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What's the difference between Elders,
Bishops and Pastors?

The term Elder was originally used to denote the older men of a Jewish community which governed and made the major decisions. In the New Testament, the term evolved into a description of a mature believer charged with spiritual supervision and ministry within the church, detached from the relationship with age. The terms elder, bishop and pastor are generally used interchangeably in the New Testament, although "elder" primarily refers to the person, while "bishop or pastor" deals with their office. "Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine" (1 Tim. 5:17).

A bishop means "an overseer," originally the principal officer or pastor of a local church, but later evolved into a position of supervision over multiple churches. "This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work" (1 Tim. 3:1).

In today's society, a Pastor is generally a minister and spiritual overseer of a church congregation — the same as an elder or bishop. Pastor was probably not intended to be as much a title, as it was an adjective to describe what he does. A pastor literally means "shepherd," a metaphoric description of one who cares for and leads a flock of God's sheep. One of five office gifts described in Ephesians 4:11.


This article is copyrighted by Dr. Dale A. Robbins, 1995, and is a publication of Victorious Publications, Grass Valley, CA 95949. Unless otherwise stated, all scripture references were taken from The New King James Bible, Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982.You may download for personal use as long as you retain credit to the author. Obtain permission before reproducing copies for any reason, by filling out our simple permission form. For media reproduction rights, or to obtain published quantities of this title, email us.