Brown, R.E.

A Brief Survey of the New Testament Evidence on Episkopé and Episkopos




A Brief Survey of the New Testament Evidence on Episkopé and Episkopos


Raymond E. Brown


The total New Testament (NT) occurrences of three pertinent words are as follows:
episkopein: “to supervise, oversee, inspect, care for” (I Peter 5: 2) (plus a usage not directly relevant to our purposes in Hebrews 12: 15)
episkopé: “visit, visitation, position of supervisor, function of supervising” (Acts 1: 20; I Timothy 3: 1) (plus two passages in Luke 19: 44 and I Peter 2: 12, which are not directly relevant)
episkopos: “supervisor, bishop” (Acts 20: 28; Philip. 1: 1; I Timothy 3: 2; Titus 1: 7; I Peter 2: 25)

Obviously, those who are called supervisors (episkopoi) exercised some type of ecclesiastical supervision in NT times. But so did others, and so I shall begin by tracing evidence for supervision exercised by other types of people in NT times, and then narrow down to those who were called supervisors. In the NT only the Pastoral Epistles are ex professo concerned with church structure, and undoubtedly there was more supervision and structure for supervision than we know about. Since second-century institutions and church officers were not a creatio ex nihilo, it will be useful eventually (and with the aid of the paper by Professor Zizioulas) to trace first-century roots of second-century developments. However, it would be extremely dangerous to assume that the second-century situations that are never mentioned in the NT already existed in the first century. We must allow for the possibility of development and of increasing structuralisation as the great figures of the early period became distant memories, and local churches had to survive on their own.


I. The Twelve

In Acts 1: 20, Luke has Peter citing Psalm 109 (108): 8: “His episkopé let another take”, in reference to replacing Judas as a member of the Twelve. This means, as Luke looked back on the early Church from his position ca. A.D. 80, the members of the Twelve were thought to have had a function of supervising. What did that consist in?

All the Gospels portray a group of the Twelve existing during Jesus’ ministry and I Cor. 15: 5 shows them in existence immediately after the resurrection. So there is little reason to doubt that Jesus chose the Twelve. Why? There is only one saying about the purpose of the Twelve attributed to Jesus himself (Mt. 19: 28; Luke 22: 28-30): that they were to sit on (twelve) thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. The idea seems to have been that in the renewed Israel proclaimed by Jesus there were to be twelve men, just as there were twelve sons of Jacob/Israel at the first beginnings of Israel. The Dead Sea Scroll community of the New Covenant adopted the same symbolism for they had a special group of twelve in their Community Council (1QS 8: 1).

Besides this symbolism, the evangelists tell us that Jesus gave the Twelve a missionary task (this may be influenced by the fact that they were also considered apostles — see below). Matthew 10: 5-6 has those who constitute the Twelve being sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel; and 28: 16-20 has the Twelve (minus Judas) told to go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them and teaching them. Nevertheless, we do not know that all or most of them did this, since all references to them as a group after the ministry of Jesus portray them in Jerusalem. In the four lists of their names there is confusion about the name of one of them (Lebbaeus, Thaddaeus, Judas of James), and this probably means that by the last third of the century, while they were remembered as a group, the names of the minor figures were being confused and forgotten. In fact, the only ones who have any significant role in the NT are those who constitute the first four in all lists, the two sets of brothers, Peter and Andrew, James and John. With or without Andrew they are portrayed as having a special role in the ministry of Jesus (Mark 1: 16-20; 5: 37; 9: 2; 13: 3; 14: 33). In Acts, Peter and John play a prominent role in early preaching; Galatians 2: 9 shows Peter and John at Jerusalem in 49. James the brother of John died a martyr’s death in the early 40s (Acts 12: 2). The only one ever pictured outside Palestine in the NT is Peter who went to Antioch (Galatians 2: 11), and perhaps to Corinth (I Corinthians 1: 12; 9: 5). Otherwise the NT is silent on the fate of the members of the Twelve. The image of them as carrying on missionary endeavours all over the world has no NT support. The archaeological and later documentary


evidence that Peter died in Rome is credible, but the rest could have died in Jerusalem so far as NT evidence is concerned.

