Appointed Officers in the Theocratic Organization
1. What questions does 1 Peter 5:1-3 raise as to whether all members of the congregation were “elders”?
ABOUT the years 62 to 64 C.E. the apostle Peter while at Babylon in Mesopotamia had something to write about “older men.” He says: “Therefore, to the older men [presbyters, elders] among you I give this exhortation, for I too am an older man with them and a witness of the sufferings of the Christ, a sharer even of the glory that is to be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God in your care, not under compulsion, but willingly; neither for love of dishonest gain, but eagerly; neither as lording it over those who are God’s inheritance, but becoming examples to the flock.” (1 Pet. 5:1-3) If, now, all the “flock of God” were to be considered as “elders,” what would be the sense of Peter in speaking about the “older men among you”? Then, too, how could it be said that that flock of God was “in your care,” that is, in the care of the “older men”? How would they “shepherd the flock” if all the flock were “elders” and hence all shepherds?
2. Why must those addressed here by Peter have been officially “older men,” and with how many “older men” did the Jerusalem congregation start out on Pentecost of 33 C.E.?
2 The apostle Peter classes himself as an “older man” with the “older men” whom he addresses. So, if Peter was an “older man” in an official sense, those whom he addresses were also officially “older men.” Certainly an apostle of Jesus Christ should be officially an “older man.” Consequently, when the Christian congregation started out on Pentecost day of 33 C.E., it had twelve official “older men,” namely, the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. (Acts 1:13 to 2:37) Those apostles were all like Peter in being each “a witness of the sufferings of the Christ,” because they had been associated together from the time of Jesus’ baptism until his ascension to heaven. (Acts 1:21, 22; 1 Pet. 5:1) As official “older men” those apostles did “work hard in speaking and teaching,” from Pentecost of 33 C.E. onward.—1 Tim. 5:17; Acts 2:37-42; 4:33; compare 2 John 1 and 3 John 1.
“OLDER MEN”—HOW MADE
3. (a) How were the twelve apostles made “older men”? (b) According to Acts, chapter 14, in what connection do we learn how “older men” were made for the other congregations back there?
3 The eleven faithful ones of the apostles of Jesus Christ had been disciples of him, some as long as more than a year before he appointed them to be apostles. (John 1:35 to 2:2; Matt. 4:12-22; 10:1-4; Luke 6:12-16) Consequently they were made “older men” (presbyters, or elders) by being appointed by Jesus. The later twelfth apostle named Matthias was chosen by lot after Jesus’ ascension to heaven, and hence not by man’s appointment. (Acts 1:15-26) How were the later “older men” of the Jerusalem congregation put in office, also the “older men” of other congregations that were established after Pentecost of 33 C.E.? This is indicated for us in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter fourteen. The apostle Paul was on his first missionary tour with Barnabas and got as far as Derbe, Iconium, Lystra and Antioch of Pisidia, Asia Minor, and started congregations there. On their way back they visited these young congregations.
4. How were the “older men” made in the congregations revisited by Paul and Barnabas, and how was this method theocratic?
4 How did these recently established congregations get their “older men”? Acts 14:22, 23 tells us, saying that Paul and Barnabas went “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to remain in the faith and saying: ‘We must enter into the kingdom of God through many tribulations.’ Moreover, they appointed older men for them in [each] congregation and, offering prayer with fastings, they committed them to Jehovah in whom they had become believers.” Manifestly, then, the congregations did not set up their own “older men” by a popular vote or election among their members. This could not be called a “democratic” method of installing “older men.” Paul had been chosen by Jesus Christ as an apostle and he and Barnabas had been sent out on this missionary trip from Antioch by instructions of God’s holy spirit. So their appointing of “older men” in the congregations was theocratic.—Acts 13:1-4.
5. What did Paul write to Titus to do about the congregations in Crete, and what qualifications did Titus have to observe?
5 Years afterward, about the years 61 to 64 C.E., which was after Paul’s release from his first imprisonment in Rome, he wrote to his fellow worker Titus, who was then in the island of Crete. Paul said: “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you might correct the things that were defective and might make appointments of older men in city after city, as I gave you orders.” (Titus 1:5) Then Paul sets out the requirements for one’s being appointed as an “older man,” by adding: “If there is any man 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.”—Titus 1:6-9.
