(The Apostle Peter's 1st Epistle)

by Al Maxey

Among all the "catholic," or "minor," epistles none has been more widely used or more highly respected during the history of the church than the first epistle attributed to the apostle Peter. None of the early church Fathers challenged the authenticity of this particular work, and nearly all quoted from it extensively. The most probable date for the composition of this letter is 64 A.D., just a year prior to Peter's execution in Rome. It was addressed "to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia." The majority of scholars believe it was written from the city of Rome. It is an epistle of hope in the face of persecution and suffering, and a testimony to the power of a Christ-like life to impact those living in darkness. One scholar wrote, "Here is the application of Jesus' teaching that His followers are the salt of the earth and the light of the world."

I Peter 5:1-4

With regard to the topic of elders, Peter, who was not only an apostle and evangelist but also an elder (I Peter 5:1), makes several observations in a passage near the end of this epistle.

#1 --- "Shepherd the flock of God among you." It should be noted that the flock is God's; it does not belong to the elders. They are merely God's caretakers; trustees of that which belongs to another; watchmen who must one day give an account. The NIV reads, "Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care." It is also vital to note that the sheep are among the elders, and thus the shepherds are among the sheep. There is no idea of superiority or separation. The Greek word for "shepherd" is poimaino, which means "to shepherd; to perform the duties of a shepherd; to feed, pasture, tend, direct, and care for a flock." This word is used only twice with reference to elders (here and Acts 20:28).

#2 --- "Serving as overseers" (NIV). This is the Greek word episkopeo, which means "to look at; to see to something; to care for; to oversee." The NASB reads, "exercising oversight." The KJV has, "taking the oversight thereof." Although most translations include this phrase, there is nevertheless some doubt as to whether this word was actually a part of the original text (see: Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, p. 695-696). This word appears only one other time in the New Testament writings: "See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble" (Hebrews 12:15). An elder, thus, is a person who sees to the spiritual, and sometimes material, affairs of the flock of God.

#3 --- Elders are to serve "not under compulsion, but voluntarily." These are two Greek adverbs which are opposites. They speak of that which is done unwillingly and willingly. A man who serves as an elder must do so willingly; he must have a desire to serve (I Timothy 3:1). Peter continues by saying not only must the spiritual leader of the flock provide willing service, but he must do so "with eagerness!" This is also an adverb, and it means "promptly, readily, heartily, cheerfully, eagerly."

#4 --- Elders are not to serve for the sake of "sordid gain" (NASB). Other translations are: "Not greedy for money" (NIV). "Not for shameful gain" (RSV). "Not for shameful profit" (NAB, St. Joseph edition). "Not for what you will get out of it" (LB). The elder does not accept this position of service in the Body of Christ because he hopes to personally profit from it (in the sense of worldly gain: Fame, fortune, power, etc.).

#5 --- "Not lording it over those entrusted to you" (NIV). "Nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge" (NASB). "Neither as being lords over God's heritage" (KJV). "Not as domineering over those in your charge" (RSV). "Not tyrannizing over those who are allotted to your care" (NEB). "Don't be tyrants!" (LB).

This is the Greek word katakurieuo, which is a combination of two words: The word for "lord" and a preposition meaning "down upon; down from." When joined together they convey the meaning, "to lord it down upon; to bring under one's power; to master, overcome, or domineer another." This is something which elders are not to do. God's spiritual leaders are among the flock as fellow sheep and servants, before the flock as guides and examples, but never above the flock in the sense of a master or tyrant. This word appears only 4 times within the pages of the New Covenant writings, 3 of which have to do with leadership, and in each case it is condemned! --- twice by Jesus Himself, who says that His leaders must not be little lords!! (Read: Matthew 20:20-28; Mark 10:35-45) --- The other occurrence of this word is Acts 19:16. Some scholars feel Diotrephes (III John 9-10) may have been a "tyrannical elder." (NOTE: Even Paul, as an apostle, did not feel he had the right to act as a "lord" over God's flock: "Not that we lord it over your faith, but we are workers with you for your joy" -- II Corinthians 1:24).

#6 --- "Being examples to the flock." This is the Greek word tupos, which means "to make an impression upon; a pattern, mold, or model from which something is made or fashioned." Once again we see that elders lead by the influence of the example or pattern or model of their godly lives. Their lives make an impression on others.

In vs. 4 Peter looks forward to the 2nd coming of Christ Jesus, and he makes a promise to those elders who have served the flock well: "And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away." Jesus, God's unique Son, is the "Shepherd and Guardian" of our souls (I Peter 2:25). If one truly desires to learn how best to serve as a shepherd/elder of the flock, he should look to Jesus and His example! "He is the supreme Shepherd of the flock, all others are undershepherds, who must learn their shepherding from Him" (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, p. 220). (NOTE: For an excellent discussion of both good and bad shepherds, read Ezekiel 34.)

"Then I will give you shepherds
after My own heart,
who will feed you on knowledge and understanding."
Jeremiah 3:15

"Like a shepherd He will tend His flock,
in His arm He will gather the lambs,
and carry them in His bosom;
He will gently lead the nursing ewes."
Isaiah 40:11

"I will feed My flock
and I will lead them to rest,"
declares the Lord God.
"I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered,
bind up the broken, and strengthen the sick."
Ezekiel 34:15-16

Home Page Elders Files