1 Tim 5:17

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Puritan Board Sophomore
Why do Presbyterian and (some) Reformed Baptist churches have Ruling elders, teaching elders, and pastors? I'm confused as to why these are not all the same. In other words are not all pastors or elders equally ruling elders?


Puritanboard Commissioner
Teaching elder is the official term for the pastor. The teaching elder is a member of Presbytery, the Ruling elders are members of the congregation. The OPC is a three office church (REs and TEs being considered separate offices), the PCA is a two office church (RE and TE being ordained to the same scriptural office). In both the OPC and the PCA, the diaconate is a separate office with separate qualifications and duties.

Marrow Man

Drunk with Powder
From Calvin's commentary on the verse:

For preserving the good order of the Church, it is likewise highly necessary that elders should not be neglected, but that due regard should be paid to them; for what could be more unfeeling than to have no care about those who have the care of the whole Church? Here πρεσβύτερος (elder) is not a name of age, but of office.

Accounted worthy of double honor Chrysostom interprets “double honor” as meaning “support and reverence.” I do not oppose his opinion; let it be adopted by any one that chooses. But for my own part, I think it is more probable that a comparison is here drawn between widows and elders. Paul had formerly enjoined that honor should be paid — to widows; but elders are more worthy of being honored than widows, and, with respect to them, ought therefore to receive double honor.

But in order to shew that he does not recommend masks, he adds, who rule well; that is, who faithfully and laboriously discharge their office. For, granting that a person should a hundred times obtain a place, and though he should boast of his title; yet, if he do not also perform his duty, he will have no right to demand that he shall be supported at the expense of the Church. In short, he means that honor is not due to the title, but to the work performed by those who are appointed to the office.

Yet he prefers [I[those who labor in word and doctrine[/I], that is, those who are diligent in teaching the word; for those two terms, word and doctrine, signify the same thing, namely, the preaching of the word. But lest any one should suppose him to mean by the word an indolent, and, as it is called, a speculative study of it, he adds doctrine

We may learn from this, that there were at that time two kinds of elders; for all were not ordained to teach. The words plainly mean, that there were some who “ruled well” and honorably, but who did not hold the office of teachers. And, indeed, there were chosen from among the people men of worth and of good character, who, united with the pastors in a common council and authority administered the discipline of the Church, and were a kind of censors for the correction of morals. Ambrose complains that this custom had gone into disuse, through the carelessness, or rather through the pride, of the doctors, who wish to possess undivided power.

To return to Paul, he enjoins that support shall be provided chiefly for pastors, who are employed in teaching. Such is the ingratitude of the world, that very little care is taken about supporting the ministers of the word; and Satan, by this trick, endeavors to deprive the Church of instruction, by terrifying many, through the dread of poverty and hunger, from bearing that burden.


Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
1Tim.5:17 implies that not all elders perform the same tasks, "...especially those who labor in the word and doctrine." So, not all elders labor in word and doctrine ministry. These, it seems are those who must be "worthy of their hire," v18; the Lord has ordained that those who preach the gospel shall live from the gospel, 1Cor.9:14. This latter cannot happen if it refers to every elder, or else there must be fewer elders.

And yet, elders have been elected from among God's people to lead them and rule (judge) them from time immemorial. The prophets, whose heirs the heralds of the gospel are, also judged the people alongside the elders. When the people of Israel had a king, they still had elders also.

It is not that all elders aren't equally ruling elders, but that all elders don't teach and preach (though some read the qualification "apt to teach," 1Tim.3:2, as an indicator that one must exercise some small effort in this, at least). But it is obvious that not everyone's gifts are the same.

Now, some churches just staff their organization, and call such people "pastors," whether ordained or not. In Scripture it's another description of an elder, although in our modern use we tend to only call "the" pastor by that name. But the elders are also pastors, although as a "job description," they usually go by their other titles: "plumber," "carpenter," etc. "The" pastor is one who shepherds for a living, usually.

The name "teaching elder" is preferred by some, because they see it as emphasizing the unity of the "elders," regardless of role. The PCA is particularly earnest about emphasizing the parity of elders. The OPC, by contrast, is a self-consciously "three-office" church (deacons, elders, ministers), and their Book of Church Order identifies that one who labors in word and doctrine as "minister," a clergyman. In practice, the OPC and the PCA both function pretty much the same, and the same as many Baptist churches. This is so, because the same realities affect all.

The teaching-elder receives specialized training in handling the Word of God; he is looked to for unique leadership among the leaders; no matter how much the church equalizes the respect of all the leaders, there's no escaping the fact that the ministry is a demanding office that must usually be filled by an outsider called to the work to shoulder the burden with the local elders, because he has the training. Of course a good "fit" is needful, but an outsider is good in this sense: he is not a representative of the people in the same sense as the other elders. But he is especially the Lord's representative to the people. He is the divine spokesman, a minor ambassador, a Minister in another Man's government. He does not tell the people (and elders) only what they want to hear--he only "sort-of" works for them. But neither he, nor the rest of the elders, are to "lord" over the heritage, 1Pet.5:3.

