Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Elder and Pastors as Shepherds: Understanding Πρεσβυτέρους in 1 Peter 5


Elder and Pastors as Shepherds
The PDF is available from Academia.edu by  clicking here
     In approximately AD 63, Peter writes (or by orally speaking as Silas writes)[1] the book of 1 Peter as an epistle to the churches of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). [2]  Peter, writing to the Gentile churches, was encouraging them amidst their trials and persecution (1 Pet 1:6;2;12,19-20;4:12,14), and exhorting them to pursue sanctification or as Peter calls it salvation of the soul(1 Pet 1:9).  This exhortation to be sanctified is one of perseverance. Sanctification is personal spiritual growth or maturity, and a part of this growth is reinforced by the Shepherds’ nurturing care. Peter calls these shepherds, elders.  The position of elder (Πρεσβυτέρους) as identified in 1 Peter 5, is a position that implies leadership or authority based on seniority- not of age, but of spiritual growth based on the context in 1 Peter 5:5. [3]  The role of elder/pastor as mentioned 1Peter is to be a shepherd - one whose task is to watchfully tend to the people of God (the sheep) entrusted to his or her care.
1Peter 5:1-4 in Context to all of 1 Peter
            Peter is writing to the churches in Asia Minor. He is writing to the chosen race of aliens, not of this world but of a separate nation, a nation to come (1 Pet 1:1; 2:9-13). Peter seems to be using these motifs as a means to look forward to the return of Christ and His Kingdom.  Then there is a promise of hope based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Pet 1:3). Those who choose to hold unto this promise, then pursue their calling for the sake of obtaining an inheritance (1 Pet 1:4). The specific reward for the elders is the Crown of Glory. According to Michaels, the word crown is “actually a victor’s wreath” of glory.[4] Moreover, Peter seems to be dealing with personal sin, because in 2:11 Peter states, “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lust which wage war against the soul.”[5] Peter then proceeds to give instruction on how each person should act, including the leadership of the elders during this time of waiting.
Commentary of 1Peter 5:1-4
1 Peter 5:1 states, “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed.”  According to Mark Dubis, the phrase “Πρεσβυτέρους οὖν ἐν ὑμῖν[6]” is “fronted as a topical frame, making a topical shift to a specific group of recipients,” and in this case it is the elders (Πρεσβυτέρους).[7] Moreover, the word “οὖν” (Therefore), is being used to introduce a new exhortation, which is possibly linking back to the judgment in 1 Peter 4:17.[8] This concept of judgment starting “with God’s own people is already found in Ezekiel 9:6 and Jeremiah 25[32]:29.”[9] Feldmeier explains that while the judgment “in the Prophetic text... is about a judgment of annihilation… in 1 Peter it is a judgment of purification.”[10] It is because of this judgment that God inspired Peter to give this exhortation to prepare elder/pastors to be shepherds of the people of God.
            The passage also states that Peter is a “witness of the sufferings of Christ.” This suffering can be taken as a “subjective genitive” as only referring to Christ’s suffering. On the other hand, it makes a bit more sense to translate it as an attributive genitive. Dubis translates it with an attributive genitive, which would result in the suffering being a “Messianic suffering” - a broader suffering of both “Jesus and believers.”[11] For example, in the preceding verses in 1 Peter 4:13 Peter calls the people of God to share in the “sufferings of Christ.” This is paralleled by Paul in Romans 8:17-18 which states:
And if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.  For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” [bold added].

