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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

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BISHOP (Gr. episkopos , Lat. episcopus , Ital. vescovo , Fr. évêque , Germ. Bischof ), ELDER (Gr. presbyteros , Lat. presbyterus , Fr. prêtre , Eng. priest ). The two words are so closely connected in the NT that they must be taken together here.

1 . The terms . The Greek word for ‘bishop’ is common in the general sense of an overseer , and in particular of sundry municipal officers. In LXX [Note: Septuagint.] it is used in Isaiah 60:17 of taskmasters, in Nehemiah 11:19 of minor officials, and in 1Ma 1:51 of the commissioners of Antiochus who enforced idolatry. But, so far as we can see, it was not the common name for the treasurers of private associations.

In the NT the word is found five times. In Acts 20:28 St. Paul reminds the elders of Ephesus that the Holy Ghost has made them bishops over the flock; in Philippians 1:1 he sends a greeting to the saints at Philippi ‘with bishops and deacons’; in 1 Timothy 3:2 he tells Timothy that ‘the bishop must be blameless,’ etc.; in Titus 1:7 he gives a similar charge to Titus; and 1 Peter 2:25 speaks of Christ as ‘the shepherd and bishop of your souls.’

In the OT the word ‘elder’ is used from early times of an official class having jurisdiction both civil and religious, so that when synagogues were built, the elders of the city would naturally be the elders of the synagogue, with the right of regulating the services and excluding offenders.

In NT times the idea would be carried over to the churches. It is indirectly recognized in Luke 22:26; but we cannot infer the existence of elders from Acts 5:6 , for ‘the younger men’ who carry out Ananias are simply ‘the young men’ in Acts 5:10 when they carry out Sapphira. The first clear trace of Christian elders is at Jerusalem. In Acts 11:30 (a.d. 44) they receive the offerings from Barnabas and Saul; in Acts 15:6 (a.d. 50) they take part in the Conference; in Acts 21:18 (a.d. 58) they join in the welcome to St. Paul. Earlier than this may be James 5:14 , where the word seems to denote officials. After this we hear no more of them till the Pastoral Epistles and 1Peter.

For the last two hundred years it has been generally agreed that bishops and elders in the NT and for some time later are substantially identical. For (1) bishops and elders are never joined, like bishops and deacons, as distinct classes of officials. (2) Philippians 1:1 is addressed ‘to bishops and deacons.’ Had there been an intermediate class of elders, it could not well have been omitted. So 1 Timothy 3:1-16 ignores the elders, though ( 1 Timothy 5:17 ) there were elders at Ephesus, and had been ( Acts 20:17 ) for some time. Conversely, Titus 1:6-7 describes elders instead, and nearly in the same words. (3) The bishop described to Timothy, the elders of Acts 20:1-38 , those of 1 Timothy 5:17 , those described to Titus, and those of 1 Peter 5:2 , all seem to hold a subordinate position, and to have rather pastoral duties than what we should call episcopal. (4) The same persons are called elders and bishops ( Acts 20:17; Acts 20:28 ). The words are also synonymous in Clement of Rome, and (by implication) in the Teaching of the Apostles and in Polycarp. Ignatius is the first writer who makes a single bishop ruler of a Church; and even he pleads no Apostolic command for the change.

The general equivalence of the two offices in the Apostolic age seems undeniable; and if there were minor differences between them, none have been clearly traced. The only serious doubt is whether bishops and deacons originally denoted offices at all. The words rather describe functions. Thus Philippians 1:1 ‘to bishops and deacons’ (no article) will mean ‘such as oversee and such as serve’ that is, the higher and the lower officials, whatever titles they may bear. This would seem proved by Titus 1:5; Titus 1:7 ‘that thou appoint elders …, for the bishop (overseer) must be blameless.’ The argument is that the elder must be so and so, because the bishop must be so and so. This is vain repetition if the bishop is only the elder under another name, and bad logic if he is a ruler over the elders; but it becomes dear if the ‘bishop’ is not a defined official, but an overseer generally. Then, the elder being a particular sort of overseer, the argument will be from a general rule to a particular case.