There are other points that could be elaborated. Christ possesses all the offices, and all the authority. The order of the offices distributes both that power and that duty. There are no more extraordinary offices (like apostle and prophet), only the ordinary. The distribution of authority and duty is seen in Acts 6, in the devolving of the deacon's responsibilities from the elders. If there are no deacons, the duties don't disappear; they are reassumed (upward) into the higher office of the elders. So, it is generally to their benefit to have deacons, in order that they may devote themselves to the ministry of the word of God, v2.


Puritan Board Freshman
there's no escaping the fact that the ministry is a demanding office that must usually be filled by an outsider called to the work to shoulder the burden with the local elders
Bruce, I would certainly agree that this is the typical pattern in churches and most likely by necessity. However, what I read in the NT is that elders were chosen locally and trained locally. So, wouldn't it be more of a NT pattern to have all elders (teaching/preaching included) to be local men?

I ask the question, not to be controversial, nor to exclude the need of the typical pattern quoted above, but for the purpose of evaluating the local church and how we may be missing the mark.

Thank you in advance for your response.


Puritan Board Sophomore
Thanks. I appreciate all of your replies. Thanks Bruce for for your lengthy response as that was what I was looking for. I think your explanation makes complete sense.


Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
there's no escaping the fact that the ministry is a demanding office that must usually be filled by an outsider called to the work to shoulder the burden with the local elders
Bruce, I would certainly agree that this is the typical pattern in churches and most likely by necessity. However, what I read in the NT is that elders were chosen locally and trained locally. So, wouldn't it be more of a NT pattern to have all elders (teaching/preaching included) to be local men?
As you probably recognize, certain aspects of NT church-life are normative for the age in which we dwell; others are peculiar to that generation and to the vital work of instituting a New Covenant administration for a reconfigured redeemed race.

I am going to maintain a certain distinction between elders proper, and the minister. The minster is an elder, which is the kind of language Peter uses to associate himself with local leaders to whom he writes, 1Pet.5:1. But not all elders are ministers, any more than the elders to whom Peter writes were apostles alongside him.

Because I'm making this distinction, I will affirm with you that ordinary NT elders are "chosen locally and trained locally." This sort of training and expectation can normally be carried out within the scope of an average, self-sustaining church. And this is reflected in the writings of the NT.

But is it true that in the case of a minister, he can surely receive all he needs from his local church? In some cases, this would be true without a doubt, and thank God for it. But I seriously question the notion that this is normative, even in the NT. Several reasons for that:

1) Limited resources. It is great to opine that every pastor should find within himself such a store of the pastoral office and specialized knowledge, that he may raise up his equal to follow in his place. In fact, this hardly ever happens; and I argue has never been the regular practice of the church, nor is it normed in Scripture. In other words, it isn't just rare today, but rare in every age. Christ would certainly use this method to protect and supply his church if he needed to; but I don't think he has ever established this as his regular operation.

A typical pastor is pulled in many directions, besides often having a family (which is good and normal, contrary to what advocates of mandatory clerical celibacy might answer). The average pastor has the skills to lead sheep, but not necessarily all the skills needed to make a shepherd. The church has, over the centuries, recognized that countless factors--home, family, church-life, education, experience--all of these things are ordered by the Triune God in his work of making one of his ministers. A man who is otherwise a very good pastor, but would be a mediocre mentor, should not be thought less-of because he's "only" a conscientious shepherd.

2) Quality. The fact is that the training will inevitably be uneven across the churches. The first pastor's strengths and weaknesses will be replicated in his followers, and likely exaggerated, given the tendencies of a fallen world. Another patent drawback to a thoroughly decentralized education-service for the church is unevenness of doctrinal fidelity. If every church is thought just as good a seminary as the next one, then there is no house-of-production sending forth quality graduates; that may give the church some hope of reliability in advance. Then, there is the matter of failure. What happens to the church whose pastor mentored his replacement for a decade or more; the new man was received well and showed promise. And then he collapsed morally or doctrinally. If there is no system of education, no place to look for new leadership, is this church stuck? Can the old pastor, if he's still around, find another promising man from within that congregation, and repeat all those years of mentoring?

The fact is that larger churches will become de facto seminaries, or found them, just as they have done for centuries. It is called "division of labor," and "quality control," and "redundancy." Churches (or one church, configured on a Presbyterian model, having many individual congregations) see their need, pool their resources, and support the training of another generation of pastors. No matter the setting, the life of a seminary student shouldn't be "out of church." There is no necessary divorce of the academy from kingdom-life. But there is also no escaping the requirements of the academy, if a man will hone his gifts for the future demands of his service.

