Elder means "Older" not "Office"
Presbuteros is the Greek word traditionally translated "elder." Presbuteros is an adjective that means "older." It can be masculine or feminine which means it can be best defined as "older man" or "older woman." In the New Testament presbuteros always means a person who is older in age and nothing more. It is not a title but a word of comparison. The meaning of presbuteros never includes a function, title, responsibility or "office." But one can usually learn more about the older person from the context. Context identifies who the older person is and what they do.
In the times of the Bible, it was a very important to honor and respect people who were older. This certainly is a very good, Godly concept. But tradition has turned this good attitude into a "one-way-street" of rulership. Tradition makes an elder into a position of authority which makes him more important than other people and this reinforces our unbiblical ideas of hierarchy. By no means is "elder" a title of authority over others, or a rulership. An elder is an older person. Older people are expected to be a good example to younger people. (More information on presbuteros).
Pastor means "Shepherd" not "One Man Leader"
Pastor means "Shepherd" not "One Man Leader"
In Ephesians 4:11 poimen appears in the plural best translated as "shepherds" and is coupled with the word for "teachers" this means all shepherds are teachers. It also means that a singular shepherd/pastor is not found in scripture outside of Jesus Christ. There are shepherds in the assembly but no mention what-so-ever of a one man leader called a shepherd/pastor. (More information on poimen, see also the history of the office of pastor 1 2).
The verb form of poimen is poimaino which means "to act as a shepherd, to tend, feed, provide needs, care for," basically to do the things a shepherd would do. It is translated usually as "shepherd (the verb)," "to shepherd" or "feed."
Overseer is not an Office
Episkopos is the Greek word traditionally translated "overseer" (it is maliciously translated as bishop in the KJV to once again justify an office in the church). This word is currently well translated. An overseer is one who watches over another or others to guard. Overseer is translated as guardian in 1 Peter 2:25. They are relational watchtower guards.
In 1 Timothy 3:1 some translations use after "if any man aspires to" the phrase "the office of overseer" or "the office/position of bishop" (KJV, NKVJ, NASB, NET, BBE, NRSV). There is however no Greek word that represents the word "office" in that verse and it has been completely added into the text. It is properly translated "if any man aspires to oversight" where "oversight" is the related Greek word episkope which means to watch over. It doesn't even use the noun episkopos for overseer so there is certainly no justification to use "the office of overseer" in this text. Episkopos is never used as a title in the New Testament. (More information on episkopos).
The Older Men were Overseers & ShepherdsNow that we know what the words mean let us look at who these people are in scripture. [Hence forth presbuteros will be translated as "older men," poimen will be translated as "shepherd," and episkopos will still be translated as "overseer"].
From Miletus Paul sent a message to Ephesus, telling the older men of the assembly to come to him. When they arrived, he said to them, “... You know that I did not hold back from proclaiming to you anything that would be helpful, and from teaching you publicly and from house to house, testifying to both Jews and Greeks about changing their minds toward God and trust in our Lord Jesus. ... I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of you all. For I did not hold back from announcing to you the whole purpose of God. Watch out for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the assembly of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. I know that after I am gone fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Even from among your own group men will arise, teaching perversions of the truth to draw the disciples away after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that night and day for three years I did not stop warning each one of you with tears. And now I entrust you to God and to the message of his grace. This message is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have desired no one’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine provided for my needs and the needs of those who were with me. By all these things, I have shown you that by working in this way we must help the weak, and remember the words of the Lord Jesus that he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
We see here that the older men (elders) of the assembly (people) have been made overseers by the Holy Spirit and are to shepherd the assembly (people) of God. The duty to shepherd and to watch over is given to the older men. When we see the word overseers in scripture or shepherds (in Ephesians 4:11) we can deduce that these are talking about the older men of God, the elders. The older men of God are given the charge to watch over and act as shepherds to the younger people of God.