As for exercising supervision there is no NT evidence that any of them ever served as heads of local churches, and it is several centuries before they begin to be described as “bishops” of first-century Christian centres, which is surely an anachronism. Acts shows the Twelve exercising a type of collective influence in meetings that decided church policy (6: 2; 15: 6). They are regarded as having a foundational role, either collectively as their names appear on the twelve foundations of the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21: 14), or in the person of Peter (Matthew 16: 18), or with Peter and John as two of the pillars (of the Church) in Galatians 2: 9. An important text for supervisory authority is Matthew 18: 18 where the disciples (probably the Twelve) are given the power to bind and loose, whether that means admitting to the community or making binding regulations. It is given specifically to Peter in Matthew 16: 19, and in Acts 5: 1-6 we find him striking down unworthy members of the community. Also in John 21: 15-17 Peter is told by Jesus to feed or pasture Jesus’ sheep. One of the two Greek verbs, poimainein, involves guiding, feeding, and guarding. Thus there seems to have been a collective policy-making authority, and in the case of the best-known of the Twelve, Peter, a memory of pastoral responsibility. Otherwise the NT is remarkably vague about the kind of supervision exercised by members of the Twelve.


II. Acts 6: The Hellenist Leaders and James the Brother of the Lord

The Christians in Jerusalem are becoming numerous; and a dispute has broken out whereby one group of Jewish Christians (Hebrews), who exercise control of community goods, is shutting off aid to the widows as the most vulnerable members of the other group of Jewish Christians (the Hellenists). The basis of the dispute was probably theological stemming from the negative Hellenist attitude toward the Temple (to be revealed in Stephen’s sermon). The Twelve summon the common Christian assembly called “the multitude” (plēthos in Acts 6: 2, 5; 15: 12, 30 is a technical term, related to the Qumran community meeting called a “Session of the Many”: 1QS 6: 8ff.), and they discuss the problem. Thus, in Luke’s picture, by this time (mid-30s) there has already developed a structure for handling the common goods and also a deliberative assembly; but now more formal administration is needed to deal with a larger and less harmonious membership.


Three results come from this scene:

(1) Even to settle the dispute, the Twelve will not take over the distribution of community goods (“It is not right that we should give up preaching the Word of God in order to serve tables”). The fact that this is mentioned as a refused possibility means that they have not been doing it. The decision of the Twelve to avoid becoming administrators of a local church fits the statement made above that none of the Twelve was portrayed as a local church leader in NT times.

(2) At the suggestion of Peter, the Hellenists are given their own administrators whose (seven) names are listed in Acts 6: 5. The fact that the dispute has been centered on distribution of food, described demeaningly as “waiting (diakonein) on table”, has led to the erroneous designation of the Hellenist leaders as deacons, with the thought that they were the second-grade church administrators mentioned in Philippians 1: 1 and the Pastorals. However, seemingly they were the top-level administrators of the Hellenist Christians, who not only supervised the distribution of common goods but also preached and taught (as seen from Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7 and Philip’s activity in Acts 8). They are the first local church administrators encountered in the NT. We do not know if they had a title, buy by later standards they would not have been unlike the presbyter/supervisors (bishops) of the Pastorals.

(3) We are not told in Acts 6 if the Hebrew section of the Jerusalem community received a corresponding set of authorities; but we may well suspect they did, for afterwards (Acts 11: 30) we find references for the first time to a group of presbyters (presbyteroi) who are handling the common food of the Jerusalem/Judaean church. They are consistently mentioned alongside the Twelve in Jerusalem (Acts 15: 2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 16: 4 — by “apostles” Luke means the Twelve). The parallel with the Jewish authorities mentioned in Acts 4: 5, 8 (the rulers of the people and the presbyters) and 23: 14; 24: 1; 25: 15 (the highpriests, especially Annas, and the presbyters) is striking. Luke undoubtedly intends to show the Jewish Christian situation parallel to the Jewish situation, but historically it is not unlikely that the Jewish Christians took over the idea of presbyters from the Jewish synagogues. Just as Annas is singled out on the Jewish side, so is James (the brother of the Lord) singled out for a special role presiding over the presbyters in Acts 21: 18. Although Luke does not identify him, this is surely the man at Jerusalem who was the brother of the Lord and whom Paul seemingly calls an apostle (Galatians 1: 19), i.e. an apostle in the Pauline sense, not one of the Twelve Apostles. (The brothers of the Lord were not members of the Twelve as Acts 1: 13-14 makes clear.)

