From the pre-exilic books (from Joshua to Jeremiah), it can be seen that the Ruling Elders continued to rule especially over the Qaahaal or the Ekkleesia — alias the religious Assembly of Israel. At the beginning of this period, the relationship between the
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Elders of Israel and the great leader Joshua seems to be somewhat analogous to that between his predecessor Moses and the Elders of Israel during Mosaic days.28 Later, despite the rise of the political influence of the Judges, those Elders who outlived Joshua continued to exercise similar functions and responsibilities — even as the Elders had done in Mosaic times. Indeed, it was the same in the time of Ruth.29
The transition of paramount power from the political Judges to the newlyestablished Monarchy — is recorded in the historical books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles. Then too, the Elders continued to exert even political influence — while more and more concentrating on pastoral or ecclesiastical duties.30 Such duties of these Post-Mosaic and Pre-Exilic Elders then included: intercessory prayer; assembling for worship; receiving presents on behalf of the Lord; reconfirming the Covenant, from time to time; giving helpful pastoral comfort and counsel to the afflicted; and, in Session, deliberating with the Prophets.31
Elders were always to be respected, simply by virtue of the revered office they held. Yet, when wayward, they needed to heed the warnings of the prophetic Preachers and even of the godly Kings who tried to move them to repentance. Indeed, self-centredness on the part of many of the Elders was one of the main reasons for the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem. Nevertheless, even during the subsequent exile, it was still precisely the Elders who provided government for the covenantal community.32
After the return of God's people from their exile, nationally-recognized Elders continued to provide countrywide rulership as a non-hereditary "Noble Aristocracy" — in the General Assembly. Regional leadership was provided in Presbyteries — by the Elders of the various cities. Local leadership was given in Sessions — by the individual Elders or "Nobles" who were "Heads of their fathers' households." Such were: the "Bearded ones" or the "Elders of every city"; the "Gray-headed ones" or the "Elders of the Jews"; the "Officers" or controlling "Rulers of all the Congregation"; the "Freemen" or the "Nobles of Judah"; and the "Prefects" who ruled God's people.33
It is especially after the termination of the previously-mentioned exile, that we find the strong development of the seventy-member Sänhedrin (or "Council-in-Session"). Remotely, the Sanhedrin probably originated in Mosaic or even Pre-Mosaic times.34 Yet it seems to have received its Hellenistic name Sun-hedrion (alias "With-a-Seat"), and a new character, by no later than about 50 B.C.
In the time of Christ, ruling Elders (or ‘Nobles') had the right to sit and to speak in both the 23-member Lesser Sanhedrin (or regional Presbytery) and in the Greater Sanhedrin (alias the national General Assembly of Israel).35 Yet with the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem, even the Sanhedrin-as-such was destroyed. Thereafter, 36 only Scribes alias preaching Rabbis sat — in the approximately 70-member Jewish ‘Sanhedrin of Jabneh.
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However, during the earthly life of Jesus — the period when the New Testament Church Eldership was to take root — the Sanhedrin or ‘Council-in-session' was composed of the "Priests and the Scribes…with the Elders."37 This seems to correspond to the modern "Joint Church Council" — consisting of Deacons, Elders, and the Preacher(s). Indeed, the essential co-importance of these three special offices in the Sanhedrin — in spite of their distinctions — can be seen from the constant change of the order in which they are mentioned (from one passage of Scripture to another).38