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BISHOP (Gr. episkopos, overseer). Originally the principal officer of the local church, the other being the deacon or deacons (
From the vulgar Latin biscopus, the word is often given as a translation of episkopos in the NT. An alternative translation is “overseer.” Within the NT it seems to have denoted a function of the ministry, and to be an alternative for presbyter (cf. Acts 20:17; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3; Titus 1:7ff.). Christ himself was regarded as the Bishop (1 Pet. 2:25). The origins of the monarchical bishop and the threefold ministry of bishop, presbyters, and deacons are wrapped in some mystery. Among the * only Ignatius speaks of monarchical episcopacy, and with him the emphasis is on unity around the bishop in perilous times, not on the divine institution of the office. Gradually, with the disappearance of the charismatic ministry, the opposition from Gnosticism, and the imperial recognition of the church in the fourth century, the single bishop in charge of a diocese or group of churches emerged. Normally he was the head of a city or town church. Furthermore, with the adoption by the church of the divisions within the empire, there also evolved bishops among bishops-that is, pope, patriarch, metropolitan, and archbishop. The division of Eastern and Western Christendom, the close association of church and state, and the rise to power in the West of the see of Rome, had an important effect upon the development of episcopacy. During and after medieval times bishops were both spiritual and temporal lords. This tradition is still reflected in England, where a number of bishops have seats in the House of Lords.
At the time of the Reformation, Protestants wished to reform or to abolish the office of bishop, since its medieval accretions alarmed them. The Calvinist churches equated the office of bishop with that of pastor or parish minister. Lutherans saw the continuance of the office of bishop (if understood as a superintendent minister) as among the adiaphora (see Adiaphorists). This resulted in the retention of bishops in Scandinavia and their abolition in Germany. In recent times the office has been revived in Germany, but no apostolic succession is claimed. Theretained a succession of bishops in the transition from Catholicism to Protestantism, and this has continued to the present. In some more recent denominations the title of bishop has been given to superintendent ministerse.g., in American Methodism.
Within thebishops are chosen from the celibate priests in the monasteries by election at a synod on the advice of the patriarch. In the Roman Catholic Church the pope has the last word and he actually does the appointing-and they are responsible to him. Within the Church of England the chapters of cathedrals elect a bishop on the advice of the monarch. (Anglican churches elsewhere have a more democratic system.) In churches which claim the apostolic succession, consecration is normally performed by one archbishop and two bishops, a rule which was first agreed upon at the Council of Arles in 314. In other churches not claiming apostolic succession, choice is usually by a synod and installation into office by representatives of the synod.
Traditionally since early times, the bishop's ministry is seen to involve ruling, sacramental, and pastoral aspects. He rules both clergy and people in his diocese; he alone can confirm and ordain; and he is the chief pastor of the flock. Often a bishop is assisted by an assistant, suffragan, auxiliary, or coadjutor bishop. The insignia of a bishop include miter, pastoral staff, pectoral cross, ring, and caligae. Within ecumenical dialogue in recent times there has been much discussion as to whether episcopacy is of the esse, the bene esse, or the plene esse of the church.
W. Telfer, The Office of Bishop (1962); A.G. Hebert, Apostle and Bishop (1963); R.B. Kuiper, The Glorious(1966); L. Berkhof, (1966, or earlier editions); see also documents of on Church and Ministry.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
bish’-up: The word is evidently an abbreviation of the Greek episkopos; Latin, episcopus.
1. Use in the Septuagint and Classic Greek:
The Septuagint gives it the generic meaning of "superintendency, oversight, searching" (
3. Later Development of the Idea:
According to Rome, as finally expressed by the
Henry E. Dosker
I. Episcopacy Defined.
Episcopacy is the government in the Christian church by bishops. The rule of the Orthodox churches in the East, of the Roman Catholics, and of the Anglicans is that the consecration of other bishops, and the ordination of priests and deacons can only be by a bishop; and with them, a bishop is one who claims historic descent from apostolic or sub-apostolic times.
II. Offices in the Early Church.
In the New Testament, the office of bishop is not clearly defined. Indeed there appear to have been many degrees of ministry in the infant church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers, presbyters or elders, bishops or overseers, and deacons.
Due allowance is not generally made for the mental attitude of the apostles and early Christians. They were looking for the speedy return of Christ, and consequently did not organize the church in its infancy, as it was afterward found necessary to do. For this reason, while the different persons who composed the body of Christian ministers did not overlap or infringe on each other’s work, yet the relative rank or priority of each minister was not clearly defined.
The apostles were undoubtedly first, and in them rested the whole authority, and they were the depository of the power committed unto them by Christ.