2. Appointment . At first popular election and Apostolic institution seem to have gone together. The Seven ( Acts 6:5-6 ) are chosen by the people and instituted by the Apostles with prayer and laying-on of hands. In the case of the Lycaonian elders ( Acts 14:23 ) the Apostles ‘appointed’ them with prayer and fastings. Similarly the elders in Crete ( Titus 1:6 ) are ‘appointed’ by Titus, and apparently the bishops at Ephesus by Timothy. In these cases popular election and laying-on of hands are not mentioned; but neither are they excluded. 1 Timothy 5:22 does not refer to ordination at all, nor Hebrews 6:2 to ordination only. The one is of the laying-on of hands in restoring offenders, while the other takes in all occasions of laying-on of hands. But in any case Timothy and Titus would have to approve the candidate before instituting him, so that the description of his qualifications is no proof that they had to select him in the first instance. Conversely, popular election is very prominent (Clement, and Teaching ) in the next age; but neither does this exclude formal approval and institution. The elders are already attached ( 1 Timothy 4:14 ) to the Apostles in the conveyance of special gifts; and when the Apostles died out, they would act alone in the institution to local office. The development of an episcopate is a further question, and very much a question of words if the bishop (in the later sense) was gradually developed upward from the elders. But the next stage after this was that, while the bishop instituted his own elders, he was himself instituted by the neighbouring bishops, or in still later times by the bishops of the civil province or by a metropolitan. The outline of the process is always the same. First popular election, then formal approval by authority and institution by prayer, with (at least commonly) its symbolic accompaniments of laying-on of hands and fasting.

3. Duties

(1) General superintendence : Elders in Acts 20:28 , 1Ti 5:17 , 1 Peter 5:2; 1 Peter 5:2 (ruling badly); bishops in 1 Timothy 3:5 . Indicated possibly in 1 Corinthians 12:28 ‘helps, governments’: more distinctly in Ephesians 4:11 ‘pastors and teachers,’ in pointed contrast to ‘apostles, prophets, and evangelists,’ whose office was not local. So 1 Thessalonians 5:12 ‘those that are over you,’ Romans 12:8 ‘he that ruleth.’ and Hebrews 13:7; Hebrews 13:17; Hebrews 13:24 ‘them that have the rule over you,’ remind us of the bishops and elders who rule ( 1 Timothy 3:4; 1 Timothy 5:17 ). So, too, the ‘rulers’ in Clement must be bishops or elders, for these bishops plainly have no earthly superior, so that they must be themselves the rulers.

Under this head we may place the share taken by the elders: ( a ) at Jerusalem ( Acts 15:6 ) in the deliberations of the Apostolic Conference, and ( Acts 21:18 ) in the reception held by James; ( b ) elsewhere ( 1 Timothy 4:14 ) in the laying-on of hands on Timothy, whether that corresponds to ordination or to something else.

(2) Teaching : 1 Thessalonians 5:12 rulers admonishing in the Lord; 1 Timothy 3:2 the bishop apt to teach; 1 Timothy 5:17 double honour to the elders who rule well, especially those who toil in word and teaching; Titus 1:9 the elder or bishop must be able to teach, and to convince the gainsayers. Yet 1 Timothy 5:17 seems to imply that elders might rule well who toiled in other duties than word and teaching; and if so, these were not the sole work of all elders.

Preaching is rather connected with the unlocal ministry of apostles, prophets, and evangelists: but in their absence the whole function of public worship would devolve on the local ministry of bishops and deacons. This becomes quite plain in the Teaching and in Clement.

(3) Pastoral care : This is conspicuous everywhere. To it we may also refer: ( a ) visiting of the sick ( James 5:14 ) with a view to anointing and cure not as a viaticum at the approach of death; ( b ) care of strangers and a fortiori of the poor ( 1 Timothy 3:2 , Titus 1:8 , the bishop to be a lover of strangers).

H. M. Gwatkin.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Bishop'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdb/​b/bishop.html. 1909.
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