The term elder, or old man as the Hebrew literally imports, was one of extensive use, as an official title, among the Hebrews and the surrounding nations, because the heads of tribes and the leading people who had acquired influence were naturally the older people of the nation. It had reference to various offices. (Genesis 24:2; 50:7; 2 Samuel 12:17; Ezekiel 27:9) As betokening a political office, it applied not only to the Hebrews, but also to the Egyptians, (Genesis 50:7) the Moabites and the Midianites. (Numbers 22:7) The earliest notice of the elders acting in concert as a political body is at the time of the Exodus. They were the representatives of the people, so much so that elders and people are occasionally used as equivalent terms; comp, and you can find more about that here on st-takla.org on other commentaries and dictionary entries. (Joshua 24:1) with (Joshua 24:2,19,21) and (1 Samuel 8:4) with (1 Samuel 8:7,10,19) Their authority was undefined, and extended to all matters concerning the public weal. Their number and influence may be inferred from (1 Samuel 30:26)ff. They retained their position under all the political changes which the Jews underwent. The seventy elders mentioned in Exodus and Numbers were a sort of governing body, a parliament, and the origin of the tribunal of seventy elders called the Sanhedrin or Council. In the New Testament Church the elders or presbyters were the same as the bishops. It was an office derived from the Jewish usage of elders or rulers of the synagogues.
Main reference: Smith's Bible Dictionary (1860s)
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