Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1989), 355-57.


Hebrews 13:17 identifies leaders in the local church that care for the spiritual welfare of the people; believers are to be in submission to those in authority over them. Several offices denoting the leaders are mentioned in Scripture.





Designations. There are two basic terms that identify the office of elder.


(1) Presbyters. The first term is elder (Gk. presbuteros), which identifies someone who is older as a Christian. It may be used in a literal sense for an older man (1 Tim. 5:1) or an older woman (1 Tim. 5:2). It may also be used in a figurative sense for leaders, such as members of the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:5) or church leaders (Acts 14:23; 15:2, 4, 6).


Presbuteros also stresses the dignity and maturity of the office. Elders have authority to distribute money (Acts 11:30); they have authority to make decisions concerning what constitutes orthodox doctrine (Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22; 16:2); they receive reports about missionary work (Acts 20:17; 21:18); they are to be respected (1 Tim. 5:17), yet they are not to be dictators (1 Pet. 5:1–3); they are to visit the sick and pray for them, offering counsel and encouragement24 (James 5:14).


(2) Overseers. The second term related to the office of elder is overseer (“bishop” in KJV; Gk. episkopos). This term means “to watch over” like a shepherd. It stresses the work or function of the elder. It is his duty to nurture and feed the flock of God entrusted to him (cf. Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:7). A comparison of Acts 20:17, 28 and Titus 1:5, 7 reveals that elder and overseer are used interchangeably, denoting the same office. The important distinction is that presbuteros stresses the dignity of the office while episkopos emphasizes the work.


Qualifications. The qualifications of elders are set forth in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9. Elders are to be typified by the following fifteen characteristics. Above reproach: he is one who “can’t be censored”; there is nothing in his life for which to accuse him. Husband of one wife: it does not mean “one at a time” (polygamy was unknown among Greeks and Romans); he has not been divorced and remarried.25 Temperate: he is sober in judgment. Prudent: he is discreet, sound-minded. Respectable: he is well balanced, not abrasive. Hospitable: he loves and hosts strangers. Able to teach: he discerns and communicates sound doctrine. Not addicted to wine: he does not linger at the table drinking wine. Not pugnacious: he is not a fighter. Gentle: he is reasonable. Uncontentious: he avoids fighting. No lover of money: he is not greedy or irresponsible concerning money. Managing his own household: he attends to his own family so that they are believers and are orderly. Not a new convert: he is not a neophyte. Good reputation with unbelievers: he is respected in the community at large.


Duties. The duties of the elder involve shepherding the flock (Acts 20:28), teaching (1 Tim. 3:2), ruling or general leadership (1 Tim. 5:17), and guarding against error (Tit. 1:9).


Number. A plurality of elders is mentioned frequently (Acts 14:23; Phil. 1:1; Tit. 1:5).





Designation. The word deacon (Gk. diakonos) is the common word that means “minister” or “servant” and is used many times in the New Testament in a nontechnical sense (Matt. 20:26; Mark 9:35).


Office. Whereas it is not clearly stated, it appears that the origin of the office began in Acts 6:1–6 where seven men were selected to care for the material needs of widows in the congregation. That allowed the apostles to devote their time to prayer and ministry of the Word. This indicates the function of deacons is to be subordinate and auxiliary to the elders; while the elders teach the congregation, the deacons care for the material needs of the congregation. The term “double-tongued” suggests the deacons have house to house contact (cf. 1 Tim. 3:8).


Qualifications. The qualifications of deacons are given in 1 Timothy 3:8–13. Deacons are to be typified by the following eight characteristics. Men of dignity: they are serious, worthy of the respect of others. Not double tongued: they do not spread conflicting stories in the congregation. Not addicted to much wine: they show moderation in the use of food and drink. Not fond of sordid (or dishonest) gain: they are not greedy for money and do not use their position for financial gain. Holding to the mystery of the faith: they practice what they proclaim. Tested: they have been observed and found to be approved. One wife: they have not been divorced and remarried. Good managers of their households: they are qualified to manage church affairs because they can manage their own home affairs.





A debatable question is the office of deaconess. There are two passages under consideration for the office. Romans 16:1 refers to Phoebe as a “servant” (Gk. diakonon) of the church. Diakonon could be translated deaconess. The question is whether the term is used in a technical sense of a church office or in a nontechnical sense of the Christian ideal of servant hood. Although it is difficult to give a firm answer to the question, it appears Paul is using the term in a nontechnical sense, consistent with his informal greetings at the end of the letter (cf. 1 Cor. 16:15). Paul uses the term in a nontechnical way in other passages (Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:25; 1 Tim. 4:6).


A second passage is 1 Timothy 3:11, which mentions “women” (Gk. gunaikas). The question is whether women refers to the deacons’ wives or whether it refers to a separate office of deaconess. The context would suggest an unnatural break if this refers to deaconesses; deacons would then be referred to in verses 8–10 and 12–13, which appears somewhat awkward. Homer A. Kent, Jr., on the other hand, argues strongly for 3:11 referring to the office of deaconess.26 First Timothy 5:9–16 refers to the ministry of women in the church. It does not state, however, if this is the ministry of deaconesses.





See the valuable discussion concerning the word sick (Gk. asthenei) which means “to be weak” and stressed one who is weary morally and spiritually. Cf. J. Ronald Blue, “James” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, 2:834–5.

See the important discussion by Homer A. Kent, Jr., The Pastoral Epistles, rev. ed. (Chicago: Moody, 1982), pp. 122–26. Kent discusses the variant views and concludes Paul is prohibiting remarriage after divorce. The argument on divorce usually centers on the exceptive clause of Matt. 19:9. For a careful, biblical study of the entire subject of divorce see J. Carl Laney, The Divorce Myth (Minneapolis: Bethany, 1981). Perhaps the most important book that has been recently written on the subject is William A. Heth and Gordon J. Wenham, Jesus and Divorce: The Problem with the Evangelical Consensus (Nashville: Nelson, 1984). They conclude that the common suggestion that Jesus allowed the “innocent party” to remarry after divorce is a recent view first espoused by Erasmus and is biblically deficient and erroneous. No study of the subject will be complete without consulting this important work.
26 26. Kent, The Pastoral Epistles, pp. 135–37.