OLD MAN – Encyclopedic Dictionary of Bible and Theology

Old man (Heb. 5âqên, literally “bearded”; Gr. presbuteros). In the OT the word designates a person of a certain official level or position among his brothers, as head of a family, house or tribe (Gen 50: 7; Exo 3:16, 2Sa 5: 3); it also describes members of a society considered wise and venerable by virtue of their age and knowledge (the word does not necessarily imply great age, but it does imply maturity and experience; 1Sa 24:13; Isa 3:2, 5; etc.). God instructed Moses to choose 70 elders to help him in the great responsibility of ruling Israel (Num 11:16, 17); they were men specially prepared by God to do that work (vs 24-26). Furthermore, should the entire nation sin, the elders were to represent it in the atonement (Lev 4:13-15). Each city had its group, with certain civil and religious responsibilities (Exo 12:21; Deu 19:11, 12; Rth 4:2, 4, 9, 11; etc.), and, in certain cases, they had to answer for the whole city (Deu 21:1-9). Evidently the elders of other ancient peoples had responsibilities similar to those of the elders of Israel (Num 22:4; Jos 9:3, 4, 11), but they retained a place of importance even after the nation was ruled by kings ( 1Ki 8:1; 20:7, 8; 2Ch 5:2), and they held that position for some time (Ezr 5:9; Eze 8:1; Jl. 1:14; Mat 26:47; 27:1; Mar 8:31; Luk 7:3; Act 4:8). The word “elders” is first applied to a member of the Christian church in Act 11:30, where reference is made to certain leaders of Judea. In Acts 15:2, 4, 6 the elders are mentioned separately from the apostles, and apparently there were more than one in each church (14:23; Tit. 1:5). If vs 17 and 28 of ch 20 are compared, it will be seen that the terms presbuteros and episkopos -which is usually translated as “bishop”, but which literally means “overseer”-, are used synonymously. That is, bishops and elders were to have the same qualities (1 Tit 3:2-7; Tit 1:5-9). When Peter wrote to the churches in Asia Minor (1Pe 1:1), he admonished the elders to take care of those under his supervision, not by force but willingly; not fulfilling his office for personal gain or with a domineering attitude (5:1-4). Some of his functions were: preach and teach (1 Tit 5:17), shepherd (Act 20:28), administer (Tit. 1:6-9), anoint the sick and pray for them (Jam 5:14, fifteen). Among the symbols of the Apocalypse appear 24 elders. They are portrayed sitting on 24 thrones surrounding the throne of God, dressed in white robes and wearing golden crowns (Rev 4:4). They join the “four living creatures” in praise and worship of God (vs 8-10; 11:16; 19:4). On another occasion they are presented with golden censers and harps, singing a new song (5:8, 9). Biblical information is insufficient to positively identify them, especially in light of textual evidence indicating that “the” should be read instead of “us” in v 10, and that there are doubts about the “us” of v 9 ( CBA 7:783,784,789). See Bishop.

Source: Evangelical Bible Dictionary

Hebrew zaquén, translated into Greek presbyteros, Latin presbyter, Spanish presbítero, which is used today. In ancient cultures the a. they were venerated and respected Gn 50, 7; Nm 22, 7. Advanced age was synonymous with experience and wisdom Jb 32, 7, for this reason they were considered suitable to govern, advise the sovereigns, represent families, the people, the nation, for such they had them Moses and Aaron Ex 3, 16; 4, 29 and 12, 21. When crossing the desert, Moses, on the advice of his mother-in-law Jethro, decentralized power and instituted the a., to judge minor cases, since the serious ones were brought to Moses, Ex 18, 21-24; Yahweh commands Moses the number of seventy a. Ex 24, 1-9; Numbers 11, 16-25; Josh 8, 14.

Having entered Palestine the cities each had a council of a. 1 Sa 11, 3; 1R 21, 8; 2 R 10, 1. During the monarchy of Israel the a. they had a lot of power 1 S 8, 4-22; 2 S 5, 3; 1 R 8, 1-3 and 20, 7-9; likewise when the exile in Babylon Jr 29, 1; Ez 8, 1; 14, 1; 20, 1, and when returning, when the construction of the temple Esd 5, 9 and 6, 7. Of this institution of the a. derives the ® Sanhedrin. In the NT, following the institution of the a. Jews, in the Christian communities we find the presbyters or a., in charge of the pastoral work and the preaching of the word Acts 11, 30; 14, 23; Jas 5, 14; 1 Tim 5, 17; Tt 1, 5.

Digital Bible Dictionary, Grupo C Service & Design Ltda., Colombia, 2003

Source: Digital Bible Dictionary

(Heb., zaqen; Gr., presbyters). In ancient times the older men of the community were called elders. They ruled the community and made all the important decisions. Moses gathered the elders of Israel to announce that the Lord had heard his cry for help and had appointed him to lead them out of Egypt (Exo 4:29). He later called them to institute the Passover (Exo 12:21). At Sinai, 70 elders went up the mountain with Moses and saw the God of Israel (Exo 24:9).

