Must Elders Be Old? (Or, Can Elders Be Young?)

The following is from a correspondence I had with some area pastors over the question, Must those who hold the office of elder (aka: pastors, overseers) be old. Or, in other words, can they be young? Does the term “elder” necessitate a certain age criteria?


On the age of elders:

The word undoubtedly comes from the Jewish context, in which it refers to the leadership office within the Jewish community. The term seems to originate from the fact that those leaders were generally the aged and experienced men in the community.

However, the word seems to come to serve as something of a technical term for that leadership office, not necessarily implying in any absolute way a certain age requirement. (We want to avoid the etymological fallacy here of equating etymological origin with meaning.) This seems to be the type of use that is carried over into the New Testament church context, where it serves as a technical term for the leadership office.

But don’t hear me wrong. The terms used for the office seem to convey something of the meaning and nature of the office. So, for example, the parallel term “overseer” implies that this office is one of oversight. Likewise, designating the office as “elder” implies a certain wisdom and experience. (So, whereas the terms “overseer” and “pastor” seems to designate something of the function of the office, “elder” seems to designate a qualification to the office.) And no doubt (cf. 1 Pet 5:5) this sort of wisdom and experience implied by the term “elder” often does come with age (although age does not guarantee this maturity any more than youth makes this impossible). So I don’t think it’s entirely moot or irrelevant to consider the age of potential elders.

But, especially when we note the context of the church as a “spiritual” community, it becomes clearer that the sort of wisdom and experience in view here is likely that of one’s Christian faith. So for example, an older man who newly coverts would not qualify, even if he is an “elder” in terms of his physical age. This is made clear when Paul says that an elder cannot be a recent convert (1 Tim 3:6), which seems to show that it is a candidate’s “spiritual” experience that is in view in the idea of “elder.”

On the other hand, this implies that a young man may be qualified if particularly wise and experienced “spiritually.” Paul seems to assume this when he tells Timothy not much to allow anyone to look down on him for his youth (1 Tim 4:12). He also assumes this when he gives instruction to elders on how they are to relate to those who are much older than them (1 Tim 5:1ff), which implies these elders must be relatively young, or at least much younger than many of their congregants (so not the “elders” of this community as far as physical age).

Again, this is not to say that age is not a relevant factor. Often times experience does come with age. But I would hold that the Bible does not outline age as an absolute requirement (or qualification for that matter), given the sort of maturity in view — primarily “spiritual.”

Doug Wilson wrote a good article on this here.

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Goodreads Reviews of The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung

The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the GardenThe Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden by Kevin DeYoung

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is really good.

DeYoung tells scripture’s overarching storyline of creation lost and to creation regained. As such, he gives specific attention to the promises of new-creation, with specific emphasis on their realization through a new Adam, an Abrahamic offspring, and a king from David’s line. This book will help children understand the Old Testament in light of the covenant promises, and understand Christ as the fulfillment of theses OT promises — the one who resolved the disobedience of God’s people, and who bears their curse, reversing the curse brought on by Adam and recapitulated with Israel under the Law.

The illustrations are also superb.

View all my reviews

We’re Doing Sex Wrong: What Weinstein, #MeToo, & This Wake of Sexual Assault Scandals Reveals

Top (from left): Al Franken, Charlie Rose, Louis C.K., Roy Moore. Bottom: John Besh, Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Piven, and Richard Dreyfuss. (AP images)

The past month or so, we’ve seen incident after incident after incident of sexual harassment, assault, and misconduct (Weinstein, Franken, Moore, etc.). We’ve witnessed (or participated in) the #MeToo trend, bringing awareness to and identifying what is apparently a pervasive problem in our society. Yet, as these scandals have unfolded, many have responded with shock and surprise. “I can’t believe that [so and so] did that…”

Christians believe in the doctrine of sin — that humanity is broken and rebellious against God, rejecting his good purposes. And so, on the one hand, Christians are never totally surprised when humanity acts heinously. We have theological categories for this.

On the other hand, there’s a certain level of shock that should always be present — a shock that matches the degree of sin’s audacity. Even as we understand humanity’s disposition to sin and propensity to commit great acts of evil, this reality doesn’t make sin any less appalling. Furthermore, due to God’s (common) restraining grace on humanity, we expect people to treat others with a certain base-level of dignity, even in their sinfulness.

But, at this point in the cultural story, if you’re still surprised when the latest sexual assault scandal emerges, you shouldn’t be.

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