All scripture quotes are from the NKJV unless otherwise
Because of certain things written and spoken on this topic
of late, it is needful I write more and give my answers to
arguments not addressed in the body of this work.
ALL THE DOCTRINES OF THE BIBLE by HERBERT LOCKYER
1. Internal Management
Each church was left to manage its own business, and deal with
its own offenders.........No directions are given about taking
matters to a higher court. Each church was an independent
organization. There is no warrant in Scripture for the
ecclesiastical grades in the ministry of the churches, and also
for the ascending series of courts which may review a case of
disorder arising in a local church. Each church or assembly was
reckoned competent to perform every faction necessary without
reference to any other source. The inclusion, exclusion and
restoration of members were effected by each church.
2. External Authority
As the churches were not to be dominated by any external
authority, so they were not to be interfered with, in their
church life, by civil government. This at once proves the
untenable position of the so-called State Church. It is only
where the life of the church touches the civic life of the
community that the civil authorities have any right to
3. Fraternal Relationship
While each local church, according to the New Testament is
independent of every other in the sense that no other has
jurisdiction over it, yet co-operative relations were entered
into, as can be proven by the witness of such passages as
Rom.15:1-27; 2 Cor.8:9; Gal.2:10; 3 John 8........Churches may
properly co-operate in matters of disciple, by seeking and giving
counsel, and by respecting each other's disciplinary measures. In
the great paramount business of evangelizing and teaching the
nations, they may co-operate in a multitude of ways. There is no
sphere of general Christian activity in which they may not
voluntarily and freely co-operate for the betterment of the
world, the salvation of humanity.
The early Christian society would not suffer the presence of
those immoral persons referred to in 1 Cor.5:11, nor of the
heretics mentioned frequently in the epistles, e.g., Titus
WORD MEANINGS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT by Ralph Earl
The Greek word for "bishop" is episcopos (cf. episcopal). It
occurs five times in the NT.
In Acts 20:28 it is translated "overseers." In 1 Pet. 2:25 it
refers to Christ, "the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls." It is
found twice in the Pastorals (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:7) and is
correctly translated "bishop." ("Office of a bishop" in 1 Tim.
3:1 is another word, episcope.) Critics have sometimes insisted
that the technical use of episcopos for "bishop" in the Pastoral
Epistles reflects a later development in church organization and
so demands a second-century date for these letters. But the same
usage here in Philippians (written about A.D. 61) undercuts that
The word episcopos comes from scopos, "a watcher." So it means "a
superintendent, guardian, overseer"(A-S). Thayer notes that it
has this same comprehensive sense in Homer's Iliad and Odyssey
and in classical Greek writers from that time on (p. 243). The
large Lexicon of Liddell-Scott-Jones (1940) gives as the first
meaning of episcopos "one who watches over," and lists numerous
examples of this use (p. 657). "This was the name given in Athens
to the men sent into subdued states to conduct their affairs"
(Cremer, p. 527). The word was used 14 times in the Septuagint in
the sense of "overseer," or "inspector." Deissmann notes that in
Rhodes, episcopos was "a technical term for the holder of a
religious office" (in the temple of Apollo), as well an being
used in the plural for "communal officials" (BS, pp. 230-31).
Lightfoot mentions its use at Athens, and adds: "The title
however is not confined to Attic usage; it is the designation for
instance of the inspectors whose business it was to report
to the Indian kings......; of the commissioner appointed by
Mithridates to settle affairs in Ephesus.......; of magistrates
who regulated the sale of provisions under the Romans.......;
and of certain officers in Rhodes whose functions are unknown"
Beyer writes: " In Greek episcopos is first used....... with a
free understanding of the 'onlooker' as 'watcher,' 'protector,'
'patron.' " Then it came to be used "as a title to denote
various offices" (TDNT, 2:609). He notes that protective care is
"the heart of the activity which men pursue as episcopoi" (TDNT,
2:610). This is its classical usage.
By the end of the second century we read of diocesan bishops.
