Bishop (in the Bible)

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A title applied in the NT to the higher officers in the early Christian communities. The Greek word πίσκοπος, from which the English word bishop is derived (through the Latin episcopus ), means etymologically inspector, overseer, superintendent.

New Testament Usage. The word πίσκοπος, occurs five times in the NT. It is used once of Christ, in 2 Pt 2.25, where, like the Good Shepherd of Jn 10.1116, Christ is called "the shepherd and guardian (πίσκοπος,) of your souls"; cf. Wis 1.6, where God is called the inspector (πίσκοπος,) of man's heart. In Phil 1.1, Paul greets the Christians at Philippi "with their bishops and deacons"; since there were several such "overseers" in this single community, the term here cannot have the later technical meaning attached to the monarchical episcopate. In Acts 20.28 Paul says to the πρεσβύτεροι (presbyter) of Ephesus who had assembled at Miletus (20.1718), "Take heed to yourselves and to the whole flock in which the Holy Spirit has placed you as bishops to rule the Church of God"; here again, the fact that there were several bishops in one community excludes the monarchical concept of the term, and the fact that the term is here synonymous with presbyters shows that at this time no clear distinction was made between bishops and priestsa term derived from πρεσβύτεροι.

In the pastoral epistles the term occurs twice: in 1 Tm 3.2 and Ti 1.7. After stating in 1 Tm 31 that the έπισκοπή (office of bishopthe only NT occurrence of this word in such a technical sense) is a noble occupation, the passage (3.27) goes on to describe the qualities that should be found in a good bishop; but nothing is said here of his functions. Similarly, in Ti 1.79 there is a description of qualities to be found in one who is to be appointed bishop, with no mention of his functions; moreover, this passage follows immediately after an order to appoint presbyters, again showing that no distinction is made here between the two terms.

Therefore, since there is no clear evidence in the NT for a monarchical episcopate, this office, which was firmly established by the early decades of the 2nd century, must have been based on oral apostolic tradition going back ultimately to Christ [see bishop (in the church)].

Term and Office Outside the New Testament. In the pagan Hellenistic world the term πίσκοποι was applied to men who held various offices, both secular and religious, such as state and city officials, stewards, and business managers of cult associations. Although the term as used of these officials in cult associations may have influenced the NT choice of the term for Christian officials, the influence would extend only to the terminology; in its functions the NT office of men"who rule the Church of God" (Acts 20.28) is entirely different.

In the so-called Damascus Document of the dead sea scrolls the m ebaqqēr (examiner, inspector) is described as a teacher, preacher, financial manager, and authorized leader of his community. It has therefore been suggested that the NT πίσκοπος is to be connected in some manner with the m ebaqqēr of the qumran community. However, in the Septuagint this Greek word is used almost always for words formed on the Hebrew root pqd (to visit), whereas the root bqr is rare in the Hebrew OT. But what is more important, the m ebaqqēr of Qumran clearly appears as a monarchical leader of his community; if Christianity borrowed the office of the πίσκοπος, directly from the Qumran community, it would be difficult to explain why the NT office of the episcopacy does not appear as monarchical from the beginning.

Bibliography: l. marchal, Dictionnaire de la Bible, suppl. ed. l. pirot, et al. (Paris 1928) 2:12971333. j. lÉ cuyer, Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique. Doctrine et histoire, ed. m. viller et al. (Paris 1932) 4.1:879884. j. gewiess, Lexicon für Theologie und Kirche (Freiburg, 195766) 2:491492. g. a. buttrick, ed. The Interpreters' Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville 1962) 1:441443. Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) 249250. j. colson, L'Évêque dans les communautés primitives (Paris 1951); Les Fonctions ecclésiales aux deux premiers siècles (Bruges 1956). e. schweizer, Church Order in the New Testament, tr. f. clarke (Naperville, Ill. 1961). k. g. goetz, "Ist der m ebaqqēr der Genizafragmente wirklich das Vorbild des Christlichen Episkopats?" Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der älteren Kirche 30 (1931) 8993. j. daniÉlou, "La Communauté de Qumràn et l'organization de l'Église ancienne," Revue d'histoire et de philosophie religieuses 35 (1955) 104116. r. marcus, "M ebaqqēr and Rabbim in the Manual of Discipline 6.1113," Journal of Biblical Literature 75 (1956) 298302.

[j. j. o'rourke]