elder (of the church)

The Greek that is translated as “elder” in most English versions (“presbyter” in The Orthodox New Testament, 2000) is translated as “Old-Man Leader” in Eastern Highland Otomi (source: John Beekman in Notes on Translation November 1964, p. 1-22) and in Bacama as mi kpan-kpani vɨnə hiutə: “big/old person of house of prayer” (source: David Frank in this blog post ).

Other translations include:

  • “the people who command among the people of Jesus” in Lalana Chinantec
  • “the old men who watched over the believers” in Morelos Nahuatl
  • “the ones guarding the brethren” in Isthmus Mixe (source for this and two above: Viola Waterhouse in Notes on Translation August 1966, p. 86ff.)
  • “the old men who believe” in Sayula Popoluca
  • “those who care for the assembly of Christ” in Rincón Zapotec
  • “those in authority among the brothers” in Central Mazahua
  • “the supervisors of the creed” in Guhu-Samane (source for this and three above: Ellis Deibler in Notes on Translation July, 1967, p. 5ff.)
  • “those who have taken on responsibilities in the congregation” in German (das Buch translation by Roland Werner, publ. 2009-2022)

See also elder (of the community).


The Greek that is often translated as “appoint” in English has the option of various terms in Luang with different shades of meaning.

For Mark 13:20, naliri-natoha (“choose-move”) was chosen. This is used if “choosing something to set aside for future use, with the additional idea that there are a large number of objects being chosen as opposed to only one and connoting separating/sifting of the good from the bad.”

For Acts 4:12, ntutmata-nkewra’a (“point eyes-lift chin”) was chosen. This is used when “appointing one special person to do a very special job that no one else can do. The focus is also on a special person doing the choosing. This is often the term used in verses that speak of what Jesus Christ was appointed to do and of how Paul was an apostle chosen by God.”

For Acts 14:23 and Titus 1:5, rana (“lift up”) was chosen. This is used for “people choosing people to be over them. This is often the term used for the appointing of elders of the church.”

Source: Kathy Taber in Notes on Translation 1/1999, p. 9-16.

See also appoint (Japanese honorifics).

complete verse (Titus 1:5)

Following are a number of back-translations of Titus 1:5:

  • Uma: “My intention in ordering you to stay in Kreta, [is] so that you take-care-of our work that is not yet done. So, like what I already ordered you, raise religious leaders in every town/village there.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “I left you there on the island of Kerete so that you would be-able-to-make-right/fix/attend to whatever was not yet finished, and so that you could also choose people to be made elders for the people who trust in Isa Almasi in all the places on Kerete island. Remember my instruction to you (sing.):” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “The reason I left you behind in Crete is so that you might finish the works that we (dual) did not finish and so that you might also choose in each town the elders who can be trusted by the believers. When you choose the elders, do what I charged you to do.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “The reason for my-leaving you (sing.) in Creta was so that you (sing.) would arrange/put-in-order what is not yet made-right and appoint leaders in each congregation in the collective-towns there. Don’t forget what I instructed you (sing.) concerning who is to be appointed.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “I left you there at Creta so that you would set up properly the believers there, and follow/obey my instruction that you install some as overseers in every place where there are believers now.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “I left you there in the land of Crete so that you would complete what words were lacking among the believers. In each of the towns where the believers meet, you were to appoint me to be leaders. I already have told you the kind of men you should appoint.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)

Translation commentary on Titus 1:5

Quoted with permission from Arichea, Daniel C. and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to Titus. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1995. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Titus is here identified as being on the island of Crete when this letter was written. I left you implies that Paul and Titus were together in Crete some time before the writing of this letter; there is, however, no record of this event in the New Testament. The only record of Paul’s visit to the islands is during his long journey to Rome, when the ship he was in had to make an emergency landing in Crete because of a strong wind (see Acts 27.1-13).

The text clearly states the reason why Paul left Titus in Crete. Amend translates a verb that means “to set right,” “to correct,” “to put in order” (Good News Translation); while what was defective is literally “the things that are left (undone),” hence “the things that still needed doing” (Good News Translation), “what remained to be done” (New Revised Standard Version). The context shows clearly that this has reference to the condition of the Cretan church; in fact it is even possible to equate “the things that still needed doing” with appoint elders in every town, in which case the organization (or polity) of the church is the primary concern (compare Jerusalem Bible “for you to get everything organized there and appoint elders”; New Jerusalem Bible has changed the focus somewhat: “for you to organise everything that still had to be done and appoint elders”). It is, however, possible to take the statement in a more general sense to include many things (for example, sound doctrine, chapter 2), among which is church organization. This in fact is how Revised English Bible has rendered the text: “you should deal with any outstanding matters, and in particular should appoint elders….”

The word for appoint means to assign someone to a particular office, hence to designate. For elders see 1 Tim 4.14 and 5.1. The term here definitely refers to an office within the church; the translation “older men” is excluded by the context. Every town is literally “according to town,” which can be translated “town by town.” Town translates the word that is usually translated “city.” A city in biblical times would be somewhat different from a modern city, since modern cities are usually defined in terms of area, population, and importance; and if these criteria are used for biblical places, very few would qualify as cities. In the present context, therefore, town is a much more appropriate term to use. In cultures where towns do not exist, but only villages of various sizes, one may express towns as “large villages” or “places with many houses.” It is also possible to say “a large village with a strong wall (or, fence) around it.”

Two other issues need to be addressed. First, does this mean that for each town in Crete there would be one or more designated elders? We cannot be sure, of course, of the number of towns in Crete at that time. But it is doubtful whether Christianity had spread so widely that there was an organized Christian congregation in every town. Nor is it likely that there were towns where there were more than one congregation, as Contemporary English Version could imply (“to appoint leaders for the churches in each town”). More likely, then, Titus is being told to appoint elders for every church in Crete, that is, for every town where there is a church.

Secondly, there is the problem of the mechanics of appointing elders. Simply put, the question is, does Titus have the authority to appoint elders by himself, or are the congregations involved in some way? If Titus can appoint elders, what in fact is the position that he holds which gives him such authority? There are of course no clear answers to these questions, and every Christian group or denomination will give explanations that are in agreement with its own form of church government. Fortunately for translators, they do not have to come to any definite answers regarding these questions before they can translate the text in a clear and meaningful manner.

The word for directed occurs only here in the Pastoral Letters. There is a difference of opinion among interpreters as to what as I directed you is connected with. Revised Standard Version illustrates one option, identifying the appointment of elders as the antecedent of directed. Good News Translation represents a second option, where as I directed you points forward and refers to the qualifications of elders in verse 6. Both options are valid, and translators must make sure that the option they have chosen is clearly depicted in their translation.

Alternative translation models for the last part of this verse are:

• … and appoint church leaders in every town as I instructed you.


• … and appoint elders in every town where there is a group of believers. Remember what I told you, they….

Quoted with permission from Arichea, Daniel C. and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to Titus. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1995. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .