Sunday, October 21, 2007

Who is a Bishop?

(not "The Bishop" from Monty Python)
I had the pleasure of attending the ordaining of a new elder in my local church today. So, "Who is a bishop?"

The Bible uses three words for leaders of the local church. These words are presbyter (elder), episkopos (bishop or overseer), and deacon.

The word for deacon means an attendant or "one who waits upon another". This office can first be seen in Acts 6 (although the word deacon is not used). Deacons serve the needs of the church, with little authority.

Interestingly, the words presbyter and episkopos are used interchangeably. In Titus (a key description of the office), Paul starts by reminding Titus to appoint "elders in every city" (of Crete, Titus 1:5). In verse 6, Paul starts to describe the qualities of a candidate. As he continues into verse 7, he switches to the term "overseer" (bishop, episkopos). The words seem to refer to the different roles played by a person.

An "elder" (literally older) is not necessarily older in age, but "more mature in faith". The elders are often spoken of as a group or council, making decisions together for the local church.

A "bishop" (overseer) is literally "one who oversees". A bishop is a shepherd, looking out over the flock. The bishop is looking for threats (wolves), and also seeing to the needs of the local flock.

Besides Titus, there is another good bishop passage in 1 Timothy 3 ("A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife...").


TheDen said...

Hey Ned,

Great post. One question that you didn't answer was how were bishops appointed? Who appointed them?

nedbrek said...

The Bible mentions Titus and Timothy appointed by Paul to select bishops. Traditionally, bishops were appointed by the apostles or other bishops.

But consider the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-39). It is possible he was the sole plant for the Ethiopian Orthodox church.

If a group of people on a remote island heard the Gospel on the radio, could they not appoint a bishop for themselves?

TheDen said...

The way that the Bible describes the appointment is through the Laying on of Hands (Acts 6:6, Acts 13:3, 1 Tim. 4:14). Paul tells Timothy not to take the laying on of hands on people too lightly (1 Tim. 5:22) and to share all he has learned from him to others. (2 Tim. 2:2)

The laying on of hands is the Sacrament of Holy Orders where the Holy Spirit confers grace to people who have been charged with authority of helping lead Christ’s flock. It has not stopped from the time of the apostles. They laid hands on people (Acts 6:6) who have laid hands on people…all the way to our present day and age.

Elders are priests (Presbyteroi = Priest). The Priests were assigned by Bishops to lead the congregation and to administer the Sacraments—in particular the Eucharist.

Within the laying on of hands lies the Apostolicity of the Church. It can really only be found in the Catholic Church and in the Orthodox Church. All other Churches do not have that unbroken line. I’m sure they do lay hands on people at other churches but they cannot trace the lineage back to the Apostles.

Does it prevent individuals from falling into error? No. (as you rightly pointed out in the previous post—thank you for clarifying by the way) but it does prevent the Church from falling into apostasy.

“But consider the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-39). It is possible he was the sole plant for the Ethiopian Orthodox church.”

Well, the belief is that Bartholomew and Matthew (two of the Apostles) traveled to Ethiopia. The Apostles were commissioned to go out into the world and preach the Gospel. They did that and all (save John) were martyred. Bartholomew was skinned alive! And Thomas made it all the way to India while Paul and Peter ended up in Rome. Along the way, they spread the good news, baptized, and appointed Bishops and Elders (Priests). The Bishops were over whole regions while the priests were over smaller communities. All in one Church.

But let’s say that the Ethiopian Eunuch did go there and start a church—as is apparently part of their tradition. In Wikipedia (, they explain that a gentleman named Frumentius was shipwrecked in Ethiopia in the 4th century and converted Emperor Ezana to Christianity. Emperor Ezana did not start his own church:

“The brothers managed to be brought to the royal court, where they rose to positions of influence and converted Emperor Ezana to Christianity, causing him to be baptised. Ezana sent Frumentius to Alexandria to ask the Patriarch, St. Athanasius, to appoint a bishop for Ethiopia. Athanasius appointed Frumentius himself, who returned to Ethiopia as Bishop with the name of Abune Selama.”

So, if there was a Christian community there, it did not become Apostolic and part of the Church until Athanasius appointed Frumentius as bishop.

If a group of people on a remote island heard the Gospel on the radio, could they not appoint a bishop for themselves?

No, they cannot appoint a bishop as there would be no Apostolicity to the appointment. They can appoint a spiritual leader to guide them but not a bishop.

BTW…as I mentioned in previous posts, this does not damn them or mean they are not part of the Church. If they are on a remote island and hear the Gospel on the radio and follow Christ to the best of their ability then yes, in all probability, they will be saved. Also, any person—Christian or non-Christian—can baptize. So, if you have a group of people who hear the Gospel on the radio, then yes, they should be baptized and they should always be obedient to the teachings of Christ.

nedbrek said...

