Elder In the Old Testament

el’-der, (zaqen):

Among primitive peoples authority seems naturally to be invested in those who by virtue of greater age and, consequently, experience are best fitted to govern thus Iliad iii.149. Later the idea of age became merged in that of dignity (Il. ii.404, ii.570; Odyssey ii.14). In like manner the word patres came to be used among the Romans (Cic. Rep. 2,8,14). So also among the Germans authority was entrusted to those who were older; compare Tacitus Agricola. The same is true among the Arabians to the present day, the sheik being always a man of age as well as of authority.

The elders served as local magistrates, in bringing murderers to trial (De 19:12; 21:1 ff; Jos 20:4), punishing a disobedient son (De 21:19), inflicting penalty for slander (De 22:15), for noncompliance with the Levirate marriage law (De 25:7 ff), enforcing the Law (De 27:1), conducting the service in expiation of unwitting violation of the Law (Le 4:13 ff).

In certain passages different classes of officers are mentioned as "judges and officers" (De 16:18), "elders" and "officers" (De 31:28), "heads, tribes, elders officers" (De 29:10; Hebrew 9). It is probable that both classes were selected from among the elders, and that to one class was assigned the work of judging, and that the "officers" exercised executive functions (Schurer). In entirely Jewish communities the same men would be both officers of the community and elders of the synagogue. In this case the same men would have jurisdiction over civil and religious matters.


Schurer, GJV3, section 23, especially 175 ff Eng. edition, II, i, 149 ff; Benzinger, H A2, 51; Deissmann, Bibelstudien, 153 ff (sv. ...); BDB, 278 (...); Preuschen, Griechisch-Deutsches Handworterbuch, under the word, 958 f.