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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Elder

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ELDER (in OT). The rudimentary form of government which prevailed amongst the Hebrews in primitive times grew out of family life. As the father is head of the household, so the chiefs of the principal families ruled the clan and the tribe, their authority being ill-defined, and, like that of an Arab sheik, depending on the consent of the governed. In our earliest documents the ‘elders of Israel’ are the men of position and influence, who represent the community in both religious and civil affairs ( Exodus 3:16 ; Exodus 3:18 ; Exodus 12:11 ; Exodus 17:5 f., Exodus 18:12 ; Exodus 19:7 , Numbers 11:16 , Deuteronomy 5:23 ; Deuteronomy 27:1 ; Deuteronomy 31:28 ): the ‘elders’ of Exodus 24:1 are the ‘nobles’ of Exodus 24:11 . Josephus sums up correctly when he makes Moses declare: ‘Aristocracy … is the best constitution’ ( Ant . VI. viii. 17). The system existed in other Semitic races ( Numbers 22:4 , Joshua 9:11 , Ezekiel 27:9 , Psalms 105:22 ). After the settlement in Canaan the ‘elders’ still possessed much weight ( 1Sa 4:3 ; 1 Samuel 8:4 ; 1 Samuel 15:30 , 2Sa 3:17 ; 2 Samuel 5:3 ; 2 Samuel 17:14 f., 1 Kings 8:1 ). And now we find ‘elders of the city’ the governing body of the town ( Ruth 4:2 ; Rth 4:9 , 1 Samuel 11:3 , 1 Kings 21:8 ; 1Ki 21:11 , 2 Kings 10:1 ; 2 Kings 10:5 ); the little town of Succoth boasted no fewer than seventy-seven ( Judges 8:14 ). Deuteronomy brings into prominence their judicial functions ( Deuteronomy 16:18 ; Deuteronomy 19:12 ; Deuteronomy 21:2 ff; Deuteronomy 22:15 ff; Deuteronomy 25:7 ff.), which were doubtless infringed upon by the position of the king as supreme judge ( 1Sa 8:20 , 2 Samuel 15:4 , 1Ki 3:9 , 2 Kings 15:5 , Isaiah 11:5 , Amos 2:3 ), but could not be abolished ( 1 Kings 20:7 ff., 2 Kings 10:1 ff; 2 Kings 23:1 ). During the Exile the ‘elders’ are the centre of the people’s life ( Jeremiah 29:1 , Ezekiel 8:1 ; Ezekiel 14:1 ; Ezekiel 20:1 , Ezra 5:9 ff; Ezra 6:7 ff.; cf. Sus 5), and after the Return they continue active ( Ezra 10:8 ; Ezra 10:14 , Psalms 107:32 , Proverbs 31:23 , Joel 1:14 ; Joel 2:16 ). It is not improbable that the later Sanhedrin is a development of this institution.

J. Taylor.

ELDER (in NT). See Bishop; Church Government, 6 ( 2 ).


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Elder'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/e/elder.html. 1909.

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