The older men were respected because they were seen as more spiritually matured than others among them. They were called "shepherds" because they were already feeding (teaching) the flock. They were called "overseers" because they were already watching out for the flock. They were not doing these things because some group of Christians "appointed" them, but because the Holy Spirit "made" them overseers. Again, a man in the New Testament is called "elder" because of what he is: older and more mature in Christ; he is called "overseer" because of what he is doing, watching out for the spiritual condition of the people; and he is called "shepherd" because of what he is doing, teaching & guarding the younger. These older people naturally set the example for the kind of character God wants all His people to have.
How Today's Offices Differ from God's Functions
Just looking at this text from Acts let us look at how today's "pastors" and "elders" differ from what Paul spoke of here & how today's offices cause them to display the negative aspects he warns against.
"Watch out for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the assembly of God"
Today's pastors have little to no relationship with the people they supposedly shepherd. You can't shepherd without a relationship. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, said He knows His sheep by name. Pastors of larger churches couldn't possibly know all the people's names. This is why Christian communities took care of one another. The older looked out for the younger. Today's pastors & elders may see-over a crowd from the stage but few guard other's hearts.
Today's self professed "leaders" are like the older brother who tries to boss his younger siblings around claiming "Dad put me in charge" when Dad did no such thing. To be "watching out" for someone means you know where they are. The sheer reality of the man made pastoral office makes this impossible. Today's pastor is the rock star that might talk to you briefly after a performance but is too busy and has too many fans to take a real interest in almost anyone.
"Even from among your own group men will arise, teaching perversions of the truth to draw the disciples away after them."
Paul warned that even of the men there some will exercise undue authority over God's flock. Rather than watching over and guarding the flock the older men themselves will become the wolves. Why would they do this? To "draw the disciples away after themselves." How often this still happens! Many churches speak more praise of their pastor than they do of Jesus. The pastor's name is always the one on the church sign while the name of Jesus, the only name given by which men can be saved, is absent.
Certainly "perversions of the truth" are taught wittingly or unwittingly in order to bolster the authority of the leaders. So many have selfish ambition and the others are blind to the enemies lies that keep them as substitutes for Christ (antichrists) at worst and distractions from Christ at best. Those who intend to rule well still intend to rule. The more you want followers the less likely you will continue following Christ yourself. When this happens the blind truly lead the blind. Jesus is never blind. Let us follow Him and be willing to listen to those who wish to point us toward Him.
"The message of God's grace (favor) is able to build you up."
So very many pastors don't preach God's grace but a mix of the old and new covenant where people are saved by God's unconditional favor (grace) but must maintain a relationship with God by keeping laws and being constantly aware of what could be considered sin. They tear people down with blanket behavioral judgments & condemnation. They speak the lie of God's near constant dissatisfaction with us rather than His favor and love. When oppressive men teach an oppressive God they block, discredit, or even demonize the light of freedom.
"I have desired no one’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine provided for my needs and the needs of those who were with me. .. It is more blessed to give than to receive."
This is simple. Today's pastors are paid professionals. They don't provide for their own needs nor the needs of those around them. They are the takers not the givers. They live off of the people. Many desire silver and gold if not for themselves then for their church building to outshine the one across the street.
Today almost all think of elders, overseers, and pastors as official positions of leadership given to whoever is "trained and ordained" but they are actually older people who guide by example & teaching and who guard over the younger children of God. It is a voluntary act of service to God and others. "If anyone aspires to watch over others it is a good work he desires" (1 Timothy 3:1).
Because of the professional pastor and authoritative church elders, older men who are to truly shepherd and watch over God's people are disqualified from serving God(!) by the church! The church has replaced personal protectors with impersonal professional preachers! This means that countless more are attacked by fierce wolves and drawn away to false teachers because of this replacement. Which is more beneficial? One impersonal professional preacher per church building or a community of older men invested in personally looking out for and guiding the younger Christians? You can trace the Christian generational gap right to the pulpit of your local church.
Yes some wise men still do what older Christian men are supposed to do, thank God, but our preacher loving church system has largely robbed generation after generation of people of the wisdom, guidance, and guardianship of our older people.
