Church Offices in the New Testament

Elders, Apostles (“the twelve”), Bishops, Deacons, Pastors (Shepherds), Trustees and Other Church Offices

OFFICES, MINISTRIES and GIFTS
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-12

Romans 12 describes the gifts of grace which God gives for ministry and admonishments in using them:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.  For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.  Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;  Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.  Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

I Corinthians 12 is similar to Romans 12:
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led. Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.  Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.  And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom;  to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;  To another faith by the same Spirit;  to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;  To another the working of miracles;  to another prophecy;  to another discerning of spirits;  to another divers kinds of tongues;  to another the interpretation of tongues: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.  For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.  For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.  And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.  Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?  Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.

Ephesians 4 lists the gifted while Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12 list the gifts.)

ELDERS
This is by far, the most common word used to reference church leaders.

In all four gospels, “elder” always refers to Jewish elders. They are often associated with the priests, scribes, Pharisees etc. This is also the case in Acts 22:5; 23:14; 24:1 and 25:15.

The first reference to elders in the Christian Church appears in Acts 11:29-30:  Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea: Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.

In Titus, the terms “elder” and “bishop” seem to be synonymous. Titus was appointed elder of the church in Crete and was instructed to ordain elders in other churches (of Macedonia). Elders were also appointed or ordained in Ephesus. And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church. Acts 20:17

For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee. If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate;  Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. Titus 1:5-9

In I Timothy 5, the word at first refers to elderly persons (seniors), but in verses 17 and 19 it apparently refers to elders who rule in the church.

The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;  Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.  And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. I Peter 5:1-5

Peter is one of the apostles, but he calls himself an elder and describes elders as men who “feed the flock” (shepherds). John also called himself an elder in the opening verses of II and III John. It should be stated, however, that in these same passages, the word “elder” also refers to elderly persons as opposed to younger persons. John, for example, speaks to “little children.”

Elders and apostles are clearly not one and the same, but Apostles call themselves elders. Other terms sometimes seem to be interchangeable. Paul speaks in Acts 15-16 of the “church,” “elders,” “apostles” and “chief men among the brethren.”

And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren. And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them. But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter....  Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: Acts 15:1-6 and 22-23 (also 16:4)

And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present Acts 21:18

Is any sick among you? 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: James 5:14

In Hebrews 11:2 Elders refers to prominent men of God in the Old Testament. Revelation speaks of 24 elders, apparently representing the 12 tribes and 12 apostles?

BISHOPS and DEACONS
Before Pentecost, Peter spoke to 120 disciples who were gathered for prayer:
For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take. Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. Acts 1:20-26

Luke reports this event accurately, but does not seem to agree with the procedure. He says that Matthias “was numbered with the eleven apostles.” He is not called one of the twelve. Later. Luke reports on the conversion of Saul, who is called an apostle.

Although they are not called deacons, Acts 6 describes seven men who are appointed to serve tables or minister to physical needs. The word “deacon” comes from the Greek word for serve or servant.

And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith. Acts 6

This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;  Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;  One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.  Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. I Timothy 3:1-13

In Philippians 1, bishops and deacons seem to be two different offices.

Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Philippians 1:1

In one case, Jesus is referred to as a bishop of our souls.

For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. I Peter 2:25

CONCLUSIONS
References to “deacons,” “shepherds” and “pastors” in regards to church offices or ministries are rare. Trustees are not mentioned at all although there are references to stewardship. Trustees are usually required by the government to represent the church in legal matters.

The New Testament nowhere prescribes certain offices or leaders for the churches. Nor is the manner in which they were to be selected outlined. The apostles ordained or appointed responsible persons who are called elders or bishops, but the NT only mentions their qualifications. Other than appointments, only drawing of lots is mentioned but neither method is explicitly prescribed.

Churches today tend to emphasize offices (deacons, elders, trustees, pastors) while the New Testament places more emphasis on ministries (gifts and the gifted) and how these are to be used.

More is said in the New Testament about gifts than about offices or leadership in the churches. Of all the offices or positions of responsibility and authority, the apostles seem to be of highest esteem.

Most evident throughout the NT is the working and leading of the Holy Spirit in and through believers.

The rich young ruler of Mark 10:17-22 would get 100% of the votes as a deacon in most churches today. Jesus said that he was not even qualified for membership!

Ralph V. Harvey
March 8, 2006