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People's Dictionary of the Bible


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Elder. We find the "eldest servant" of Abraham's house "ruling over all that he had," Genesis 24:2; we have also mention of "the elders of Joseph's house," and the "elders of the land of Egypt," Genesis 50:7, obviously indicating the chiefs of Joseph's establishment, and high Egyptian officers. Moses was desired to convey the divine message to "the elders of Israel," Exodus 3:16; and they were both to accompany him when he demanded freedom from Pharaoh, and also to be the means of communication between Moses and the mass of the people. Exodus 3:18; Exodus 4:29; Exodus 12:21. We are not told who these elders were, probably the leading persons in each tribe. We find them after the departure from Egypt, Exodus 17:6; Exodus 19:7; and from these, 70 were selected for special worship with Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu. Exodus 24:1-2; Exodus 24:9-11. Moses had, at the suggestion of Jethro, appointed officers to administer justice, Exodus 18:26, but he seems to have required, further, a body of (if they may be so called) political advisers. Accordingly 70 out of the general class of elders were chosen, approved men; and on these the divine Spirit was especially poured. Numbers 11:10-30. Possibly it was from this example that the Sanhedrin was afterwards constituted. There were "elders" of neighboring nations, synonymous with "princes," as of Moab and Midian, Numbers 22:7; Numbers 22:13, and of the Hivites. Joshua 9:11. And we find the institution remaining in Israel through the whole history, under every change of government, and a certain authority exercised by them to which the people submitted. Sometimes they are mentioned as local magistrates, presiding over separate tribes or districts, and sometimes as the superior class, it is likely, acting generally for the nation. Deuteronomy 19:12; Deuteronomy 21:2-3; Deuteronomy 21:6; Deuteronomy 31:28; Joshua 9:15; Joshua 9:18-21; Joshua 24:1; Judges 2:7; Judges 8:14; Judges 11:5; 1 Samuel 4:3; 1 Samuel 8:4; 1 Samuel 16:4; 1 Samuel 30:26; 2 Samuel 17:4; 2 Samuel 19:11; 1 Kings 12:6; 1 Kings 20:8; 1 Kings 21:11; 2 Kings 10:1; 2 Kings 10:5; 1 Chronicles 21:16; Ezra 5:5; Ezra 6:7; Ezra 6:14; Ezra 10:8; Ezra 10:14; Jeremiah 29:1; Ezekiel 8:1; Ezekiel 8:12. Those who locally administered justice are said to have been termed "elders of the gate," Proverbs 31:23; Lamentations 5:14; because that was the place where a court was often held. Ruth 4:2; Ruth 4:4; Ruth 4:9; Ruth 4:11. Elders are mentioned in Maccabean times, apparently distinct from the Sanhedrin, 1 Maccabees 7:33; 1 Maccabees 12:6. In the New Testament history they are associated with the chief priests and scribes, but yet not to be confounded with them. Matthew 16:21; Matthew 21:23; Matthew 26:59; Matthew 27:41. And an analogous class yet subsists among Arab tribes, viz., their sheikhs, a word implying "old men." Officers of the Christian church are designated by elders, Acts 14:23; Acts 20:17; and regulations are given in regard to them, 1 Timothy 5:1; 1 Timothy 5:17; 1 Timothy 5:19; the Greek word for elder being presbuteros. In every congregation of believers, as gathered by the apostles, a number of elders were ordained. Acts 14:23; Acts 20:17; Titus 1:5. Their duty was to feed, oversee and look after the flock. They were called elders, overseers, or bishops, Acts 20:28; 1 Timothy 3:5; 1 Peter 5:1; 1 Peter 5:3; Hebrews 13:17, showing that their duties were similar. Titus 1:5; Titus 1:7; Acts 20:28; Philippians 1:1. The injunction, "Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine," shows, that the office, as ruler and teacher, is united. 1 Timothy 3:2; 1 Timothy 5:17, Romans 12:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; 1 Peter 5:2; Titus 1:9. They were local officers of congregations, sometimes called bishops or overseers. See Acts 20:17; Acts 20:28; Titus 1:5 ff.; 1 Peter 5:1. The distinction in Scripture between the teaching and the ruling elder is not very clear, unless it can be found in 1 Timothy 5:17.

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Bibliography Information
Rice, Edwin Wilbur, DD. Entry for 'Elder'. People's Dictionary of the Bible. 1893.

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