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Fausset's Bible Dictionary


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Age is the standard of dignity in a patriarchal system. Hence, the office of elder was the basis of government; as in our "alderman," the Arab sheikh = "old man" (Joshua 24:31; 1 Kings 12:6). The institution existed when Moses first opened his divine commission to Israel. Even in their Egyptian bondage they retained their national organization and government by elders, who represented the people (Exodus 3:16; Exodus 4:29; Joshua 24:1-2). After the settlement in Canaan they were named "elders of Israel" or "of the land" (1 Samuel 4:3; 1 Kings 20:7) or "of the tribes" (Deuteronomy 31:28) or "of the city," (Deuteronomy 19:12, compare Deuteronomy 16:18; Ruth 4:9; Ruth 4:11).

They retained their position under the judges (Judges 2:7), the kings (2 Samuel 17:4), in the captivity (Jeremiah 29:1), and on the return (Ezra 5:5); and in New Testament times as one of the classes from which the Sanhedrin members were chosen, and are associated with the chief priests and scribes (Matthew 16:21; Matthew 21:23; Matthew 26:59; Luke 22:66), "the presbytery of the people" (Greek). Ecclesiastical elders or presbyters (from whence "priest" is contracted) of the Christian church were a class of church governors borrowed naturally from the synagogue; especially as cases occurred of whole synagogues and their officers embracing Christianity. (See SYNAGOGUE; BISHOP; DEACON; CHURCH.)

Paul ordained them on his first missionary journey (compare Acts 14:23). The four and twenty elders (Revelation 4) represent the combined heads of the Old and New Testament congregations, the twelve patriarchs and twelve apostles; answering to the typical 24 courses of priests, "governors of the sanctuary and governors of God" (1 Chronicles 24:5; 1 Chronicles 25:31).

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Bibliography Information
Fausset, Andrew R. Entry for 'Elder'. Fausset's Bible Dictionary. 1949.

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