What’s an “Elder”, Anyway?

In early February, Ray posted on $esv(Titus 1.6) and “believing/faithful children”. In that post, Ray linked to an article in the 9 Marks newsletter.

Regarding that link, an anonymous commenter asked me:

Rico: Have you read the book in footnote 2?: Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership, revised & expanded (Littleton, Col.: Lewis & Roth Publishers, 1995), 229.

Please consider the concept of “elders” he presents in his research through the Acts and Epistles uses of the Greek words used.

I’ve not read Strauch’s book. But I have read with interest R. Alastair Campbell’s The Elders: Seniority within Earliest Christianity. Campbell gives a more complete view than just centering on practice in Acts and the Epistles; he traces the concept of “eldership” through through the Hebrew Bible, into the New Testament, and then through Apostolic Fathers (particularly Ignatius). I don’t agree with some of his presuppositions (he thinks the Pastorals are psuedepigraphal and contemporary with or immediately preceding Ignatius’ writings and this colors some of his conclusions regarding the role of elders in the Pastorals) but nonetheless he approaches the topic diachronically and does a good job of it.

Anyone else have thoughts on “eldership” as it is discussed in the Pastorals? Or on the topic of “church leadership” in general within the Pastorals?


  1. What more specifically do you have in mind, Rick?
    I think the PE, like the rest of the NT, uses elder, overseer and pastor interchangeably. Thus, an elder is what we typically call a pastor- though in contemporary church settigns pastors may or may nto carry out the roles called for in Scripture; but that’s a whole other topic!
    I think Paul has in mind in Titus and 1 Tim, men who would lead the churches primarily by teachign and preaching (cf. 1 Tim 5:17f.).

  2. Rick Brannan says:

    Hi Ray.

    I think the concepts of ‘elder’ (PRESBUTEROS) and ‘overseer’ (EPISKOPOS) overlap more than they’re interchangeable. Actually, I’d probably say that ‘overseer’ is a subset of ‘elder’.

    So an ‘overseer’ would be an ‘elder’ but not all elders could necessarily take the label overseer. The two terms share a lot of semantic range, particularly in the context of church leadership, but I don’t think they’re exactly equivalent.

    In the overall sense, I’d agree with you — that yes, these two words refer to largely the same group(s). But I do think that there is some slight difference that distinguishes, and in some contexts that distinguishing might be important. At this point, though, I’d have to go back and check my notes to see what exactly that would be.

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