This James was looked on as a pillar (Galatians 2: 9), alongside two members of the Twelve (Cephas and John); he took a leading role in binding Gentile Christians in Antioch,


Syria, and Cilicia to Jewish food laws (Acts 15: 13-21, 23-29; Galatians 2: 2). The statement that he succeeded Peter as leader of the Jerusalem church is based on a misconception that Peter was the local leader of the church in Jerusalem. According to Acts, the Twelve did have a leadership in the Jerusalem church in the early days when that constituted all of Christendom, and Peter was the spokesman of the Twelve. But Acts 6 indicates that Peter, as the spokesman of the Twelve, refused administration properly understood when that became necessary because of numbers and complexity. Thus it is more proper to say that from the moment that the Jerusalem church needed specific leadership, James along with the presbyters played that role. That James was remembered as a person who exercised supervision over a church is confirmed by the Epistle of James. Whether or not it was written by him, such an Epistle with its instructions about behaviour, teaching and prayer life was thought to be appropriately attributed to him.

It would appear, then, that in the mid-30s a need for local supervision was recognized for the Hebrew and Hellenist communities in Jerusalem and was met in two different ways, respectively, James and the presbyters, and the seven Hellenis authorities. Each group would have managed the common funds, made decisions affecting the life style of the Christians, and entered into discussions about church policy as regards conversions. The urging of the common assembly by the Twelve which led to this development is the closest the Twelve ever come in the NT to appointing local church leaders.


III. The Pauline Apostle

In Paul’s view, inevitably refracted through his own situation, apostles were those who were sent out by the risen Jesus to proclaim the Gospel, even at the price of suffering and persecution. Clearly from I Corinthians 15: 5-7 “all the apostles” were a wider group than the Twelve. How ancient and how widespread was this Pauline notion of “apostle”? The I Corinthians 15 formula may be pre-Pauline. The idea of the missionary apostle was so well-established that it was applied to the Twelve when they were considered apostles. (There is probably a development: the Twelve were considered as apostles; then came the expression the “Twelve Apostles” in the sense that they were the apostles par excellence since they had also been called by the earthly Jesus; then “the Twelve Apostles” in an exclusive sense — only in Acts 14: 4, 14 does Luke ever call anyone else apostles, i.e., Barnabas and Paul.) For instance, Matthew 28: 16-20 has the risen Jesus ging to the Twelve (Eleven) a mission to the whole earth; also Acts 1: 8 — even though it is dubious historically that many of the Twelve functioned outside Jerusalem. Whether Paul would have agreed that


most of the Twelve were apostles by his missionary standards is not known (he never calls them apostles), but certainly he recognized Peter as an apostle (Galatians 2: 7).

If Paul is taken as an example of the missionary apostle, we find in his letters many examples of supervision exercised by the apostle. He teaches, he exhorts, he reproves, and he exercises judgment on bad members of a church. II Corinthians 13: 2 implies that, when present, the apostles could punish directly, without need for consulting the community; and II Thessalonians 3: 14 orders anyone to be ostracized who refuses to obey the apostles instructions in a letter. Nevertheless, despite relatively long periods passed by Paul at Corinth and Ephesus, the apostle is not a local, residential church leader.

