1. Elders in ancient communities were honored men of wisdom, not officials
  2. Function more important than title
  3. The church ministers to one another (1 Corinthians 12:28)

Acts 20:17-35

  1. Three terms used for same leaders of the Ephesian Christians:
    1. elders (presbyteros) v. 17
    2. overseers (episkopos) v. 28a
    3. to shepherd (poimainein) v. 28b

    Watch over yourselves and all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit placed you as overseers to shepherd (infinitive verb) the church of God which he saved with his own blood.

    προσέχετε (imperative) be concerned about, care for, pay attention to ...

    Paul states the actual duties of elders in vss. 28-31.

1 Peter 5:1-3
  1. Three terms combined again:
    1. elders (presbyteros) v. 1
    2. shepherd (poimanate) v. 2a
    3. over seeing (episkopountes) v. 2b
“poimanate” – [imperative] “shepherd the flock of God (under your care), over seeing ... .
“episkopountes” – [participle] “caring for, looking after, watching over”


  1. English = Bishop, Overseer, Guardian, Supervisor
  2. Term used for a wide range of functions: overseer of slaves, head of mint, construction foreman.
  3. Used of the gods in pagan literature
  4. Usage in 1 Peter 2:25
  5. Acts 1:20 – “May another take his place of leadership” (NIV)
  6. Quoting Psalm 109:8
  7. Hebrew = (p’qudah)
How can the terms elder, shepherd, overseer be used interchangeably by Paul if they carry vastly different meanings?

1 Timothy 3:1-2

  1. Striving for the “episkope”
    1. Word “office” is implied; a charge or responsibility
    2. He desires a good/noble work
    3. The “overseer” must be ...
    4. The nature of the work demands a certain character

Titus 1:5-7

  1. Appoint elders in every city (v. 5)
  2. Following Paul’s guidelines (v. 6)
  3. Rationale: An overseer must be blameless as God’s steward (oikonomon) – v. 7
Notice that function is more significant as title. These terms convey a sense of function and role within the community

Didache 15:1-2 [not scripture]
Therefore, elect for yourselves bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men who are meek and not lovers of money, true and approved, for they also perform for you the ministry of the prophets and teachers. Therefore, do not despise them, for they are your honorable men, along with the prophets and teachers.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 14 January 2007

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