Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Elders Simultaneous?

I stated in last night’s post that the word “elder” (presbuteros) can mean either an elderly person or an office-holder in the church (overseer). I showed two verses of Scripture where the word “presbuteros” can mean both in two different contexts. With 1 Timothy 5, I mentioned that some scholars believe the word “presbuteros” refers to more than just an elderly person in the church—but instead, an overseer, of the church. What does 1 Timothy 5:1-2 really say? Are the “elder man” and “elder women” in this passage referring to elders in the church? Or are they referring to simply old men and women in the congregation?

To answer this question, let’s look at a passage involving elders, such as 1 Peter 5:
1So I exhort the elders among you,(A) as a fellow elder and(B) a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2(C) shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight,[a](D) not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you;[b](E) not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3not(F) domineering over those in your charge, but(G) being examples to the flock. 4And when(H) the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the(I) unfading(J) crown of glory. 5Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders.(K) Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for(L) "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."

Notice that Peter refers to himself as “a fellow elder.” Here, it seems that Peter is using this to refer to the office of elder in the church. He is a fellow overseer in the church, writing to other overseers in the churches scattered in the Jewish Diaspora. Next, he encourages these elders to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you.” This tells us that the audience of this chapter is the eldership, for they have a flock of God to shepherd, to watch over. The place of prominence in the church is indicated with the words “exercising oversight” and “not domineering over those in your charge.”

However, a problem comes in when we encounter the words of verse 5: “Likewise, you who are younger, BE SUBJECT TO THE ELDERS.”

Wait a minute! The common thought is that Peter here is referring to overseers in the churches, right? Yes—BUT, with the words of verse 5, we see that age clearly has a role to play in Peter’s letter. The overseers of the congregation are not only officeholders, but also advanced in age.
This will come to play in the passage of 1 Timothy 5:1-2 because the contextual evidence points to the view of “elders simultaneous”—that is, that not only are the men and women advanced in age, but also overseers in the church. If 1 Peter 5, which involves instructions concerning the office and age, can have the two ideas of “elder” to coexist, who’s to say that 1 Timothy 5:1-2 cannot present to the student of Scripture the same situation?

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