LXX adds some new meanings and intensifies the religious reference. Thus we find a. "to visit," b. "look on," c. "investigate," but also d. "care for" , e. "find out" . God watches over the land (Dt. 11:12) or visits his people in judgment or mercy (Zech. 10:3). Visitation in judgment produces sense "to punish" (Ex. 32:34; Job 35:15), and visitation in mercy sense "to accept" (Gen. 21:1). A final sense  is "to appoint," "instal," as in Num. 4:27; Neh. 7:1. Appointment by God in Num. 27:16 is important, since it perhaps influenced the selection of the term epískopos for early Christian officebearers.  The NT adopts the eschatological concepts of the hour and day of visitation. Jesus relates the hour of gracious visitation to his own coming to Jerusalem in Lk. 19:44; because the people fails to recognize it, this becomes a visitation of judgment. 1 Pet. 2:12 speaks of the day of visitation when the Gentiles will be brought to glorify God by seeing the good deeds of Christians.  The NT also has episkopç for "office": the apostolic office in Acts 1:16ff. and the episcopal office in 1 Tim. 3:1.


Noun A. epískopos in Nonbiblical Greek. The term means "overseer," "watcher," and thus comes to be used a. for "protector," "patron," and b. for various offices involving oversight, but not of a religious nature.

  1. The Gods as epískopoi. Greek gods are personified forces. They are thus related to the creatures nearest to them, which are under their protection, e.g., springs, groves, cities, peoples, and individuals. Deities watch over these and rule over them, giving sanctity to human life in society. They are thus called epískopoi. They watch over treaties, care for cities, and protect markets. They take note of offenses and punish them, e.g., offenses against parents or violations of graves. Pallas Athene watches over Athens and Artemis over pregnant women. Zeus and the gods watch over all good and evil deeds even down to the most secret details. Specific spheres come under different gods; e.g., Zeus and Pallas Athene rule over cities.

  2. Men as Overseers, Watchers, Scouts. With the same basic sense, the term can be applied to various human activities, e.g., watching over corpses, overseeing a ship or a business or the market or construction, looking after young married couples, ruling a house. Other meanings along these lines are "protector" and "spy" or "scout."

  3. The Cynic as episkopõn and epískopos. These two terms find a special use in Cynic philosophy. Epictetus, for example, views himself, not as a theoretical thinker, but as a divine messenger acting as God's katáskopos to investigate what is good and to test people to see how far they conform to it. episkopeín is sometimes used for this testing.

  4. epískopos as a Designation of Office. a. Athens uses epískopoi for state officials, e.g., supervisors sent by Athens to other cities of the Attic League. b. We also read of similar officials in other states, whether as secret police or as officials with judicial functions, and in one case as the officer over the mint. c. More commonly epískopoi are local officials or the officers of societies, but the exact responsibilities are not clear and even when there is a religious connection, e.g., the epískopoi of a society for a sanctuary at Rhodes, they have no cultic responsibilities but see to such secular tasks as looking after the funds. The Roman pontiff is epískopos only insofar as he has the duty of overseeing the Vestal Virgins. d. An interesting use occurs in Syria in relation to the erection of a public building in which it is clear that those who have the episkopç are supervisors of the work in the interests of the builders and perhaps with control of the funds. We find similar instances connected with the building of an aqueduct and a temple.

  B. epískopos in Judaism.

  l. God as epískopos. The LXX calls God epískopos in Job 20:29 with a clear reference to his judicial function.

  2. Men as epískopoi. There is no clearly defined office of epískopos in the LXX but the term is used for "overseer" in various senses, e.g., officers in Judg. 9:28;  supervisors of funds in 2 Chr. 34:12, 17, overseers of the priests and Levites in Neh. 11:9, the temple in 2 Kgs. 11:18, and temple functions etc. in Num. 4:16. Philo has the term for "one who knows souls," and Josephus for a "guardian" of morality.


C. epískopos in the NT.

  1. Of the five NT instances, one relates to Christ. In 1 Pet. 2:25 Christ is called the shepherd and epískopos of our souls.   2. Elsewhere men are called epískopoi, The word is not used for itinerant charismatics but only for leaders of settled congregations. For such leaders we quickly find the words presbýteroi or epískopoi and diákonoi. As may be seen from Acts 20:28 (Paul's speech to the Ephesian elders) there is at first no distinction between presbýteroi and epískopoi. All the presbýteroi here are epískopoi, their task is that of shepherding (cf. 1 Pet. 2:25; 5:2ff.), there are several epískopoi in one church, their calling is from the Holy Spirit (though this does not rule out election or appointment, Acts 6:3ff.; 14:23), and their function is that of the watchful direction of believers on the basis of Christ's work.

