Presbytery

PRESBYTERY (prĕz'bĭ-têr-ē, Gr. presbyterion). The Christian elders who formally recognized Timothy’s spiritual gift (1Tim.4.14 kjv, nasb; jb, niv body of elders). The same word occurs in Luke.22.66 (elders kjv, mlb, neb; council of the elders niv) and Acts.22.5 for the organized body of Jewish elders in Jerusalem.


The central legislative and judicial body in presbyterian polity. It is composed of equal numbers of ruling elders and ministers (teaching elders) from each congregation within its geographical bounds. It exercises episcopal oversight over all the congregations under its jurisdiction, ordains candidates for the ministry, inducts ministers into congregational charges, acts as an appeal court from decisions of sessions, and transmits petitions and overtures to the provincial or national general assembly. Changes in the constitution (faith, polity, and worship) of the church are usually referred back to presbyteries under the Barrier Act* for their approval before the general assembly takes final action. The moderator or chairman is usually elected, although attempts have been made to have bishops as permanent chairmen. The classis in the Reformed churches corresponds to the presbytery in Presbyterian churches.

See also Presbyterianism.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

1. Words Used in the New Testament:


2. Based on the Synagogue Plan:


3. Principle Found in the New Testament:

In the New Testament history and epistles it does not appear that the various churches of a district were already organized into an ecclesiastical body known as "the presbytery," having some basis of representation from the constituent churches. But the absence of such mention is far from being final proof that such district organizations did not exist; little dependence can be placed on mere negative arguments. Moreover, the council of apostles and elders in Jerusalem, to which Paul and Barnabas appealed (Ac 15), is positive evidence of the principle of representation and central authority. The various district organizations would quickly follow as administrative and judicial needs demanded; such development came early in the growth of the church, so early that it is unmistakably present in the post-apostolic age.

In Revelation the 24 elders occupy a conspicuous place in the ideal church (Re 4:4,10; 5:6, etc.), sitting for those they represent, as an exalted presbytery, close to the throne of the Eternal One. "The four and twenty elders occupying thrones (not seats) around the throne are to be regarded as representatives of the glorified church; and the number, twice twelve, seems to be obtained by combining the number of the patriarchs of the Old Testament with that of the apostles of the New Testament" (Milligan on Re 4:4 in the Expositor’s Bible).

4. In the Presbyterian Church:

Presbytery is the court, or representative body, in the Presbyterian Church next above the Session of the local church. The Session is composed of the ruling elders, elected by the membership of a particular church, with the minister as moderator or presiding officer. The Presbytery is composed of all the ordained ministers, or teaching elders, and one ruling elder from the Session of each church in a given district or community. To it now, as in New Testament times (1Ti 4:14), is committed the power of ordination; as also of installation and removal of ministers. It has supervision of the affairs which are general to the churches in its jurisdiction, and the power of review in all matters concerning the local churches (see Form of Government, Presbyterian Church in U.S.A., chapter x). The Presbytery elects the representatives composing the General Assembly, which is the highest court of the Presbyterian Church.

5. In Architecture:

In ecclesiastical architecture the presbytery is that part of the church structure which is set apart for the clergy, usually the space between altar and apse; sometimes used of the whole choir space, but ordinarily the word is more restricted in its meaning.

See further, BISHOP; CHURCH; ELDER; GOVERNMENT.