I have recently started down a road of examining ecclesiology, or how the church is structured. Although I was taught a little about it in Bible College I have been challenged on the Biblical veracity of some of those teaching and so I began to study the concept. I understand that we all come into any conversation or study with tons of baggage and have done my best to come at this study objectively however I welcome any input you may have that could enlighten me on views I have not addressed.
With that I will jump right into some of the notes I took to get started, the words the Bible uses to address leadership in the local church.
There are three different words used synonymously in the New Testament to refer to the office of elder. In I Timothy and Titus, Paul drafts nearly identical lists of qualifications for elder and overseer, while Peter draws all three concepts together in one passage: “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you… shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight…” (I Peter 5:1-2). Luke uses the terms elder, overseer and shepherd interchangeably in Acts 20.
Presbuteros —Greek word #4245 in Strong’s
This is the most commonly used word in the New Testament with regard to church leaders. It refers 28 times in the Gospels and Acts to the members of the Jewish Sanhedrin and 12 times in Revelation to the representatives of the redeemed people of God. The remaining 19 times the word is employed in Acts and the Epistles; it identifies a unique group of leaders in the church. The term simply means advanced in age, but in the first century context indicates a rank or office among Jews as members of the ruling council, among Greeks as those who managed public affairs and administered justice, and among Christians as those who presided over the local assemblies. While no specific age is given, this term emphasizes the character of the elder and implies maturity, dignity, experience, and honor. [i]
Episkopos —Greek word #1985 in Strong’s
This is a common word for in the Greek culture for any official who acted as a superintendent, manager, controller, curator, guardian or ruler. It occurs only 5 times in the New Testament, once referring to Christ (1 Peter 2:25) and the other 4 times to church leaders. The term emphasizes the function of an elder as exercising authority and supervision “by divine placement, initiative and design”.[ii]
Poimen — Greek word #4166 in Strong’s
This word simply means shepherd. It is applied only once in the noun form and 3 times in the verb form in the New Testament in the context of church leaders. The term emphasizes the heart attitude of an elder as one who tends, feeds, guides, protects and cares for his flock.[iii]
Diakonos – Greek Word # 1249 in Strong’s
The word deacon is derived from a Greek word, which is often translated servant or waiter. It is widely believed that the first deacons are the seven selected in the book of acts to meet the dietary needs of the church.
Although the role of an apostle expanded beyond a single local church it may be important to examine them as we examine other roles in the scripture. The apostles were men chosen by Jesus to begin the preaching of his Gospel.
When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: 14 Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, 15 Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, 16 Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. Luke 6:13-16
Jesus selected 12 men of his disciples to be his designated “apostles”. There seems to be an importance to this number as in Matthew 19:28 the Lord tells Peter,
Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
Some feel the choice of Matthias was a wrong one. It is contended that this was a poor method of choosing and Paul should have filled the vacancy left by Judas’ apostasy. However, those who believe Matthias was a proper selection argue that Matthew 19:28 is Jewish in its orientation and Paul was to minister to Gentiles (Gal. 2:9). Furthermore Luke, Paul’s friend and companion, acknowledged the Twelve as an official group (Acts 2:14; 6:2). Finally, there is no sense or spirit of censure in the Acts account on the selection of Matthias.[iv] This matter is not to be fully addressed here.
What made the Apostles Unique
They were inspired by the Holy Spirit to speak and write the Word of God, although the Holy Spirit works in every believer, the Apostles received a special inspiration that set them apart from all who have come and gone since. Jesus speaks of this in the Gospel according to John
“These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” John 14:25-26
“However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” John 16:13
Do we have Apostles today? Not like “The Twelve”. These people fill a role that others do not fill today, as I believe they still fill them to this day. As they will sit on the thrones to judge the tribes of Israel according to Matthew 19 and their names are written on the stones that form the foundation of the wall surrounding the New Jerusalem according to Revelation 21:14.
I do believe there are still people today who may be given the gift of an apostle discussed in Eph 4:11. Simply stated this word means ‘messenger or one who is sent.’[v] This can and I believe does still apply to church planters and missionaries, although they do not carry the authority of “The Twelve”.
[i] Strauch, A. (1995). Biblical Eldership. Lewis and Roth Publishers, p. 125
[ii] Strauch, A. (1995). Biblical Eldership. Lewis and Roth Publishers, p. 148
[iii] Strauch, A. (1995). Biblical Eldership. Lewis and Roth Publishers, p. 149
[iv] Walvoord, John F., and Roy B. Zuck, eds. THE BIBLE KNOWLEDGE COMMENTARY. Dallas Tx: Victor Books, 1985.
[v] Strong’s Concordance Gr# 652