A literal translation of the Greek work episkopos usually rendered into English by “bishop.” In the OT it was applied to the seventy delegated to assist Moses, and later to other officials during the period of the monarchy. In the NT this term is also employed, but usually is equated with “elder” (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 2:25). At the time of the Reformation the Lutheran churches in Germany and Scandinavia tended to use the term in place of “bishop,” which had become distasteful to Protestants by virtue of its association with the great prelates of the Roman Catholic Church. After the Saxon visitation of 1527 they were instituted as state officials, but soon they came under the control of the consistory, a supervisory body with no very clearly defined powers.

The superintendent usually had authority over the clergy and congregations within his province, inducted pastors to their parishes, had general oversight of discipline, particularly excommunication, and acted as the church's administrative officer. In some areas there were general superintendents over other superintendents. In recent years the office has changed considerably. Attempts have been made to prove that the superintendents established in Scotland by the first Book of Discipline were of the same type, and while the title may have been taken over from the Lutheran churches, there were important differences, i.e., the office was temporary, the superintendents were directly responsible to the general assembly, and the superintendent could act in a number of instances only with the concurrence of the local ministers and church sessions. The office was finally abolished as the presbyteries became established.