Do Elders Have Authority?

By Stan Cox

In our two previous articles, we answered the questions, “Who are elders?” and “What is the role or work of elders?” In doing so we showed that the concept of elders as taught in the pages of The Examiner is a plain perversion of New Testament Scripture. In this final article we answer the question, “Do elders have authority?”

Once again The Examiner finds itself in direct conflict with plain Bible teaching. One article representative of their error was found in the July 1987 issue of the magazine. The title of the article is “Do Elders Rule?” written by Dusty Owens. Amazingly, the entire article is taken up in an attempt to explain away certain passages of Scripture which plainly teach the authority of elders. He quotes Hebrews 13:17, which states, “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” His explanation of the verse? King James had his translators use such strong terms so that he could control the people through the church. This is just an example of the weak argumentation used by Holt’s group. Additionally, he quotes 1 Thessalonians 5:12, “And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves.” His answer to that verse? I quote, “Definitely, ‘over you’ is a biased translation of proistemi.”(1) He makes similar objections to the translation of 1 Timothy 3:4-5, and 1 Timothy 5:17. All of these words were “mistranslated” by the scholars who did the work. No wonder many of The Examiner writers and readers study from a translation prepared by one in their own group. Their doctrine simply does not jibe with what God’s word actually says.

The Scriptures stand on their own. Look at 1 Timothy 5:17, “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.” Look also at the parallel between the leadership an elder is to exercise in the local church with that in his own home. A parallel is found in I Timothy 3:4,5. “One who rules is own house well, having (his) children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?)” The most ludicrous thing in the entire article quoted above is that Dusty Owens denies this verse indicates a man has authority in his own household. Not that it should surprise us. If he is going to explain away the authority an elder has in the local congregation, then he must also explain away the authority a father has over his own children. If this passage teaches that a man has authority over. his own children and they must submit to that authority, then it teaches that an elder has authority in the local church. The parallel in the verse is obvious. And that is why he is put in the ridiculous position of denying the authority of the father in this verse.

Very quickly, I want to address a passage writers for The Examiner commonly abuse in an attempt to prove that elders do not have authority. It is found in Matthew 20:25-28. Here Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave -just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” The context indicates that Jesus was addressing a problem the disciples were having with pride and a desire for preeminence. The mother of James and John asked that Jesus give them a place of importance and power so that they might have prominence in the kingdom of God. She wanted for them to be sitting up there with Jesus on his throne, and to be more important than the others. This was very obviously wrong. Note this well, Jesus was not condemning authority in this text, but rather the abuse of authority as well as the lust for power that the disciples were guilty of at this time. It was the lust and abuse of authority to which he referred when he named the Gentiles. To deny that authority exists because of this passage would be to deny that Jesus himself had authority. Don’t forget the last part of this verse, “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Jesus came to serve, but that does not make his statement untrue when he said in Matthew 28:18, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.” A parallel can be stated with regard to elders. They are appointed to that office to serve, not to abuse their authority. That is what Peter is addressing in 1 Peter 5, when he states, “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by constraint but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” Peter is not in this passage denying that elders have authority. Rather he is observing that they do indeed have that authority, and in having it, they must be very careful not to abuse it.

Any verse which uses the term “oversee” or “shepherd” indicates authority. When a man is appointed to serve as an elder, the “appointment” in and of itself carries with it the power or authority to carry out the work assigned. We understand this in secular matters. When a congressman is elected, he is a servant of the people. That does not change the fact that he has been empowered by his election with the authority to write laws on behalf of the people. It is inherent in his office. When a judge is appointed to the bench, he arrives with the authority to carry out judgments over criminal or civil cases. Elders too have authority intrinsic in their appointment. Believe you me, if God established that office, and he did, he will give the men who serve in that work the power to fulfill their God-given responsibilities.

Writers and followers of The Examiner doctrine are fighting against God. They are trying to explain away what is plainly taught in the Scriptures. They reject common and accepted scholarship with regard to translations and definitions. They develop long and twisted logic to escape the import of plain Bible passages. Their argument is not with us, their argument is with God!


1. “Do Elders Rule?” The Examiner, Vol. 11, No. 4 (July, 1987), p. 9.

Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 9, pp. 266-267
May 7, 1992