Early in the second century Ignatius indicates that in each
church there was one bishop, a group of presbyters, and a group
of deacons. But in Paul's Epistles (here and in the Pastorals)
"bishop" and "presbyter" seem to be used synonymously. Lightfoot
observes: "It is a fact now generally recognized by the
theologians of all shade of opinion, that in the language
of the New Testament the same officer in the Church is called
indifferently 'bishop' (episcopos) and 'elder' or 'presbyter'
(presbyteros)" (p. 95). In TDNT, Coenen thinks it "probable that
the terms presbyteros and episcopos (bishop) are interchangeable"
Bishop, l TIMOTHY 3:1
The first seven verses of chapter 3 are devoted to outlining the
qualifications of a bishop. As a leader in the church he must be
a man of exemplary character.
"The office of a bishop" is all one word in Greek, episcope.
Elsewhere in the NT it is used in this sense only in Acts 1:20,
in a quotation from the Septuagint.
In verse 2 "bishop" is episcopos, from which comes "episcopal."
It occurs only five times in the NT. In Acts 20:28 it is
translated "overseers" and applied to the Ephesian elders
by Paul. He also refers to the "bishops and deacons" at Philippi
(Phil. 1:1). In Titus 1:7 and following, we again find what is
required of a "bishop." Finally, in 1 Pet. 2:25, Christ
is called "the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls."
The word episcopos is made up of epi, "upon" or "over," and
scopes, "watcher." So it literally means "one who watches over."
Thayer defines it thus: "An overseer, a man charged with the duty
of seeing that things to be done by others are done rightly, any
curator, guardian, or superintendent.... specifically, the
superintendent, head or overseer of any Christian church " ( p.
It will be seen that the basic meaning of episcopos is
"overseer." The ancient Greeks thought of their gods as
episcopoi. This usage is found in Homer's Iliad and many later
Then it came to be used of men in various functions. Beyer says:
"Protective care, however, is still the heart of the activity
which men pursue as episcopoi" (TDNT, 2:610).
Homer applies the term to ships' captains and merchants, who must
be "overseers" of goods.
In the fourth and fifth centuries before Christ episcopos was
used at Athens as a title for state officials. The same thing was
true at Ephesus and in Egypt. But more common was the use of
episcopal (plural) for local officials and officers of societies.
This brings us closer to the Christian eplscopos.
In the Septuagint episcopos is used both for God, who oversees
all things, and for men as supervisors in various fields of
activity. The latter usage is found in the earlier, well as
the later, books of the OT.
Turning to the NT, we discover one fact immediately:
there is no mention of any diocesan bishop. In the one church at
Philippi there were episcopoi, "bishops" (Phil 1:1). The apostles
are never given this title. The bishop was a local official, and
there were several of these in each congregation.
Furthermore, the "elders" (presbyteroi) and "bishops" (episcopoi)
were the same. This is shown clearly in Acts 20. In verse 17 it
says that Paul called for the "elders" (presbyteroi) of the
church at Ephesus. In verse 28 he refers to them as episcopoi -
"overseers" (KJV), "guardians" (RSV). The same people are
designated by both titles. We shall find this same phenomenon
clearly indicated in the Epistle to Titus. In the NT Church each
local congregation was supervised by a group of elders or bishops
and a group of deacons.
It seems likely that the former had oversight of the spiritual
concerns of the congregation and the latter of its material
When we come to Ignatius early in the second century (about A.D.
115) there is one bishop over each local church, together with
several elders and several deacons. The bishop is supreme in
authority. One of the keynotes of Ignatius' seven letters is,
"Obey your bishop." To the Trallians he wrote: "For when you are
in subjection to the bishop as to Jesus Christ it is clear to me
that you are living not after men, but after Jesus Christ....
Therefore it is necessary (as is your practice) that you should
do nothing without the bishop, but be also in subjection to the
presbytery, as to the Apostles of Jesus Christ....
And they also who are deacons of the mysteries of Jesus Christ
must be in every way pleasing to all men" (The Apostolic Fathers,
"Loeb Classical Library," 1:213-15). Here we see the beginnings
of the episcopal hierarchy that flowered during the second
But "in the beginning it was not so."
Bishop = Elder, Titus 1:5-7
In verses 5 and 6 we find the qualifications of elder in the
church; verse 7 says, "For a bishop must be blameless." This
seems to indicate rather clearly that the same church officials
were called bishops (episcopoi) and elders (presbyteroi). The
name "elders" emphasizes the fact that the leaders of the church
were to be older men, as was the case with the elders of Israel.