6. How was Paul here using the terms “older men” and ‘overseers,’ and how is this shown?
6 By beginning to discuss the requirements for being an appointed “older man” and then going on to say, “For an overseer must be free from accusation,” and so forth, Paul shows that an “older man” is also an “overseer” (e·piʹsko·pos, Greek). So at the same time that Titus would be appointing “older men” he would be also appointing overseers in the congregation. Thus Paul here uses the words “older men” and “overseers” as being synonymous, as expressing the same idea, as being interchangeable. So an overseer must be an “older man,” and an “older man” must carry out the duties of an overseer. Paul showed this at Miletus.
7. For whom did Paul at Miletus send to come from Ephesus, and what did he tell them to do?
7 We read: “From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the older men of the congregation. When they got to him he said to them: ‘ . . . Pay attention to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the holy spirit has appointed you overseers [e·piʹsko·poi, Greek], to shepherd the congregation of God, which he purchased with the blood of his own Son.’”—Acts 20:17-28.
8. How had Paul’s visitors been made “older men,” what service were they obliged to render, and to whom were they primarily responsible?
8 According to those words, those “older men” had been put in office, not by any democratic election or voting, but by appointment of God’s holy spirit acting through the visible governing body over all the congregations. By being thus appointed to be “older men” (presbyters, elders) they were simultaneously appointed to be “overseers,” and the duty of overseer obliged them to act as shepherds of the flock, God’s congregation. They were accountable primarily, not to the governing body, but to the Great Overseer, Jehovah God. (1 Pet. 2:25; Isa. 53:6) Paul’s words to the “older men” of Ephesus agree with those of the apostle Peter, when telling the “older men among you” to shepherd God’s flock.—1 Pet. 5:1, 2.
OVERSEERS AND MINISTERIAL SERVANTS
9. (a) In connection with filling the place vacated by unfaithful Judas, how is it indicated that the apostles were “overseers”? (b) With how many “overseers” did the Jerusalem congregation start at Pentecost of 33 C.E.?
9 The apostle Peter and the other eleven apostles were, not only “older men,” but also “overseers.” This becomes apparent at the time that Peter recommended to the Jerusalem congregation to fill the place that had been vacated by the unfaithful apostle Judas. As calling for this, Psalm 109:8 was quoted by Peter, as he said: “It is written in the book of Psalms, . . . ‘His office of oversight let someone else take.’” (Acts 1:20) The Hebrew word for “office of oversight” was rendered in the Greek Septuagint Version by the word e·pi·sko·peʹ, which refers to the office of an overseer (e·piʹsko·pos, Greek). Logically, then, the office of an apostle was the office of an overseer, and the apostles were overseers appointed by Jesus Christ. For this reason, on the day of Pentecost of 33 C.E., the Jerusalem congregation of about one hundred and twenty members started out with twelve overseers. (Acts 1:15 to 2:43) Thereafter as “older men” were appointed to help in taking care of the growing congregation, more than twelve overseers were serving in it.
10. (a) When Paul sent from Miletus to Ephesus, how was the oversight of the Ephesian congregation being taken care of? (b) According to Philippians 1:1, how was the congregation in Philippi being served?
10 About twenty-three years after that Pentecost, when Paul was en route to Jerusalem and stopped at Miletus, the congregation at nearby Ephesus had a number of overseers, for all the “older men” whom he summoned to see him were overseers. (Acts 20:17-28) Four or five years later the congregation of Philippi in Macedonia had a number of overseers as well as a number of ministerial servants to act as assistants to the overseers. That is why Paul, when writing from Rome, opened up his letter to the congregation in that city by saying: “Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the holy ones in union with Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, along with overseers [e·piʹsko·poi] and ministerial servants [di·aʹko·noi, Greek].”—Phil. 1:1.
11. To judge from the Philippi congregation, how were all other congregations with sufficient manpower staffed, in contrast with the later system of “bishops”?
