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"Elders," "Bishops," and "Pastors"


Sometimes denominations distinguish the terms "Elder," "Bishop," and "Pastor,"  claiming that bishops are different from elders which, in turn, are different from pastors. But the Bible often uses different terms to refer to the same thing.

Consider the evidence from Bible texts.

Acts 20:17,28-30

V17 -- Paul is addressing the elders of the Ephesian church.

V28 -- The Holy Spirit made them bishops (ASV; "overseers" -- KJV). Their job was to shepherd (NKJV; "feed"-- KJV; "tend" -- ASV) the flock. This uses the verb form of "pastor".

V29,30 -- Their duty to act as shepherds (pastors) is further described.

Clearly, all three terms are here used to describe the same men doing the same job in the local church.

Titus 1:5-9

V5 -- Titus was told to appoint elders in every city.

V6-9 -- Qualifications immediately follow for elders. We are told they must have these qualities "for" (because) bishops must be the kind of men described in the qualifications given.

Clearly, the qualifications are being given for the one office being discussed, but the terms "elder" and "bishop" are here used interchangeably to refer to that office. Further, the work these men do is described in v9ff, and it is the same work Acts 20 said elders or bishops do, acting as shepherds (pastors) -- i.e., protect the flock from false teachers.

1 Peter 5:1-3

V1 -- Peter is addressing elders.

V2 -- Their work is to shepherd (NKJV; "tend" -- ASV; "feed" -- KJV) the flock. Again, the verb form of "pastor" or shepherd is used. They also serve as overseers (NKJV; exercise or take the "oversight" -- ASV, KJV). This is the verb form of bishop.

Clearly "elders," "pastors," and "bishops" in these passages are used interchangeably, referring to the same men in the same work. All three terms refer to an office in the local congregation, and are therefore identical in extent of jurisdiction (cf. Acts 20:17,28 to I Pet. 5:1-3; etc.). Their qualifications and work are identical.

Interestingly, the footnote on 1 Timothy 3:1 in the St. Joseph New Catholic Edition of the Bible agrees that Paul made no distinction between elders and bishops: "Bishop: represents a Greek word meaning 'overseer,' and 'presbyter' another Greek word meaning 'elder.' In St. Paul 'bishop' and 'presbyter' seem to be used convertibly, and probably priests are here included under the term 'bishops.'"

It is a mistake for denominations to distinguish the terms as if they apply to different offices.

Note that it follows that preachers (evangelists) are an entirely different work from elders/pastors. Note Eph. 4:11. Special qualifications are required of elders/pastors/bishops which are not required of preachers (1 Tim. 3:1ff; Tit. 1:5ff).

For more information about the church that Jesus built and how to be a member of it, please visit our Bible Instruction web site at www.gospelway.com/instruct/


(c) Copyright David E. Pratte, 6/27/2005

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