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Bible Dictionaries

Fausset's Bible Dictionary

Bishop

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Greek episkopos , applied to the inspectors sent by Athens to her subject states, to inquire into their state, to rule and defend them. The Greek speaking Jews or Hellenists applied it in the Septuagint to officers who had "the oversight of the tabernacle" (Numbers 4:16; Numbers 31:14), "the officers overseeing the host" (Psalms 109:8, "his charge of overseeing let another take," quoted in Acts 1:20 "his bishopric"; Isaiah 60:17, "thine overseers righteousness." Presbyter or elder was the term in the Christian church at Jerusalem for the pastoral superintendent; episcopus or bishop was naturally adopted in Gentile Christian churches, the word being already in use among the Greeks. The terms were originally equivalent; presbuteros (whence "priest" comes by contraction) marking the age, rank, and respect due to him, episcopus marking his official duty.

Bishops and deacons are the two orders alone mentioned in Philippians 1:1. The plural shows there was more than one bishop and more than one deacon there. Those called "elders" (presbyters) are also termed "overseers" (bishops, Greek) as if the terms were interchangeable (Acts 20:17; Acts 20:28; Titus 1:5; Titus 1:7). The presbyters discharged episcopal functions, i.e. overseeing the flock (1 Timothy 5:17; 1 Peter 5:1-2). So in the epistles of Clement of Rome the two terms are interchangeable. But in Ignatius' epistles the bishop is regarded as superior to the presbyter. However, in the genuine epistles, in the Syriac version edited by Cureton, the bishop is much less exalted. "Elder" is the correlative term to "younger men" (Greek neoteroi ), Acts 5:6. "Elders" are first mentioned in the church in Judaea (Acts 11:30).

Paul and Barnabas transplanted the same Jewish government to the Gentile churches (Acts 14:23) by "ordaining elders in every church." "Bishops" are first mentioned in Paul's address at Miletus (Acts 20:28), describing the duty of the elders, namely, to be faithful "overseers." Then, during Paul's first imprisonment, in Philippians 1:1 "bishops" is the recognized term for "elders" Every Jewish synagogue had its council of "elders" (Luke 7:3) presided over by one of themselves, "the chief ruler of the synagogue." In their apostleship the apostles have no successors, for the signs of an apostle have not been transmitted. But the presidents over the presbyters and deacons, while still continuing of the same order as the presbyters, have succeeded virtually, by whatever name designated, angel, bishop, moderator, to a superintendency analogous to that exercised by the apostles, and evidently derived from the synagogue; see Vitringa, Synag. 2, chapters 3, 7.

The superintending pastor of each of the seven churches is in Revelation called its "angel," (the abuse of the term "apostle" by pretenders led to its restriction to the twelve and Paul, Revelation 2:2) just as in Old Testament the prophet Haggai (Haggai 1:13) is termed "the Lord's messenger (angel) in the Lord's message." In the larger churches, as Ephesus and Smyrna, there were many presbyters, but only one angel under the one "chief Shepherd and Bishop of Souls," the term "bishop" thus being applicable to the highest pastoral superintendence (1 Peter 2:25; 1 Peter 5:4). The enigmatic symbolism of Revelation transfers the term of office, angel, from Jehovah's heavenly to His earthly ministers; reminding them that, like angels above, they should do God's will lovingly and perfectly.

The "legate (angel) of the church" (sheliach tsibbur ) recited the prayers in the name of the assembled worshippers in the synagogue; the apostles, as Jews, naturally followed this pattern, under God's providential sanction: compare James 2:2, "assembly," Greek synagogue," 2 Corinthians 8:23. Timothy either at his ordination as presbyter, or else consecration as temporary overseer or bishop over Ephesus, received a spiritual gift "by prophecy," i.e. by the Spirit speaking through the prophets (Acts 13:1-3; 1 Timothy 1:18; 1 Timothy 4:14-15), accompanied "WITH the laying on of the hands of the presbytery." The laying on of hands symbolized the impartation of spiritual strength; as in Joshua's case (Numbers 27:18-20; Deuteronomy 34:9). The "with" implies that the presbyters' laying on of hands accompanied the conferring of the gift. The "by" in 2 Timothy 1:6 implies that Paul was the more immediate instrument of conferring it: "stir up the gift of God which is in thee BY the putting on of my hands."

The Jewish council was composed of the elders (the presbytery, Luke 22:66; Acts 22:5), and a presiding rabbi; so the Christian church was composed of elders and a president (Acts 15:19; Acts 15:23). At the ordination of the president three presbyters were always present to lay on hands; so the early church canons required three bishops to be present at the consecration of a bishop. The president ordained in both cases as the representative, in the name of the presbytery. Ordination (compare Acts 6:6; Acts 13:3) is meant in 1 Timothy 5:22, "lay hands suddenly (without careful inquiry into his character beforehand) on no man"; not, as Ellicott explains, "receive penitent backsliders into church fellowship by laying on hands." The qualifications are stated in 1 Timothy 3:1-7.

"Husband of one wife" confutes the Roman Catholic celibacy. He who has a virtuous wife and family will more attractively teach those who have similar ties, not only by precept but by example. The Jews teach a priest should neither be unmarried nor childless, test he be unmerciful. Yet as Jews and Gentiles regarded second marriages with prejudice (compare Anna, Luke 2:36-37), and a bishop ought to stand well in the esteem of his flock, he should be married but once. That prohibition no longer holds good, now that no such prejudice exists, which might otherwise have required lawful liberty to yield to Christian expediency. The prohibition may also refer to a second marriage after a divorce. Of ruing (presiding, Greek) presbyters there were two kinds, those who "labored in the word and teaching," and those who did not. The former were to receive "double honor" and remuneration. Both had "government" (1 Corinthians 12:28).

The "apostle" and evangelist" preached to the pagan, but the bishop-presbyter's office was pastoral (Titus 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:12), including ministration to the sick (James 5:14). Timothy as vicar apostolic heard accusations against elders, and deposed the guilty, and ordained presbyters and deacons (1 Timothy 5:19; Titus 3:10). The presiding bishops in the next age naturally succeeded in a permanent and settled sphere to these duties, which were previously discharged in a less settled charge by the apostles and their deputies, who moved from place to place. The sum of the arguments amounts to this, that episcopacy in the sense of superintendency, not in that of succession to the apostleship, has the apostolic precedent to recommend it; but no directions for the form of church government so positive and explicit as those in the Old Testament concerning the Aaronic priesthood and Levitical ministry are laid down in the New Testament as to the Christian ministry.

Various other orders and gifts are mentioned besides bishop-presbyters and deacons, with superintending apostles and apostolic vicars (as Timothy and Titus). These have not been permanent in all times and places (1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11-12). The absence of literal, positive directions as to church government, and the statement of the broad principle, "Let all things be done unto edifying" 1 Corinthians 14:26), and the continual presence of the Holy Spirit in the church to raise up fresh agencies for fresh needs of the church, while justifying episcopacy in its general following of the apostolic order, show us that it is not exclusively the divine platform, but that in all churches holding the essential truths of Scripture "we ought to judge those ministers lawfully called and sent, who be chosen and called to this work by men who have public authority given unto them in the congregation, to call and send ministers into the Lord's vineyard." (Ch. of Eng. Art. 23)


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Bibliography Information
Fausset, Andrew R. Entry for 'Bishop'. Fausset's Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/fbd/b/bishop.html. 1949.

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