11 From this there is no mistaking that the Philippian congregation had more than one overseer as well as more than one ministerial servant (di·aʹko·nos). This was doubtless true of all other first-century Christian congregations that had enough competent manpower to provide overseers and ministerial servants for their needs. It was a later development after the death of the twelve apostles to have one overseer over a congregation or over a number of congregations in a certain area.*
“BODY OF OLDER MEN” (“PRE·SBY·TEʹRI·ON”)
12. According to 1 Timothy 4;14, what would the congregation group of “older men” compose, and how did they compare with one another as to status?
12 The congregational group of overseers would compose a “body of older men,” or “presbytery” (Authorized Version; American Standard Version), or, “elders as a body” (New English Bible), such as the apostle Paul mentions in 1 Timothy 4:14. (Compare Luke 22:66; Acts 22:5 as to “the assembly of older men.”) The members of such a “body [or, assembly] of older men” were all equal, having the same official status, and none of them was the most important, most prominent, most powerful member in the congregation. Each member gladly took his share of the responsibility of overseeing and shepherding the whole congregation.
13. According to 1 Timothy 3:1, what was a desirous man aspiring to be and do?
13 Accordingly, what did the apostle Paul mean by what he wrote in 1 Timothy 3:1? There he said to Timothy: “If any man is reaching out for an office of overseer [e·pi·sko·peʹ, Greek], he is desirous of a fine work.” He did not mean that such a desirous Christian man is reaching out to become the most important, responsible, prominent and powerful person in the congregation as its sole overseer, something like a “bishop” in Christendom, who reigns over an area (a diocese) containing a number of congregations. (1 Tim. 3:1, AV; AS; Revised Standard Version; Douay Version; New American Bible) No, but this desirous man is merely wanting to share with other overseers in the congregation the duties of watching over the spiritual condition of the congregation, feeding it spiritually, guiding it in Jehovah’s worship. He strives to meet the requirements for overseership that are set out by the apostle Paul in the succeeding verses, in 1 Timothy 3:2-7, and which correspond with the requirements set out in Titus 1:6-9. Such requirements prove that he is “desirous of a fine work.”
14. (a) What was needed for maintaining the order of meetings of the “body of older men,” and how was this need supplied? (b) How long did one’s membership in this “body of older men” continue, and why so?
14 Of course, in such a congregational presbytery or “body [assembly] of older men” there would have to be a chairman, to direct the order of meetings of the “body of older men.” Just how a member was appointed as the chairman is not shown in the Scriptures. It would not be a permanent chairmanship, but likely it was temporary, for a period of time, and was rotated among all the coequal members of the “body of elders.” When one elder reached the end of his chairmanship and relinquished it to the next one in order, he did not cease to be an “older man” or an “overseer.” He still remained a member of the “body of older men.” The members not being put in office by regular elections of a democratic kind on the part of the congregation, his theocratic appointment by the governing body continued indefinitely as long as he proved faithful in office.
15. (a) Why were there no assistant overseers or assistant elders in the congregations? (b) What does the Greek work di·aʹko·nos basically mean, and how broad an application does it have?
15 There was no assistant overseer or assistant elder. Either an appointed man was an overseer, or he was not. Those who assisted the overseers by taking care of congregational matters that were not of a specifically spiritual kind were appointed as “ministerial servants” (di·aʹko·noi, Greek). The requirements for these “ministerial servants” are set out by the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 3:8-10, 12, 13. The name “deacon” is merely the Anglicized or transliterated form for the Greek name di·aʹko·nos, which ordinarily means a “minister” in the sense of a servant. Thus the word “minister” (di·aʹko·nos) can have a very broad, general meaning. Hence when the apostle Paul speaks of our being “ministers of a new covenant,” or ‘ministers of God’ or “ministers of Christ,” he does not mean that he and his fellow workers were “ministerial servants” of a congregation, who assisted the “older men” or “overseers.” (2 Cor. 3:6; 6:4; 11:23) However, such assistant officials could be “ministers” of that larger responsibility in serving God and Christ and God’s Word.—Acts 6:4.
16. What public work did the first-century Christians have to do, and to what extent did they accomplish it along with their elders, overseers, and ministerial servants?
