Definition: The Hebrew word for elder means "beard," and literally speaks of an older person. In the Old Testament elders were heads of households, prominent men of the tribes, and leaders or rulers in the community.
New Testament Elders
The Greek term, presbýteros, meaning "older" is used in the New Testament. From its earliest days, the Christian church followed the Jewish tradition of appointing spiritual authority in the church to older, more mature men of wisdom.
In the church today, elders are spiritual leaders or shepherds of the church. They serve as pastors and teachers and also provide general oversight on financial, organizational, and spiritual matters.
In the context of Christian denominations, an elder can be an officer of a religious group or church board member; an elected permanent officer of the Presbyterian denomination; an ordained minister; a minister or church leader who assists the pastor in communion and with other ministerial duties; a leader of the Shakers; a Mormon ordained in the Melchizedek priesthood.
The biblical requirements of an elder are described in these passages:
1 Timothy 3:1-7
This is a trustworthy saying: "If someone aspires to be an elder, he desires an honorable position." So an elder must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God's church?
An elder must not be a new believer, because he might become proud, and the devil would cause him to fall. Also, people outside the church must speak well of him so that he will not be disgraced and fall into the devil's trap. (NLT)
An elder must live a blameless life. He must be faithful to his wife, and his children must be believers who don't have a reputation for being wild or rebellious. An elder is a manager of God's household, so he must live a blameless life. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered; he must not be a heavy drinker, violent, or dishonest with money.
Rather, he must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must love what is good. He must live wisely and be just. He must live a devout and disciplined life. He must have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong. (NLT)
Also Known As: Presbyter
Examples: James 5:14 - "Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord." (NIV)