So where did elders come from?

elderLast month, I spoke at the annual Preachers Conference in Cuba. Our general topic was 1 Timothy; one of my assigned topics was “Elders.”

Two years ago, the whole conference looked at the theme of elders, so I wasn’t too excited about looking at the same material we’d seen then. I decided to start with the Old Testament and look at elders there. The New Testament church drew the concept of an eldership from somewhere. Given the Jewish nature of the early church, it’s almost a given that this idea of elders came from Judaism.

In the Old Testament, we see that the elders were the heads of the tribes and the chief members of each family (See 1 Kings 8:1, for example). That’s why we don’t see elders among God’s people until the book of Exodus; Genesis principally deals with a single family.

Then in Exodus, we see Moses dealing with the elders of Israel (3:16; 4:29; 12:21). From that group, he selected 70 “special” elders (Exodus 24:9; Numbers 11:16-30). These were the recognized leaders of Israel, leaders of each family that made up the nation.

As time progressed, each town came to have its elders (Deuteronomy 16:18; Ezra 10:14). They would typically meet at the gate of the city to discuss important matters (Deuteronomy 25:7; Ruth 4:1-2; Proverbs 31:23). After the exile, they came to form part of the Sanhedrin, along with the chief priests and teachers of the Law. (That description of the Sanhedrin is found numerous times in the gospels)

Now here’s where I start speculating (I didn’t share this in Cuba). The elders were the patriarchs of each family. I think they were the men who were physically unable to work or serve in the military. Because of this, they had the time to sit around and act as a governing body. They were respected because of their age and experience.

Either way, when the church began, the idea of older men discussing important matters and making decisions was a natural one. It took no special prompting for the church to follow this system of organization which they knew so well.

3 thoughts on “So where did elders come from?

  1. Vern

    Interesting. But don’t just go back to OT but onto Revelation. In the seven churches, these ones not mentioned as elders but as shining stars. Emphasing function over position. In this stage of time, function trumps position.

  2. Esteban

    I remember visiting Cuba for the first time in 2005.
    Lázaro told me that, after discussing with other predicadores -and consulting the 10 de Octubre Church- they all decided that the “requisitos” to become an Elder were impossible to achieve.
    They rather stay as “normal” leaders instead of appointing Elders.
    I was 25 years old back then.
    I told them that not having the Elder tag but serving as such (what they were already doing) was the same.
    So if appointing Elders was going to be divisive (at 10 de Octubre) they should continue doing what they were doing.
    My personal opinion is that having Elders is not the same as “Iglesia Ordenada” because not having Elders would mean the opposite.
    I also believe that the Holy Spirit desires the Elder-Deacon-Evangelist model as the ideal government.
    But just as in Democracy (Greek Democracy is not the ideal), the ideal government for the Church is not easily achievable.
    If there are men willing to SERVE (and qualify) as Elders (in the Latin American Church) they should be encourage.
    A big issue arises when the sponsoring congregation in the USA pushes (directly or indirectly) the local congregation (10 de Octubre?) to appoint Elders.
    The (official) History of the Cuban Church is literally being printed right now.
    Let’s see if Lázaro’s point of view a decade ago stands or adapts.
    God bless you for what you, Brother Tim, do for my brothers and sisters in Cuba!
    In Christ’s love,

  3. Alabama John

    A hierarchy exist in all living things.
    The pecking order is understood in all animals, birds, you name it and they are, were, created by God as well as their ability to establish the right pecking order.
    We are no different but in some way our reasoning is screwed up far more than the others are.

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