16 Circumstances do not now allow for a further consideration of the theocratic organization of the Christian congregation of apostolic times in the first century C.E. Among other things, the Christian congregation back there had a big public work to do. What was that? To carry out Jesus’ words, “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations”; and also, “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.” (Matt. 24:14; 28:19, 20) This they did with the aid, guidance and leadership of their “older men” (presbyters, elders), overseers, and ministerial servants. Even before the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 C.E. the “good news of the kingdom” was being preached inside and outside the Roman Empire, and the apostle Paul could write from his prison quarters in Rome: “That good news which you heard, and which was preached in all creation that is under heaven.” (Col. 1:2, 23) The theocratic organization back there favored this exploit. It is an example for us today.
THEOCRATIC ORGANIZATION IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
17. According to the Watch Tower of 1884, what was the heavenly kingdom of God’s holy ones called, but on what basis was the visible earthly organization of these holy ones carried on?
17 The commands of the Lord Jesus Christ as quoted in the preceding paragraph still apply today, especially since Jehovah God established the kingdom of his Messiah, Jesus, at the end of the Gentile Times in 1914 C.E. We are therefore interested to see how the organization of those dedicated, baptized Christians who are carrying out those commands harmonizes with the apostolic pattern of the first century. In the issue of Zion’s Watch Tower as of August, 1884, page 7, it said: “The kingdom of the saints is on the contrary a Theocracy which will rule the world (during the period of its imperfection and restoration) without regard to their consent or approval.” However, with regard to the organization of the saints or holy ones on earth, this visible, earthly organization was conducted largely on the congregational basis for these dedicated, baptized followers of Jesus Christ. Their individual congregations had their elders and deacons, these being elected at least annually by a popular or democratic voting on the part of the dedicated, baptized ones. This procedure was according to the understanding then held of Acts 14:23.*
18. With the choosing of what officers of the congregations did the 1895 article “Decently and in Order” deal, and with whom did this article equate such officers?
18 For example, in the issue of Zion’s Watch Tower as of November 15, 1895, there was published the leading article entitled “Decently and in Order,” this having reference to 1 Corinthians 14:40. This discussed the matter of the officers of the congregations of dedicated, baptized Christians under subheadings, such as “Order in the Early Church,” “Order Necessary Today,” “The Apostolic Counsel Commended,” “The Occasion of Choosing Elders,” “The Qualifications of Elders,” the opening paragraphs thereunder quoting 1 Timothy 3:1-7 according to The Emphatic Diaglott New Testament, and saying: “If a man desires an overseer’s office [service], he desires a good work. [Any service we can render to the body of Christ is a blessed service.] An overseer, then, must be irreproachable,” and so on. It becomes apparent then that the article equated the “elders” with “overseers.”—See also Zion’s Watch Tower as of January 15, 1896, page 24, setting forth “REPLY:—The article ‘Decently and in Order’.”
19. (a) How was this method of electing elders and deacons terminated on October 5, 1932? (b) Down to that time, what work had the congregation accomplished, also embracing what name?
19 The putting of elders (overseers) and deacons in office by the elective method of the congregations continued down till October 5, 1932, when the New York city congregation by resolution asked for the governing body to appoint for it a “service director,” this officer to have a committee of assistants who would be selected by the majority vote of the congregation. This example was followed by the congregations all around the earth. (See The Watchtower as of October 15, 1932, page 319, under “Resolution.”) However, down to that time the congregation had carried on an impressive campaign for announcing Jehovah’s name and advertising His established kingdom of the heavens. Also, the major part of the “harvest,” the gathering out of the remnant of the wheatlike heirs of the Kingdom, was accomplished. Also, on July 26, 1931, the congregations of these heirs of God’s kingdom began to embrace the name “Jehovah’s witnesses.” (Isa. 43:10-12)—See Matthew 13:24-30, 37-43.
20. (a) How was that altered arrangement terminated in 1938? (b) What is the relationship of the Service Department and the governing body?
20 This altered arrangement for the congregations of Jehovah’s witnesses continued on from October of 1932 down to 1938. In this latter year the June 1 and 15 issues of The Watchtower published the two parts of the article “Organization” on what was set out as theocratic organization of the congregations. After that all the officers of the congregation were appointed by the governing body at headquarters. The governing body is not the Service Department of the Watch Tower Society, as the governing body has larger interests than just the proclamation of the Kingdom by proclaimers in the field. But the governing body uses the Service Department and other agencies in directing the work afield.
