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Bible Dictionaries

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary


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An overseer, ruler, leader. Elders, or seniors, in ancient Jewish polity, were persons the most considerable for age, experience, and wisdom. Of this sort were the 7- men whom Moses associated with himself in the government: such likewise afterwards were those who held the first rank in the synagogue as presidents.

Elders, in church history, were originally those who held the first place in the assemblies of the primitive Christians. The word presbyter is often used in the New Testament in this signification; hence the first councils of Christians were called Presbyteria, or councils of elders.

Elders in the presbyterian discipline, are officers, who, in conjunction with the ministers and deacons, compose the kirk sessions, who formerly used to inspect and regulate matters of religion and discipline; but whose principal business now is to take care of the poor's funds. They are chosen from among the people, and are received publicly with some degree of ceremony. In Scotland there is an indefinite number of elders in each parish, generally about twelve.

See PRESBYTERIANS. It has long been a matter of dispute, whether there are any such officers as lay-elders mentioned in Scripture. On the one side it is observed, that these officers are no where mentioned as being alone or single, but always as being many in every congregation. They are also mentioned separately from the brethren. Their office, more than once, is described as being distinct from that of preaching, not only in Romans 12:1-21 : where he that ruleth is expressly distinguished from him that exhorteth or teacheth, but also in that passage, 1 Timothy 5:17 . On the other side it is said, that from the above-mentioned passages, nothing can be collected with certainty to establish this opinion; neither can it be inferred from any other passage that churches should be furnished with such officers, though perhaps prudence, in some circumstances, may make them expedient. "I incline to think, " says Dr. Guise, on the passage 1 Timothy 5:17 , "that the apostle intends only preaching elders, when he directs double honour to be paid to the elders that rule well, especially those who labour in the word and doctrine; and that the distinction lies not in the order of officers, but in the degree of their diligence, faithfulness, and eminence in laboriously fulfilling their ministerial work; and to the emphasis is to be laid on the word labour in the word and doctrine, which has an especially annexed to it."

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Elder'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. 1802.

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