Even from the earliest days of the Pauline mission, there were local church leaders who functioned while the apostle was alive. About A.D. 50 Paul told the Thessalonians whom he had converted a few months before (I Thessalonians 5: 12): “Respect those who labour among you and are over you in the Lord (proistamenoi)”; Philippians 1: 1 is addressed to episkopoi and diakonoi, proof that the title “supervisor” was already in use by A.D. 60; and I Corinthians 12: 28 lists administration or governance (kybernēsis) as a charism at Corinth. We do not know: how these leaders at various Pauline churches differed from each other, whether they all had titles; whether there was a real office that was held for a period of time; what exact functions they had; whether those who served as leaders came forward feeling themselves called, or were elected, or were appointed by Paul. The appearance of leaders at Thessalonica within such a short time after Paul’s evangelizing makes it quite plausible that sometimes he arranged for local leadership before he left a community. The Lucan statement in Acts 14: 23 that Barnabas and Paul appointed “presbyters in every church” is probably anachronistic in the title it gives and in the universality of its claim, but probably quite correct that during his lifetime Paul sometimes appointed local church leaders in communities he had evangelized. No matter what supervision such leaders exercised, they were still subject to the overarching supervision of the apostle who could issue commands in all the churches (I Corinthians 7: 17) and had a daily care for all the churches touched by his mission (II Corinthians 11: 28). The supervision of the local church leader was modified in another way by the presence of other charisms in the community. In I Corinthians 12: 28 the charism of administrators is mentioned only after many others: “first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators”. We do not know how such figures as prophets, teachers and administrators were interrelated in the supervision of a community.


The authority of the apostle seems to have been the highest (under Christ) in the churches of his mission. There is evidence, however, that a rivalry could develop when different apostles worked in the same community. At Corinth (I Corinthians 1: 12) there is trouble when some proclaim adherence to Paul, others to Apollos, others to Cephas; and Paul is sarcastic about the efforts of “super-apostles” in a church he founded (II Corinthians 11: 5). The danger of conflicting authority causes him to avoid building on another man’s foundation (Romans 15: 20), although others build on his foundation (I Corinthians 3: 10).

It becomes important, then, that the various apostles preach the same Gospel: “whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed”. The matter is especially serious when there is a difference between an apostle like Paul and a member of the Twelve like Peter or the head of the Jerusalem church, James the brother of the Lord. Although Paul is critical of the status of such “pillars” (“what they were makes no difference to me”: Galatians 2: 6, 9), he recognizes that in one way or another they have enough power to render his efforts vain. (The text in Galatians 2: 2 certainly does not mean that his Gospel would be wrong if they disagreed with him, for Galatians 1: 8 excludes that; but refusal to accept Gentiles by Peter and James and John would have ruined Paul’s efforts to keep the Gentile churches in union with the Jewish churches.) And so it was important that these figures extended the right hand of fellowship (Galatians 2: 7-9). All of this means that in facing a major problem like the conversion of the Gentiles without circumcision, figures with different types of supervision like Paul, James, and Peter all had a say in the outcome. On the other hand, they might well disagree in other matters, for instance, in the obligation of Gentiles to observe the Jewish food laws. Peter, who had been under the influence of Paul, switched when men from James challenged his behaviour in Antioch, perhaps because Antioch was James’ sphere of influence in such matters of local Christian interrelations. Certainly the policy advocated by James and adopted for Antioch, Syria and Cilicia (Acts 15: 20, 23) on Gentile obligations about food dedicated to idols was not the policy Paul insisted on in the churches of his mission (I Corinthians 8). Yet while Paul may have felt free to have one policy in Corinth while James had another in Jerusalem and Antioch, when Paul went to Jerusalem he may have had to follow James’ policy on Jewish obligations, if Acts 21: 23 is historical.

Thus, when we speak of supervision exercised by the three best known figures of the ancient Church, we have to recognize that the NT itself shows different areas of competence (both in terms of subject and geography) among Peter the first-listed and spokesman of the Twelve, James the leader of the Jerusalem (mother) church, and Paul the apostle to the Gentiles.


IV. The Presbyter-Bishops and the Succession to the Apostles

If many of the Pauline churches had local leaders during the apostle’s lifetime (some of them, at least, appointed by him), the question of local-church leadership became a major concern in the 60s just as Paul was about to die (if the Pastoral Epistles are genuine) or more likely in the 70s-90s (if the Pastorals are pseudonymous and yet describe a situation that precedes Ignatius of Antioch). Titus was left in Crete “to set in order what was wanting and to appoint presbyters in each city” (Titus 1: 5), and qualifications for an episkopos, “supervisor, bishop”, are given to help Titus in his task. The very fact that Titus has to be told to do this means that there were not yet presbyter/bishops in all the churches of the Pauline mission and confirms the suspicion that Luke was anachronistic when he said that in the late 40s Barnabas and Paul appointed presbyters in every church (Acts 14: 23). He was probably describing what was going on in Pauline churches when we was writing Acts (80s).

