Elders

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This term occurs first in Genesis 50:77And Joseph went up to bury his father: and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, (Genesis 50:7), where it applies to the Egyptians of the house of Pharaoh and to the elders of Egypt. In Numbers 22:77And the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the rewards of divination in their hand; and they came unto Balaam, and spake unto him the words of Balak. (Numbers 22:7) we read also of the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian, so that the term was not confined to Israel. The word is saqen which implies “aged man”; they were no doubt also men of repute, including heads of houses of each tribe, without having any official place such as was given to the seventy appointed by God to work with Moses: these were chosen from among the elders (Num. 11:16-17,24-2516And the Lord said unto Moses, Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be the elders of the people, and officers over them; and bring them unto the tabernacle of the congregation, that they may stand there with thee. 17And I will come down and talk with thee there: and I will take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bear it not thyself alone. (Numbers 11:16‑17)
24And Moses went out, and told the people the words of the Lord, and gathered the seventy men of the elders of the people, and set them round about the tabernacle. 25And the Lord came down in a cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not cease. (Numbers 11:24‑25)
).
Elders would be found in every city, and could act in all matters of the common weal as the responsible members of the community. They could be called on any emergency. For instance, when a dead man was found in a field, and it was not known who had slain him, the elders of the city to which it was nearest, must assemble, and, with their hands over a heifer, beheaded for the occasion, must solemnly declare that they had no knowledge of the murder. The “judges” are here named as distinct from the elders (Deut. 21:1-91If one be found slain in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee to possess it, lying in the field, and it be not known who hath slain him: 2Then thy elders and thy judges shall come forth, and they shall measure unto the cities which are round about him that is slain: 3And it shall be, that the city which is next unto the slain man, even the elders of that city shall take an heifer, which hath not been wrought with, and which hath not drawn in the yoke; 4And the elders of that city shall bring down the heifer unto a rough valley, which is neither eared nor sown, and shall strike off the heifer's neck there in the valley: 5And the priests the sons of Levi shall come near; for them the Lord thy God hath chosen to minister unto him, and to bless in the name of the Lord; and by their word shall every controversy and every stroke be tried: 6And all the elders of that city, that are next unto the slain man, shall wash their hands over the heifer that is beheaded in the valley: 7And they shall answer and say, Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it. 8Be merciful, O Lord, unto thy people Israel, whom thou hast redeemed, and lay not innocent blood unto thy people of Israel's charge. And the blood shall be forgiven them. 9So shalt thou put away the guilt of innocent blood from among you, when thou shalt do that which is right in the sight of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 21:1‑9)). In any ratification as to the redemption of an inheritance the elders were called together to be witnesses (Ruth 4:1-121Then went Boaz up to the gate, and sat him down there: and, behold, the kinsman of whom Boaz spake came by; unto whom he said, Ho, such a one! turn aside, sit down here. And he turned aside, and sat down. 2And he took ten men of the elders of the city, and said, Sit ye down here. And they sat down. 3And he said unto the kinsman, Naomi, that is come again out of the country of Moab, selleth a parcel of land, which was our brother Elimelech's: 4And I thought to advertise thee, saying, Buy it before the inhabitants, and before the elders of my people. If thou wilt redeem it, redeem it: but if thou wilt not redeem it, then tell me, that I may know: for there is none to redeem it beside thee; and I am after thee. And he said, I will redeem it. 5Then said Boaz, What day thou buyest the field of the hand of Naomi, thou must buy it also of Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance. 6And the kinsman said, I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I mar mine own inheritance: redeem thou my right to thyself; for I cannot redeem it. 7Now this was the manner in former time in Israel concerning redeeming and concerning changing, for to confirm all things; a man plucked off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbor: and this was a testimony in Israel. 8Therefore the kinsman said unto Boaz, Buy it for thee. So he drew off his shoe. 9And Boaz said unto the elders, and unto all the people, Ye are witnesses this day, that I have bought all that was Elimelech's, and all that was Chilion's and Mahlon's, of the hand of Naomi. 10Moreover Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I purchased to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance, that the name of the dead be not cut off from among his brethren, and from the gate of his place: ye are witnesses this day. 11And all the people that were in the gate, and the elders, said, We are witnesses. The Lord make the woman that is come into thine house like Rachel and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel: and do thou worthily in Ephratah, and be famous in Bethlehem: 12And let thy house be like the house of Pharez, whom Tamar bare unto Judah, of the seed which the Lord shall give thee of this young woman. (Ruth 4:1‑12)). The elders being heads of houses and related by blood to the people, Israel must have been in a dire condition when the elders were not honored (Lam. 4:1616The anger of the Lord hath divided them; he will no more regard them: they respected not the persons of the priests, they favored not the elders. (Lamentations 4:16); Lam. 5:1212Princes are hanged up by their hand: the faces of elders were not honored. (Lamentations 5:12)).