I guess I don't understand the need for an unbroken chain of physical contact from the apostles.

Is one apostolic from physical contact? Or by doing what the apostles taught in the Bible?

TheDen said...

Hey Ned,

I guess the unbroken line is important because it allowed you to recognize the Church.

Also, in John 20:22, Jesus breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (Note: This is only the second time that "God breathed" on man in Scripture. The first time was in Genesis 2:7. There is an obvious parallel in here that God is giving man life in both instances). So think about this time, the only people who received the Holy Spirit were the Apostles.

How did they transfer it to others?

Through the laying of hands. Specifically in two ways:

1. Confirmation--Acts 8:14-18 talks about how the Samarians had only been baptized and that they sent for Peter and John to "lay hands on them" so that they receive the Holy Spirit. Before this, they had only been baptized. This still goes on today. When you were confirmed, you most likely were confirmed by a bishop (or a priest with direct consent from a bishop). This bishop holds the same office as the Apostles and was given the authority by them to confirm or "lay hands" on Christians so that they receive the Holy Spirit.

It was done then and it's done today.

2. Holy Orders

I think we discussed this but the Apostles appointed Bishops and Priests also through the laying of hands. This laying of hands was different as they were given different authorities. This was giving them the authority to lay hands on others for confirmation and allowed for the priests to celebrate the Eucharist.

In both events, the transfer of the Holy Spirit comes from the laying on of hands and is directly linked to John 20:22.

What happens when you lose the Apostolicity?

The Catholics, Orthodox, and Anglicans all claim that their Apostolic. Well, the Catholics and Orthodox are surprisingly very similar in their theologies and doctrines with differences only really in Papal authority--which probably stems more on the political climate from the fifth to 11th century more than anything else. They are both believed to be Apostolic and have been protected by the Holy Spirit from straying away from doctrine and theology.

The Anglicans believe they are Apostolic, however, in 1559, Queen Elizabeth removed the bishops (who were Apostolic) and appointed bishops who would submit to her authority (who were not Apostolic). 450 years later, the Anglican Church can be seen to start spinning out of control in their doctrine. It's gotten to the point where a large number of Anglicans and Episcopalians are coming back to Catholicism because they see how much Anglicanism has changed.

That's why the Apostolicity is important.

nedbrek said...

I don't know if the correlation between Apostolicity and apostasy is as high as that between a "low view of Scripture" and apostasy.

How do you regard the efforts of John Wycliffe, and William Tyndale to get the Bible into common language?

These men were burned as heretics (Wycliffe, posthumously...).

Do you believe the Church would of made these reforms on her own?

TheDen said...


In regards to Wyclif and Tyndale, do I think that Tyndale should have been burned at the stake?

Of course not!

This was the standard practice at the time for Protestants and Catholics. It was an embarrassing time for everyone and nobody's hands are clean. Again, these are individuals and not the Church.

Now, to the root of your question. I think we need to have some clarifications. I think that there may be some Protestants who believe that the Church doesn't want people reading the Bible. This is untrue and that has never been the case. I'm sure you remember that the Mass is entirely Scriptural. From what I understand, more Scripture is read in the Catholic Mass then at Protestant services.

First off, the Wycliffe Bible was not the first translation into English. Portions of it were already translated:

Secondly, the vast majority of people could not read and Bibles were EXTREMELY expensive. Each Church had one and it was chained down (to prevent theft) and all people had access to it.

Third, the Bible was translated into Latin and most (if not all) could read the Latin version of Scripture as they would have been classically educated in it. English was barely writable at the time as the written language was still being developed. From the 1300's, there's barely any literature in English from that time frame.

Fourth, Tyndale and Wycliffe's translations were deemed heretical not because they were in English but because they were BAD TRANSLATIONS. They burned the Bibles because they stunk.

Are Protestants reading Tyndale's or Wycliffe's versions today? I don't think so. Why? Because they were really bad translations (i.e. heretical).

Lastly, the Catholic Church loves Scripture. This can be shown as they were the ones who determined the Canon and during the dark ages, the Church preserved Scripture by having Monks painstakingly transcribe Scripture.

As far as the Church making reforms on their own...the Church needs to constantly reform. As mentioned before, she is made of weak and sinful men and women. The Church needs people to scream out and say, "Hey...this needs to be fixed!!!"

Thomas Aquinas criticized the Church of his time. Catherine of Siena demanded that the Popes return to Rome (they were living in Avignon, France, at the time). Both are considered reformers and both were canonized as saints. Martin Luther complained and that was commendable. Everything he wrote in his 95 Theses was accurate.

Where Luther went wrong was breaking away from the Church. He was right in demanding reform. He was wrong in breaking away from it.

Even today, if there are people within the Church who are committing grave error--from the Pope on down, it's the people's responsibility to complain about it. HOWEVER, it's not within their right to form a new Church in protest.