The New Testament uses six terms to describe elders.
1. presbuteros--Acts 14:23; 1 Timothy 5:1; Titus 1:5; 1 Peter 5:1. This word means "an older person." This may refer to one "older" in physical age or "older" in spiritual growth. In English, the term "elder" is biblical and appropriate properly understood.
2. From the Greek, the English word "presbyter" is biblical and appropriate. A presbyter is an elder and vice versa.
3. episkopos--Acts 20:28; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:25. This word means "overseer" of some sort. Such a person would be something like a co-ordinator, facilitator, etc. Such a person is certainly NOT a boss or a CEO or a taskmaster. In English, the term "overseer" is biblical and appropriate properly understood.
4. From the Greek, the English word "bishop" is biblical and appropriate. The word "bishop" is simply the English TRANSLITERATION from the Greek episkopos. A bishop is an overseer and vice versa.
5. poimen--Ephesians 4:11; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 2:25. This word means "shepherd." This is a metaphor derived from the agricultural practices in the ancient world, going throughout the Old and New Testaments. People in ancient times knew very well the function of a shepherd. The Bible refers to God, kings, normal shepherds, all types of people who care for and help sheep and people. The verb cognate to poimen, which is poimaino, occurs in Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2, which means "to feed" or better "to pasture." In English, the term "shepherd" is biblical and appropriate properly understood.
6. The Latin equivalent of poimen is "pastores," from the English word "pastor." A pastor is a shepherd and vice versa.
The Bible speaks of church servants or co-ordinators as elders, presbyters, bishops, overseers, shepherds, and pastors.
There are several problems about these terms. Here are a few important ones:
1. Often, people and churches think of these terms in unbiblical ways. For example, an elder is not a CEO of the church. He is a servant, a helper, a supporter, not a dogmatic leader who "runs" the church.
2. A person who is older is age may not be older in spiritual growth. A person younger in age may be a better "elder" spiritually because of his or her relationship to God.
3. The Bible says VERY, VERY LITTLE about elders. It is amazing that people have written whole books about elders and "envision" who elders are or should be. There is not enough biblical information to create a "castle" about "the eldership."
4. The best guidance would be to pay attention to the biblical metaphors. THEN, one can learn much from texts like Ezekiel 34; Psalm 23; etc.
Please think about the biblical idea of "elders." Personally, I prefer the term "shepherds" because of the warm nature of such a person and because of the many ways people think about all these terms which are unbiblical.
Share your thoughts with others. Let me hear from YOU.