The Hebrew word for overseer, pa·qidhʹ, is drawn from the verb pa·qadhʹ, meaning “turn attention to” (Ge 21:1), “visit” (Jg 15:1), “appoint” (Ge 39:5), or “commission” (Ezr 1:2). Similarly, the Greek word for overseer, e·piʹsko·pos, is related to the verb e·pi·sko·peʹo, meaning “watch carefully” (Heb 12:15), and to the noun e·pi·sko·peʹ, meaning “inspection” (Lu 19:44, Int; 1Pe 2:12), “office of overseer” (1Ti 3:1), or “office of oversight” (Ac 1:20). The Greek Septuagint renders the Hebrew word pa·qidhʹ four times as e·piʹsko·pos. (Jg 9:28; Ne 11:9, 14, 22) Therefore, the overseer was one who gave attention to certain matters or persons, visiting, inspecting, and appointing. Protective supervision is a basic idea inherent in the Greek term.
Overseers in the Hebrew Scriptures. Joseph counseled Pharaoh to appoint overseers over the land to lay up stores during the years of plenty against the coming famine. (Ge 41:34-36) Under their respective chieftains, each family line of the Levites had its particular responsibility as regards the oversight of tabernacle duties. (Nu 3:24-26, 30, 31, 35-37) Eleazar, Aaron’s son, was made “the chieftain of the chieftains of the Levites” and had general oversight of the tabernacle structure and its utensils. (Nu 3:32; 4:16) The high priest also might appoint overseers for certain sanctuary services. (2Ki 11:18) First Chronicles chapters 23 to 27 shows the numerous and varied positions and arrangements for oversight in effect during David’s reign, as regards both the priesthood and the royal court, including economic and military matters.
The prophecy of Isaiah (60:17) sets “overseers” in parallel with “task assigners,” since overseers may assign work to others as well as supervise and watch over the interests of those persons or things entrusted to their care. In this prophecy Jehovah foretells the time when he would “appoint peace as your overseers and righteousness as your task assigners,” a prophecy initially fulfilled in Israel’s restoration from exile but more fully realized in the Christian congregation.
Overseers in the Christian Congregation. The Christian “overseers” (e·piʹsko·poi) correspond to those recognized as “older men” (pre·sbyʹte·roi) in the congregation. That both of these terms designate the same position in the congregation can be seen from the instance of Paul’s calling “the older men of the congregation” of Ephesus to Miletus to meet with him there. In exhorting these “older men,” he states: “Pay attention to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the holy spirit has appointed you overseers [form of e·piʹsko·poi], to shepherd the congregation of God.” (Ac 20:17, 28) The apostle further makes this clear in writing to Titus, where he discusses the subject of making appointments of “older men in city after city.” In evident reference to such ones, he uses the term “overseer” (e·piʹsko·pos). (Tit 1:5, 7) Both terms, therefore, refer to the same position, pre·sbyʹte·ros indicating the mature qualities of the one so appointed, and e·piʹsko·pos the duties inherent with the appointment.—See OLDER MAN.
There was no set number of overseers for any one congregation. The number of overseers depended upon the number of those qualifying and accredited as “older men” in that congregation. That there were several overseers in the one congregation of Ephesus is evident. Likewise, in writing to the Philippian Christians, Paul referred to the “overseers” there (Php 1:1), indicating that they served as a body, overseeing the affairs of that congregation.
A consideration of the Christian Greek Scriptures indicates that the overseers, or older men, in any one congregation were of equal authority. In his congregational letters, Paul does not single out any one individual as the overseer, nor are these letters addressed to any individual as such. The letter to the Philippians was addressed “to all the holy ones in union with Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, along with overseers and ministerial servants.” (Php 1:1) In this regard Manuel Guerra y Gomez noted: “Certainly episcopos in the protocol of the letter to the Philippians does not suppose a monarchic authority; it is rather a term that names the people of evident plural and collegial structure in charge of the direction and government of the Christian community of the Macedonian city. At the same time the diaconos, according to the general meaning of the word, are the helpers, the ministers of the episcopos and by the same token were at the service of the believers.”—Episcopos y Presbyteros, Burgos, Spain, 1962, p. 320.
Qualifications of an overseer, or elder. To attain the office of overseer, the following qualifications must be met: “The overseer should therefore be irreprehensible, a husband of one wife, moderate in habits, sound in mind, orderly, hospitable, qualified to teach, not a drunken brawler, not a smiter, but reasonable, not belligerent, not a lover of money, a man presiding over his own household in a fine manner, having children in subjection with all seriousness; . . . not a newly converted man, . . . he should also have a fine testimony from people on the outside.”—1Ti 3:1-7.
Likewise, in his letter to Titus, in discussing the subject of making appointments of elders, Paul said that in order to qualify as such, a man had to be “free from accusation, a husband of one wife, having believing children that were not under a charge of debauchery nor unruly. For an overseer must be free from accusation as God’s steward, not self-willed, not prone to wrath, not a drunken brawler, not a smiter, not greedy of dishonest gain, but hospitable, a lover of goodness, sound in mind, righteous, loyal, self-controlled, holding firmly to the faithful word as respects his art of teaching, that he may be able both to exhort by the teaching that is healthful and to reprove those who contradict.” (Tit 1:5-9) The differences in this latter list of qualifications evidently take into account the special needs of the congregations in Crete, where Titus was serving.—Tit 1:10-14.
The Supreme Overseer. First Peter 2:25 evidently quotes Isaiah 53:6 as to those who ‘like sheep went astray,’ and Peter then says: “But now you have returned to the shepherd and overseer of your souls.” The reference must be to Jehovah God, since those to whom Peter wrote had not gone astray from Christ Jesus but, rather, through him had been led back to Jehovah God, who is the Grand Shepherd of his people. (Ps 23:1; 80:1; Jer 23:3; Eze 34:12) Jehovah is also an overseer, the one who makes inspection. (Ps 17:3) The inspection (Gr., e·pi·sko·peʹ) could be associated with expression of adverse judgment by him, as in the first century C.E. in the case of Jerusalem, which did not discern the time of her “being inspected [Gr., e·pi·sko·pesʹ].” (Lu 19:44) Or it could bring favorable effect and benefits, as in the case of those glorifying God in the day “for his inspection [Gr., e·pi·sko·pesʹ].”—1Pe 2:12.
“Busybody in Other People’s Matters.” The apostle Peter warned against becoming “a busybody in other people’s matters.” (1Pe 4:15) This expression renders the Greek word al·lo·tri·e·piʹsko·pos, which literally means “overseer of what is another’s.” Francisco Zorell defines this word as “one who takes upon himself the duty of minding and correcting other people’s matters, the one who imprudently thrusts himself into other people’s affairs.”—Lexicon Graecum Novi Testamenti, Paris, 1961, col. 70.
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Overseers, or Older Men Ministerial Servants
irreprehensible free from accusation free from accusation
husband of one husband of one wife husband of one wife
not a drunken not a drunken brawler not given to a lot of wine
not a lover of not greedy of not greedy of dishonest
money dishonest gain gain
presiding over having believing presiding in fine
household in children not under manner over children
fine manner, charge of debauchery and own households
having children nor unruly
not newly tested as to fitness
sound in mind sound in mind
qualified to holding to the word in
teach the art of teaching,
able to exhort and reprove
not a smiter not a smiter
reasonable not self-willed
not belligerent not prone to wrath