The addition in Phil. 1:1 ("with the bishops")  shows that an office and not just an activity is in view even if it does not tell us what this specific office is except in general terms of function. In 1 Tim. 3:1 episkopçis a definite office that may be sought and for which there are qualifications (though no duties are listed). Since there is here no further reference to the Holy Spirit, everyday needs influence this development, but the qualifications are very soberly stated, embracing moral reliability, a monogamous marriage, disciplined family life, teaching ability, maturity, and blamelessness according to the standards of the non-Christian world. In the parallel passage in Tit. 1:5ff. the qualifications for elders are similar, and the sudden use of epískopos in v. 7 shows that the same function is in view, namely, that of guiding the congregation, teaching, and conducting worship when no itinerant minister is present. The use of the singular in 1 Tim. 3:2 and Tit. 1:7 does not mean that there is only one bishop in each church; it is simply a reference to the bishop as a type. The point of the office is service rather than power; the bishop, too, receives admonition and must be sober and disciplined in outlook. His authority is from the Holy Spirit. The singling out of some elders in 1 Tim. 5:17 because of their good rule, especially in teaching and preaching, may hint at early distinctions that would eventually lead to a primacy of bishops.

 D. The Origin and Original Form of the Episcopate.  A formal parallel to the bishop and deacon may perhaps be found in the synagogue, especially as the former conducts divine service, supervises external order, and is accompanied by elders,  in relation to the task of guiding and caring for the congregation as a fellowship of faith and love. The structure of the Damascus community has also been suggested as a model with its leaders of camps who in addition to external duties have responsibility for admissions and expulsions as well as teaching, preaching, and discipline, and whose title might be rendered epískopos in Greek.

 Jesus had appointed the Twelve and given to them and others an apostolic ministry supplemented by the missionary endeavors of teachers and prophets. Where churches were founded, people had to be put in charge and take responsibility for the common life in such matters as pastoral direction, worship, and preaching (cf. Acts 14:23; 1 Th. 5:12; Rom. 12:8; Gal. 6:6ff.). There thus come into being the epískopoi and diákonoi of Phil. 1:1, and these remain when the need for itinerants diminishes in a given locality. The title epískopoi derives from the function. As presbýteroi comes from the Jewish world, the Greek scene offers  epískopos.  Later, a human claim comes to be associated with the term as 1 Clement opens the door to the idea of apostolic succession with its hierarchical chain: God, Christ, the apostles, bishops (42-44). Did. 15.1 probably gives a better factual depiction of the situation when it shows how itinerants give way to local bishops and deacons. During the second century, however, the single bishop, distinguished from the presbyters, gradually achieves precedence (cf. Ignatius of Antioch).



kathístÖmi [to bring, make, cause], kathístÖmi. From the basic sense "to set down," the following significant meanings develop.

  1. "To conduct," "bring," "lead to" (Acts 17:15). 2. "To set in office," "instal," a. with accusative (Heb. 5:1), b. with accusative and epí and genitive (Mt. 25:21), dative (Mt. 24:47), or accusative (Ps. 8:6), c. with double accusative (Heb. 7:28), and d. with final infinitive, also in the genitive or with eis (Mt. 24:45; Heb.8:3).  3. "To make someone something" (double accusative).  


1. bring, conduct, take someone somewhere   2. appoint, put in charge  a. someone over (of) someth. or someone:  b. w. acc. authorize, appoint  3. make, cause (someone to become someth.) (this does not make (you) useless and unfruitful 2 Pt 1:8.



proüsthmi   1. be at the head (of) , rule, direct w. gen. of the pers. or the thing ;  manage, conduct to. Of officials and administrators in the church   2. be concerned about, care for, give aid. Busy oneself with.


prokäqhmai preside (over), lead   1. lit. of the bishop Of the other church officials beside the bishop. Of the Roman church holds the presidency in the land of the Romans. proìstÖmi [to be at the head of, rule, care for]

  1. This common word means "to put before," "to present," or, in the intransitive middle, "to go before," "to preside," and figuratively "to surpass," "to lead," "to direct," "to assist," "to protect," "to represent," "to care for," "to sponsor," "to arrange," "to apply oneself to."[B. Reicke, TDNT VI, 700-703]