Next to the apostles in rank, and first in point of mention (
In the case of the ordination of Timothy, which Paul says distinctly was by his own laying on of hands and that of the presbytery, it is of great consequence to note that Paul says to Timothy that his ordination was "according to the prophecies which went before on thee" (
In Revelation, the term prophet constantly occurs as a term denoting rank equivalent to that of apostle: "ye saints, and ye apostles, and ye prophets" (
3. Elders or Presbyters:
The ministry of the elders of the Christian church was modeled after that of the synagogue in which there were elders and teachers. The Christian elders or presbyters were most likely a council of advice in each local Christian ekklesia. They appear to act conjointly and not separately (
Teachers were the equivalent of those teachers or catechists of the synagogue before whom our Lord was found in the temple.
Evangelists were persons who probably had the gift of oratory and whose function it was to preach the glad tidings. Philip was one of them (
In writing to Timothy, Paul twice says that he himself was ordained preacher, and apostle and teacher. This does not mean that he held three grades of the ministry, but that his duties as an apostle were to preach and to teach. The fact that the apostles called themselves elders does not thereby confirm the view that the bishops mentioned by them were not superior to elders, any more than the fact that the apostles called themselves teachers, or preachers, makes for the view that teachers, or preachers, were the equals of apostles.
Bishops or overseers were probably certain elders chosen out of the body of local elders. Under the Jewish dispensation, the elders stayed at home, that is, they did no ministerial visiting, but it was soon found necessary as the Christian church grew to have someone to attend to outside work to win over by persuasion and exposition of the Scriptures those inclined to embrace Christianity. This necessitated visiting families in their own homes. Then, it became necessary to shepherd the sheep. Someone had to oversee or superintend the general work. The Jewish elders always had a head and in a large synagogue the conditions laid down for its head, or legatus, were almost identical with those laid down by Paul to Timothy. He was to be a father of a family, not rich or engaged in business, possessing a good voice, apt to teach, etc.
The term episkopos was one with which the Hellenistic Jews and Gentiles were well acquainted; and it became thus a fitting term by which to designate the men called out of the body of elders to this special work of oversight. Then, again, the term episkopos was endeared to the early Christians as the one applied to our Lord--"the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls" (
In the Acts, the term is found only twice, one in reference to Judas, "his bishopric (or overseership) let another take" (
In the epistles, we find the church more clearly organized, and in these writings we find more definite allusions to bishops and their duties (
Paul tells Timothy, "If a man desire the office of a bishop (or overseer) he desireth a good work." "A bishop (or overseer) must be blameless" (
On the other hand, there are numerous texts where elders and their duties are mentioned and where there is no reference whatever to bishopric or oversight. The epistles show that of necessity there had grown to be a more distinct organization of the ministry, and that following the custom of the synagogue to some of the elders had been committed a bishopric or oversight. At the same time the rank of a bishop, or overseer, was not yet one of the highest. Paul does not enumerate it in the order of ministry which he gives to the Ephesians--apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.
That Timothy had an oversight over the elders or presbyters is evident from the fact that Paul enjoins him to rebuke those that sin: "Against an elder receive not an accusation, except at the mouth of two or three witnesses. Them that sin reprove in the sight of all" (
It has been asserted that the terms elder and bishop in the New Testament were equivalent and denoted the same office or grade in the ministry. This assertion seems unwarranted. They do not naturally denote the same grade any more than do apostle and teacher, or angel and prophet.
The deacons were the seven appointed to take charge of the temporal affairs of the church. Their appointment was perhaps suggested by the alms-collectors of the synagogue. In the New Testament they do not appear as deacons to have had any part in the sacred ministry, except, in the case of Philip the evangelist, if it be assumed that he was a deacon, which is uncertain. Nowhere is it recorded that they laid hands on anyone, or were considered as capable of bestowing any grace. In the epistles they are mentioned with the bishops--"bishops and deacons" (
III. Episcopacy according to the New Testament.
The passages where the Greek word occurs which has been translated either as bishops, or overseers, are so few that they are enumerated:
IV. The "Didache."
Passing out of the New Testament, we come to the early Christian writing, the so-called Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. Setting aside the question for what class of Christians this document was intended, the clear fact stands out that at the date of its writing the two highest grades in the Christian ministry were still called apostles and prophets. Various dates have been assigned to this document ranging from 80 to 160 AD.