We may begin by noting that the Pastorals are meant to give authority to Timothy and Titus, companions of Paul, to structure churches, even as the apostle is beginning to disappear from the ecclesiastical scene (II Timothy 4: 6). There was then a period of post-apostolic supervision by second-generation apostolic delegates who acted in the name of the apostle on the grounds that they had accompanied him and knew his mind. There must have been resistance to such apostolic delegates (and if the Pastorals are pseudonymous, Paul is being summoned from the grave to still the resistance). In I Timothy 4: 12 Paul is pictured as encouraging Timothy not to let himself be despised and in II Timothy 1: 6 to rekindle the gift of God that is within him through the laying-on of Paul’s hands. Such apostolic delegates would have been an intermediary stage of supervision between the apostle’s great personal authority over the churches he founded (40s-60s) and the period when the local church leaders became the highest authorities (second century). If we know by name second-generation apostolic delegates who exercised quasi-apostolic authority, where there later third-generation apostolic delegates (disciples of disciples of the apostles) who were not local bishops? We know little about that. Eventually the apostolic function of not being closely attached to a local church but of supervising a whole group of churches who have a common heritage disappears. In this sense local bishops succeeded to the apostolic care for the churches, in a partial way which was later enlarged with the development of the patriarchates, the papacy, etc. In all this one should note that in the NT succession in pastoral care is to the apostles in het Pauline sense. The idea that the Twelve were apostles (and eventually that they were the


only apostles to be reckoned with) would ultimately lead to the understanding that they were the apostles to whom the local church leaders succeeded. In the NT, however, the Twelve are never described as founding churches, and so there is no real issue of succession to their pastoral care. However, see below in I Peter.

Moving on from the apostolic delegates to the local church leaders described in the Pastorals, we find that in these letters there have emerged established offices for which qualifications are given. Some of the qualifications (I Timothy 3; Titus 1) are institutional, so that no matter what abilities a person may have, the person will be rejected because of stipulations that are only secondarily related to what a person will be doing (no recent convert nor a person who has been married a second time is eligible to be a presbyter). This factor, plus the idea of appointment by an apostolic delegate, means that personally experienced charisms have ceded to community acknowledgement in determining who shall have supervision. Yet we know little more about this determination, once the apostolic delegate disappeared from the historical scene. After the Pastorals (or even contemporaneously with them but in other churches) we do not know how office holders received their office, e.g. by election (Didache 15: 1), by the influence of other churches who had leaders, or by descent from a previous office holder, etc. There is nothing in our NT literature of the first century about a regular process of ordination, although surely sometimes hands were laid upon them. (A fortiori there is nothing to support the thesis that by a chain of laying on of hands every local church leader could trace a pedigree of ordination back to “the apostles”.) Nor do we know whether church offices were held for a limited time or for life.

Let us now turn to the designation of the local church officials. It is not germane to our topic of “church supervision” to discuss recognized community roles or “orders”, such as widows or virgins, which are not recorded as exercising supervision. In the Pastorals, there seem to be two offices set up for pastoral care of the community, a higher office and a subordinate office, and the holder of each seems to have two titles, respectively, the presbyter or bishop, and the “younger” or deacon. One document may speak exclusively of the two officers as “episkopoi and diakonoi” (Philippians 1: 1), while another document may speak of presbyteroi (literally “elders”) and neōteroi (“youngers” — I Peter 5: 1, 5). Yet certain passages betray an interchangeability of these sets of titles. The interchangeability of presbyteros and episkopos is seen not only in the Pastorals (Titus 1: 5, 7; I Timothy 3: 1; 5: 17), but also in Acts 20: 28 where those who have previously been designated as the presbyteroi of the church of Ephesus are told, “Take heed of yourselves an to all the flock in which the Holy Spirit has made you episkopoi to shepherd the church of God”.


