Don’t You Think it’s Time to Stop Referring to the Function of Elders, Pastors, and Deacons as ‘Offices?’

foot+washingI think the word “office” when used to describe the function of Elders, Pastors, and Deacons is a horrible imposition on the scriptures and an even worse translation.  

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 the translators assumptions on the import of the passage.

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 position or office in such a way as to not make them take hierarchical form.  Jesus said, “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 hierarchy 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 hierarchical leadership.  There is no “office.”  Leadership in the church is functional not positional in the sense of some exercising authority over others in hierarchy structures.  If there is “position,” it’s always amongst the people. See (1 Thessalonians 5:12) and (1 Peter 5:2)

One problem ~ Actually two, but This one makes me take pause, but let’s consider it together.  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.’

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.

The second problem for me, however slight, are all the times where the words “office of priest” are used in scripture.  See: (Deuteronomy 26:3), (Luke 1:8), etc.  But again, I would recon that most of  these translations have been driven by religious agenda.  Even if I am wrong on that, the new covenant era counts all as priests (1 Peter 2:5-9).  If we’re all priests, then we all have the same office and hierarchical structures are flattened. 

Final thought:  The word “office” is too heavy laden with modern unbelieving 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 word “office” and its

associated concepts in favor of Jesus’ command?

*UnLeader: Reimagining Leadership…and Why We Must (Kindle Locations 2097-2100). Nazarene Publishing House. Kindle Edition.  



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    1. 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.


    2. 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.

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