At the end of chapter 10, which deals with the thanksgiving or eucharist, the remark is made, "But permit the prophets to make thanksgiving as much as they desire." Chapters 11 and 13 deal with apostles and prophets. They were to be treated "according to the ordinance of the gospel." An apostle was not to be allowed to stay more than a couple of days at the utmost, and in no case was he to receive any money, else he was to be considered "a false prophet." A prophet could beg on behalf of others, but not for himself; but a prophet could settle among a congregation, and in that case he was to receive the same first-fruits "of money and raiment and of every possession" as the chief priest did under the old dispensation. It is to be noted that in reality the prophets, though placed second in order, were to be treated with the greater respect. If the prophet settles down, he becomes the man of the first rank in that Christian community.
Chapter 15 deals with bishops and deacons, and we are told that if appointed they rendered the ministry of prophets and teachers, but the warning is given, "Despise them not, therefore, for they are your honored ones, together with the prophets and teachers." This shows that bishops were localized; and that while they could be appointed over a community, they were not considered as of equal rank with the prophets.
V. Clement of Rome.
Clement of Rome in his Epistle to the Corinthians says that the apostles preaching through countries and cities appointed the first-fruits of their labors to be bishops and deacons (chapter 42). It is usually said that Clement meant elders by the term "bishops," but it is much more likely that he meant what he said; that according to the tradition received by him, the apostles appointed bishops, that is, appointed bishops out of the elders--mentioned in the Acts. In chapter 44 Clement warns against the sin of ejecting from the episcopate those who have presented the offerings, and says, "Blessed are those presbyters who have finished their course."
The reason why the terms apostles and prophets fell into desuetude was, as regards the first, not so much out of respect to the original apostles, but because the apostles in the sub-apostolic age became apparently only wandering evangelists of little standing; while the prophets lowered their great office by descending to be soothsayers, as theplainly intimates. With the fall of the apostles and the prophets, there rose into prominence the bishops and deacons.
VI. Bishops and Deacons.
The deacons acted as secretaries and treasurers to the bishops. They were their right-hand men, representing them in all secular matters. As the numbers of Christians increased, it was found absolutely necessary for the bishops to delegate some of their spiritual authority to a second order.
VII. Bishops and Presbyters (Priests).
Thus very slowly emerged out of the body of elders the official presbyters or priests. To them the bishop delegated the power to teach, to preach, to baptize, to celebrate the Holy Eucharist; but how slowly is evidenced by the fact that so late as 755 AD the Council of Vern forbade priests to baptize, except by distinct permission of their bishop.
VIII. Ignatian Epistles on the Three Orders.
When we come to the Ignatian epistles written between 110-17 AD, we find a distinct threefold order. We have given us the names of Damas, for bishop, Bassus and Apollonius for presbyters, Zotion for deacon. Throughout these epistles there is no question that the bishop is supreme. Apostles and prophets are not even mentioned. The bishop succeeds to all the powers the apostles and prophets had. On the other hand, as with the Jewish elders, so with the Christian presbyters, they form a council with the bishop. Here we see in clear day what we had all along suspected to be the case in apostolic times: a council of presbyters with a ruler at their head and deacons to attend to money matters.
It is quite immaterial as to whether a bishop had ten or a hundred presbyter-elders under him, whether he was bishop in a small town or in a large city. The question of numbers under him would not affect his authority as has been claimed. The greatness of the city in which he exercised this rule would add dignity to his position, but nothing to his inherent authority.
From this time on it is admitted by all that bishops, priests and deacons have been continuously in existence. Their powers and duties have varied, have been curtailed as one order has encroached on the power of the other, but still there the three orders have been. Gradually the presbyters or priests encroached on the power of the bishop, till now, according to Anglican usage, only the power of ordaining, confirming and consecrating churches is left to them.
IX. Views of Reformers.
At the time of the Reformation there was a great outcry against bishops. This was caused by the fact that under feudalism the bishops had come to be great temporal lords immersed in schemes of political and material aggrandizement, and often actually leading their armies in times of war. Many of the bishops were proud and arrogant, forgetful that their duties as fathers of the children of Christ were to look after those committed to them with fatherly kindness and charity or that as pastors they had to tend the erring sheep with Divine patience and infinite love.
The bulk of the adherents to the Reformed religion, looking upon the bishops as they were and as their fathers had known them, recoiled from retaining the office, although their principal men, like Calvin, deplored the loss of bishops, and hoped that bishops of the primitive order would some day be restored. The present modern Anglican bishop seems to sum up in his person and office the requirements laid down by Calvin.
Thus the claim put forth by the Anglicans in the preface to the Ordinal may be considered as sound: "It is evident unto all men, diligently reading Holy Scripture and ancient Authors, that from the Apostles’ time there have been these Orders of Ministers in Christ’s Church--Bishops, Priests, and Deacons."