Similarly, in I Peter 5: 2-3, Peter addressed himself to presbyteroi, “Feed the flock, being supervisors (episkopountes) not by coercion but willingly” (however, the second Greek word is missing from Vaticanus and the original hand of Sinaiticus). The interchangeability of neōteros and diakonos is attested by the parallelism in Luke 22: 26: “Let the great one among you become a neōteros; let the one who rules become a diakonos.” (The fact that neōteros is not simply an age bracket but another name for the subordinate office has frequently been missed, giving strange combinations, e.g. where I Peter 5: 1-4 with its reference to presbyteroi is correctly understood as a reference not to elderly men but to holders of presbyteral office, the next verse (5: 5) is thought to shift with its neōteroi to the them of youth!) Why two sets of titles? If we concentrate on the higher office, it has often been suggested that one title presbyteros was in use among Jewish communities, while the other episkopos was in use in the Gentile Christian churches. This is a guess, since the evidence we have for the use of presbyteros in Jewish Christian communities is Acts’ account of the Jerusalem community (see II above), and Acts describes the officials of the Gentile Christian communities as presbyteroi too (Acts 14: 23; 20: 17). A mor plausible theory is that we have here a reflection of two strains of Judaism which came into Christianity. The synagogues of Pharisaic Judaism had a group of zěqēnīm, “elders”, the Hebrew equivalent to presbyteroi, who formed a council, setting policy, but were not individually pastors responsible for the spiritual care of individuals. The community of the New Covenant at Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls) had beside zěqēnīm officials who bore the title of měbaqqēr or pāqīd, synonymous words meaning “supervisor, overseer”. These functionaries, usually assigned to a group, did have pastoral responsibility. The higher Christian office described in the Pastorals may combine the group of presbyters from the Pharisaic synagogue with the supervisor of Jewish sectarianism, so that the presbyteroi served also as supervisors. (This origin would explain why in Titus 1: 7 episkopos is singular while in 1: 5 presbyteroi is plural.) While our evidence is that there is a general interchangeability between the title presbyteros and the title episkopos, it is possible that not all presbyters assumed the title and role of supervisors. I Timothy 5: 17 speaks of the double honour due to “those presbyters who rule well” (using proestōtes for “ruling” — the same term applied to church leaders in I Thessalonians 5: 12, and thus alerting us that more titles than two may have come together for church leaders). Does the author in this phrase mean that while all presbyters rule, only some rule well, or that only some presbyters rule? The latter seems more plausible since Paul goes on to single out those presbyters “who labour in preaching and teaching”, which surely means that not all had those tasks. The body of presbyters, then, may have divided up among themselves tasks once handed by people with


different charisms, e.g. the teachers and administrators of I Corinthians 12: 28. Professor Zizioulas’ paper will deal with Ignatius of Antioch and the emergence of a threefold office where there was one bishop, a group of presbyters and a group of deacons (a situation not attested in the NT), so that episkopos was no longer the equivalent of presbyteros. However, in light of the above discussion attention should be paid to Polycarp, Philippines 5: 3, for there neōteroi are told to be subject to both presbyters and deacons. Just as presbyters ultimately became subordinate to bishops, so neōteroi became subordinate to diakonoi and at least for a brief period the two sets of terms yielded four offices or roles.

That the term diakonos could be applied to a woman is known from Romans 16: 1. In the passage on deacons in I Timothy 3: 8-13, rules are laid down for women in 3: 11, and some have argued that these are the wives of deacons. (However, the clear reference to the deacon’s wife in 3: 12 may be introducing a new but related topic.) Whether they are or not, they surely serve as deacons, since the author speaks of the rules for them as similar to the rules for (male) deacons. In view of the high plausibility that there were men and women deacons in the churches of the Pastorals, and that neōteros was another term for diakonos, a passage in I Timothy 5: 1-2 raises the question of whether there were also both men and women presbyters. The apostolic delegate is told by “Paul” how to treat presbyters and “youngers”: “Do not rebuke a presbyteros but exhort him as you would a father, and neōteroi as you would brothers; presbyterai as you would mothers, and neōterai as you would sisters.” It is most often assumed that age brackets are meant, and indeed neōterai refers to younger women who are widows in 5: 11, 14. Nevertheless, every other passage dealing with presbyteros in the Pastorals is taken to refer to office-holders, including the two passages in this same chapter of I Timothy (5: 17, 19). This argument is offset by the fact that the parallel passage in Titus 2: 1-6 (which speaks of the male presbytēs and neōteros and the female presbytis and nea) deals with age groups. But we can say that if there were women presbyters as there were women deacons, it should be remembered that not all presbyters seem to have ruled (i.e., served as an episkopos). The prohibition in I Timothy 2: 12, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over men”, may have been thought all the more necessary if women held an office that allowed many of its male occupants to teach and rule.

