Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Elders in I Timothy 4:14 and James 5:14

Now for the next installment of my protracted look at elders/pastors/overseers in the New Testament. This will be a relatively short post as we examine I Timothy 4:14 and James 5:14. Both of these verses use the term "elders."

To sum up: we don't learn very much about elders in these verses because they are not the primary focus.

In I Timothy 4, Paul is exhorting Timothy to teach sound doctrine and set an example of godliness in the church at Ephesus. Paul writes in I Timothy 4:14, "Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you."

Paul is commanding Timothy to not ignore the gift for ministry that God has given to him. This probably had something to do with teaching. Regardless, for the purposes of this post we see that this gift was given by prophecy and recognized by the church as the elders laid hands on Timothy.

What can we learn about elders from this passage? We see that they were important to the life of the church and that they were actively involved. That's about it.

What about James 5:14? James instructs, "Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord."

This is a somewhat difficult passage to interpret. I'm not going to get into all that now.

What can we learn about elders? I think it is again clear that elders have an important role within the church. This role is a spiritual one - they are called to pray over him and anoint him with oil. Again, the information is sparse.

Complicating all this is an issue that is difficult in many of the passages using the word "elders." The author could be referring to men appointed to a certain role (see here) or the author could be writing about older men within the church body. Not surprisingly, there is likely much overlap between these two groups.

Although the above verses are important, we are limited in what we can learn about elders. As we have seen before, elders are important and active in the life of the church. Their ministry is a spiritual one.

As we have seen in other passages, non-elders within the church seem to be free to do all the same tasks as elders. They would certainly pray for healing.

In the end, we don't learn much - mainly because the focus of the writing is other things.

I have one passage to go in this series - one that deals specifically with elders. It is one that tells us much and is hotly debated. I'll throw my voice into the ring soon as I tackle I Timothy 5:17-18. Yikes!

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