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That the primitive Apostolical pattern holdeth forth unto us for our imitation, a Presbytery, i.e., an Assembly of Elders, having power of Ordination, with laying on of hands.


That the primitive Apostolical pattern holdeth forth unto us for our imitation, a Presbytery, i.e., an Assembly of Elders, having power of Ordination, with laying on of hands.

James Dodson


George Gillespie,
Scottish Commissioner
To the Assembly of Divines
At Westminster.




This I gather from 1. Tim: 4.14. neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophesy, with the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery, I have already evinced from this Text, the necessity of Ordination. Let us now see, whether it doth not also shew us the right hands, unto which Christ hath committed this power. It is a Text most miserably darkened and obscured by controversial Glosses, put upon it by Popish and Prelatical writers: Some would have πρεσβυτεριον here to be a company of Bishops, who were both Elders, and more then Elders as they hold. This Interpretation had so little probability of reason to strengthen it, that it was abandoned by some of the ablest friends of Episcopacy; Camero: praelect: in Mat: 18.17. Dr. Forbes’ Irenic: lib. 2. cap: 11. pag: 161. And why should we understand by Presbytery, a company of Bishops, when it is yielded even by writers of that side, that in these Cities where the Apostles planted the Gospel, there was Collegium Presbyterorum, a College or company of Presbyters. So Mr. Thorndike, of the government of Churches, cap. 3. The author of the History of Episcopacy, part: 2. pag: 28. &c. Both of them in this following Hooker. It was also acknowledged by them, that this College of Presbyters did together with the Apostles lay on hands in Ordination, thereby contributing their blessing and assisting with their prayers, Whence (as was alleged) came the custom of the Presbyters, their laying on of hands in the Ordination, together with the Bishop, conc: Carthag: 4. can: 3. so that even themselves say as much as may make us understand by πρεσβυτεριον in this Text, Concessus Presbyterorum as Camero calls it. The footsteps of Ordination by Presbyteries might be seen, not only in that Canon of Carthage, but in the Canon law itself, which appointeth the same thing, Dist: 23. cap: 8. Both Ambrose in Ephes: 4. and Augustine in quaest: ex utroque Test. 4. 101. bear witness that Presbyters did ordain in Egypt, when a Bishop was not present, Dr. Forbesse Irenie: lib: 2. pag. 177. citeth out of Panormitan, Olim Presbyteri in communi regebant Ecclesiam & ordinabant sacerdotes.

There is another Gloss which the Erastians (who love not the name of Presbytery, with any power at all jure divino) are glad to take hold off. ‘Tis that which Bilson, Stutlivius and other Episcopal writers made use of, distrusting (as it should seeme) that other Interpretation last mentioned: And they had it from Bellarmine, and some Popish expositors. See Gorranus upon the place: I confess it was also one of Calvin’s few (for they were but very few) mistakes, and ‘tis diligently caught at by those who set at naught Calvin’s judgment in other things. But quandoque dormitat Homerus.

