If the elders of a local church constitute an organized body, then this would lend weight to the argument that local elders represent a leadership group, and as a group they must have some recognized authority in the local church. If it is the case that there was a plurality of elders in each local church, then these elders must have functioned as a group in the oversight of the congregation. This means they had to work in harmony as they ministered to the church. When Paul called for the elders of the church in Ephesus to meet him in Miletus, there is no indication he was asking for the individual pastors/shepherds who had the oversight of each congregation (Acts 20:17), but it is not clear whether these elders represented all the churches in the city or just one congregation. There were probably many local churches in Ephesus and the number of Christians must have been quite large at this time.
As further evidence for a body of elders in each congregation, consider Paul’s instructions to Timothy regarding the laying on of hands of the elders: “Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you” (1 Timothy 4:14). This refers to a time when Timothy was set apart for the ministry of preaching, probably by his home congregation. Note also the circumstances surrounding the beginning of Paul’s first missionary journey: “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:2-3). Although the elders are not mentioned in this verse, someone from the church at Antioch laid their hands on Barnabas and Saul before they began this great ministry. Why did they do this? On occasions, the laying on of hands was associated with the ordination and setting apart of individuals to special leadership in the church. For example, Paul tells Timothy that he should “not be hasty in the laying on of hands” (1 Timothy 5:22). It is likely that the laying on of hands by Timothy in this text was in association with the appointment of elders. The body of elders who laid their hands on Timothy probably did so at the time when Paul imparted unto him a special gift. Paul says the gift came from the laying on of his hands: “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Timothy 1:6). Paul either imparted this “when” (at the time of) the elders laid their hands on Timothy or the elders also imparted to Timothy some kind of gift, perhaps the gift of his ministry.
J B Myers