The word episcopos (bishop) literally means "overseer." So it
refers to the function and office of an overseer of the church,
That "bishop" and "elder" are used for the same person is even
asserted by Bishop Lightfoot of the Church of England. In his
commentary on the Greek text of the Epistle to the Philippians he
writes: "It is a fact now generally recognized by theologians of
all shades of opinion, that in the language of the New Testament
the same officer in the Church is called indifferently 'bishop'
(episcopos) and 'elder' or 'presbyter' (presbyteros)" (p. 95).
He goes on to show that not only was episcopos used in classical
Greek for various officials, but it is common in the Septuagint.
There it signifies "inspectors, superintendents, taskmasters"
(e.g., 2 Kings 11:19; 2 Chron. 34:12, 17; Isa. 60:17). He
comments: "Thus beyond the fundamental idea of inspection, which
lies at the root of the word 'bishop,' its usage suggests two
subsidiary notions also: (1) Responsibility to a superior power;
(2) The introduction of a new order of things" (p. 96).
Lightfoot gives six evidences that bishop and elder are the same:
(1) In Phil. 1:1, Paul salutes the bishops and deacons. He could
not have omitted mention of the elders unless they were included
in the "bishops." (2) In Acts 20:17, Paul summoned to Miletus the
elders of the church at Ephesus. But then he calls them
"overseers" (episcopoi) of the flock. (3) Peter does a similar
thing (1 Pet. 5:1-2). (4) In 1 Timothy, Paul describes the
qualifications of bishops (3:1-7) and deacons (3:8-13). The fact
that he omits elders here would argue that they were the same as
bishops. (5) Titus 1:5-7). (6) Clement of Rome's First Epistle
(ca. A.D. 95) clearly uses "bishops" and "elders"
It is not without significance that Jerome, writing near the end
of the fourth century, recognizes this identity of the two. He
says: "Among the ancients, bishops and presbyters are the same,
for the one is a term of dignity, the other of age." Again he
writes: "The Apostle plainly shows that presbyters are the same
as bishops." In a third passage he says: "If any one thinks the
opinion that the bishops and presbyters are the same, to be
not the view of the Scriptures, but my own, let him study the
words of the apostle to the Philippians." Other Church Fathers,
such as Chrysostom, asserted the same thing. Lightfoot goes so
far as to say: "Thus in every one of the extant commentaries on
the epistles containing the crucial passages, whether Greek or
Latin, before the close of the fifth century, this identity is
affirmed" (p. 99).
1 Corinthians, Apostles (12:28)
In this verse Paul mentions eight types of ministry in the
church. The first is that of apostles.
Who were the apostles in the Early Church? Are there still
apostles in the church of today? Neither of these questions is
easy to answer.
The Greek noun apostolos comes from the verb apostello, which
means "send with a commission, or on service." So apostolos is "a
messenger, one sent on a mission." Abbott-Smith continues his
definition by saying: "In NT, an apostle of Christ (a) with
special reference to the Twelve......... equality with whom is
claimed by St. Paul.......(b) in a wider sense of prominent
Christian teachers, as Barnabas, Acts 14:14, apparently
also Silvanus and Timothy, 1 Thess. 2:6, and perhaps Andronicus
and .Junias (Junia?), Rom. 16:7....... of false teachers,
claiming apostleship" (p. 55). It is evident that the word
has a variety of applications in the NT.
In his long article on apostolos in Kittel's Theological
Dictionary of the New Testament, Rengstorf shows that in
classical and early Hellenistic Creek there is no parallel to the
NT use of this word. This is true even of the Septuagint,
Josephus, and Philo (1:408).
The word is found 79 times in the NT. Paul and Luke (his close
companion) each use it 34 times ((68 out of the 79). It occurs
three times in Revelation, twice in 2 Peter. and once each in
Matthew, Mark, John, Hebrews,, I Peter. and Jude. Paul has it at
the beginning of 9 of his 13 Epistles..
Apostolos is used for messenger, "one sent" in John 13:16. In 2
Cor. 8:23 Paul applies this term to the commissioned
representatives of local church congregations. "Finally,
apostoloi is a comprehensive term for 'bearers of the NT message'
" (TDNT, 1:422). It is used primarily for the 12 apostles chosen
and commissioned by Christ. This is the dominant usage in Luke's
Gospel and Acts.
