Apostolic Succession (1): Presbyter = Bishop?

The common view among many of the Reformers and biblical scholars ancient and modern is that the titles of office “presbyter” and “bishop” have identical referents in Scripture. Put simply, every presbyter is a bishop, and every bishop is a presbyter. Calvin asserts this in his commentary on Acts:

Concerning the word overseer or bishop, we must briefly note this, that Paul calleth all the elders of Ephesus by this name, as well one as other. Whence we gather, that according to the use of the Scripture bishops differ nothing from elders. But that it came to pass through vice and corruption, that those who were chief in every city began to be called bishops. I call it corruption, not because it is evil that some one man should be chief in every college or company; but because this boldness is intolerable, when men, by wresting the names of the Scripture unto their custom, doubt not to change the tongue of the Holy Ghost.

Commentary on Acts 20:28-32

Similarly, in his “Essay on the Christian Ministry” Joseph Lightfoot states that “It has been shown that in the apostolic writings the two [titles, presbyter and bishop] are only different designations of one and the same office.” (pg. 192)

In Chapter XIX of Apostolic Succesion: Is It True? Felix Cirlot offers arguments against the standard view that the titles of office “presbyter” and “bishop” are words exclusively both designating the second order of ministry in the New Testament and early post-Apostolic Church. The implications of this for debates between Presbyterians and Episcopalians are significant, undercutting a main argument for the non-existence of a third and highest order of ministry in the Church through which alone office can be transmitted.


342. One of the most perplexing questions hindering a solution of the history of the origin of the monarchical Episcopate is the relation of the terms “bishop” and “presbyter” in pre-Ignatian sources. By pre-Ignatian I mean, here and elsewhere in this book, not only those sources earlier in date than the Epistles of St. Ignatius, but also sources later in date though representing a late survival elsewhere of the polity of nomenclature originally universal, but which reached its age-long form in Antioch and Asia Minor before St. Ignatius wrote, while still retaining its primitive form in some places at that time and even a bit later.

The more common opinion has been that the terms are strictly and exactly synonymous in the sense that they are completely interchangeable, that every presbyter was a bishop and that every bishop was a presbyter. This opinion was naturally very palatable to any who held the Presbyterian theory, of which it was one of the main pillars. But it was no mere prejudice of the Presbyterians that led their scholars to accept this conclusion. It seemed to be so decisively proved by several clear and unambiguous passages in Acts, in the Pastorals, and in I Clement, that scholars quite free from Presbyterian presuppositions accepted it without reservation. Many Catholic scholars, whether Anglican or otherwise, have accepted it…

Division I

343. We see from 1 Peter 5:1 that St. Peter could call himself a fellow-presbyter. It is not satisfactory to explain that this was possible because the highest office includes the lower, as nowadays every Bishop is a priest and presbyter but not every priest or presbyter is a Bishop. Ordination was per saltum at least in many cases in the early Churches. And anyway, it is obvious that St. Peter had not been a presbyter before he became an Apostle. Nor can we get out of the difficulty by supposing 1 Peter to be pseudonymous. For it is just as difficult to explain how such a writer could plausibly represent St. Peter as so calling himself, and still escape detection as a forger.

Again, the theory of the original identity cannot explain how the great Ephesian John could be called “The Presbyter,” not to distinguish him from another John who was not a presbyter, but as a cognomen analogous to “The Apostle” later in the case of St. Paul. Clearly “John the Presbyter” was sufficiently identified by the title “The Presbyter” entirely apart from the use of his name…whatever the sense in which John was a Presbyter, it clearly was not the same sense in which collegiate bishops were presbyters (on Lightfoot’s Theory of course) for he was certainly not a collegiate bishop. Such a bishop would certainly be inferior rather than superior to Diotrephes, to say nothing of being insufficient to gather to himself (even if unhistorically) all the attributes which the later tradition ascribed to him.

