“proïstēmi”

Quick Facts

  • Pronunciation: pro-ē’-stā-mē 
  • Strongs Concordance: #G4291
    • to set or place before
      • to set over
      • to be over, to superintend, preside over
      • to be a protector or guardian
        • to give aid
      • to care for, give attention to
        • profess honest occupations
  • Appears 10 times in 8 verses in the New Testament
  • Common translations
    • “engage” (2x)
    • “have charge over” (1x)
    • “leads” (1x)
    • “manage” (1x)
    • “managers” (1x)
    • “manages” (1x)
    • “rule” (1x)

How proïstēmi is used in the New Testament

  1. Romans 12:8 NASB – “8 or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”

  2. 1 Thessalonians 5:12 NASB – “12 But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction,”

  3. 1 Timothy 3:4-5, 12 NASB – “4 He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), … 12 Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households.”

  4. 1 Timothy 5:17 NASB – “17 The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.”

  5. Titus 3:8, 14 NASB – “8 This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men. … 14 Our people must also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful.”

My observations and perspective

Finally we get to a word in the New Testament that appears to show “ruling” as a role within the local church. But does it?

Firstly, the Apostle Paul is the only author in the New Testament who can be attributed with using the word proïstēmi. It is fair to assume then, that as with most people, Paul’s use of words could not be taken to have different meanings in each letter.

With that in mind, it is my opinion that Paul gives us the most pertinent commentary on his use of the word proïstēmi in his use of the words in 1 Timothy 3. He does so by indicating the attributes necessary for the role of “Overseer“.

Firstly, one must first understand the differences between and overseer what it means to oversee and a ruler and what it means to rule. Without such understanding, one won’t readily understand the use of proïstēmi in the New Testament.

Paul uses this word to convey the concept of managing and caring for. Again, the context of using this to describe an overseers. Overseers are distinct in the New Testament because the term “elder” was something familiar to Jewish culture and foreign to Greek culture. Hellenistic cultures were familiar with offices and roles. The Jewish culture was familiar with elders (who were NOT their leaders). For a more detailed understanding, please read the section on Hellenism.

With that in mind, Paul clarifies the meaning of proïstēmi by comparing it to that of a father. Notice he does not use civic or government terms – terms that would be very familiar to the Hellenistic audiences to which Paul was writing in every case where proïstēmi was used. Instead, he uses family terms. A father lovingly cares for, guards, and gives attention to his family. Paul instructs that anyone wishing to oversee the local assembly must do these things well for their families.

Certainly, a father leads and governs his family – but in healthy families, the role of a father is one that seeks to lead the children to maturity and their own independence. A father will always guard and protect his children, but he will not always rule them!

Paul further clarifies his use of the word proïstēmi by using it on Titus where we see it translated as “engage”. Try this experiment… use the terms above in the Strong’s definition, one at a time, to replace the word “engage” in the Titus passage above. Which one seems to fit the best?

To assert these verses as legitimizing a form of rulership is to ignore the context of the family in which these things are represented, ignore the Hellenistic audience, ignore the remaining verses where proïstēmi is used, and to misunderstand what exactly an overseer is.

Lastly, assuming for a moment that all the above statements are discounted.. are these verses enough to build a doctrine or systematic theology of local church leadership upon? Especially in light of every other study on this blog regarding such things? I think not.

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