3) The Bible doesn't give us many examples of ministers trained locally. Consider the most elementary instance of NT leadership: the School of Christ. Did the Lord find a local synagogue, or set up a local synagogue, and train his disciples in it? No, he took them to himself from out of several places of origin, made them forsake their familiar surroundings, and spend time learning from him--a three-year intensive training period. This is not to put down synagogue training, or to say that a rabbi could not have been raised up within his hometown congregation. It is just to point out that the original Apostles were not trained in situ, in a church-like setting. It was a mentorship, and there is nothing wrong with mentorships. But not every rabbi in Jesus' day could have been a private mentor. And not even every Apostle.

Furthermore, take the example of Paul, the church-planter. He went all over the place, and applied his training in dozens of places that he never was raised. In other words, the Apostles were themselves called ministers to places all over that they were not indigenous. I'm not trying to universalize their experience, or say that missionary activity is the same as later work in the same churches. But I'm pointing out that typically the first servant in any church is an "outsider." So, on what basis do we say that for the most part, subsequent servants should come from the narrowest scope possible?

4) Timothy. Was Timothy raised up in his own home of Derbe (or Lystra), and established there for the service of the church? No, Paul saw his undeveloped gifts, and brought him along with him--really, along with them, which included Silas (not another student), and perhaps others. So Timothy had at least two instructors, and perhaps more; and perhaps other trainees besides himself. It wasn't long thereafter that Luke joined the troupe. And when Timothy was installed as a long-term pastor, it was not back in his home church, but in Ephesus; where Paul writes to him his letters. One man I know has pointed to those letters (and to Titus), as additional proof of the validity of, at the very least, the unique role the lead pastor of a church plays. Paul addresses one man, in a church already possessed of many leaders, and instructs him in duties peculiar to him.

5) Apollos. From Alexandria, he had something of an itinerant ministry, especially before he met up with Priscilla and Aquilla in Ephesus; and eventually passed to Corinth to settle for a while as a recognized Christian minister. Again, if we are looking for some key, named NT individual who is raised up within a church to be its minister, we are still looking for that person.

6) Schools in Scripture. I've already mentioned the School of Christ, attended by the Apostles. It seems to me too subtle an argument to simply replace Jesus in this equation with a "lead pastor," or any pastor, and equate this school of ministry with a local congregation. It is convenient, but I don't see how it overcomes the greater number of dissimilarities. It is just not the case that Jesus conducted his own ministry within any local bounds whatsoever. Even if his logistical and operational "base" was in Capernaum (not his hometown either, BTW; he once made use of this proverb in his home-congregation: "A prophet is without honor only in his hometown"). And so, his Twelve disciples were not trained in "church planting" in any kind of church-planting or even local-synagogue setting. It didn't happen.

Paul's School. Paul taught daily in the Hall of Tyrannus. Who was he teaching for two solid years? Just anyone who wandered in off the street? Various local Christians who happened to be off work? I have a different theory. I think he was training men like Epaphras, Col.1:7; 4:12; who went forth to places like Colosse (where Paul had not been), and planted churches or took calls; so that "ALL who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus," Act.19:10. They didn't ALL come in the Hall, not even over two years of Paul sitting there. But because he sat there, with some students--probably from all over--they went out to serve Christ, well trained.

We also have in the OT "the sons of the prophets" (see 1Ki.20:35; 2Ki.2:3ff; 4:1,38; 5:22; 6:1). These seem clearly not offspring, in the biological sense. But in the evocative Hebrew phraseology, these were "sons" following their "fathers" in ministry. As far back as 1Sam.10:11, and later in ch.19, we find a crowd of "prophets" (associated with Samuel's ministry). Of course, we aren't able to decisively read-into or out-of these bits of data too much inference. But it does seem to me a reasonable guess that part of Samuel's leadership was to remedy the defect noted in 1Sam.3:1, "the word of the Lord was rare in those days," by raising up a prophetic "school."

Furthermore, proposing the existence of this school, associated with Samuel, helps us make new sense out of the otherwise curious story of David's early appearance in the house of Saul, when later Saul was apparently clueless as to David's identity, cf. 1Sam.16:19 & 17:55. After his anointing, David may well have been invited to spend some time with Samuel, and at his school. Harping and other music was a part of the prophet's repertoire (1Sam.10:5; 2Ki.3:14), and we know David learned the harp. We also know, 1Sam.16:13, that the Spirit was upon David. All this leads me to expect that David was noticed and summoned to soothe king Saul not because he was spotted out in the fields with his harp, but he was noticed from the company of Samuel and the prophets he had gathered around him. Surely, he had not gathered them in order to keep them close at hand; but to train them humanly speaking, whom God had called to service. This is nothing but the doctrine of concurrence--man proposes, God disposes.

Bottom line: I think people "went off to school" in some form or other even in the Bible. And they did not normally (if the scant evidence we can muster tells us anything) come straight home again either, to do ministry.​

So, that's a bit lengthy. But I think it helps establish--if not beyond all controversy, at least beyond doubt--that calling a man to serve as a minister or teaching-elder, coming from beyond the confines of a single congregation, is not unbiblical. It isn't even unusual. Nor is the use and purpose of schools or academies for such training to be viewed askance, as if such things violated the spirit if not the letter of biblical norms.

Hope this is helpful.
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