Too Young to Be an Elder? Part 2
I received a number of responses that indicated they did not agree with what I wrote in my previous article citing context of history etc etc. I do not have time to respond to every email I get ..sorry …but I will respond to this one since it was posted publicly.
I received the following comment from a dear sister in Christ.
“After doing a bit of digging via a commentary, I’m not convinced that overseer/elder refers only to spiritual maturity. From my readings on this…quote “elder is the translation of the Greek word ‘presbutes’, which means ‘an old man.’ Paul used the word presbytery in I Tim 4:14 referring to the eldership of the assembly that ordained Timothy. Elders and bishops (two names for the same office, Titus 1:5,7) were mature people with spiritual wisdom and experience.”
I left out most of the theological digging I did, you know, the dry stuff that most people don’t want to read in a blog. 🙂 So here is some more of the stuff I unearthed in my digging that led me to believe that young elders are permitted according to scripture.
For context, here is the definition of Presbuteros:
a. the elder of two people
b. advanced in life, an elder, a senior
A term of rank or office
a. among the Jews
1. members of the great council or Sanhedrin (because in early times the rulers of the people, judges, etc., were selected from elderly men)
2. of those who in separate cities managed public affairs and administered justice
b. among the Christians, those who presided over the assemblies (or churches) The NT uses the term bishop, elders, and presbyters interchangeably
c. the twenty four members of the heavenly Sanhedrin or court seated on thrones around the throne of God
I certainly agree the word presbyteros does carry the meaning “old man.” However this is not the only meaning it carries. As we can see from this Lexicon, it also refers to those who hold a particular office, namely the office of elder. We need to be wary of committing the “etymological fallacy,” which is a big fancy phrase that says the present-day meaning of a word or phrase should necessarily be similar to its historical meaning. What this essentially means is that where a word is derived from and what a word means are two different things.
In earlier times it would have been older men who usually would have held the office of elder, and so it was natural that the name “elder” would be given. But once the office and name “presbyteros” or “elder” was established, a young man was able to join into it based on his qualifications and calling. We can see this in the case of Timothy.
1 Timothy 4:11-16 says:
“Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
Not only are we told that Timothy is a young man here, but we are also told that a young elder should keep people from looking down on him for his youthfulness. Which is a natural mistake for the people to make when a young man is an elder.
As we read, Paul is calling Timothy a “young man” in this text. This text is written in the mid 60’s AD. Timothy had joined Paul in the ministry approximately twenty years prior in the mid 40’s AD. Paul received Timothy up as a fellow servant in ministry:
He came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek. The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. (Acts 16)
What this means is that Timothy joined Paul in ministry while in his mid to late teens. That is right, Timothy was Teenager when he entered the ministry.
Timothy is still a young man, about my age of 34, at the time of the writing of the book of 1 Timothy. Even at this still young age, we clearly see that he was an authority in the church. One of his duties was to oversee the appointment of elders as we read 1 Timothy. Paul also tells Timothy, “Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.” Which indicates Timothy having charge over the discipline of elders. Timothy joined Paul in his teens as a missionary in the ministry and given substantial ministerial responsibility as a young man. Therefore, we can see that we are not permitted to think that youth, by itself, presents an hindrance to being an elder. I clarify the previous statement with “by itself,” because youth tends to bring with it all the “trappings of youth” partying, drunkenness, irresponsibility and so on. If a man is never home to be the head of his house, or is not involved in the congregation, or does not attend bible studies and so on he should not be considered, ever – even if he is an “elder” in age. We are not permitted to judge our elders, or potential elders based on their youthfulness alone, but based on their spiritual maturity as found in 1 Timothy. A more current example of this is that of our own ministers. Many of whom graduate from seminary and typically enter the ministry between the ages of 26-30. Ministers of the Word are simply “preaching elders.”