Disclaimer: About This Blog

THIS BLOG IS: my personal journey of how I am rethinking some of my spiritual beliefs.
THIS BLOG IS NOT: intended to point fingers at people who I think are wrong.
I do not believe the final judgement will be based on how many correct answers we get on a theology exam. I believe many people throughout history have had genuine relationships with our Lord and Saviour Jesus, despite holding questionable beliefs and practices. I make no claim to having it all figured out or being your judge. If we end up disagreeing over these topics I pray we can find a way to demonstrate grace.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Elders and Overseers in 1 Peter 5:1-4

(Part 2 of a 6 part series on leaders/elders/overseers/pastors)

1 Peter 5:1-4 (NIV)
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, 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.
I want to look at the bold terms and examine their meanings. I'll use http://biblos.com/1_peter/5-1.htm to help with the Greek.

elders - Πρεσβυτέρους - presbuterous
  • 1 of 3 occurrences of this word in the NT
  • it gets translated "Now his elder son" in Luke 15:25
  • The feminine plural, presbyteras, occurs in 1 Tim 5:2. It refers to aged women, i.e. not women with an official church office or title.
  • We don't need to read more into the term 'elder' than simply 'older men'.

(2nd) elder - συμπρεσβύτερος - sumpresbuteros
  • Only occurance of this word, seems to mean "also a presbuterous"
  • We don't need to read more into this than "also an older man"

shepherds - ποιμαίνω - poimainó
  • Only occurance of this word.
  • It is a verb here, not an office title
  • We don't need to read more into this than "care for"

(some versions) serving as overseers - ἐπισκοποῦντες - episkopountes
  • Some manuscripts include ἐπισκοποῦντες
  • can be translated "look diligently, take the oversight."
  • The other time this term is used is Hebrews 12:15, and gets translated "See to it", "look carefully", "watching"... and it seems to be written to all believers.
  • We don't need to read more into this than "watching out for others"


Reading this passage through our traditional church lenses we could assume:
  • This was written to elders - A group of elected or appointed men who rule or govern for a limited term.
  • Be shepherds - some of them can fill the office of pastor
  • Serving as overseers - ruling as those in charge of the church

Or we could read it like this:
  • written to elders - older respected men in the community (similar to the elders in the OT communities)
  • Be shepherds - care for others in your community (everyone should care for others, and these elders should be an example of this)

When we add this verse to what Jesus had to say on leadership, I think this second reading fits well. It also fits well with the rest of the passage:
"not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, 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. "

Am I missing something? Is there reason to read more into these terms?


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2 comments:

Alan Knox said...

Jon,

For the most part, I agree with you. However, the Greek term "presbuteroi" was used to refer both to all older men/people and to a specific subset of older men/people. This was not just a church/Christian usage. It came from Jewish usage as well. You can find several examples in the NT where the author refers to "elders" in which all older people are not in view.

Examples in the church include Acts 14:23 Why did Paul and Barnabas appoint "older people"? They were already "older people" before being appointed. Thus, they were appointed to the specific group which is also called by the term "presbuteroi." I think we see the same thing in Acts 20 and Titus 1.

Please do not misunderstand my comment. I am not saying that "presbuteroi" represented some kind of office in the church. Instead, I'm saying that the church recognized certain "older people" because they were living the way all disciples of Jesus should live.

-Alan

Jonathan said...

Thanks Alan,

I'm in agreement with you. My point was the term itself doesn't need to mean more than simply older men. Depending on the context it gets translated as

1) oldest son
2) old man
3) Jewish community elder
4) Early church community elder

I suspect simply using a term meaning 'old man' in their culture meant something more to them than it does to us.

I may have to change this to a 7 part series to include Acts 14:23.

Thanks for the comment.