What were the precise supervisory roles of the presbyter/bishops and the neōteroi/deacons? I Timothy 3: 8-13 describes only the qualifications of the deacons, and so we know nothing of what they did. (That they waited on table is an idea stemming from the false assumption that deacons were involved in Acts 6: 1-6.) Since the name diakonos describes a servant, perhaps the deacon should not be thought of as


an office of supervision in the NT. As for the presbyter/bishop we know that some or many taught (I Timothy 5: 17), especially having the role of confuting false doctrines and protecting the purity of the community faith (Titus 1: 9). From the insistence that the presbyter/bishop must be able to manage his own household, being no lover of money (I Timothy 3: 3-5; also I Peter 5: 2, “not for shameful gain”), and from the rhetorical question, “If someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for the church of God?” (I Timothy 3: 5), we may suspect that the presbyters handled the common goods of the community. The image of the shepherd appears frequently for presbyter/bishops (Acts 20: 28; I Peter 5: 2), and so their supervising authority was like that of shepherds over sheep, feeding, guiding, and protecting. It is scarcely accidental that at Qumran CD 13: 7-19 assigns exactly those roles to the “supervisor”: he is like a shepherd over sheep, he manages the common goods, he is a teacher and inspector of the doctrine of the members of the community.

No cultic or liturgical role is assigned to the presbyter/bishops in the Pastorals. The closest to that in the NT is James 5: 14-15 where the presbyters of the church are called in to pray over the sick person and anoint him in the name of the Lord, so that “the prayer of faith will save the sick person”. This passage in James confirms the existence of presbyters in a non-Pauline church of Jewish origins where the name of James (the brother of the Lord) was venerated, and may be related to the information given in II above about James and the presbyters at Jerusalem (information found in Acts). I Peter 5: 1-4 addressed to the churches in northern Asia Minor shows the existence of presbyter/bishops in another area where Peter was looked upon as an authority. (Parenthetically, it should be noted that letters of pastoral concern, closely similar to Pauline style, attributed to Peter, portray him as having an apostolic care for specific churches, and confirms the observation that of the Twelve Peter came closest to the Pauline notion of an apostle.) The idea that Peter spoke as a “fellow presbyter” telling presbyters how to behave is not unlike that of Paul in the Pastorals giving the qualifications for presbyter/bishops. Thus in churches associated with the three great apostolic figures of the NT, Paul, James and Peter, presbyters were known and established in the last third of the first century.

Professor Zizioulas’ paper will discuss the exclusive role of the bishop and presbyters in relation to baptism and the eucharist in the churches addressed by Ignatius of Antioch. There is not a word of that in the NT. Various other people baptize: the Twelve (Matthew 28: 19; Acts 2: 41); Peter (Acts 10: 47-48), Philip the Hellenist leader (Acts 8: 38), Paul the apostle (I Corinthians 1: 14-17, but “Christ did not send me to baptize”). We know virtually nothing of who presided at the eucharist in NT times. The instruction to do so is given to the Twelve in Luke 22: 19 (I Corinthians 11: 24), but not in Mark/Matthew. In Acts 13: 2 in the church of Antioch prophets and teachers “liturgize” (leitourgein). This finds


an echo in Didache 10: 7, “Allow the prophets to ‘eucharistize’ (eucharistein) as they will”. (Association of the prophet with the eucharist is not so strange when we realize that the NT prophets, men and women, often know and predict the future, and the eucharist was thought to proclaim “the Lord’s death until he comes” (I Corinthians 11: 26).) Between the NT position where prophets and teachers have a liturgical role and the Ignatian position where the bishop and presbyters have that role comes the situation in Didache (Pastorals 80-90; Didache 100; Ignatius 110 by way of dating?). In the church of Didache there are still prophets and teachers, with prophets holding the eucharist; yet the author urges, “Appoint for yourselves bishops and deacons ... for they are your honourable men together with prophets and teachers” (Didache 15: 1-2).

