ὁμοίως, νεώτεροι, ὑποτάγητε πρεσβυτέροις. πάντες δὲ ἀλλήλοις τὴν ταπεινοφροσύνην ἐγκομβώσασθε, ὅτι Ὁ θεὸς ὑπερηφάνοις ἀντιτάσσεται ταπεινοῖς δὲ δίδωσιν χάριν.

1 Peter 5:5 (ESV)
Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."

Does the Greek text have any indication as to whether this means

  • the elders of the local church, or
  • all elderly people in general?

Which way should the passage be interpreted?


They are the pillars of the early church, not only the old ones – although they are from the group of the old and experienced.1 According to verse 2a they shall "be shepherds of God's flock".

The technical use of the word πρεσβύτεροι for the heads of a community was usual for OT-Jewish region and "understandable" for the hellenistic environment.2

1: Leonahrt Goppelt, Der erste Petrusbrief, Göttingen 71912, p. 321
2: Bornkamm, ''Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament'', p. 660-666

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  • I downvoted this because answers on this list are supposed to be long, not just a sentence or two (though the minimum number of words is not defined). Also they ask that you not just cite a commentary because they want original work. Why is the opinion of Leonahrt Goppelt, cool as his name is, in any way authoritative? Or Borkamm? Maybe he's mistaken? And please note that "shepherds" is another OT term for the elders. The contrast of "likewise, you younger" indicates that there was a difference in age. Nothing personal. – user10231 Apr 22 '16 at 6:18

Semitic society (Jews, Arabs, etc.) is organized in tribes. One is not "elected" by a "committee". An elder from one family would not in any way rule over another man's family. Each family was represented in public life by the alpha male of their clan. The alpha male was by default the eldest male but if that's not an option it could be another. Respect for one's elders was crucial to an orderly society. Notice that even Egypt was organized with elders:

Gen_50:7 And Joseph went up to bury his father: and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt,

Conspicuously absent from Paul's list of offices (which were temporary) is "elder":

Eph 4:11 And it is he who gifted some to be apostles, others to be prophets, others to be evangelists, and still others to be pastors and teachers, Eph 4:12 to equip the saints, to do the work of ministry, and to build up the body of the Messiah Eph 4:13 until all of us are united in the faith and in the full knowledge of God's Son, and until we attain mature adulthood and the full standard of development in the Messiah. Eph 4:14 Then we will no longer be little children, tossed like waves and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, or by clever strategies that would lead us astray.

So Peter knows nothing of the "Elders" in modern Churches who act as a board of directors over all of the families of the assemblies. Presbyterian style "Board of Elders" has more in common with a Roman Senate than with the thousands of years of Semitic representation by the alpha male of the family.

My primary source for my observation is the scriptures themselves. The last mention of elders in the scriptures prior to the NT is 3 Maccabees 1:25:

3Ma_1:25 The elders who surrounded the king strove in many ways to divert his haughty mind from the design which he had formed.

Obviously these are not Presbyterians but rather Jews interacting with the king.

Joseph, War, mentions the elders as well:

And when he was at Antioch, he wrote to him, and commanded him to come to him quickly to Ptolemais: upon which Jonathan did not intermit the siege of the citadel, but took with him the elders of the people, and the priests, and carried with him gold, and silver, and garments, and a great number of presents of friendship, and came to Demetrius, and presented him with them, and thereby pacified the king's anger.

For more background see:


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  • Can you present some evidence to support your claim that Peter wouldn't have known of the idea of church elders? – curiousdannii Apr 21 '16 at 9:31
  • @curiousdannii I can't prove a negative. The burden is upon those who imagine that Paul or Peter instituted or recognized a new government with the same name. | So dannii, are you the one doing the driveby downvoting? If you don't understand or disagree with my posts then please use the comment system to ask for clarification. It is annoying when people vote for an answer based on simply not liking the answer because it isn't what they were taught. – user10231 Apr 21 '16 at 9:42
  • I did use the comment system? I asked you to give evidence for your unsubstantiated claim. What else do you want me to do? – curiousdannii Apr 21 '16 at 11:21
  • It's easy to demonstrate that Paul had the concept of church elders because Acts 14:23 says he appointed some, and he instructs Titus (1:5) to do so as well - family elders aren't appointed! If you think church elders didn't exist in the Apostolic era, then the burden of proof is definitely on you. – curiousdannii Apr 21 '16 at 11:28
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    I don't like the quality of the chosen answer either. I do like that you've made your case well, whether I disagree with it or not isn't how I vote for things. Unfortunately I have seen that you're right. Too many people incorrectly vote based on their view rather than whether it was a well put together answer. – Micah Gafford Apr 22 '16 at 4:35

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