The Presbyter: Jewish Elder to Christian Priest

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Theological Seminary


Religion, MA: New Testament

First Advisor

Robert M. Johnston

Second Advisor

Daniel A. Augsburger

Third Advisor

Nancy J. Vyhmeister



In the NT the elder functioned as a local church leader roughly equivalent to the bishop. The priesthood was comprised of all believers, with Christ as the High Priest. The Christian sacrifices were the believers giving themselves completely to God and sharing with each other. However, sometime between the time of the NT and the end of the fourth century A.D. the presbyter (elder) became a priest, subordinate to the bishop, offering to God the eucharist as a sacrifice for sin. As a minister in the one true church, he helped the laity do penance when they had sinned in order to appease God and receive salvation. The stark difference between these two pictures of the presbyter invites investigation into how and when the office of presbyter developed from a Jewish elder into a Christian priest.


Through bibliographic research and computer searches of priest terminology in early Latin and Greek works, the relevant primary source material was located and analyzed to understand what changes developed. The time when these changes occurred and how the change factors enhanced the development of a Christian priesthood were considered.


A crooked path leading from elder to priest was discovered and synthesized into five stages of development toward the presbyter as Christian priest.


The Christian ministry remained dynamic for centuries after the NT. By the early third century the bishop became the priest and then shared his priestly authority and functions progressively with the presbyters.

Subject Area

Elders (Church officers), Priesthood, Clergy -- History

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0 International License.