I think it worth the while to examine this Gloss. And I shall offer these reasons following, to make it appear that πρεσβυτεριον is not here the office of an Elder, but the Assembly of Elders, commonly called the Presbytery. 1. The word πρεσβυτεριον is nowhere used by the holy Ghost, for the office itself, or degree of an Elder: But ‘tis used in two other places in the new Testament, for an Assembly or Council of Elders, Luke 22.66. Acts 22.5. in which places Arias Montanus rendereth it by Senatus. Beza in the first of these places, retaineth the word Presbyterium. In the other place, both his version and the Tigurine hath totus Seniorum ordo. But the old English translation, readeth the company of Elders. However, both places are clearly meant of the company of Elders, not of the office itself, for the office of Elders could not meet together, as in that place of Luke: Neither could the office of Elders bear witness to Paul, as in that place of the Acts. Mr. Selden in his upon Ebraica, lib: 1. cap: 15. understands the word πρεσβυτεριον in both these places to be used by Luke, for the great Sanhedrin, the highest Assembly of Elders. Now then, why shall we not understand the same word, 1 Tim: 4.14. to be the Assembly, not the office itself of Elders. And I shall aske those who think the Apostle means the office of Elders, upon what imaginable ground can they conceive that this is the Apostles meaning, or how come they to divine this thing, or how could the Apostles words be understood in that sense? The holy Ghost never useth the word in that sense. The Septuagint never use the word in that sense, for they use it not at all. No Greek Author that lived before Paul, can be found to have used the word in that sense, for the word itself is not found in heathen writers. I find only one place where the word πρεσβυτεριον is conceived to be used for the office of an Elder. And that is in the Apocrypha story of Susanna vers: 50. But H: Stephanus, tom: 3. pag: 545. makes a doubt whether it should not be written in that signification πρεσβυτερέιον, and suppose it be to be read there πρεσβυτεριον, yet that Greek is not so old as Paul, for it is ascribed to Theodotio, as Mr. Seldon tells us in that place last cited out of him. Yea, the Jesuits of the English College of Douay in their Bible acknowledge, that this story is translated out of Theodotion’s edition, and this is the oldest Original which they can alledge for it. And besides this it may be understood of the Assembly of Elders, when the Elders say to Daniel, ὁτι σοί δεδωκεν ὁ θεος το πρεσβυτεριον, which those Jesuits of Douay render thus, because God hath given thee the honor of old age. Others the honor of an Elder, or an ancient. But I know no reason why the word may not here signifie there Assembly of Elders. God hath given thee the Assembly of Elders, that is, God hath given thee thy petition, and thy desire, which was the meeting again of the Assembly of Elders, as is plaine by the verses preceeding: Even as God gave to his praying children this present Parliament.

2. If the Apostle had meant to express the dignity or degree of an Elder, he would rather have used the word πρεσβεία or πρεσβέιον, which Greek writers use pro senum honore vel dignitate, then πρεσβυτεριον, which is not used in that sense.

3. And if he had meant to stir up Timothy from the honor or dignity of that office and degree, which was conferred upon him he had rather mentioned the degree of an Evangelist, than of an Elder. Even as he saith to him elsewhere, do the work of an Evangelist.

4. The very Popish Interpreters are forced to confesse that the Apostle means an Assembly of Elders, Plurium Presbyterorum, saith Mariana: caetus Presbyterorum, saith Salmeron, Esthius upon the place noteth, that imposition of hands, was à pluribus adhibita, according to that Canon of Carthage. Hugo Cardinalis, noteth here the great honor of Presbyters, that three of them at least, laid on hands in Ordination.

Wherefore I can see no sense which can agree to the Text, but that which is the ordinary and known sense of the word; πρεσβυτεριον, that is an Assembly of Elders. In which sense it is also frequently used by ancient writers, whereof, he that will, may read good store of examples in D. Blondelli Apollogia pro sententia Hieronymi. pag: 89 90.

It hath been objected by some, that 1 Tim: 4.14. holds forth no president for ordinary Presbyteries, because 1. Here is mention of prophesy which was an extraordinary thing, 2. Timothy, was ordained by the laying on of the Apostle Paul his hands, 2. Tim: 1.6. Lastly Timothy was an Evangelist, and how could a Presbyter ordain an Evangelist?

Answ: 1. Those very things which are objected, to depress the Presbytery, do put upon it so much the more abundant honor. Although prophesies had gone before concerning Timothy, and some extraordinary predictions, 1 Tim: 1. 18. Although likewise the Apostle Paul himself is supposed to have been present, and to have laid on hands at the same time, yet neither the extraordinary prophesies, nor the laying on of the hands of an Apostle, did swallow up, take away or hinder the ordinary power and right of the Presbytery, to be acted and put forth in the ordaining of Timothy, or did exempt Timothy from entering by that ordinary door, and passage, through those ordinary hands of the Presbytery.

