In Judaism, an Elder of Israel is called Rabbi, from Hebrew רב rab "great", meaning "Master", "Teacher", or "Mentor". Like the title elder, rabbi refers to a teacher of Torah or a leader of Judaism. The word "presbyter" is from the Greek presbyteros "elder", a man of the community generally over the age of 50.
An elder is an office within some Christian churches and denominations of Protestantism. Not all Christian elders are men over the age of 50. In the Catholic Church cardinals, bishops, priests and deacons are held to be the modern successors of the office of New Testament elders, presbyteroi.
I Timothy 3 describes the qualifications for such according to traditional Christian views. As the qualifications are similar to those of deacon, it is not uncommon for a deacon (after a period of time and having proven himself) to become an elder.
In those groups which have elders, the elders are responsible for the overall administration of the church, whereas deacons act in a serving role only.
Denominations or groups which have elders include:
- Methodists (see Elder (Methodism))
- Reformed groups (Presbyterians and Reformed Baptists)
- Churches of Christ
- Latter Day Saints
Traditionally, with the exception of Reformed Baptists, most Baptist groups consider elder a synonym for pastor (though, ironically, in some congregations the deacons actually perform the elders role in terms of overall church leadership).
Elders may, depending on the congregation, be nominated only by other elders (the risk in this approach being that it turns the elder board into a self-perpetuating board, unaccountable to anyone), or by members of the congregation itself.
- See Deuteronomy 27:1; 29:10; Ruth 4; Proverbs 31:23; Matthew 16:21; 26:57; 27:1; Acts 4:5-6; 24:1; 25:2;
also Christian elders—Acts 14:23; 15:22-23; 1 Timothy 5:1-2, 19; 1 Peter 5:1, 5; 2 John 1; 3 John 1.
- Greek presbyteros singular "elder"; presbyteroi plural "elders".
- See Holy Orders.