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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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Elder, literally, one of the older men, and because, in ancient times, older persons would naturally be selected to hold public offices, out of regard to their presumed superiority in knowledge and experience, the term came to be used as the designation for the office itself, borne by an individual, of whatever age. But the term 'elder' appears to be also expressive of respect and reverence in general. The word occurs in this sense in , 'Joseph went up to bury his father, and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt.' These elders of Egypt were, probably, the various state-officers. The elders of Israel, of whom such frequent mention is made, may have been, in early times, the lineal descendants of the patriarchs (). To the elders Moses was directed to open his commission (). They accompanied Moses in his first interview with Pharaoh, as the representatives of the Hebrew nation (); through them Moses issued his communications and commands to the whole people (; ); they were his immediate attendants in all the great transactions in the wilderness (); seventy of their number were selected to attend Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, at the giving of the law (), on which occasion they are called the nobles of the children of Israel, who did eat and drink before God, in ratification of the covenant, as representatives of the nation. In , we meet with the appointment of seventy elders to bear the burden of the people along with Moses; these were selected by Moses out of the whole number of the elders, and are described as being, already, officers over the children of Israel. It is the opinion of Michaelis, that this council, chosen to assist Moses, should not be confounded with the Sanhedrim, which, he thinks, was not instituted till after the return from the Babylonish captivity [SANHEDRIM]. After the settlement in Canaan the elders seem to have been the administrators of the laws in all the cities (; ; ; ; ; ). The continuance of the office may be traced during the time of the judges (); during that of Samuel (); under Saul (); and David (). The elders of Israel are mentioned during the captivity (), consisting either of those who had sustained that office in their own land, or were permitted by the Babylonians to exercise it still among their countrymen. We meet with them again at the restoration (), and by them the temple was rebuilt (). After the restoration and during the time of the Maccabees, the Sanhedrim, according to Michaelis, was instituted, being first mentioned under Hyrcanus II; but elders are still referred to in . Among the members of the Sanhedrim were the 'elders.' Like the scribes, they obtained their seat in the Sanhedrim by election, or nomination from the executive authority. The word elder, with many other Jewish terms, was introduced into the Christian church. In the latter it is the title of inferior ministers, who were appointed overseers among not over the flock (; ; ; ; ). The term is applied even to the apostles (; ). So also 'the Presbytery' certainly includes even St. Paul himself (comp. and ). Still the apostles are distinguished from the elders elsewhere (). The elder was constituted by an apostle or someone invested with apostolic authority (; see also the epistles to Timothy and John). The elders preached, confuted gainsayers (), and visited the sick (). The word elders is sometimes used in the sense of ancients, ancestors, predecessors (; ).





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Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Elder'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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