In the desert 70 elders shared the divine anointing of Moses to give him relief (Num 11:25). After the Israelites had settled in Canaan and had a king, the elders continued to function (1Ki 8:1). Each town had its group of elders (Ezr 10:14; compare 1Sa 16:4). After the return from exile the elders formed the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council.

The elders joined the priests and scribes in opposing Jesus (Mat 27:12). When the churches were born, elders were appointed for each congregation (Acts 14:23). In the NT the terms elders and bishops are used interchangeably (Act 20:17, Act 20:28; Tit 1:5, Tit 1:7).

These men were required to live blameless lives and be obedient to the truth in their faith (1Ti 3:1-7; Tit 1:6-9). His duties included the spiritual oversight of the congregation and the teaching of the Word (1Ti 5:17). Before the end of the first century AD. BC, the term bishop had acquired a special meaning, indicating the unique leader of the church. A biblical example of this (in the book of Acts as well as in Paul’s epistles) is James, the brother of Jesus, who was obviously the leader of the Jerusalem church.

Source: Hispanic World Bible Dictionary

(a) Old Testament: In the Old Testament, a magistrate, both civil and religious, who, so far as we can tell, was appointed by virtue of his right of age, at the head of a patriarchal house, of a family of the tribe, or of the same tribe (1 Kings 8:1-3; Judges 8:14,16). Having the position of chief of a tribe or of the largest families, the elder had the authority of a prince. Ordinarily, only men of mature age accessed these functions. Other peoples, like the Midianites and Moabites (Num. 22:4, 7), organized in tribes, had elders. This title generally designates high officials (Gen. 50:7) who: Governed the people (Dt. 27:1; Ezra 10:8); they represented the nation in transactions that concerned it (Ex. 3:18; Judges 11:5-11; 1 Sam. 8:4); when a guest had to be honored (Ex. 18:12); celebrate an alliance (2 Sam. 5:3), or celebrate religious acts (Lev. 4:13-15; Josh. 7:6). A body of 70 elders helped Moses rule the Israelites (Num. 11:16-24). Each city had its elders, who were probably the heads of the local families, and who exercised civil and religious authority (Dt. 19:12; 21:2; Rt. 4:2-11; 1 Sam. 11: 3; Ezra 10:14). The elders continued to exercise these functions in Judea during the Roman occupation (Mt. 15:2; 21:23; 26:3, 47). (See SYNAGOGUE and SANHEDRI N) (b) New Testament: In the New Testament the terms “elder” and “episcops” (meaning overseer or bishop) were interchangeable (cf. Acts 20:17, 28; Tit. 1: 5, 7), but they were not entirely synonymous. The term “elder” (presbyter) denotes the dignity of his office, while “episcope” denotes those duties which he exercised. The distinction that establishes two categories of ministry (that of elder and that of bishop) dates from the second century. In the year 44 AD we already find elders in the church in Jerusalem (Acts 11:30). During his first missionary journey, Paul appointed elders in each church (Acts 14:23). In fact, the elders in the churches of the Gentiles, up to where the NT shows us, were always appointed by the irreplaceable apostolic authority, already exercised personally, or expressly delegated to certain persons (cp. 1 Tim. 3: 1-15; Tit 1:5). The instructions for its official establishment are given to us in epistles addressed to apostolic collaborators, in the so-called Pastoral Epistles. They also fulfilled their functions in the communities of Christians of Jewish origin (Jas. 5:14; 1 Pet. 5:1). It is evident that the dignity of elder in the Christian church corresponded to that of elder among the Jews. Both positions were invested with the same authority. The elders were associated with the apostles in the government of the Church (Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 16:4; cf. Acts 21:18). They were the bishops or supervisors of the local churches (Acts 20:17, 28; Tit. 1:5), and their function was to take care of the spiritual state of the congregation, exercising discipline, teaching (1 Tim. 3:5; 5:17; Tit. 1:9; Jas. 5:14; 1 Pet. 5:1-4; cf. Heb. 13:17). There were in the local church several bishops or overseers (Phil. 1:1), also called elders (Acts 11:30). No reference is made to a distinction of functions between them. Within the Christian church of apostolic times, as in the synagogue, preaching was not an essential function of the elders; it was not exclusively reserved for them. As shepherds of the flock, the elders were to instruct well and be able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:9). But anyone who possessed the gift of prophecy or teaching had the right to give exhortations (1 Cor. 12:28-30; 14:24, 31). In this connection it is important to point out the distinction between “gift” and “charge”. The first comes directly from the Lord; the second, by the exercise of human authority. The gift therefore did not require human authority to be exercised, and was exercised in immediate subjection to the Head. The authority of the elders, as offices, derived from their official establishment by the apostles, and had its sphere within the undivided local assembly. Nothing is said in the Scriptures about a succession. (c) The elders in heaven: The twenty-four elders seen by John in heaven are frequently mentioned in Revelation. They are seen around the throne, sitting on thrones, dressed in white and wearing golden crowns, worshiping God (Rev. 4:4, 10). In the OT, when everything was in order, there were twenty-four priestly groups, each of these groups having an elder as head or chief (1 Chron. 24:7-18); it may be that the number twenty-four for the elders in Revelation is an allusion to these twenty-four kinds of priesthood. The elders in heaven have golden harps full of perfume “which are the prayers of the saints”,…

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