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ORIGIN, DEVELOPMENT, CONTENT & SCOPE OF THE OFFICE OF ELDERSHIP
There is no more important officer in the Christian Church — – than the Elder. Whatever else Preachers and even Patriarchs and Apostles may be, -they are basically "Elders"1 too. One of the very words for "Elder" — -Presbuteros in the Greek — has given the name ‘Presbyterian to our denomination. Indeed, especially Presbyterianism is unthinkable — without Elders. So too is the Biblical Church — from Genesis to Revelation.
The words for "Elder" — in the original Biblical languages — imply dignity and maturity. Significantly, in the Old Testament Hebrew, we find the Elder described by words such as: zaaqeen (or "bearded one"); Sjaab (or "Grey-headed One"); Choor (or "Noble"); Saagaan (or "Ruler" alias "Prefect"); and Sjar (alias "Controller" or "Prince"). Several Elders at a time sat together as a Gerousia (alias a "Session of older men") — and also as a Sanhedrin (alias a "Council-in-session"). In the New Testament Greek, we are told that the Presbuteerion (or Presbytery) consists of Presbuteroi (alias "Elders") -or "Episkopoi"1 (alias "Overseers").2
Fundamentally, all of these ideas root in God the Father, as the white-haired Ancient of days and sovereign Ruler of the universe — in everlasting Session with His Son and His Holy Spirit within the Council of the Trinity.3 Indeed, the earthly Elders were His representatives within the Commonwealth of Israel — alias the Christian Church.4 Originally, Adam — as the great "Elder" of the human race — was to rule the earth as God's Viceroy.5 After the fall, the Head of each clan seems to have been its Rule. Thus Abel, Seth, Enoch, and Noah. "By faith" these ruling Presbuteroi, alias "the Elders, obtained a good report."6
Not long after the Great Flood, we again find Elders even outside the covenant people — namely among the Uzzites, Egyptians, Midianites, Moabites and Gibeonites.7 Within the covenant people, Abraham himself is called a "Prophet" — and ministered the Word and the Sacrament to his huge household of some 318 mature men together with their families.8 Yet the first person explicitly called an "Elder" in Holy Scripture, was Abraham's assistant Eliezer.
For not Abraham himself but Eliezer of Damascus is specifically called an "Elder" or Zaaqeen. He "ruled" over all that Abraham had — as an Overseer. Indeed, Eliezer also pastored the flock — and helped secure a bride for Isaac. As a model Elder, he visited and witnessed to even a household of strangers; worshipped God there; and blessed the Lord for providentially leading him there.9 0, that all Elders today would visit people's homes like that! Similarly, Abraham's great-grandson Joseph became the "Overseer" of Potiphar's Egyptian household — and later, of all Egypt.10
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More than four centuries after Abraham, his descendants had still preserved the Eldership. For the Elders of Israel gathered together as a "Session of older men" (or Gerousia) — even when themselves enslaved in Egypt.
11 Thus, also while in servitude, they yet exercised religiously-grounded functions of a socio-political nature. Indeed, at their very redemption from slavery — while Moses and Aaron ministered the Word and Sacrament, it was the Elders who distributed the elements of the Passover Lamb to its recipients — and who thus promoted that act of divine worship.12
It was the Elders who encouraged Moses and assisted him to obey God and to lead His rebellious people.13 It was the Elders who assembled with Moses and Aaron to eat bread before God.14 Indeed, it-was apparently from their midst that "tithed Rulers" of tens, fifties, hundreds and thousands were now appointed. Thus, each such "Special Elder" in addition to continuing to rule and shepherd his own family was made responsible also for ruling and shepherding some ten of the other (perhaps half a million) families of the people of Israel.15 This then became the rationale for Israel's constitution for her official worship services, as well as for her presbyterial ‘decimal divisions'– a "tithed Eldership" in a tithing Church! For these "Elders-of-tens" apparently corresponded to the New Testament's local Elders, who rule in the Session. Yet next — and apparently from among those Elders-oftens — other "Elders-of-fifties" were appointed (probably corresponding to our modern ruling Elders in the regional Presbytery). Further again, apparently from among these Elders-of-fifties, also yet other "Elders-of-hundreds" were appointed (corresponding to our modern statewide Elders, such as in the Queensland State Assembly in Australia and the Tennessee State Elders in the U.S.A.). Finally, apparently from those Elders-of-hundreds, "Elders-of-thousands" were appointed. These latter corresponded to our New Testament and modern National Elders, such as in the General Assembly of Australia.16 Moses himself, as Moderator and Mediator of the Old Testament, presided over Israel's "General Assembly"17 — as a type of Jesus Christ (the only ultimate Moderator and Mediator of the General Assembly of His Church).