Elders, Pastors, and Deacons are Not ‘Officers,’ Nor Do They to Hold an ‘Office.’

ev3pa11b1I 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.  



7 thoughts on “Elders, Pastors, and Deacons are Not ‘Officers,’ Nor Do They to Hold an ‘Office.’

  1. David Woods says:

    Yeah. ’bout that time.

  2. Thanks Bro. Miguel, another “home run.”
    Sharing this. Maybe when it comes from somebody else, my friends/relatives may take note.

  3. Carlos says:

    I agree Miguel.

    May I suggest we go even further and stop using the word “pastor” altogether?

    It utterly perplexes me how my brothers and sisters in Christ insist on using an outdated Latin word in place of the biblically correct and proper English word of “elder”.

    The word “Pastor” is associated with extra-biblical function that is related to a professional class of persons otherwise known as ministers or clergy.

    Whereas the word “elder” correctly describes a shepherd as an older brother without all the ecclesiastical baggage.


  4. jim puntney says:

    I agree its past time to flush the ‘office’ from our vocabulary, this all seems to get summed up in the 59 ‘one another’ passages, with this being the pinnacle:

    “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” ~ Paul

    thanks bro for posting this.

  5. Billy says:

    I agree with the big idea of the article…which leads me to the actual thought I had when I read said article.

    I used to be an anti-“idea-for-idea” Bible kinda guy and pro- “word-for-word” Bible man. Then I got more involved with the cpm stuff, found myself in real mentoring chains, and finally, looked at how Jesus quoted from the OT scriptures. He did not do a good job of quoting word for word. He would have done poorly in OT class. Accuracy of detail wasn’t his goal, but accuracy of thought/idea and spirit was. This is the basis behind storying and discovery.

    I wonder if the West is more focused on details and fine points where as the more Eastern thought is big idea and meta-narrative? I hear a lot of conjecture about “how many angels on pinpoint” type stuff from Western lecturers. I used to really be in to knowledge and wanting to know all of that. It was an addiction. I wasn’t obedient to Jesus and I had no mentors or mentees in my life however. Anyway, just some systems/cultural things I’m chewing on. Not sure if this 100% applies, but I know this is a good place for some hashing and healthy wrestling.

  6. Marion Wiley says:

    Yes, yes, yes! Thank you! After spending quite a few years in what proved to be an abusive church, I got educated. Titles, positions, offices are just plain dangerous. They feed pride. And in abusive churches particularly, the leadership LOVES titles, and demands that titles be used when addressing them. Your post has triggered a lot in my thinking. Gal. 2:6 Amp- “Moreover, [no new requirements were made] by those who were reputed to be something—though what was their individual position and whether they really were of importance or not makes no difference to me; God is not impressed with the positions that men hold and He is not partial and recognizes no external distinctions—those [I say] who were of repute imposed no new requirements upon me [had nothing to add to my Gospel, and from them I received no new suggestions].” Verses have come to mind like Is 40:4- every mountain shall be made low, or James 4- humble yourselves, or Ps 75- promotion comes from the Lord. I had combined 3 verses from the gospels years ago (Mt 20:25-28; Mk 10:42-45; Lk 22:25-27) and came up with this out of the Amplified:

    “But Jesus called them to [Him] and said to them, You know that the kings or rulers of the Gentiles, those who are recognized as governing and are supposed to rule the Gentiles (the nations) lord it over them- are deified by them and exercise lordship [ruling as emperor-gods] with absolute power, holding them in subjection, tyrannizing over them], and their great men exercise authority and dominion over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors and well-doers.

    “But this is not to be so among you; instead, whoever desires to be great among you must be your servant; let him who is the greatest among you become like the youngest, and him who is the chief and leader like one who serves. And whoever wishes to be most important and first in rank among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to have service rendered to Him, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for ( instead of) many [the price paid to set them free]. For who is the greater, the one who reclines at table (the master), or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am in your midst as one Who serves.”

    We are to submit one to another, we are to serve one another. Titles, positions, offices all just muddy the waters and distract from what Jesus said to do. After seeing the abuse of offices, titles and positions, I just recoil now from the whole concept.

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