Then we also find the wider spread suggested by Abbott-Smith.
Paul and Barnabas were first of all apostles of the church at
Antioch. But Paul calls himself at the beginning of his epistles,
"an apostle-of Jesus Christ." Luke does not hesitate to speak of
Paul and Barnabas as apostles (Acts 14:4, 14).
The first apostle was Jesus himself (Heb.- 3:1), sent from God.
Rengstorf comments: "Here the only possible meaning of apostolos
is that in Jesus there has taken place the definitive revelation
of God by God himself(1:2)" (TDNT, 1:423). All other apostles are
direct representatives of Jesus.
Are there apostles today in the Church? In a general, unofficial,
nontechnical sense, yes. But it may well be questioned whether
apostolic authority as found in the first-century Church has
carried over to subsequent centuries. Acts 1::31-29 indicates
that an apostle was to be one who had been in close contact with
Christ during His earthly ministry and who could be a witness of
His resurrection. Paul fulfilled the latter requirement ( 1 Cor.
15:8), but not the former one. However, he was careful to state
that he had "received" the necessary information (1 Cor. 15:3).
Charles H. Spurgeon was perhaps a bit severe when he
characterized apostolic succession as laying empty hands on empty
heads. But many of those who claim apostolic succession today
hardly show themselves to be true representatives of the
Christ of the NT.
The Greek prophetes comes from the verb prophemi, which means
"speak forth." So it signifies "one who acts as an interpreter or
forth-teller of the Divine will" (A-S, p. 390). Contrary to
popular usage today, the biblical meaning of "prophecy" is not
foretelling, but forth-telling. Put in simplest terms, the
prophet is one who speaks for God.
In Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament,
Friedrich has a lengthy article on prophetes and its cognate
terms in the New Testament. He notes some differences
between OT and NT prophets. He says that "prophecy is not
restricted to a few men and women in primitive Christianity.
According to Acts 2:4; 4:31, all are filled with the prophetic
Spirit and, according to Acts 2:16ff., it is a specific mark of
the age of fulfilment that the Spirit does not only lay hold of
individuals but that all members of the eschatological
community without distinction are called to prophesy" (6:849)
But our present passage, as well as Eph.4:11, shows that there
was a special gift of prophecy in the Early Church. It is ranked
first, as the best gift after "apostles," in our present passage
as well as 14:1.
Has the gift of prophecy continued? In the second century the
Montanists went to unfortunate extremes in their claims for this
gift. Friedrich writes: "With the repudiation of Montanism
prophecy came to an end in the Church" (6:860). On the other
hand. many Bible scholars believe that the NT prophets were
essentially preachers, and so this gift of the Spirit is present
The Greek word antilempsis (only here in NT) is used in the
Septuagint and papyri in the sense of "help." Abbott-Smith thinks
that here it is used for the "ministrations of deacons"
(p. 41). Cremer says that the word is "taken by the Greek
expositors uniformly as answering to deacons (implying the duties
towards the poor and sick)" (p. 386).
Kybernesis is likewise found only here in the NT. It comes from
the verb meaning to guide or steer. In classical Greek it
referred to the piloting of a boat. Then it was used
metaphorically for "government." Beyer writes that. in view of
its literal meaning and attested usage, "The reference can only
be to the specific gifts which qualify a Christian to be a
helmsman to his congregation, i.e., a true director to its order
and therewith of its life" (3:10:36). The word may be translated
"gifts of administration" (NIV).
Evangelists (4:1 1 ) - Ephesians
The word, which is a transliteration of the (Greek euangelistes,
is found only two other places in the NT. In Acts 21:8 Philip is
referred to as "the evangelist." In 2 Tim.4:5 the young Timothy
is admonished to "do the work of an evangelist."
The term comes from the verb euangelizo ("evengelize"), which
means "proclaim glad tidings." An evengelist, then, is one who
preaches the "gospel" (Greek euangelos), the good news that
Christ has died to save men. The evangelists in the Early Church
were probably itinerant preachers.
