The New Testament Elder, Overseer, and Pastor -- By: David A. Mappes

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 154:614 (Apr 1997)
Article: The New Testament Elder, Overseer, and Pastor
Author: David A. Mappes


The New Testament Elder, Overseer, and Pastor

David A. Mappes

[David Mappes is a staff pastor at Bethany Bible Church and professor of Bible at Southwestern College, both in Phoenix, Arizona.]

[This is article two in the four-part series “Studies on the Role of the New Testament Elder.”]

The first article in this series1 discussed the use of the term “elder” in the Old Testament (זָן) and the relationship of New Testament elders (πρεσβύτεροι) to elders in the Jewish synagogue. The present article discusses the use of two Greek words translated “overseer” and “pastor” in order to ascertain their relationship to the New Testament elder and discusses the question of whether church eldership is an office or a function.

The word ἐπίσκοπος (“overseer”) occurs in Acts 20:28; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:7; and 1 Peter 2:25.2 The first four citations refer to local church offices, while the word in 1 Peter 2:25 refers to Jesus Christ as the Guardian of believers. In the first four references the term seems to be a technical title of church office and not merely a descriptive term of leadership function.3 When used to describe church officers, it is always in

connection with Gentile churches. This has led some to conclude that πρεσβύτερος (“elder”) was primarily a Jewish term used to describe Jewish church leaders and that ἐπίσκοπος was a Gentile term used to describe Gentile leaders.4

The word ἐπίσκοπος derives from ἐπί (“over”) and σκοπέω (“to watch or look”). The σκοπός then is a “watcher,” and ἐπίσκοπος is an “overseer,” one who is attentive to things or persons.5 The verb ἐπισκοπέω, occurring in Hebrews 12:15 and You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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