2. ‘Tis not certain, that either the prophetical predictions concerning Timothy, (which the Apostle calls προαγουσας, praegress as, or quae praecesserunt) or the laying on of Paul’s hands, was at the same time with the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery. But whether these things were done together, or at several times, ‘tis very observable, that to these the Apostle prefixeth διὰ by, but to the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery, μετά with, 1 Tim: 1.6. that thou stir up the gift which is in thee, by the putting on of my hands. 1 Tim: 4.14. the gift which was given thee by prophesy: then he addeth with (not by) the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery: By this change of the phrase on purpose intimating, that the prophesy and laying on of Paul’s hands, were things extraordinary, because by these the gift, aptitude, and ability of parts, or the δυναμις was given to Timothy, but the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery, was according to the ordinary rule then and there settled, being a rite used in Ordination, so that Timothy had not by the act of the Presbytery, any gift or δυναμις, but the εξουσια or a potestative, authoritative Ministerial Mission (for to what other use or end could there be a laying on of the hands of the Presbytery?) Therefore, Athanasius in apologia ad Imper: Constantium citing this Text, and applying it to ordinary Ministers, he lives out that part concerning prophesy, and the rest of the Text he applies thus, ἀπόστολος πᾶυλος ἑκαστω ἡμῶν διὰ τοῦ μαθητοῦ παράγγειλε, λέγων, μὴ ἀμεὶλει τοῦ ἐν σοὶ χαρίσματος, ὄ ἐδόθη σοι μετ' ἑπιθέσεως τῶν χειρῶν τοῦ πρεσβουτεριοῦ. The Apostle Paul hath commanded each one of us in his disciple, saying, neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given unto thee with the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery.

3. If it be said that the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery was only to shew their consent, and joining in prayer, and hearty wishes with the Apostle for Timothy: The answer is ready; let these who allege this shew us from Scripture, where laying on of hands was ever used, for a bare testimony of consent, or of joint prayers and wishes. I know imposition of hands hath been used in prayers, of blessing, or benediction by such as had a special power, authority and privilege, as Gen: 48. Jacob when he blessed the sons of Joseph, laid his hands upon them, but we read not that Joseph, or any other, whose heart joined in prayer and hearty wishes for them, did therefore lay on hands together with Jacob, Mat. 19. 15. Mark: 10. 16. When Christ blessed the little children, he laid his hands upon them: But will any man imagine, that they who brought the children to be blessed by him, did together with him lay their hands upon them? And generally if we consider the use of laying on hands in Scripture, we must conclude that the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery, was an authoritative act, not a testimony of consenting and joining only.

4. ‘Tis thought by some Episcopal writers, that Timothy was twice ordained, first to be a Presbyter, and after to be a Bishop. See the history of Episcopacy, pag, 117. I should rather say, peradventure he was first ordained a Presbyter, by the Presbytery. And after ordained an Evangelist by the Apostle Paul. However, the Presbyteries act needs to be extended no further, but to the ordaining him a Presbyter, what was more, (viz. Ordination to the office of an Evangelist,) might proceed from the Apostle: I mean, suppose he was ordained once, both Presbyter and Evangelist, and that both the Apostle, and Presbyter did lay on their hands together, in this mixed action, we may very well distinguish what was ordinary, what was extraordinary, ascribing that to the Presbytery, this to the Apostle.

5. And if the Presbytery had ordained, and sent forth Timothy as an Evangelist, what inconsistency, or absurdity had been in it? You will object the less is blessed of the greater, and not the greater of the less, Heb: 7.7. I answer, although Timothy as an Evangelist, was greater than a single Presbyter, yet that proves not, that he was (even in that capacity,) greater than the whole presbytery, one of the house of Lords, is greater than one of the house of Commons, but he is not therefore greater than the house of Commons. When a King and his people is compared together, we use to say, that he is major singulis, minor universis. Moreover, he that blesseth, is not every way greater then he who is blessed, but he is greater qua talis, in so far as he blesseth. And why might not the Presbytery be greater than an Evangelist, not simply and absolutely, but in so far as they blessed and ordained him. So Ananias put his hands upon Paul, Acts 9.17. and afterwards certain Prophets and Teachers at Antioch laid hands on him, and Barnabas, Acts 13.1, 3. And in so far there was a majority and preeminence in those who laid on their hands though simply and absolutely they were the greater, on whom the hands were laid.