344. Then, there is the famous passage in Papias… I now think that the passage in Papias, when restudied more carefully, admits of the identification of the Apostles with “the Presbyters” at least as easily as of the interpretation Chapman accepted following St. Irenaeus and Euesbius. In fact I am inclined to think it rather favors the identification…But if the Apostles are there referred to under the title “the Presbyters,” the passage falls into line with 1 Peter 5:1 and the opening signature of II and III John…

345. Then, we run into a serious difficulty about the usage, well known to all scholars, whereby several of the Fathers at the end of the second and beginning of the third centuries applied the title “presbyter” in the singular or in the plural to men whom they clearly believed to be, and who in some cases at least certainly were, pure and simple monarchical Bishops…For Lightfoot himself has pointed out that, although the monarchical Bishops were still called presbyters, the presbyters were never any more called Bishops. This seems to me to suggest that, whatever was the true explanation of the phenomenon, it was certainly not the one alleged by Lightfoot, that the Church still remembered such an original relation of the later Bishops to the earliest bishops as Lightfoot held to be true. This doubt is greatly increased by the fact that the usage in question is attested in the East as well as in the West, and among Western Fathers who had been under strong and prolonged Eastern influence. Yet surely the Episcopate arose and prevailed so early and so quickly in the East as to make this less likely than, on Lightfoot’s theory, it was in the West. Finally, there is a passage in St. Irenaeus who was one of the chief Fathers addicted to this usage, which shows conclusively that he did not still “remember” that bishops and presbyters had originally been strictly identical. He is describing the event narrated in Acts XX, and he feels obliged to interpret the passage thus, “When the bishops and presbyters who came from ephesus and the other adjoining cities had assembled at Miletus etc.” Those amazing pearls of exegesis seem to show to me quite conclusively that St. Irenaeus was incapable of conceiving a single Church with more than one Bishop, even in the days of St. Paul. Nor could he conceive it as possible that those called presbyters in the narrative passage before St. Paul begins his speech can possibly be the same ones called bishops within the speech. And yet he himself calls bishops presbyters repeatedly, while he also, of course, often uses “presbyters” in the contemporary Ignatian sense. This shows, I think, that the usage did not depend on a memory that presbyters and bishops had ever been identical.

That leaves open, of course, the possibility that the usage in question originated as Lightfoot suggested, and long survived all memory of how it had originated. But this is only a possibility. If accepted, it still will not at all explain the application of the term “presbyters” to Apostles, which as we just saw in sections 343-4 is attested. Nor will it explain why Bishops could still be called presbyters yet presbyters could never any longer be called bishops. Moreover, if presbyters and bishops were originally quite identical, and Apostles could be called presbyters, why could they not also be called bishops? None of these points can be decisive, of course, where the evidence is so scanty. But they all seem to have real weight, and they point, every one of them, in the same direction, which is away from the theory accepted by Lightfoot and so many others.

346. Then there is another very interesting phenomenon. It is that while presbyters, bishops, and deacons are all mentioned or alluded to quite a few times in pre-Ignatian sources, we never hear of presbyters in combination with either of the other two. Of course Lightfoot’s theory would explain easily why bishops and presbyters would never be bracketed. But it provides no explanation why presbyters should never be bracketed with deacons, while bishops are so bracketed at least in Philipians, the Pastorals, Hermas, 1 Clement, and the Didache. Presbyters are mentioned in all but the first and last of these five sources, but whenever the hierarchy is to be dissolved into its constituent orders, the term “presbyters” is always avoided. Yet this ceases in the two very first sources we get reflecting the Ignatian terminology. In view of the scantiness of our evidence such silence cannot, again, be decisive… It will become weighty, I think, if some explanation can be given which will explain all of the irregularities of terminology at the same time… that explanation will be more probable than several discrete explanations woven into a sort of loose combination. And if such an explanation can do justice to the passages which are the stronghold and basis of Lightfoot’s theory—that presbyters and bishops are originally strictly identical—it would at once acquire a strong claim to our acceptance.

