“presbyterion”

Quick Facts

  • Pronunciation: pres-bü-te’-rē-on
  • Strongs Concordance: #G4244
    • body of elders, presbytery, senate, council
      • of the Jewish elders
      • of the elders of any body (assembly) of Christians
  • Appears 3 times in 3 verses
  • Common translations:
    • “council of (the) elders” (2x)
    • “presbytery” (1x)

How and where presbyterion is used in the New Testament

  1. Luke 22:66 – “When it was day, the Council of elders of the people assembled, both chief priests and scribes, and they led Him away to their council chamber, saying,”

  2. Acts 22:5 – “as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify. From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished.”

  3. 1 Timothy 4:14 – “Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery.”

My Perspective

In two of the above instances of presbyterion, the council of elders being referenced are the Jewish councils of elders that were not part of the local church, but associated with the leaders of the Jewish communities in a given area. In one other instance, the leaders of the christian community are being referred to.

In the single case where presbyterion refers to a local church context, several observations can be made:

  • Elders were in a body, indicating more than one elder.
  • The body of elders bestowed spiritual gifts on Timothy through prophetic utterance and the laying on of hands.

If we allow scripture to determine our definition of elder, then we can only take from presbyterion what we can observe from 1 Timothy 4:14 such as the above. Looking for additional clues in scripture, we can see that

“This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight,” – 1 Timothy 1:18

We can learn from the above, that the Paul viewed the influence of the prophecy given to Timothy as able to give him guidance and encouragement to help him fight the good fight.

Prophecy here is not predicting the future, but building people up according to the word of God. So this collection of elders imparted vision to Timothy that would guide him in his ministry.

Did the elders really give Timothy spiritual gifts of some kind? No. Scripture teaches that gifts come from Christ:

“But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN.” … And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;” – Ephesians 4:7-12

With the above in mind, we can understand that the bestowing  of a spiritual gift is something different than giving Timothy a spiritual gift. There is no scriptural basis for believing that saints can impart or transfer gifts one to another.

Therefore, the council of elders did not provide Timothy a spiritual gift, but used prophecy (speaking edification, exhortation, encouragement to one another) in a way that influenced or called-forth the use of that gift in Timothy’s possession.

Since prophecy is something Paul teaches widely to all saints, and because he teaches that he wished all the saints would be prophesying, one cannot fairly say it is a unique function of elders or councils of elders. However, one could reasonably expect that elders would be accustomed to using prophecy and perhaps more experience using it to build up the body of Christ.

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