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The term elder is used in various ways in the Bible. In the Old Testament it often refers to the older men in a tribe, who were usually entrusted with governmental affairs (Gen. 50:7; Josh. 20:4; Ruth 4:2; Matt. 15:2). Their age and experience made their counsel valuable. Their position was not necessarily a priesthood calling.

There were also ordained elders in the Melchizedek Priesthood in Old Testament times (Ex. 24:9–11). In the New Testament, elders are mentioned as a priesthood office in the Church (James 5:14–15). Among the Nephites there were also ordained elders in the priesthood (Alma 4:7, 16; Moro. 3:1). In this dispensation, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were the first elders to be ordained (D&C 20:2–3).

Elder is now the title given to all holders of the Melchizedek Priesthood. For example, male missionaries are addressed as elders. Also, an Apostle is an elder, and it is proper to speak of members of the Quorum of the Twelve or Quorums of the Seventy by this title (D&C 20:38; 1 Pet. 5:1). The duties of ordained elders in the Church today have been given in latter-day revelation (D&C 20:38–45; 42:44; 46:2; 107:12).