347. I have tried all the alternative proposals I have seen by which presbyters and bishops can be treated as groups at least partially distinct. I have come again and again to the conclusion that the presbyters could hardly be a third group intermediate between bishops and deacons…

348. But the fact mentioned above that deacons, though bracketed with “bishops,” are never bracketed with presbtyers in the pre-Ignatian sources, but are immediately when we come to Ignatian sources (St. Ignatius and St. Polycarp) suggests the theory I had not until very recently met in the writings of others that the term “presbyters” might be an early equivalent of our modern terms “minister” or “clergyman”. We do not speak of ministers and deacons, because deacons are just as truly ministers as priests. Can it not be for the same reason that presbyters and deacons were not at first—and later were—bracketed? When we check the evidence, we discover that neither were presbyters ever bracketed in pre-Ignatian sources with any other order of the ministry, with one solitary exception.

That is with Apostles, in Jerusalem, in Acts 15 and does not seem to me a serious difficulty. For we have already established conclusively that Apostles could be called presbyters in the Apostolic age, and hence the term need not be bracketed with Apostles in Acts because the latter were not presbyters, but because the presbyters who were not Apostles had no other specific name such as they later had in the Pauline-gentile world; viz., bishops. Hence, there was nothing else to call them except presbyters. But the usage did not mean presbyters as distinguished from Apostles who were not presbyters, but rather “mere presbyters” as distinguished from those who were both presbyters and Apostles.

This same explanation will explain the Ignatian usage which treats “presbyters” as a specific term, and so brackets it with both Bishops and deacons (St. Ignatius) or with deacons alone (St. Polycarp) where there were no monarchical Bishops, whether normally or only temporarily. For (on the theory I propose) as soon as the term “bishop” was transferred from the second order of the ministry to the localized member of the first, deutero-Apostolic, order, the second order was once again left without any specific title. What could be more natural, then, than to appropriate as the specific title of that order the already existing generic title, presbyters, by which it as also other orders of the ministry, was already frequently called? This appropriation, supposing this theory to be correct, would not necessarily destroy for some time the older usage by which the term presbyter could also be applied, as a generic term, to the higher order of the ministry, and possibly to the lower order also, though we lack any clear case in which a deacon is unambiguously called a presbyter. But it was certainly applied to Apostles before the Ignatian terminology came into being, and quite possibly afterward, if it is the Apostles who are called presbyters by Papias. And it is equally certain that indubitable monarchical Bishops were called presbyters long after the Ignatian terminology had widely prevailed, and presbyters had utterly ceased to be called bishops. Such a theory satisfies all the evidence that we have noticed above as raising difficulties for the theory of the original complete identity of bishops and presbyters. Can it also satisfy the evidence commonly supposed to support the identity?

Division II

349. The passage in Acts 20 seems to pass the test successfully. In Acts 20:17 “the presbyters” are summoned, and in 20:28 it is assumed that these (or at least most of them) are “bishops.” This would be smooth sailing if there were no deacons in Ephesus; also if there were deacons there, but the term presbyter was not applied to them…

350. The passage in the Pastorals which is commonly supposed to be most decisive in favor of the originally complete identity is Titus 1:5-7. But all we surely have here is the assumption that in appointing presbyters St. Titus would automatically be appointing bishops…

351. 1 Peter 5:1-2 is certainly even less difficult. It assumes that the presbyters (or at least most of them) would have an office involving oversight (Cf. “overseers = bishops”). But it does not exclude the possibility of there being presbyters of a lower order (deacons) in addition to those who were bishops…

