by A.E. Knoch

QUESTION: As the word for "ambassadors" simply means an elder, should not 2 Cor.5:20 read, "For Christ then, we are elders?" And should not the dispensation of the conciliation be confined to the aged?

In reply to this we would suggest: The stem -presb- expresses seniority primarily such as is usually conferred by age. It probably comes from the elements BEFORE-INTO-STEP. Even today good manners prescribe that we give the precedence to those older than ourselves. Another stem -palai- means old. In English we use the word age for this in some cases, as, "He is of age," meaning he is not a minor. But more often we use the comparative form, elder, or alderman, which brings with it age and office. So, in the Greek, when in the comparative form (-teros), it is best translated by elder.

In the Scriptures there is another form, which must be distinguished from these, which occurs only as follows:

Luke 14:32 dispatching an embassy, is asking for peace
19:14 dispatch an embassy after him [reign]

Eph. 6:20 conducting an embassy in a chain
2 Cor. 5:20 For Christ, we are ambassadors

These special forms are in contexts connected with courts and kings, implying political rank. As Luke 14:32 shows, they were sent by a king to plead, for peace. This passage is the key to our present dispensation of the conciliation.

Another suggestion is "plenipotentiary" as the proper equivalent. But a plenipotentiary is an ambassador, an envoy, or a minister who is invested with full power to transact any business for those who send him. Is there any such thought in any of the contexts? Is not our business confined to a proposal of peace? The king who did not want to fight merely asked for terms of peace. Those whom he sent were not empowered to make them (Luke 14:31,32). We beseech men, we do not try to make terms with them. All we are called upon to do is to say "Be conciliated to God!" and explain the terms that God has laid down (2 Cor.5:20,21).

It is also suggested that the Roman government had no such office at the time, so Paul could not use this term. The kings of that time, as King Agrippa, were subordinate to the Roman government. In that case we should change "king" to "emperor" in every case! But very few words in the Scriptures are based upon Roman customs. There is a background of Hebrew, as it has come through the Septuagint translation into the Greek. The word used is not Latin, but Greek. Two examples of the use of this stem in the Septuagint should show its significance in the later inspired text. The stem -presb- is used twice of a special kind of messenger (mlak), as follows:

Num. 21:21 sending is Israel messengers to Sihon, king of the Amorites, with words of peace

Deut. 2:26 I am sending messengers from the preceding wilderness to Sihon, king of Heshbon, with words of peace

The fact that the Septuagint changed the Hebrew messengers in these two passages to ambassadors because they brought peace, and that it was used of the king who asked for terms of peace, and that it is used of us as beseeching men to receive the conciliation, seems to definitely give it the nuances which the English language associates with the ambassador which governments send to one another only when they are at peace with each other. When war breaks out between them, the ambassadors are withdrawn. Not every detail of this office can be appropriated by us, but the use of the word conciliation implies that we are like them in respect to peace. We, also, will be withdrawn to our homeland when God withdraws the conciliation, and vents His indignation upon the habitance.

Mankind is at enmity with God, and God was against man, especially the non-Israelite nations, because of sin. Now that, Christ has provided an Offering for sin, God is at peace, or conciliated, and wishes to make a peace treaty with all humanity. Not being a literal king warring with another king He cannot send literal ambassadors. But, as there is no other transaction as nearly like the conciliation, He calls them "ambassadors" in a comparison, for a figure is like in one point and diverse in others. Our rank as chosen of God who are at peace with Him automatically qualifies us for entreating others to be conciliated to God.

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