Pastors and Teachers (4:11)
"Pastor" is the Latin term for "shepherd." The Greek word poimen
also means "shepherd." It is used of Christ(John 10:11, 14, 16;
Heb.13:20; 1 Peter 2:25). Here it is used of Christian pastors.
Homer, in his Lliad, refers to "pastors of the people" (poimena
laon). The pastor is to be the shepherd of the flock.
Apparently the pastors and teachers were the same. Vincent
comments: "The omission of the article from teachers seems to
indicate that pastors and teachers are included under one class"
The end of quotes from Ralph Earle
THE WORD "ELDER" AS USED IN THE NT
The Analytical Greek Lexicon(1978 edition) says:
"presbuteros..........elder, senior: older, more advanced in
years, Lu.15:25; Jno.8:9; Ac.2:17; an elder in respect of age,
person advanced in years, 1 Tim.5:1,2; pl. spc. ancients,
ancestors, fathers, Mat.15:2; He.11:2; as an appellation of
dignity, an elder, local dignitary, Lu.7:3; an elder, member of
the Jewish Sanhedrin, Mat.16:21; 21:23; 26:3, 47, 57, 59; an
elder or presbyter of the Christian church, Ac.11:30; 14:23, et
presbuterion.........a body of older men, an assembly of elders;
the Jewish Sanhedrin, Lu.22:66; Ac.22:5; a body of elders in the
Christian church, a presbytery, 1 Tim.4:14.
presbutes.........an old man, aged person, Lu.1:18; Tit.2:2;
presbutis........an aged woman, Tit.2:3.
Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament
Words, page 195
1. presbuteros......... an adjective, the comparative degree
of presbus, "an old man, an elder," is used (a) of age, whether
of the "elder" of two persons, Luke 15:25, or more, John 8:9,
"the eldest"; or of a person advanced in life, a senior, Acts
2:17; in Heb.11:2, the "elders" are the forefathers in Israel; so
in Matt.15:2; Mark 7:3,5; the feminine of the adjective is used
of "elder" women in the churches, 1 Tim.5:2, not in respect of
positions but in seniority of age; (b) of rank or position of
responsibility, (1) among Gentiles, as in the Sept.of Gen.50:7;
Num.22:7; (2) in the Jewish nation, firstly, those who were the
heads or leaders of the tribes and families, as of the seventy
who assisted Moses, Num.11:16; Deut.27:1, and those assembled by
Solomon; secondly, members of the Sanhedrin, consisting of the
chief priests, "elders" and scribes, learned in Jewish law,
e.g., Matt.16:21; 26:47; thirdly, those who managed public
affairs in the various cities, Luke 7:3; (3) in the Christian
churches, those who, being raised up and qualified by the
work of the Holy Spirit, were appointed to have the spiritual
care of, and to exercise oversight over, the churches. To these
the term "bishops," episkopoi, or "overseers," is applied (see
Acts 20, v.17 with v.28, and Titus 1:5 and 7), the latter term
indicating the nature of their work, presbuteroi their maturity
of spiritual experience. The divine arrangement seen throughout
the NT was for a plurality of these to be appointed in each
church, Acts 14:23; 20:17; Phil.1:1; 1Tim.5:17; Titus 1:5. The
duty of "elders" is described by the verb episkopeo. They were
appointed according as they had given evidence of fulfilling the
divine qualifications, Titus 1:6 to 9; cf. 1 Tim.3:1-7 and 1
2. sumpresbuteros........"a fellow-elder (sun, "with"), is
used in 1 Pet.5:1.
3. meizon......translated "elder" in Rom.9:12, with
reference to Esau and Jacob.
presbuterion........."an assembly of aged men," denotes (a) the
Council or Senate among the Jews, Luke 22:66; Acts 22:5; (b) the
"elders" or bishops in a local church, 1 Tim.4:14, "the
Some in the Church of God of recent date are teaching that ALL
older people(men only, but some will no doubt eventually include
women) can be Elders in the church. They teach people can take
turns in being "elders" for a festival time, or for a month, or a
year etc. They teach a local church can "pick and choose" or
"vote in or vote out" who will serve as Elders and for how long.