Teaching of the Twelve Apostles; Clement of Rome; Shepherd of Hermas; Ignatian epistles;; Works of ; Duchesne, Origines du Culte Chretien; Pellicia, Polity of the Christian Church; Bishop MacLean, Ancient Church Orders; Cheetham, Hist of the Christian Church during the First Six Centuries; Salmon, Introduction to New Testament; Elwin, The Minister of Baptism; Cruttwell, Literary History of Early Christianity; Potter, ; Lowndes, Vindication of Anglican Orders; E. Hatch, The Organization of the Early ; C. Gore, The Church and the Ministry; Thompson, Historic Episcopate (Presbyterian); Baird, Huguenots.
1. The New Testament Church a Spiritual Democracy:
As a spiritual and social democracy, Congregationaliam finds no warrant or precedent in the New Testament for the episcopal conception of the words "bishop," "presbyter," and "elder." It interprets epi-skopos, literally as overseer--not an ecclesiastical dignitary but a spiritual minister. It finds the Romanist view of Peter’s primacy, founded alone on
The church formed on the day of Pentecost was the spontaneous coming together of the original 120 disciples and the 3,000 Christian converts, for fellowship, worship and work, under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Its only creed was belief in the risen Christ and the renewing power of the Holy Spirit; its only condition of membership, repentance and baptism.
2. Election of Officers by Popular Vote:
The apostles naturally took leadership but, abrogating all authority, committed to the church as a whole the choice of its officers and the conduct of its temporal and spiritual affairs. Judas’ place in the apostolate was not filled by succession or episcopal appointment (
The churches in the apostolic era were independent and self-governing, and the absence of anything like a centralized ecclesiastical authority is seen by the fact that the council at Jerusalem, called to consider whether the church at Antioch should receive the uncircumcised into membership, was a delegated body, composed in part of lay members, and having only advisory power (
3. The Epistles not Official Documents:
The apostolic letters, forming so large a part of the New Testament, are not official documents but letters of loving pastoral instruction and counsel. The terms bishops, elders, pastors and teachers are used synonymously and interchangeably, thus limiting the officers of the early church to two orders: pastors and deacons.
See also CHURCH GOVERNMENT; DIDACHE.
4. Restoration of Primitive Ideals:
Under the spiritual tyrannies of the
For further study see Henry M. Dexter, Congregationalism, chapter ii; Dunning’s Congregationalists in America, chapters i, ii: Rainy, The Ancient Catholic Church.
BISHOP (elder) (ἐπίσκοπος, G2176, overseer, πρεσβύτερος, G4565, one older in years, presbyter). In the NT the words are used interchangeably for the same officer of the Christian churches.
Source of the terms
Classical Greek writings.
Επίσκωπος is used more commonly in the general sense of an overseer; less frequently as an official title. In Attic Gr. it was used to designate commissioners sent to govern new colonies or subject cities. In later Gr. it was used of officers and inspectors responsible for various municipal and commercial matters.
In the Manual of Discipline and the Damascus Document an officer of the community called a מְבַקֵּר, the exact Heb. equivalent of ἐπίσκοπος, G2176, an overseer or superintendent, is referred to frequently. He was responsible for examining and preparing candidates for membership, teaching the masses the works of God, caring for them as a father for his children or a shepherd for his flock, supervising commercial transactions, and matters of litigation (1QS 6:12-20; CDC 9:18-22; 13:7-19; 14:11-13). The extent to which the Qumran sectaries may have influenced the developing Christian Church is as yet a matter of conjecture.
Authority in the conduct of local affairs is in many societies given to a body of older men; thus the γερουσία, G1172, of Sparta and the aldermen of our day. The designation πρεσβύτερος, G4565, was used for officers of various Gr. cult organizations, and also for village magistrates in Egypt. The use of the word for an office in the Christian Church undoubtedly has a Jewish origin.
The authority of elders was recognized early in Israel’s history. Moses was commissioned to give God’s message to the elders of Israel (
In the NT, particularly the gospels, one finds frequent reference to Jewish elders. Each Jewish community had its council of elders who bore responsibilities in regard both to civil and ecclesiastical affairs. They were elected by the community and in a solemn rite were appointed for life. The most important of these councils was the Sanhedrin of Jerusalem, which acted as a supreme court of the Jews. While elders were not responsible for the worship of the synagogue, they were allotted seats of special honor, and often the synagogue rulers were elected from their number. The chief function of the elders was to study and teach the law, and apply it against offenders. They had amassed a vast body of precedents in interpretation of the law, called “the tradition of the elders” (
In the Qumran covenant community, the elders enjoyed a place second only to the priests in their General Council (1QS 6:9). A council of the “especially holy,” composed of three priests and twelve laymen bore responsibility to maintain the standards of truth and righteousness. They were set apart after a two-year preparation (1QS 8:1-9:2).