1 Peter 5:2-4 states, "Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherds appears, you will receive the unfading crown of Glory." This command powerfully commands elders/pastors to shepherd the flock of God. The concept of shepherding (ποιμαίνω) conveys two key ideas: first, caring for and nurturing the flock and second, protecting and leading.[12]  Therefore, Peter is calling pastors/elders to fill in the role of being a shepherd, being leaders in the church and leading by nurturing and protecting. Moreover, Peter emphasizes this idea more by exhorting the elder/pastors to exercise “oversight.”  According to BDAG, the word “ἐπισκοποῦντες” or oversight means to “accept responsibility to care for someone.”[13] In other words, elders and pastors are responsible for willingly nurturing, protecting, and leading the people of God, because these are the tasks that God has given them.
Furthermore, Peter exhorts the elders/pastors to not let wrong desires be the motivation to lead. The role of being a pastor is not for those who are greedy, or power hungry. Rather, the motivation should be based on Christ’s resurrection as mentioned in 1 Peter 1, and on the hope of obtaining the victor’s wreath of glory (1 Pet 1:4; 5:4). Not to mention the fact that when Christ returns, He will set up his Kingdom, of which every believer is a citizen. Elders/pastors should also serve with eagerness, just as one should eagerly wait for Christ’s return because each one is called and entrusted by God with His people. Thus, one should serve willingly out of eagerness, because he or she is waiting for the return of Christ and the rewards that come along with that return. On the other hand, one could at least serve out of reverential fear of God. Again this section of passages is directly linked to the warning in 1 Peter  4:17a, which states, “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God.” Indeed, there will come a time of judgment where each elder/pastor will stand before God and give an account of why they did not shepherd the people of God.
Biblical Theology of Shepherding
First, God is the one who calls and gives the responsibility of shepherd, for as Acts 20:28 states, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” The word here for overseers is, “ἐπίσκοπος”, and can be translated this way, “the Holy Spirit has made you [responsible for safeguarding or seeing to it that (the church is cared for) in the correct way].”[14] The basic concept then for an overseer is being made a guardian of the church by the Holy Spirit.
Second, one cannot fully understand the concept of shepherding the people of God (the sheep) without studying Ezekiel chapter 34. This chapter is an allegory about shepherds and sheep, to explain the exile of the nation of Judah, and is “based on the ancient image of the king as a shepherd… [and] places the blame …on [Israel’s] wicked shepherds.”[15]   Ezekiel 34:1-10 is an explanation of how the shepherds were neglectful and abusive leaders. This is a perfect example of how God called and gave a responsibility to the shepherds [kings] of Israel, but due to their neglect the sheep were sickly, broken, and scattered (Ezk 34:1-6). In response to this, God thorough Ezekiel held Israel accountable by punishing them through the Babylonian captivity.[16] The fact is that neglectful shepherds do not just hurt themselves, but they also hurt the people of God, because it was not just the shepherds who ended up in the captivity but also the sheep.  In the end, poor leadership, neglect, and abusive power caused God’s wrath to fall upon the shepherds and the flock.
After those horrible shepherds failed, God promised a new, more perfect shepherd who is of course fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Matthew 2:6 states in reference to Jesus, “‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; for out of you shall come forth a ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.”  The prophecy continues promising to rescue the scattered (11-12) and to bring justice to those who are weak and downtrodden (20).  Today, as seen in 1 Peter 5:2-3, God still calls elders/pastors to be shepherds.  The question then is when Christ returns, does one want to be found as a shepherd who abuses his or her power and neglected the flock, or does one wishes to found as one who followed God’s will and received the victory wreath of glory.
Thirdly, shepherds are called to proclaim the Word of God. Paul states in Colossians 1:28, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (ESV). The idea here is that the teachers/elders should proclaim the gospel and teach in the wisdom of God, so that when Christ returns those who are under the teacher/elder’s care will be mature before Christ at the Bema Seat. This indeed is the goal, to be “responsible for safeguarding or seeing to it that (the church is cared for) in the correct way.” This is the call that the Holy Spirit makes on each elder and pastor. Part of this declaration of God’s word sometimes is not easy. God called Ezekiel to be a watchman which involved going out and declaring God’s message to the people of Israel (Ezk 33:7). This message was one of judgment (the Babylonian captivity), and then one of a messianic hope (Jesus).
Conclusion
In conclusion, 1 Peter 5:1-4 is a call to elders and pastors to be good stewards of their role as shepherds, whose task is to lead with care, nurturing the people of God. In a way, the shepherds are by the power of the Holy Spirit, the safety nets of the flock - helping each sheep grow spiritually in their daily walk with God. The shepherd’s actions should result in the spiritual growth of the flock, and serve as a means to help prevent spiritual wandering. Meanwhile, if any sheep does wander, a shepherd’s heart is one to seek out the sheep and try to bring them back to the fold.  This also means that churches need to have enough staff to meet the needs of the flock. If one pastor cannot meet the demands of each member of the flock, then the elder/pastor needs to train up more shepherds. When training these shepherds, they should be taught to reverentially fear God, and to hold onto the hope of receiving the victor’s wreath of glory.  The task of leading and nurturing the body of Christ is no small task, because of daily trials and persecution.  Therefore, pastors and elders need to rely on Christ’s atoning work, eagerly awaiting the return of Christ, by faithfully serving God’s flock.  This is done so that when Christ does return, the elder/pastor can obtain the inheritance, which hopefully will include the presentation   of the members of his or her personal flock as mature in Christ.


[1] 1 Peter 5:12 states, “Through Silvanus” this has been understood by some scholars to mean that Silvanus was possibly Silas, and that either he wrote the letter for peter or at least was the one who delivered the letter to the different churches and gave the message to them. Norman Hillyer, 1 and 2 Peter, Jude, (NIBCNT; Peabody: Paternoster; 1992)147.
[2]Hillyer, 1 and 2 Peter, Jude, 3-4.
[3] (πρεσβύτερος) is used in the New Testament 66 times of which 60 times is referring to Elder or Elders, not just as one’s senior but that conveys a sense of authority or position.
[4] J. Ramsey Michaels. 1Peter. (WBC 49; Dallas: World Book Publisher, 1988)287.
[5] All Biblical references are in NASB unless noted.
[6] Cited NA 27, 1993.
[7] Mark Dubis, 1Peter: A Handbook on the Greek Text, (Waco, Baylor University Press, 2010)158.
[8]  Dubis, 1Peter, 159.
[9] Reinhard Feldmeier, The First Letter of Peter: A commentary on the Greek Text, (Waco, Baylor University Press, 2008), 228.
[10] Feldmeier, The First Letter of Peter,228.
[11] Dubis, 1Peter, 148.
[12] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (3rd ed.; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 842.
[13] BDAG, 379.
[14] My modified translation based on BDAG, ἐπίσκοπος, 379.
[15] Steven Tuell, Ezekiel, (NIBCOT; Peabody: Paternoster; 2009)236.
[16] John F. Walvord, Every Prophecy of the Bible,( Colorado Springs, David C. Cook Publishing,  2011)177.
This Paper was written for fulfillment of MS 502 in  May 2012 so I ask that if you decide to use any of the information above please cite and give credit where credit is due. Thanks and God Bless.