They say the word "elder" under the OT just meant any older
person. Sure indeed within some contexts it did mean just that,
but upon an in-depth study of the word, as done above, it was
often used in a more limited sense and as a "leadership" function
and responsibility, not shared with just every older man in the
nation or community.
The use of the word "elder" in the NT also clearly shows a much
w i d e r and BROADER use as the two works above explained and
demonstrated. It is used for older men and older women in any
congregation of the church of God. But it is not exclusively to
be understood as meaning that in EVERY passage where it is used.
The context of the passage is most important as to how we are to
understand the use of the word.
Clearly, this Greek word is an umbrella word. Something similar
to our English word today of "minister." That word is an
umbrella word. For we use it not only when talking about those
men who are pastors of churches, but it is used of various
functions and duties of the nations Government. We today have a
"minister of Finance" or a "minister of Defence" or a "minister
of Health" - "minister of Public Affairs" - "minister of
Agriculture" etc. etc.
It should be clear from all we have studied in the previous
pages, that the NT does use the term "elder" in a specific
limited context, of men who were appointed by meeting certain
qualifications, to function in duty as overseers, shepherds,
leaders, guides, pastors, teachers, of the flock.
Such men had to meet specific qualifications. They could not be
new to the faith(no matter how old in age they were) when chosen
to be an overseer. Many other points did Paul lay down in 1 Tim.3
as to who could qualify for eldership. It should be pretty plain
to the honest searcher for truth, that not ALL older men would
have all the qualifications required to be appointed as church
Not all older men in the nation are qualified to be part of the
local officials that are to guide and direct the affairs of local
towns and cities. Not all older carpenters, plumbers,
fire-fighter, policemen, have the gifts to be leaders, and
guides, and overseers, of a crew of persons in their chosen
profession. That is just the way it is in this natural life. It
does not mean the leader/guide, of a group of fie-fighters, is
any better man in character or worth. He may very well not be as
good in some areas as a man under his guidance.
It just means that he has proved he has the qualities needed to
oversee that trade well on the whole. He has proved he is
rounded and balanced enough, has the overall gifts, needed to
take care, watch out for, instruct correctly, guide, help, and
serve, those he is overlooking and overseeing. That's all it
means! It does not mean he is "special."
It means he has been given certain gifts to meet certain
qualifications that are needed to function correctly in the
appointment of overseeing and leading others.
Then depending on how well he does in that function, staying
basically within those qualifications from then on out, will
determine how long he keeps that function. If he falls too many
times from those qualifications, especially if it brings shame
and disgrace upon his company, then his reward is accordingly,
even to the point of loosing his function and being then a part
of the team under other overseers and leaders.
If we teach that EVERYONE can be or have turns in being "elders"
in the church, there are LARGE problems to answer!
If being an elder is just being an "older person" then we have to
determine at what age is older? Do we become an elder of the
church at age 50? Is that "older"? Or is it at the age of 55?
Maybe we become an elder in the church at age 60! Or is it 65
when we retire? That's the age our nations call us seniors,
unless you live in Florida. There certain stores(to receive
discounts) and certain movie theatres, call you senior at the age
Should the age be 70 when you become a church elder? Some would
think 40 years old is old enough. Or how about 30, that's when
Jesus started to teach and lead and guide.
Then, what if someone comes into the church at age 60. Do they
become an elder right away because of their older age? If not,
then how long do they have to wait, how many months or years,
before they are counted as an elder of the church?
Who sets all the answers to the above questions? Where do they
get the authority and Bible answers to answer those questions?
I can see a whole list of problems arising from this teaching of
"everyone can be elders, who are older." What if someone does
not want to be considered an "elder" when he is older? What does
the church do to "unfrock" him? How long does an elder remain
an elder in his old age, and who sets the time, by what
authority, and by what set of scriptures?
We have not yet touched on the problem of older women. They too
are "elder" as part of elder means older. Paul said in Christ
there is no male or female, Gentile or Jew, so should not older
women also be "elders of the church"? If not why not?
And so we are back to the beginning of the circle. What is the NT
definition of a church "elder"?
From all that I have presented to you so far in this study, from
all the NT scriptures we can "put together" on the subject, we
should by now KNOW THE ANSWER! If you do not, then better read
over the last dozen or so pages once more - S L O W L Y!
Appendix Additions updated in January 1997