21. (a) Today who acts as chairman of the congregation, and what are his duties? (b) When the chairmanship passes on to another member of the presbytery, what happens to the former occupier of it?
21 Today in the congregations of Jehovah’s witnesses there is in general a congregation servant. He acts as chairman of the congregation and specifically directs the preaching and teaching in the field by the congregation members. According to the Scriptural presentation of matters he is both an “older man” or “elder” and, as such, an overseer. When, in course of time, the chairmanship that he has occupied is rotated to another member of the presbytery or “body of older men,” he still remains a member of that presbytery and he is assigned appropriate duties.
22. What are the duties and status of the assistant congregation servant and the Bible study servant, and of whom has the congregation’s judicial committee been composed?
22 There is also an assistant congregation servant, one capable of serving as chairman at any time that the congregation servant cannot do so. According to the Scriptural requirements, he is not an assistant overseer, but he is an overseer and “older man.” Because there is a tremendous teaching work going on by the conducting of private Bible studies in the homes of interested people, the congregations also have an appointed Bible study servant. Inasmuch as the Bible requires of overseers that they be “qualified to teach” and be “holding firmly to the faithful word as respects his art of teaching,” this Bible study servant must also be an overseer and an “older man.” (1 Tim. 3:1, 2; Titus 1:5-9) These three servants have been used as a judicial committee to handle matters of serious spiritual concern.
23. What others in the congregation rank as “older men” and “overseers,” and why?
23 Then there are the Watchtower Study servant and the Theocratic Ministry School servant. Because of the nature of their assigned duties in connection with teaching and preaching, these also should be “older men” and overseers “qualified to teach.”
24. What other departments are there in the present-day congregation, and how do those serving in such departments rank Scripturally?
24 Today because of the tremendous production of Bible study aids and the widespread demand for these printed publications, there are the magazine-territory and literature departments. Also, the financial accounts of congregations have to be kept with respect to contributions received and expenses. But since these matters do not have to do with the purely spiritual concerns of the congregation the work of the magazine-territory servant, literature servant and accounts servant would correspond with that work assigned in apostolic times to the appointed “ministerial servants” (di·aʹko·noi).
25. Who act as “Traveling Overseers,” and how do they rank Scripturally?
25 There are today also those called “Traveling Overseers” who move from congregation to congregation in circuits and in districts. These are appointed as “Circuit Servants” and “District Servants.” These also must be considered as “older men” or “elders,” due to the requirements of their assigned duties.
26. (a) Under those specific designations, the services of whom are being carried out, but is there thus a titled clergy class? (b) Thus what work is being carried out, and Jehovah blesses the endeavors of his witnesses in what direction?
26 Thus today, under these specific designations, the services of “older men” (or elders), overseers and ministerial servants are being carried out. These officers are not a titled clergy class. But with the benefit of their oversight, shepherding, leadership and help the general members of the congregation now worship Jehovah God in peace and unity and they carry on the disciple-making work and preach the good news of God’s kingdom of salvation world wide before the end comes upon democracies and political communism and all the rest of this system of things. Jehovah greatly blesses and prospers the endeavors of his Christian witnesses to be theocratic in organization and worship and activity. To Him, the mighty Theocrat, be the glory and praise forever through Jesus Christ our Lord.—1 Pet. 5:10, 11.
Read, for instance, the brief comment on this in The New Bible Dictionary, by J. D. Douglas, M.A., page 158, under the heading “Bishop,” which is how many translations render e·piʹsko·pos: “Among the Apostolic Fathers, Ignatius is the only one who insists on monarchical episcopacy, and even he never states that this is of divine institution—an argument which would have been decisive, if it had been available for him to use. Jerome, commenting on Titus 1:5, remarks that the supremacy of a single bishop arose ‘by custom rather than by the Lord’s actual appointment’, as a means of preventing schisms in the Church. (cf. Ep. 146). It seems most probable that monarchical episcopacy appeared in the local congregations when some gifted individual acquired a permanent chairmanship of the board of presbyter-bishops. . . .”
See The New Creation, Study VI entitled “Order and Discipline in the New Creation,” pages 276-278. Published in 1904.