John T. Willis

Friday, October 21, 2011

Biblical Female Teachers, Deacons, Elders, Preachers--Part 6

As we continue our study of Biblical Female Teachers, Deacons, Elders, and Preachers, in this blog we will discuss what the Bible teaches about female elders. We have already dealt with introductory matters, with female teachers, and female deacons.

I. The New Testament uses SIX synonymous terms for the function of "elder."
a. Elder--Greek presbuteros, presbutes, presbutis. The different cognates of this root appear 74 times in the New Testament. In most texts, these terms appear with reference to the elders of the Jews: see for example: Matthew 15:2; 16:21; 21:23; Mark 7:3, 5; Luke 7:3; 9:22; Acts 4:5, 8. [PLEASE find all these passages by using YOUR concordance]. Most of these texts do not specify whether these "elders" are males or females. A few texts designate them as "males"--for example, Acts 2:17;
1 Peter 5:1 [Peter identifies himself as an "elder"] a few texts designate them as "females"--1 Timothy 5:2; Titus 2:3.
b. Presbyter. This is simply a TRANSLITERATION from Greek into English. Hence, in modern times there are "presbyters" in the Presbyterian and other denominations. These denominations usually use males and females.
c. Shepherd--Greek poimen. The verb poimaino and the noun poimen appear 28 times in the New Testament. Usually, these terms refer to a shepherd with sheep literally or figuratively. See for example Matthew 2:6; Luke 17:7; John 10:2, 11, 12, 14, 16. [PLEASE consult YOUR concordance to study all these texts]. The Bible [Old or New Testament] never designates a "shepherd" as a male or a female, but texts like Exodus 2:16-19 implies that both males and females tended sheep. Hebrews 13:20 and
1 Peter 2:25 refer to Jesus Christ as "shepherd." Ephesians 4:11 couples "shepherds" with "teachers." It is obvious that according to the Bible both males and females were teachers in the church of God; hence, naturally "shepherds" would be both males and females. "Shepherd" is not a "gender specific" term, but a term about a person who cares for sheep.
d. Pastor. The English word "pastor" is from the Latin "pastores," which means "shepherd."
e. Overseer. Greek episkopos with various cognates from this root. This term appears 11 times in the New Testament. The meaning of this term is very obscure. For example, Acts 1:20 refers to Matthias. 1 Peter 2:25 refers to Jesus Christ as a parallel to "shepherd."
f. Bishop. The English word "bishop" is a TRANSLITERATION adapted to English from the Greek episkopos=[e]p[b]isk[h]op[os]. Thus, "bishop" is identical with "overseer."

II. The New Testament contains precious few texts about elders. Here is the list.
Acts 11:30 [?]
Acts 14:23
Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 16:4 [all concerning the Jerusalem council]
Acts 20:17-38
Acts 21:18
Philippians 1:1
1 Timothy 3:1-7; 5:1-2, 17, 19
Titus 1:5-9
James 5:14
1 Peter 5:1-5
2 John 1 [?]; 3 John 1 [?]

III. The function of elders is to care for the sheep in every way.
a. Ezekiel 34:1-16 paints a clear picture of the function of a shepherd.
b. Some people insist that the expression "the husband of one wife" in 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6 PROVES that ONLY MALES can be elders. But this term is NOT GENDER SPECIFIC. Rather, it has to do with "spouses." Hence, the New Revised Standard Version translates this better as: "married only once."
c. The situation in Philippians centers on two women, Euodia and Syntyche [see specifically Philippians 4:2]. These two women were obviously prominent influential people in the church at Philippi. In all likelihood, "bishops" in Philippians 1:1 includes Euodia and Syntyche.

IV. For a long time, numerous books and articles have been written on "the role of elders" in the church. ALL who write such books are VERY CREATIVE, because there is ALMOST NO EVIDENCE about the function of elders in the church. That elders are MALE ONLY is nothing but an assumption. To be sure, 1 Peter 5:1-4 specifically identifies Peter, a male, as an elder. At the same time, Paul instructs Timothy to speak kindly to "an older man" and "older women."

V. Because of a very long human tradition, local churches may choose to select MALES ONLY as elders or shepherds. Biblically, both males and females fit the function of elders or shepherds.

Share YOUR insights and thoughts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis


  • As long as we continue to see the church as an institution rather than a people, we will continue to focus on a religious group and see Scripture as a poor excuse for a rule book from which we must pry arcane rules to govern our meeting times.

    On the other hand, if we could grasp that God is actually after a people that reflects his character and lives with him, we might be able to let go of ideas that disappear at "home." I don't know of any man whose wife has not been an example to him, corrected, cajoled, and reasoned him out of poor behavior or dumb ideas. If a woman can do this at home, she can do it in the greater "church," fulfilling the work of elder in the people of God.
    We tend to see elders as leaders of institutions (an elder of Highand church), and this confuses us even more. If we see ourselves as God's people - primarily outside Sunday morning - we would gain a greater understanding and appreciation of elders - and call our elders to something other than regulating Sunday assemblies.

    By Blogger Hoyt Roberson, MC, MS, LMFT, at 7:54 AM  

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