proistemi (greek) – Strong’s 4291

proistemi (verb) – lead, rule over, manage

In Laymans Terms

The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT) says it best, but it has a lot of details. In summary, when this word is used, leading cannot be separated from caring and serving and still be considered leading in the church setting. This word is used in some very crucial locations related to our subject of leadership, authority and submission. Any places this word is used in the Bible are not good places to support any ideas of command authority.

From Strong’s Lexicon

  1. to set or place before
    1. to set over
    2. to be over, to superintend, preside over
    3. to be a protector or guardian
      1. to give aid
      2. to care for, give attention to

Strong, J. (2001). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

From Theological Dictionary of the New Testament

The eight instances of προΐστημι in the NT contain only intransitive forms of the verb. They occur in the Pauline corpus.

In most cases proistemi (προΐστημι) seems to have sense a. “to lead” but the context shows in each case that one must also take into account sense b, “to care for” . This is explained by the fact that caring was the obligation of leading members of the infant Church. Thus Paul says in Romans 12:8: ὁ μεταδιδοὺς ἐν ἁπλότητι, ὁ προϊστάμενος ἐν σπουδῇ, ὁ ἐλεῶν ἐν ἱλαρότητι. Here the second expression is plainly analogous to the other two, which both refer to works of love. The meaning, then, is somewhat as follows: “He who gives let him do so with simplicity, he who cares with zeal, he who does good with cheerfulness.” Yet the whole passage is speaking of the gifts of grace imparted to different office-bearers, so that οἱ προϊστάμενοι are a special group separated by the Spirit for the primary task of caring for others (cf. ἀντιλήμψεις, κυβερνήσεις, 1 Corinthians 12:28). The position is the same in 1 Thessalonians 5:12: εἰδέναι τοὺς κοπιῶντας ἐν ὑμῖν καὶ προϊσταμένους ὑμῶν ἐν κυρίῳ καὶ νουθετοῦντας ὑμᾶς. According to the context the task of the προϊστάμενοι is in large measure that of pastoral care, and the emphasis is not on their rank or authority but on their efforts for the eternal salvation of believers. How far there is already reference to specific offices in these passages from Romans and 1 Thessalonians is a matter of lively debate; the endowment with the Spirit presupposed in Romans is no argument against this thesis, since Spirit and office are not antithetical in the NT, e.g., Matthew 7:29; Acts 6:3. In 1 Timothy again, where the verb and especially the participle occurs repeatedly, the ideas of guiding and caring are both present. In this case the reference is quite definitely to official leaders in the churches. 1 Timothy. 3:4 describes an acceptable overseer (ἐπίσκοπον) as a man who rules (προϊστάμενον) his own house well and can keep his children under control. We then read: “If a man know not how to rule (προστῆναι) his own house, how shall he take care of (ἐπιμελήσεται) the church of God?” 1 Timothy 3:5. Here, then, “to rule” is the same as “to take care of.” Cf. also 1 Timothy 5:8: “But if he provide not (προνοεῖ) for his own, and specially for those of his own house …” Then 1 Timothy 3:12 describes good deacons as those who care well (προϊστάμενοι) for their own houses (families and servants). The author certainly has in view the authority of the head of the household (patria potestas) but his attention is primarily directed, not to the exercise of power, but to the discretion and care to be shown therein. Finally, 1 Timothy 5:17 says that καλῶς προεστῶτες πρεσβύτεροι are worthy of double reward, especially those who labour in the word and teaching. The context shows that the reference is not merely to elders who rule well but especially to those who exercise a sincere cure of souls. The second half of the verse makes their diligence in pastoral care the criterion. This is not to deny that here, too, the προϊστάμενοι have a special dignity and play a leading role as elders. In all these instances, however, the verb has in the NT the primary senses of both “to lead” and “to care for,” and this agrees with the distinctive nature of office in the NT, since according to Luke 22:26 the one who is chief (ὁ ἡγούμενος) is to be as he who serves.

How significant the idea of care is in NT προΐσταμαι may be seen from the fact that προστάτις is the word for “protectress” or “patroness” in Romans 16:2. Similarly προστάτης, which does not occur in the NT, means “protector” in 1 Cl., 36, 1; 61, 3; 64; it is always used here with ref. to Christ and in association with ἀρχιερεύς, so that again we have the twofold sense of leadership and care.

Vol. 6: Theological dictionary of the New Testament. 1964- (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (701–703). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

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