In secular usage elder is an excellent translation (although it does not denote the gender) but because the church's traditions of an elder being an office/title/position of authority I think it would be much better to translate it differently. I prefer the term "older man" to "elder" because it gives us a clear idea of what the scripture is talking about. It also personalizes the text much more than a word often thought to refer to a position of authority. A position that is illegitimate in God's eyes anyway.
When you think "The older men who guide well are to be considered worthy of double honor" (1 Timothy 5:17) you can think of any lovingly helpful older person and thus value them as God intends. But we instead think of this as referring to someone in the office of elder or pastor honoring them in title rather than actual guidance because they are leaders in name but do not necessarily personally lead you.
Presbuteros was also used to refer to older men in Jewish leadership positions and is usually coupled with "chief priests and scribes" in the context letting us know this fact. The word presbuteros on its own does not include an idea of authority anymore than me saying "I saw an older man at the store" means "I saw a Jewish Rabbi at the store."
1 Peter 5:5 makes it obvious that presbuteros is not a title or position when it says, "You younger men be willing to yield & cooperate with the older men." "Younger man" is not a title or office and there is no scriptural reason to assume "older man" is either. Titus 2 also speaks to both older men and older women in regards to how they are to relate with younger men and women.
Quick Word ReferenceShepherd for Poimen instead of Pastor
Poimen means Shepherd and should not be translated as Pastor.
Pastor causes us to think of the sole authoritative leader of a local church organization/building. This is an utterly foreign concept to the New Testament.
Pastor hides/replaces the true meaning of shepherd and the figurative implications that were intended by God.
Older Man for Presbuteros instead of Elder
Presbuteros means Older and can be singular "older man," plural "older men," and has a feminine form "older woman/women."
In secular usage elder is an excellent translation (although it does not denote the gender).
The church's traditions of an elder being an office/title/position of authority remove the meaning of "older man" for "office of."
Thinking of older people instead of people in positions causes us to give greater consideration to the actual older men and women among us as God intended.
Service for Diakonia instead of Ministry
Diakonia means Service and should not be translated as Ministry which means the class or occupation of church leadership.
Service is work done for the benefit of others. At the time of the KJV ministry meant "the function of a priest" & "office of priest" and today pretty much means the same thing just swap priest for pastor. Today most see ministry as a specially called occupational field that you "go into" like cops go into law enforcement ministers go into ministry.
Few see ministry as simply the act of serving others and instead see it as a life-long position or type of work God tells you to do. That mindset causes people to take God's direction as a destination. It makes them see God's will as "Here is your career assignment. See you in heaven." When God's temporal guidance is taken as a life-long mission you think you no longer need to talk to God, that you've found His will and now you can do it. This idea of ministry sees God as an employer who sends you away instead of an empathetic friend who walks with you.
Servant for Diakonos instead of Minister or Deacon
Diakonos means Servant and should not be translated as minister which means leader or deacon, which is an unbiblical hierarchical office.
This word was literally translated as the opposite of its meaning. The word minister (a person not a verb) was transliterated too from the Latin and Latin was the language of the Catholic Church which already had ministras (transliterated ministers) as men in power over other men well before the KJV was written. Minister meaning "priest" in English started in the early 14th century (1301-1400). Considering the grim & bloody history of the institutional church there is no reason to assume any translation choice to not be tarnished intentionally to serve their leaders, buildings, and system. It is no wonder they chose to transliterate so many words from Latin into English or use the English words that originated from Latin that were already associated with the church. It allowed the meaning to be related to their religion instead of the clear idea of a "servant" that those apart from religion/church could understand and thus freely trust in God and serve Him instead of the church system and its men in power.
My Notes on Elders in the Church & Older People in the Assembly, it talks about older men being "appointed/ordained," the so called "qualifications," and the possible age range of these people.
My post The Word Leaders in the New Testament, it talks about why "one above another" authority and honorary titles are forbidden by Jesus.
Frank Viola's Straight Talk to Pastors E-Book (PDF), it looks at the elders/older men of the assemblies in scripture by going through the New Testament Chronologically.
The Body With and Without Leaders