A Treatise on the Eldership
J. W. McGarvey  (1870)


      1. The term episcopos, overseer, is used as the equivalent of elder in its official sense. This is clear from the use of the two terms in the 20th chapter of Acts. Luke says, that from Miletus Paul sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church. Here, according to a rule already established, the elders of the church must mean, not the older men, but those called elders officially. But Paul says to these elders, "Take heed to yourselves, and to all the flock over which the Holly Spirit has made you overseers." The elders, then, and the overseers in the church at Ephesus were the same persons, and overseers is but another title by which they were known. Moreover, [15] they had been made overseers by the Holy Spirit, which implies that by some process dictated by the Holy Spirit, they had been formally placed in that position. This corresponds to the appointment by which we have seen that persons entered the eldership, and is sufficient to establish the presumption that they were made overseers by the same appointment which made them elders. We have further proof of this use of the term in the epistle to Titus. Paul says, "I left thee in Crete than thou shouldst ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee; if any be blameless," &c.; and then adds, "For an overseer must be blameless." Now, the fact that an overseer should be blameless, could be no reason why a blameless person must be ordained elder, unless an elder is the same as an overseer. It is the same as if I should say to a literary society of students, Appoint a President of your society, if any be found acquainted with parliamentary rules; for the chairman of such a society should be acquainted with these rules. Now, in this example, if a person knew nothing more of the word chairman than its etymology would indicate, the man of the chair, he could not fail to see that I used the term as another title for the President of the society. It is equally clear in the case before us, that Paul uses the term overseer as another title for him who is called elder.

      2. The term episcopee is used to designate the position occupied by the episcopos or overseers. This is seen in 1 Ti. iii: 1-2. Paul says, "If a man desires episcopee he desires a good work. An episcopos, then, must be blameless," &c. Here it is clear that he who desires episcopee, desires to be episcopos. If episcopos is overseer, then episcopee must be the position of an overseer; and what shall we call this position in [16] English? Mr. Green translates it "a post of oversight," not a bad expression of the meaning. He renders it in the same way in Acts 1:20. "His post of oversight let another take." I prefer the single word overseership, because it is shorter, and corresponds more closely to the correlative term overseer. Whatever be the expression, however, the idea remains the same, and the term designates the office held by an overseer.

      It is here objected by some, that we should not call the overseership an office, because Paul in this passage expressly calls it a work: "If any man desire the overseership, he desires a good work." Undoubtedly, it is a work; and so is every office in either church or State, unless it be a mere sinecure. The fact that it is a work makes it none the less an office. If the President of the United States were to say, "He who desires a foreign mission desires a heavy work," it would not be inferred from the term work that a foreign mission is not an office.

      The conclusion thus naturally and necessarily springing from these passages, of Scripture will be confirmed as we proceed to develop the functions of the office. We will find that the elders or overseers of the church are charged with such duties, and entrusted with such authority as makes them officers of the church in the fullest sense of the term.

      Before leaving this branch of the subject, we must notice another question which has caused confusion in some minds. It has been assumed that the elders constitute a class out of which the overseers are chosen; the elders being the older men of the church, and the overseers the officers. We have already answered this question by showing that the term elders is used in an official sense to designate. [17] the same persons as the overseers. The elders of the church at Ephesus were all embraced in the term overseers; for, as we have seen, the elders, not merely a part of them, had been made overseers.

      The third and last official title which we shall notice is pastor or shepherd. This term, in the substantive form, is used but once in the New Testament with reference to church officials. It is in the well known passage, Eph. iv: 11, where pastors are enumerated among the gifts bestowed upon the Church by Christ. The evidence that this term designates the overseers or elders, is conclusive, and may be briefly stated. The Greek term for shepherd is poimeen, and the verb poimaino means to do the work of a shepherd. Now, he to whom this verb applies is a shepherd, just as he who sows is a sower, he who reaps is a reaper, he who speaks is a speaker, he who sings is a singer, &c., &c. But Paul exhorts the overseers in Ephesus "to be shepherds to the church." Acts xx: 28; and Peter exhorts the elders of the churches to which he writes, "Be shepherds to the flock of God which is among you," and promise that when the "chief shepherd" shall appear, they shall receive a crown of glory. They then, were shepherds and Christ, the chief shepherd.

      The, term pastor, the Latin for shepherd, has come into common use from the influence of the Latin version of the Scriptures. There is one all-sufficient reason for preferring our own Anglo-Saxon term shepherd. It is found in the fact that pastor has become perverted by sectarian usage, and designates in popular phraseology, an entirely different office from the one to whom it is applied in the Scriptures. It has become a synonym for a settled preacher, and is [18] often used for the purpose of distinguishing the preacher from those who are Scripturally called the pastors of the church. It will perhaps be impossible to recover the term from this abuse, and therefore, it is better to throw it away.

      Another good reason for preferring shepherd is, that its primary meaning is familiar to the most illiterate reader, and the metaphor by which the overseer is thus styled is perfectly intelligible to every one; whereas, the term pastor is known to the masses only in its appropriated sense.

[ATOTE 15-19]

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