Were the apostles also elders and can there be unmarried elders?


My prayer is that all is well. I have questions regarding the eldership and its qualifications. Based on what the scripture teaches regarding the elders’ qualification (and work to a degree), we read about them in I Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9 (along with Acts 20:28, Ephesians 4:11; and I Peter 5:1-4). Additionally, only the apostles were able to lay hands and give the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 6:6; 8:14-19; 19:6; II Timothy 1:6). Based on this information, I have two questions:

First, were the apostles also elders based on Acts 1:20 (bishoprick), I Timothy 4:14 (presbytery), and John 21:15-17 (feed) though Peter and John identified themselves as such (I Peter 5:12; II John 1; and III John 1).

If so, this relates to the next question, which clearly contradicts being a married elder (I Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6; I Corinthians 7:10). I viewed a few commentaries: James Burton Coffman, Dummelow and Barnes but did not receive quite the clarification.

I also bring this up because in one of your articles “What happens if an elder’s wife dies?” (December 26, 2004), it was stated that if an elder’s wife dies, then he, too, must step down, which contradicts one of the teachers at the Memphis School of Preaching, who stated that each congregation could look into this matter, determine if they wanted to do it, or not, and avoid causing confusion in doing so.

I know these are tough topics and it seems as if my thinking regarding the unmarried elder as it relates to Paul and his work might be flawed. Therefore, could you please explain these matters so that I can get a better understanding?

Thank you and God bless.


A person can hold multiple roles in the church. For instance, "The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching" (I Timothy 5:17) mentions men who are serving both as elders and preachers. This doesn't mean every elder is a preacher; in fact, the wording of the verse makes it clear that not all elders preach. So while there are multiple duties in the church (Ephesians 4:11) it is wrong to conclude that they are exclusive duties.

Peter and John were elders (I Peter 5:1; II John 1) but Paul is never called an elder. Your use of I Timothy 4:11 and II Timothy 1:6 is addressed in Didn't the elders pass miraculous gifts to Timothy? These passages indicated that the elders had laid their hands on Timothy as Paul through prophecy passed on the gift of the Holy Spirit. This does not indicate that Paul was one of the elders. John 21:15-19 is Jesus' statement to Peter exclusively. "Jesus said to Simon Peter ..." (John 21:15). It was not directed to the rest of the apostles.

"For it is written in the book of Psalms, 'Let his homestead be made desolate, and let no one dwell in it'; and, 'Let another man take his office'" (Acts 1:20). The Greek word episkope refers to an inspection, visitation, or the position of an overseer. Just as apostles, prophets, elders, preachers, and teachers are all involved in teaching the church (Ephesians 4:11-12), apostles and elders have roles in overseeing the church. The difference in the roles is the realm that is covered. Apostles worked with the church in the universal sense. They laid down the laws given from heaven (Matthew 16:19) and they oversaw the churches (II Corinthians 11:28). Elders, however, work with a local church (Titus 1:5). They also watch over people's souls, but the number of people they care for is far more limited. Thus, while there is an overlap of duty, this doesn't prove that all apostles were elders or that all elders were apostles.

Commentators and teachers are merely men. They are not a source of authority. It makes no difference to me that something I point out from the Bible's text contradicts some teachers. The simple fact is that Paul listed out a number of qualifications that elders must have in I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. Both lists mention that elders must be the husband of one wife.


Brother Hamilton,

Thank you very much. I don’t have a dog in this fight. I, too, want my information to be sound and your site has provided a wealth of thoughts. I really appreciate your explanation.

Currently, at our congregation, where we have many older, sincere members, we are studying some very tough topics where disputes have arisen based on what many of the past preachers have taught.

I agree with your assessments regarding the commentators; however, the schools are really pushing certain scholars, which I’m using along with my own deep studies, which is how I came up with the questions that I presented.

Nevertheless, I thank you very much and I really appreciate your prompt response. God bless you, sir.

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