I think the word “office,” when used to describe the function of Elders, Pastors, and Deacons is unfortunate. I believe it’s an institutional imposition on scripture, and a word that has been chosen with ulterior motives.
Let’s get to it then. The Culprit, not Paul, but the translators of the King James Bible in 1 Timothy 3:1 translate the verse in this way… “This is a true saying, If a man desires the office of a bishop, he desires a good work.” The King James Version is not the only culprit. The English Standard Version (©2001), New American Standard Bible (©1995), NET Bible (©2006), and even the Webster’s Bible Translation all use the word “office.”
Some translations, like the Weymouth New Testament, further complicate the matter with translations like this: “Faithful is the saying, “If any one is eager to have the oversight of a Church, he desires a noble work.” Adding the word “church” here demonstrates both the translator’s agenda and assumptions.
The New International Version (©2011) does not use the word “office,” but translates the passage in this way: “Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.” I am not a fan of the NIV (Non-Inspired-Version) (jokingly), because of its dynamic equivalent translation manner (idea for idea, instead of word for word) but in this case they seem to have it correct.
Finally, the New Living Translation (©2007), while not using the word office, translates the passage this way: “This is a trustworthy saying: “If someone aspires to be an elder, he desires an honorable position.” What I find problematic here is the word “position.”
Pastors/Elders and or Deacons are not offices or positions in the church. Unless you can define a position or an office in such a way as to not contradict Jesus’ command; “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them. But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” Jesus forever busted positional and hierarchical structures for the church.
Peter, often thought of as the leader of the church, had this to say to all of God’s chosen people (the church) who were dispersed and living as foreigners in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia the following:
“Therefore, as a fellow elder and witness to the sufferings of the Messiah and also a participant in the glory about to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you: Shepherd God’s flock among you, not overseeing out of compulsion but freely, according to God’s will; not for the money but eagerly; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”
Peter uses the words “Elder” and “Pastor” (In verb form) here and specifically echoes the words and sentiment of Jesus regarding positional or ‘official’ leadership. There are no “offices.” Leadership in the church is functional not positional or ‘official’ in the sense of some exercising authority over others in hierarchical structures. If there is “position,” it’s always amongst the people. See (1 Thessalonians 5:12) and (1 Peter 5:2)
One problem ~ In Acts 1:20, Peter says, regarding Judas: “For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘LET HIS HOMESTEAD BE MADE DESOLATE, AND LET NO ONE DWELL IN IT’; and, ‘LET ANOTHER MAN TAKE HIS OFFICE.’ ~ Ouch!
We have a couple of choices here. We can accept that Apostleship was indeed an office and by logical consequence apply it to Pastors and Elders in which my proposition dies, or we can consider the use of another word in this passage. The NIV again, in my opinion, does a good job with this passage when it translates this verse in this way: “For,” said Peter, “it is written in the Book of Psalms: “‘May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,’ and, may another take his place of leadership” (properly, an oversight that naturally goes on to provide the care and attention appropriate to the body.)
The latter causes no contradiction with Jesus’ and Peter’s words above but does go against the grain of nearly ever other translation. Also, we must remember that the quote from Psalms refers to the enemies of the Messiah in general, but is applied by the apostle to Judas in particular. In the Hebrew text, Psalm 69:25 uses words that are in the plural number, “let their habitation be desolate, and let none dwell in their tents”; and refers to all the enemies of Christ, the chief priests, elders of the people, Scribes and Pharisees, who covenanted with Judas to give him so much money to betray Christ into their hands.
In essence, the “office” being replaced here may apply to something much broader than a position of a single man. I also find it interesting that the word ‘officer,’ describing someone within the religious system disappears after the resurrection. The very idea of an officer within the church only becomes plausible when one reaches back into the Old Covenant and drags it into the present.
Final thought: The word “office” is too heavy laden with modern unbelieving (gentile) hierarchical leadership concepts. It is imprudent and often controlling to impose it on biblical texts.” Chances are, if you’re adamant about protecting the term, you might be one of those who is disobeying Jesus by “Lording” over people.
Lance Ford, in his book UnLeader: Reimagining Leadership and Why We Must, says:
“The New Testament places the emphasis on the unction of the Holy Spirit in the lives of men and women who are servants of God and his kingdom initiative rather than on titles and offices. Men and women have dug titles and offices out of the trash heap where Jesus tossed them, shined them up, and hung them on church buildings, office doors, and business cards.”*
So, isn’t it time to jettison the words “office” and “officer” and come up with something better?
*UnLeader: Reimagining Leadership and Why We Must (Kindle Locations 2097-2100). Nazarene Publishing House. Kindle Edition.