This takes off some of the chief exceptions brought by the Author of the Queries concerning Ordination, quest: 19. which done, his other exceptions are the more easily mastered. He himself passeth from one of them, as not being very considerable, viz. that Presbytery there is used to signify not a company of Elders, but the Ordinance or office itself. Of which before. There are but two other answers of his. One is that Timothy being an Evangelist had no need to pass through the common door of Ordination. Of which hereafter.

The other is a conjecture of his own, which if it be a light, I confess it is a new light. It seems more probable (saith he) be far that when Paul laid his hands on Timothy, 2 Tim: 1.6. there were some other Apostles, or Apostles fellows that joined with him in that action. And that Apostles should be called Presbyters or Elders, and a company of them a Presbytery or Eldership, is an expression consonant to other Scriptures where the appellation of Elder is attributed unto them, 1 Pet: 5.1. 2. Epist: Joh: 1. &c. 3 Epist: 1. Ans: 1 In the last two Scriptures which he citeth, the word Elder is a name of age not of office, and we are to understand, πρεσβυτερος in those places to be only a degree more than πρεσβυτης: Epist, to Philemon. v. 9. Paul the aged, So John the elder. i.e., now full of years and very old. For which reason also some have noted that frequently in his first Epistle he useth this compellation, my little children. 2. Peter indeed speaketh of himself as one of the Elders by office, wherein we ought rather to observe his humility, condescension, and prudent insinuation, then make any such use of it as this Querist doth. It had been more for his purpose if another had said it of Peter, and not he of himself. For as Oecumenius upon the place tells us, Peter calls himself so for modesty’s cause, and the better to enforce the following exhortation, that the Elders should not lift up themselves above others, as he did not lift up himself above them. Sure Apostles and Elders were ordinarily distinguishing names, as it is manifest from Act. 15.2. 4. 6. 22:23. Why then would the Querist leave the ordinary Scripture notion of the word, Elder, and ground his own interpretation of the word Presbytery, upon Peter’s calling himself an Elder: he might as well argue, that the believing Romans who are called the servants of God, Rom: 6.22. or these believing Strangers who have the same name, 1 Pet: 2.16. were Apostles, and that we are to understand by the servants of God in these Texts, Apostles, because Tit: 1.1. The Apostle Paul calleth himself a servant of God. By the like Logic he may argue that the ordaining of Elders, Act: 14.23. Tit: 1.5. is meant of ordaining Apostles, because the Scripture calls the Apostles Elders. 3. Peter calls not himself πρεσβυτερος, an Elder, but συμπρεσβυτερος. The sense of the word is explained two ways, both are mentioned by H. Stephanus in Thes: ling: Gr: Tom: 3, pag: 545. and both of them make against that which this Querist drives at. First the sense is conceived to be this, qui sum & ipse Presbyter: so the Tigurine, who am also an Elder so the English Translators. Now the Text running thus, The Elders who are among you I exhort, who am also an Elder, i. e. I who give this exhortation unto you Elders, as I am an Apostle, so my Apostleship doth not exclude me from being one of you, for I am also an Elder: Thus (I say) this very Text makes against the Querist, for even here we see that they who were commonly called Elders, were not Apostles. But there is a second sense, which maks yet more against the Querist: For H. Stephanus expresseth the sense of συμπρεσβυτερος thus, quì & ipse è seniorum & Presbyterorum Collegio est, he who is of the Assembly or College of Elders commonly called the Presbytery: Hierome did happily intend the same thing by the word Compresbyter. And likewise Beza by his rendering ego una Presbyter, i.e., I who am together with you a Presbyter, or you and I being Presbyters all of us together. And so the Text may be red thus, The Elders who are among you I exhort, who am also of your Presbyteries. There were Presbyteries among them, or Assemblies of Elders properly so called, and of these Presbyteries Peter was also a member, and when he was present in any of the Presbyteries in Pontus, Gallacia, Capadocia, Asia, and Bythinia, he joined and acted as an Elder, and as in a Presbytery. This sense I prefer to the other. For if he had intended no more but to tell them that he also was an Elder, I should