Use in the NT
The word ἐπίσκοπος, G2176, is used once applying to Christ (
Development of ministry in the Early Church.
The identity of bishops and elders in the NT.
The evidence of the NT for identifying the office of bishop with that of elder is substantial: (1) Paul calls the elders of the church at Ephesus to meet him (
The term ἐπίσκοπος, G2176, is never used of an itinerant preacher, but only for a fixed leader of congregational life. The fact that the term is used only in Gr. churches may argue for a Gr. origin of the term, being more familiar to them as a term for an official than the typically Jewish πρεσβύτερος, G4565.
The qualifications and responsibilities of a presbyter-bishop.
The qualifications of a bishop are listed in
These qualifications also indicate the areas of responsibility of the bishops. They exercised in the main a twofold ministry—as rulers and instructors. These two functions may be compared with the work of pastors and teachers. They are indicated in
The appointment of presbyter-bishops.
The NT does not make clear the method of choice of office-bearers. In the case of Matthias it was by casting lots between the two nominees (
Where any mode of ordination or appointment is mentioned, it is by the imposition of hands, but one cannot give a simple answer to the question, “Whose hands?” In the case of the seven, it was the apostles’ hands. In the case of Paul, the hands laid on him in a ceremony which may have involved appointment as well as healing and confirmation were those of a humble disciple Ananias (
The development of the monarchical episcopate
The apostolic age.
In the Council of Jerusalem (
The sub-apostolic age.
a.d. 96 makes no clear distinction between bishop and presbyter, but Ignatius, writing early in the 2nd cent., urges the need of obedience to the bishop, the chief officer of each local congregation, who is supported by presbyters and deacons, to maintain the unity of the church. The cause of this development cannot be stated with certainty. quotes a tradition that the Apostle John authorized and developed the episcopal system in Asia Minor. Rothe and Gore see episcopacy as springing thus out of the apostolic office by apostolic authority. It seems more likely that it arose out of the presbyterial office through the need for one elder to assume responsibility in the local church, for presiding at the Eucharist, or for deciding which prophets and teachers should speak, or for maintaining relationships with other churches. Jerome states that it was in order to avoid schisms that the universal practice of electing one of the elders to be placed over the rest, responsible for the care of the church, was evolved., writing about
In the 2nd and 3rd centuries, the concept of the function of the bishop was modified. Whereas to Ignatius the bishop was the center of unity of the local church, to Irenaeus he was the one who by virtue of his apostolic descent could guarantee the continuance of the true apostolic faith. By the time of Cyprian, however, a sacerdotal view of the ministry had developed, and to him the bishop is the vicegerent of Christ, God’s representative to the congregation, the indispensable channel of divine grace. This view has dominated subsequent thought in the Roman Church.
Modern systems of church government
The church is governed by bishops, who have charge, not of a single local congregation, but of a diocese of many churches. Only the bishop has the right to ordain, and he may ordain to any of the three orders of ministry: bishop, priest (presbyter), and deacon. Roman and Anglo-Catholics would insist that bishops trace their succession right to the apostles. Others would claim a historic episcopate tracing back many centuries. Some make no claims to historic succession, but term their elected leading ministers bishops.
The term “bishop” is not used, but a distinction is made between teaching and ruling elders (
The only officers recognized are pastors and deacons. In general, authority lies in the hands of the local congregation. Ordination of pastors does not convey any special endowment of grace, but is a recognition of the divine call and gift to spiritual oversight in a local congregation.
J. B. Lightfoot, Philippians (1868), 93-97, 179-267; E. Hatch, The Organization of Early έπίσκοπος, in Kittel, TWNT II (1935, tr. Bromiley, 1964); K. E. Kirk, ed., The Apostolic Ministry (1946), 113-303; T. W. Manson, The Church’s Ministry (1948); K. M. Carey, ed., The Historic Episcopate (1954); T. F. Torrance, Royal Priesthood (1955); J. K. S. Reid, The Biblical Doctrine of the Ministry (1955); L. Morris, Ministers of God (1964).(1881); C. Gore, The Church and the Ministry (1910); A. von Harnack, The Constitution and Law of the Church in the First Two Centuries (1910); H. B. Swete, ed., Essays on the Early History of the Church and the Ministry (1918), 57-214; H. W. Beyer,