the weblog of Alan Knox

Those Old People

Posted by on Oct 11, 2010 in blog links, elders, scripture | 8 comments

Those Old People

Eric at “A Pilgrim’s Progress” has started a very interesting series “On Elders/Overseers/Pastors in the Bible.” The first post in his series is called “Elders in Acts 11:30.”

Here is the passage in question:

Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. (Acts 11:27-30 ESV)

Now, the term “elders” in that passage is a translation of the adjective πρεσβύτερος (presbuteros). As I said, this is actually an adjective (in the comparative form) that simply means “older.” In English, we have to supply a noun (which was not necessary in Greek). Since the adjective is masculine, we usually supply the noun “man,” although it could be generic. So, instead of being translated as “elder” (in the sense of a church “position”), the adjective could also be translated as “older man or older person.” Also, in this instance, the adjective is plural, so it could be translated as “older men or older people.”

Now, here is my question – which I asked Eric, and which is an honest question, because I haven’t decided myself yet: How do we know if Luke was writing about “elders” or if he was writing about “older men or older people”? Did Paul and Barnabas give the “relief” to specific people within the church in Jerusalem who had been recognized by the church as “elders”? Or did they give the relief to older men/people in the church in Jerusalem?

In fact, there are many passages in which this same question could be asked. Did James tell the sick person to summon the elders or older people? (James 5:14) Should the elders who lead well be considered worthy of double honor, or should the older people who lead well be considered worthy of double honor? (1 Timothy 5:17) Did Peter tell the elders how to care for the church or the older people? (1 Peter 5:1-3; note 1 Peter 5:5)

How do we decide which group of people each passage is referring to?

(By the way, Dave Black argues – convincingly, I think – that “older person” is someone who is older than 30.)


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 10-11-2010


    I think this is a great question. I don’t know if I have an answer myself, but I’ve always wondered if the use of the term referring to an office did not in someway imply that an “elder” be older, or that a pastor be an older man? I think the qualifications imply this, able to manage one’s children implies, in my mind, that the person be married (to one woman) and have children at such an age that the ability of the man to train them in the gospel be evident. But I don’t have anything set in my mind yet, I’m still trying to understand the scriptures on this. I am no means an expert on this issue.

    What do you think? In some sense I’m asking your question back to you, but is “elder” a technical term? Or is it descriptive?


  2. 10-11-2010


    I think the use of “elder” or “older person” goes back to the Jewish practice. I don’t know enough about that to answer our questions though.


  3. 10-11-2010

    All of the references to Elder–where Elder is spelled using a capital “E”–refer to the modern office of Pastor, which can be held by men, women, teenagers, old guys, etc., as long as they have the proper seminary training and an entertaining preaching style.

    Pastors are the Priests for the church. They do God’s work so that it is done “decently and in order.” Stuff like studying the bible, preaching, visiting the sick, counselling, marrying, baptizing, overseeing the L*RD’s Supper, burying.

    Pastors are also intermediaries for us. They hear (more or less) directly from God, and fill us in if we need to know anything. They pray for us. They also greet us when we arrive and especially when we leave church on Sunday.

  4. 10-11-2010

    Many questions asked. Top priorities: Elder qualifications and church vision. Based on my experience – the Elder should be: 1. one with most experience, regardless of age. 2. man, if at all possible, depending on situation. 3. married to original spouse (never divorced). 4. if children involved – must be Godly obedient. 5. must not be tyrants, or timid.
    The pastor should be a separate position from the elders and they are accountable to each other. There should never be a woman leadership over married men, period! – this always creates a foothold for evil.
    The basics are in Genesis – study them. The rest of the Bible supports it.

  5. 10-12-2010


    How so? I’m just curious to know how the Jewish practice would influence the meaning of the text; could you share a little of what you mean by that, if you don’t mind? Thanks brother


  6. 10-12-2010


    Well, that makes it easy, doesn’t it? 🙂


    I was wondering if you could tell me why you believe “the pastor” is a “separate position” from elder?


    I think we can find the term “elder” used throughout the Old Testament as well as in other Jewish writings. Since the apostles were all Jewish, I would think their use of the term “elder” would be similar, especially if it is age related.


  7. 10-12-2010

    Alan, yes, especially if we could agree on these generally accepted points. Then, we could dispense with the notions, since none of the “elder” references use a capital “E.”

  8. 10-12-2010


    Thanks for clarifying