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The qualification for Elder in the Christian Church

by Robert Randle  
11/23/2011 / Bible Studies

There are Christian churches where a female has the title of "elder" in the sense of an official officeholder in the local congregation/assembly as opposed to someone who is an old woman. And while some modern worshippers may find the Apostle Paul a little out-of-step when he wrote in 1 Timothy 2: 12, "And I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise [usurp] authority over a man, but to be in silence," so how is that a female believer can be ordained an 'elder' in the church? What does the Bible reveal about how an elder is chosen to pastor or shepherd the flock of God's people?

NOTE: 'Usurp' means to seize control of that for which one is not lawfully entitled.

Titus 1: 5-6
For this reason I left you in Crete that you should set according to acceptable order what remains and appoint/ordain them elders [Heb. Zekenim] from city to city [in every city]. If anyone is without reproach, a one woman man [husband of one wife], his children [Heb. banim] being believers in the LORD [faithful children] and not under accusation of debauchery [extreme indulgence in sensuality], stubbornness or rebellion. OJB

NOTE: The word for children is in the plural and not the singular as in a child/son or daughter.

1Timothy 3: 1-2
Trustworthy is the word of truth [faithful saying] if anyone aspires to the congregational office of Spiritual Overseer/Bishop [Heb. Mashgiach Ruchani] over the congregation/assembly [Church] of God [Heb. Adat HaShem], it is necessary for the Spiritual Overseer/Bishop [Heb. Mashgiach Ruchani] to be without reproach (blameless) and a one woman man [husband of one wife] . . . OJB

NOTE: Some churches use the office of Elder and Bishop/Overseer interchangeably but in the Orthodox Jewish Bible Hebrew-English translation, two separate words are used in Titus and Timothy by the apostle Paul but the apostle Peter uses both words in 1 Peter 5: 1-2a. The idea in the latter is the exercise of authority when it pertains to matters involving the worship service ministry [Heb. avodas hakodesh] or the holy service/ministry. Interestingly, in Acts 20: 17, 28 the apostle Paul employs both terms for elders when he uses the term "elders of the congregation" [Heb. Ziknei HaKehillah] and not elders of the "congregations" [Heb. HaKehillot]. Then he uses the term 'spiritual overseers' [Heb. mashgichim ruachaniyim] over the congregation/assembly [Heb. HaKehillah not HaKehillot] of God . . . OJB

So, based on the apostle Paul summoning the Elders or Bishops from Ephesus and with the lack of any plural form of the word congregation (flock) [Acts 20: 28-Heb. "adat" for flock instead of "adarim" for flocks], it could either mean that these church officials were from one local assembly/congregation or the gathering consisted of an Elder or Elders representing their own particular congregation and would thus be consistent with the narrative. Without more specifics it is difficult to be absolutely certain and in most cases people just accept what is prudent or reasonable and the traditional practice. The one thing, though, is what I alluded to in my earlier email, that in reading Titus 1: 5, it does "NOT" say, appoint Elders in every congregation but every "city/town." Now, additionally, there really is not a lot to go on in pinpointing say, in what aspect "children" are under consideration.

Since the Christian Church came out of a Jewish cultural and religious worldview and social experience, it might be helpful to determine at what point is someone no longer a child. Accordingly, a Jewish parent is accountable to God for the behavior of a child until age thirteen, and then they are accountable to God for their own sins. Also, there are the Bar mitzvah and the Bat mitzvah celebrations for Jewish boys and girls when they reach sixteen years old as they are now considered no longer a child but not an adult [as of yet], either. And a point I forgot to include earlier as well, is, what if a prospective candidate for Eldership met all the criteria and then at some point before ordination all his children died, or let's say having only two and one died or was killed; or what about his wife dying a week before he is approved or what if these deaths occur afterwards, shall he resign because he no longer qualifies? I have even heard that a man could not be an Elder [especially if he had remarried] as long as he still had another "living" wife [former wife] so I guess if one wanted to serve in that capacity you had to pray or hope that God would take her away so you could fulfill that position [yuck or yikes!!].

And if you qualify initially can you still remain that way because you certainly cannot control all the circumstances in your life: such as if your wife files for a divorce or dies, or if your adult children engage in behavior that is not a good reflection on their earlier life in the "Faith" or if another elder or yourself relocate to another congregation or dies when there were only two of you, etc. I think that when it comes to such matters, sometimes one has to measure "the spirit of the law" versus "the letter of the law" wherein a couple who has only one child should be no less qualified than a couple who have six children because being a parent is equal in responsibility and honor, and how can God be seen as just if the Holy Spirit places it in the heart of a person and his wife to serve as Overseer/Bishop/Elder and yet at the same time disqualify them solely on the basis of their having a single child?

I have this question about what it means regarding having "believing" children and raising them up in the nurture and admonition of the LORD? Does this mean that the child/children must be "saved" or that they just have knowledge or have been instructed in the things of God by attending church services and Bible class, but have not committed themselves to the gospel call for salvation, although they are living a life that positively reflects their religious upbringing? As I perused the qualifications for a Deacon, it seems to me that he could also be an Elder/Overseer if he chose to take on that added responsibility.

Robert Randle
776 Commerce St. #B-11
Tacoma, WA 98402
November 22, 2011

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