For many NT churches we do not know how supervision was exercised, especially once the Twelve and the apostles were dead. Matthew (18: 15-18) has clear ideas on how authority is properly exercised but tells nothing about officials in his church who might be doing this. He knows of Christian prophets (10: 41) and of Christian scribes (13: 52); and so some have surmised that his was a community with prophets and scribes, but not yet presbyter/bishops and neōteroi/deacons. This would be a stage less advanced than Didache, a work that has Matthean affinities. In any case he will not let those who teach be called rabbi, for there is only one teacher, Christ. Nor will he let any be called leaders (kathēgētes), for Christ is the only leader. Nor is anyone to be called father (Matthew 23: 8-10). In this he differs from other NT works where there are human teachers (I Corinthians 12: 28, 29; Ephesians 4: 11) and Paul calls himself a father towards his community (I Corinthians 4: 15). The fascination with developing structure and offices in the late first century had its dangers, and Matthew was alert to these.


V. The Johannine Community

Also alert to the danger of human authorities were the Johannine writers. (I assume that the evangelist was not John one of the Twelve, nor was the epistle writer the same as the evangelist, although they were of the same school. I do not think we know who the Beloved Disciple was, although he was a companion of Jesus and the community hero, and a source for the evangelist.) John 21, which may be a late Johannine addition to the Gospel, shows Peter as a shepherd but not the Beloved Disciple. This probably means that the human shepherd role had not been part of the community’s tradition and was only now coming in from the outside (whence the need to assure the readers that Jesus authorized it). The author of II-III John calls himself “the presbyter” (and I assume he wrote I John as well), but in


the three epistles he does not act in a way similar to the presbyters described in the Pastorals and Acts. They teach and keep out any who advocate false doctrine. The Johannine epistolary author is facing false doctrine as well on the part of a group who have seceded from the community (I John 2: 19), but the author cannot teach on his own authority that they are wrong. He has to say to his readers that they have no need of teachers and should know what is false on the basis of anointing by the Spirit (I John 2: 27). The secessionists have left, but there is no suggestion that the author was able to expel them. And in III John when he deals with Diotrephes who rejects his authority, the most he can do is to threaten “to bring up” before the community what Diotrephes is doing. All of this makes sense in light of John 14: 26 where the Paraclete is the one who teaches the Christians all things, and every Christian possesses the Paraclete. The author of the epistles can speak as part of a “we” who are the witnesses to the Johannine tradition (I John 1: 1-4), and thus join himself to the witness of the Beloved Disciple, but he cannot present himself as a teacher (as his opponents seem to be doing). And if his opponents also claim to possess an anointing by the Spirit as well, all he can do is say, “Test the Spirits” (I John 4: 1). When a stricter authority develops in a Johannine church, it is in opposition to the author. The Diotrephes of III John 9-10 is making himself first in the local Johannine church, seemingly along the lines of an Ignatian bishop, and is not allowing the presbyter to send in emissaries. Some have thought Diotrephes was propounding false doctrine, but the author, who is so hard on the secessionists, offers no doctrinal critique of Diotrephes. He may have been on the same side doctrinally as the author, but have realized that author’s trust that people would be led to the truth by the Spirit was not working (as I John 4: 5 concedes). Thus III John and John 21 (Peter as the shepherd) suggest that, while it was foreign to the genius of the Johannine community, a greater supervisory power of the presbyter/bishop type may have been introduced over opposition in segments of that community in order to resist false teaching.


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This survey shows that the manner and exercise of supervision varied greatly in different places and different periods within the first century or NT area. Only at the end of the century and under various pressures was a more uniform structure developing. The death of the great leaders of the early period left a vacuum (Peter, Paul, James all died in the 60s); doctrinal divisions arose; and there was a greater separation from Judaism and its structures. By the 80s-90s the presbyter/bishop model was becoming widespread, and


with the adjustment supplied by the emergence of the simple bishop that model was to dominate in the second century until it became exclusive in the ancient churches. Many of us see the work of the Holy Spirit in this whole process, but even those who do must recognize that I Clement is giving a theological analysis but overly simplified history when he states (I Clement 42) that Christ appointed apostles (seemingly the Twelve) and that the apostles appointed their first converts to be bishops and deacons in local churches.