In the New Testament the elders of Israel are often referred to and their traditions spoken of (Mark 7:3, 53For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders. (Mark 7:3)
5Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands? (Mark 7:5)
). Such took a prominent part in the condemnation of the Lord, and are mentioned as distinct from the Sanhedrim (Matt. 26:5959Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death; (Matthew 26:59)). “All the elders” in Matthew 27:11When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death: (Matthew 27:1) would include the Sanhedrim (compare also Acts 6:1212And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council, (Acts 6:12)). The elders continued their opposition as long as there was any open testimony in Jerusalem (Acts 4:2323And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them. (Acts 4:23); Acts 24:11And after five days Ananias the high priest descended with the elders, and with a certain orator named Tertullus, who informed the governor against Paul. (Acts 24:1); Acts 25:1515About whom, when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me, desiring to have judgment against him. (Acts 25:15)).
ELDER IN THE CHURCH. The word is πρεσβύτερος, and signifies “aged person.” There were elders at Jerusalem, though we do not read of their appointment (Acts 11:3030Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul. (Acts 11:30); Acts 15:2-232When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. 3And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren. 4And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them. 5But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. 6And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter. 7And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. 8And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; 9And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. 10Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 11But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they. 12Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them. 13And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: 14Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. 15And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, 16After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: 17That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. 18Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. 19Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: 20But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. 21For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day. 22Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: 23And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: (Acts 15:2‑23); Acts 21:1818And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present. (Acts 21:18)); but the choice of elders in the Gentile assemblies was by apostolic authority, either direct or delegated. Paul and Barnabas chose, or appointed, elders in every city (Acts 14:2323And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed. (Acts 14:23); compare James 5:1414Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: (James 5:14); 1 Peter 5:11The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: (1 Peter 5:1)). Titus was delegated by Paul to establish elders in every city in Crete (Titus 1:55For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: (Titus 1:5)). In Titus 1:77For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; (Titus 1:7) they are called bishops, or overseers; so in Acts 20 Paul called for the elders of Ephesus, to whom he said that the Holy Ghost had made them bishops, or overseers, showing that those appointed as elders and bishops were the same persons (Acts 20:2828Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)). See BISHOP.
It is important to note the distinction between “gift” and “office.” The former is direct from the Lord; the latter by human appointment. Gift needed no human authority for its exercise, and was held in immediate responsibility to the Head. Elders were such by apostolic authority, direct or delegated. Their appointment was not to preach or teach (though if they took the lead well, and had the gift of teaching, they were worthy of double honor (1 Tim. 5:1717Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine. (1 Timothy 5:17)), but “to shepherd” the assembly of God (Acts 20:2828Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)), and to maintain it in order in the locality where they lived. Their authority was over the unbroken local assembly. There can be now no such elders either in the source of their authority, or in the sphere of its exercise.
ELDERS IN HEAVEN. The four and twenty elders seen by John in heaven are frequently referred to in the Revelation. They were seen round about the throne, sitting on thrones (not seats), clothed in white raiment, with crowns of gold on their heads, and they worship God (Rev. 4:4,104And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold. (Revelation 4:4)
10The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, (Revelation 4:10)
). In the Old Testament, when all was in order there were twenty-four courses of the priesthood, each course having an elder as head or chief (1 Chron. 24:7-187Now the first lot came forth to Jehoiarib, the second to Jedaiah, 8The third to Harim, the fourth to Seorim, 9The fifth to Malchijah, the sixth to Mijamin, 10The seventh to Hakkoz, the eighth to Abijah, 11The ninth to Jeshua, the tenth to Shecaniah, 12The eleventh to Eliashib, the twelfth to Jakim, 13The thirteenth to Huppah, the fourteenth to Jeshebeab, 14The fifteenth to Bilgah, the sixteenth to Immer, 15The seventeenth to Hezir, the eighteenth to Aphses, 16The nineteenth to Pethahiah, the twentieth to Jehezekel, 17The one and twentieth to Jachin, the two and twentieth to Gamul, 18The three and twentieth to Delaiah, the four and twentieth to Maaziah. (1 Chronicles 24:7‑18)); and the elders in the Revelation being twenty-four in number may be in allusion to them. The elders in heaven have harps and golden vials full of odors, “which are the prayers of saints” showing that they act as priests (Rev. 5:88And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odors, which are the prayers of saints. (Revelation 5:8)); and in Revelation 5:99And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; (Revelation 5:9) they celebrate redemption in a song. They are doubtless the redeemed, including both Old and New Testament saints (Rev. 7:11,1311And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, (Revelation 7:11)
13And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? (Revelation 7:13)
; Rev. 11:1616And the four and twenty elders, which sat before God on their seats, fell upon their faces, and worshipped God, (Revelation 11:16); Rev. 14:33And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. (Revelation 14:3); Rev. 19:44And the four and twenty elders and the four beasts fell down and worshipped God that sat on the throne, saying, Amen; Alleluia. (Revelation 19:4)).