Wednesday, June 3, 2015

What is the difference between an Elder, Bishop, Shepherd, Presbyter and Pastor?

Depending on what church you attend, you have probably heard at least one of these terms before. What you may have never heard, is that each one of these terms are in reference to the same role within a local congregation. This post seeks to define each one of these terms and demonstrate how you can prove they all refer to the same office.

Elder
The term “elder” in the New Testament is a translation of the Greek word (presbuteros) which means “older man”. In some English Bibles this word is transliterated into “presbyter”. As would be assumed with the term “elder”, the word expresses maturity and is often used in a religious sense. The following are a few verses in which this term is found.
(Acts 14:23) -And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. 
(Titus 1:5) - For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you... 
(1 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.
Bishop / Overseer
This word is not usually found in modern translations, however, it is used in the King James Version and the ASV 1901. “Bishop” is from the Greek word (episkopon) and is usually translated as “overseer”. This term reflects the idea of watching over intently. Note the following passages.
(1 Timothy 3:2) -Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 
(Titus 1:7) - For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain.
One may observe that Bishop/Overseer and Elder are in reference to the same office by reading the whole of the passage in (Titus 1). In (Titus 1:5) these men are collectively referred to as “Elders” and then in (Titus 1:7) the singular “overseer” is used. This example proves they are in reference to the same role within a congregation.

Pastor
Of all the words being examined in this post, the word “pastor” is likely the most widely used term in American church leadership today. The word “pastor” is from the Greek term “poimen”, which can simply be defined as “shepherd”. In fact, this word often is not used in reference to a church leader, but instead, to an actual “shepherd” watching over a flock of sheep. The word “pastor” is listed as an important role in the 1st Century church.
(Ephesians 4:11) -And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers…
It can proven, that the word “pastor” in reference to the same office of an elder and overseer. Notice the text of (1 Peter 1:1-5).
Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE. (1 Peter 1:1-5)
The previously quoted passage makes it clear that an “elder” is also a “shepherd/pastor”, as well as an “overseer/bishop”. 

Conclusion
In religious tradition, Bible terms are often misused or misunderstood.  Many churches today use the term “pastor” without thinking twice about how it is used in the Bible. Certain religious groups have men ordained as “bishops”, to oversee the “elders” of a particular congregation. In the Bible, however, “bishop” , “elder”, and even “pastor” are all in reference to the same role in the church. Instead of looking at these terms as separate congregational duties, one should view them as the same office with different responsibilities being explained by each one of these inspired words. 

By Cliff Sabroe, quotes from NASB95, Image from churchleaders.com. Definitions gathered from Strong's and Thayer's Greek Lexicons.