7. THE RULING ELDERSHIP
"'Lord God, the Steward (Ben Meshech or Oikogenous) is this Eliezer'…, Abraham spoke to his Elder (his bearded Zeqan or his old Presbuterooi) who ruled over all he had." Genesis 15:2 & 24:2.
There is no more important Officer in the Christian Church, than the Elder. Whatever else Preachers and even Patriarchs and Apostles may be, they too are also basically "Elders." First Timothy 5:17f and Revelation 4:4-11 & 21:12-14.
One of the very words for "Elder" — Presbuteros in the Greek1 — has given the name 'Presbyterian' to perhaps the oldest2 denomination. Indeed, Presbyterianism is unthinkable without Elders. So too is the Biblical Church — from Genesis to Revelation, and beyond.
Here we deal with the following. (1) The evidence for Pre-Mosaic Eldership. (2) The Eldership in the time of Moses. (3) The Eldership in the time of Joshua to the Judges. (4) The Eldership in the time of the Monarchy. (5) The Eldership at the time of the Exile and the Restoration. (6) The Eldership during the Earthly Life of Christ. (7) Christian Eldership Develops from that of the Old Testament. (8) Degeneration of Eldership down to the End of the Middle Ages. (9) Calvin on Eldership in Genesis and Exodus. (10) Calvin on Eldership in Leviticus to Deuteronomy. (11) Calvin on Eldership from Judges to Jeremiah. (12) Calvin on Eldership from the Exile to Christ. (13) Calvin on the Eldership from Christ to Acts. (14) Calvin on the Eldership in the Christian Epistles. (15) Calvin's Summary of the Eldership in his Institutes. (16) Calvin on Post-Biblical decline of Elders till the Reformation. (7) Calvin resurrects Eldership at the Protestant Reformation. (18) Calvin's student Knox and the Scottish and Dutch Churches on Eldership. (19) Eldership in the Calvinistic Westminster Standards.
THE EVIDENCE FOR PRE-MOSAIC ELDERSHIP All three New Testament permanent Special Offices (of Elder and Preacher and Deacon) seem (back via the three Old Testament permanent Special Offices of King and Prophet and Priest) ultimately to root in the 'Presbytery' of the all-male Triune God Himself.3 The Office of kingly Elder seems to root especially4 in God the Father; the Office of prophetic Preacher seems to root especially in God the Son (or the 'Word' of God); and the Office of priestly Deacon seems to root especially in God the Holy Spirit.5
All words for Elder in the original Biblical languages, imply dignity and maturity. In the Hebrew, we find the Elder described by words such as "the bearded one" (zaaqeen)6 — and even "the gray-headed one" (saab).7
Also as "controller" or "noble" (choor and naadiyb and razan); as "teacher" (rab); as "official" or "prince"or "ruler" (şaar); or as "prefects" and "rulers" (seganiym). Several Elders sat and ruled simultaneously as a Gerousia (or a "Session of older males"), and also as a Sanhedrin (or a "Council in session").
In the Greek, we are told the Presbuteerion or Presbytery consists of Presbuteroi or Elders and Episkopoi or Overseers.8 The Office of "Elder" (Presbuteros)1 or "aged person" (presbuteros),2 is grounded in God the Father as the white-haired Ancient of days9 and sovereign Ruler of the universe.10
Certainly, no female but only an old man could be called a "gray-headed bearded one!" And the earthly Elders were His representatives within the earlier Commonwealth of Israel and the later Christian Church.
This all-male Triune God and great King-Prophet-Priest, made the mature male man Adam as His Own image and viceroy or Governor-General.11 Thus, man too is a king-prophet-priest. Before the fall, Adam (as the great "Elder" of the human race)12 was to subdue the Earth and to rule it as God's representative and as a king-under-God.13