think he would have chosen another & plainer expression as καὶ ἐγώ πρεσβύτερος ειμὶ. The Elders who are among you I exhort, for I also am an Elder. or thus, πρεσβυτέρους τοὺς ἐν ὑμιν παρακαλῶ ὡς καὶ αὐτὸς ὤν πρεσβυτέρος. The Elders who are among you I exhort, as being myself also an Elder. Or thus, παρακαλῶ καὶ αὐτὸς ἐγώ πρεσβύτερος ὑπάρχων; The Elders who are among you I exhort, I myself also being an Elder. But now when he purposely chooseth the word συμπρεσβύτερος, he intimateth somewhat more than that he was an Elder. viz: that he was Presbyterated together with them, as being also of their Presbyteries, or Assemblies of Elders. Words of the like composition in the Greek tongue, may help to give us light in this particular, συμπαροικος, which Pollux useth for contubernalis, is not simply, he who is also a guest, or who is also a companion but he who is a guest in the same Inn, or a chamber fellow; συμβιωτὴς is not any whoever he be, that doth also lodge, live, & eat, but he who liveth together & eateth together: συμπρεσβυς, or συμπρεσβυτὴς, may not be rendered, he who is also an Ambassador, but he who is a colleague in the same Embassy, collega in legatione. συμμὰτυρ is not simply he who also is a witness (for then he who is a thousand miles off being witness in another cause is συμματυρ) but he who bears witness together in the same thing, or he who joineth in the same testimony, as Rom: 8.16. Pollux hath also, συμμορίτης, qui est ejus dē decuriae, not he who is also of a band or company, but he who is of the same band or company, συμμαθητὴς, is not he who is also a Disciple, (for then a Scholar among our Antipodes is συμμαθητης) but a condisciple in the same school. And if we speak properly we will not call every Minister of holy things, συμμυστὴς, Symmista, but he who is our colleague, or associate or a Minister of our own company. So συμπλειονες H. Stephanus well explaineth complures simul collecti, non sigillarim, συμβουλιον is not used for a counsel which is also taken, but for a counsel taken jointly or together. Many like instances might be given both in the Greek, συμμέτοχος, συμποσιαστὴς, συμπρὺτανις, σύμφωνος, συμφυλέτης, σύμφυτος, or συμφυής, ὁι συμφοιτὴσανσες, or συμπαιδευθὲντες, and such like; and likewise in the Latin, compotator, compransor, combennones, commolitor, commurmuratio, compatior, competitor, compingo, complicatio, comploratio, compossessor, compromitto, comprovincialis, concivis, concriminatio, concolor condiscipulus, confabulatio, confaederatio, congener, congerminalis, congenitus, congerminasco, conjubilatio, conjurati, connutritus, conservus, consedeo, consocer, consorbio, conterraneus, contemporaneus, contribulis, convelificor, converberatus, convivo, convictus, and I know not how many more of that kind, in which words the preposition cannot be rendered by also, but by together in the same thing jointly or of the same: And now I hope it may appear that the Scripture, objected by the Querist doth not hurt but help the Presbytery 4. Suppose the Presbytery, 1 Tim: 4.14. to be an Assembly of Apostles, as the Querist would have it, what shall he gain thereby? For the name Presbytery being purposely chosen in this Text, which mentions laying on of hands in Ordination, will prove that the Apostles did these as Elders, and as an act of one Assembly of Elders, not as anything peculiar to the Apostles. For no rational man will imagine, that the holy Ghost intending to express some extraordinary thing, which the Apostles did as Apostles, and which belongs not to ordinary Elders, would in that very thing purposely call them πρεσβυτέριον or an Assembly of Elders. 5. That πρεσβυτεριον here is not an Assembly of Apostles, but of Elders who were not Apostles may appear plainly by comparing the Text now in controversy with 2 Tim: 1.6. the gift of God which is in thee by the putting on of my hands. If an Assembly of Apostles had laid hands on Timothy, and so joined in that action with Paul, as the Querist supposeth, Paul had not thus distinguished his laying on of hands, from that of his fellow Apostles, as if the gifts of the holy Ghost had been given to Timothy only by the laying of his hands, and not by, but with the laying on of the hands of his fellow Apostles. Of this difference of the phrase in the one Text and in the other, I have spoken before, which indeed fitly expresseth the difference betwixt the laying of Paul’s hands, and the laying on of the Elders hands, but there could be no such difference among the Apostles themselves, or Apostles fellows.

But I have not yet done with the vindication and clearing of this Text, which holds forth a president for ordination by a Presbytery. It may be further objected, 1. If this Text must be understood of Ordination by a Presbytery, then the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery is necessary to Ordination; and then, what shall become of these who were not ordained by a Presbytery; and what shall also become of that which so many protestant writers have pleaded against the Popish Sacrament of Orders: viz. that the rite or sign in Ordination, i.e. imposition of hands, is not instituted or commanded by Christ or his Apostles?

To the first I answer, 1. although I hold the Imposition of the hands of the Presbytery to be no Sacrament, nor efficacious and operative for giving of the holy Ghost, as the laying on of the Apostles hands was: nor, 2. necessary to Ordination, necessitate medii vel finis, as if Ordination were void and no Ordination without it, or as if they who were not ordained with the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery, were therefore to be thought unordained, or unministeriated: Although likewise 3. I do not hold the laying on of hands to be the substantial part or act of Ordination (which I have before proved to be essential to the calling of a Minister) but only the ritual part in Ordination. And although, 4. I hold the laying on of hands to be such a rite, whereunto we ought to be very sparing to ascribe mysterious significations, wherein some have gone too far, and taken too much liberty, yet I hold (with the generality of protestant writers, and with the best reformed Churches) that the laying on of hands is to be still retained in Ordination. I hold also that this laying on of hands is an Ordinance of the new Testament (and so do our dissenting Brethren of the Independent way hold also) and that ‘tis necessary by the necessity of precept, and Institution, and in point of duty. For although there is no certain precept extant, concerning laying on of hands, yet because we see the Apostles did always use it, their so accurate observing of it ought to be unto us instead of a Precept, saith Calvin Instit. lib: 4. cap: 31, § 6. For the Examples of the Apostles or Apostolic Churches, in approved things which have a standing reason, are binding, and instead of Institutions. The laying on of the hands of the Apostles in so far as the holy Ghost was given thereby, was extraordinary, and ceased with themselves, yet in so far as the Apostles, yea and the Presbytery too, laid on hands in their ordaining of Ministers, there is a standing reason why we should do in like manner: the laying on of hands being a rite properly belonging to the praying over these whom we blesse in the name of the Lord, with an authoritative benediction, as is manifest by these examples of laying on of hands, in Jacob’s blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh. Gen: 48. and in Christ’s blessing and praying over the little Children, Mat: 19.15. Mark: 10.16. Looking thus upon laying on of hands; 1. as a rite in blessing and prayer over; 2. as a rite for public designation and solemn setting apart of such a person; and if you will, 3. as a rite of giving up, dedicating and offering unto the Lord, of which use of laying on hands there are diverse examples in the Books of Moses: In these respects, and under these considerations we use laying on of hands in Ordination, and ought to do so in regard of the Primitive pattern. Wallaeus Tom: 1. pag. 473. thinks that the negative precept. 1. Tim: 5.22. lay hands suddenly on no man, doth also contain an affirmative, to lay hands upon such as are worthy and approved.