352. The only other passage commonly supposed to prove strict original identity is 1 Clement XLIV:4-5. Here it seems clearly implied that presbyters who had already died were secure against being removed from the episcopate. It is very generally agreed, of course, that the term “episcopate” is used here in the pre-Ignatian sense. But while this passage, like the others already examined, does truly exclude the possibility of the term presbyters being used to designate one order alone unless that order is the episcopate, it does not tell against the relation of the two terms I suppose—certainly not decisively. The terms appear to be used interchangeably—in a sense—but not more so than in Catholic circles today we can use “minister” and “priest” interchangeably. The way St. Clement speaks is sufficiently explained if we suppose the relation of the terms I propose, but that only bishops had been deposed at Corinth, and no deacons, or very few. But those who had already died, whether bishosp or deacons, were secure against the indignity—and worse—of deposition. For still living deacons were certainly subject to such deposition, even if few or none had actually suffered it. Hence St. Clement could easily use the term “presbyters” instead of “bishops” when referring to those who had died before the trouble arose. For surely that would include deacons as well as bishops. Besides, in the very sentence where the term “presbyters” is used, the term “episcopate” is not repeated, but the more general term “place”. This cannot be pressed, I suppose. But at least it leaves open the possibility that the wider term is used interchangeably.

353. It is worth emphasizing once more that the view that “presbyters” is a generic term can stand even if it did not cover deacons but only those who belonged to the two higher orders—Apostles and bishops…

354. To confirm our main result strongly, let us forget for the moment that, at the present time, Bishops may accurately be called priests, and treat the latter term as applicable only to the second order of our present threefold Ministry. Then let us try the experiment of reading these four supposedly decisive passages with “minister” or “clergyman” substituted for “presbyter” wherever it occurs in these four passages, but with “priest” substituted for “bishop” every time. I think we shall see at once that there is no difficulty in any of these passages, so read. The two terms are identical in the sense that ministers and priests are identical to-day, but not in the sense that ministers and clergymen are identical, or in the sense that presbyters and priests are identical (in Anglicanism, of course—not in Protestantism).

355. We are now ready to summarize our two main conclusions on this point. They are that the term “presbyter” was certainly a generic term in pre-Ignatian sources, and the term “bishops” was certainly specific. That is, the term “presbyter” could be applied to at least two distinct orders (the first and the second) of a threefold Ministry, and probably but by no means certainly to the third. But the latter term “bishop” was applicable (in pre-Ignatian sources) to one order only—the second. In many local Churches, the second order was the highest locally represented, except when occasionally members of the first order would visit such local Churches. But the bishops and deacons mentioned in Philippians, for example, were aware beyond all dispute that there was a higher order than either of them, the Apostles. And we have seen in Chapter XVIII of this book that the first, Apiostolic order was extended to others who thus held the same office, and were sometimes called by the same name, though not always or probably normally. I have called these, for convenience, by a title by which they were never actually called in ancient history, but which is accurately descriptive—deutero-Apostles.

It has been seen clearly above that Apostles could be called “presbyters” in the first and second generations of Christianity. It is also clear that by the third generation monarchical Bishops were already in existence in some places, and that these could also be called “presbyters.” It follows, therefore, that deutero-Apostles could be so called also; though we have no actual case attested, unless “John the Presbyter” was a deutero-Apostle, which I cannot believe. It follows that, in places where there was an Apostle, deutero-Apostle, or monarchical Bishop, the “presbyterate” would include this individual (or these, if more than one such were present at the same time), and the collegiate bishops, and possibly or probably the deacons. On the other hand, in places where there was no member of the first order, the “presbyterate” would include at least the “bishops” and possibly or probably the deacons. Hence referring to “presbyters” or “the presbyterate” will neither favor nor disfavor the presence of a member of the higher order, unless something else in the context or in the rest of the evidence gives us reason to affirm or deny such presence. This conclusion, if sound, is of capital importance. And the reasons we have seen in its support are very weighty.

63 Responses to Apostolic Succession (1): Presbyter = Bishop?

  1. Lucian says:

    In the case of the catechumens, the sins commited by them in their previous pagan lives were treated with understanding: so the case Saint Jerome mentions does not quite fall into our category.

    I didn’t come here to put forward original claims, but merely to inform: I’ve informed You of the Bible passages we take into consideration, and about the way we interpret them, so my job here is done.

    Women, apart from being charmed by someone, need also to know that he could sustain a family… but how’s a widowed priest going to do this, since re-marrying would automatically imply him losing his job and sub-sequently his livelihood? — And as long as he wants to impress someone by his deep theological training, he’s free to do so, just not from the pulpit, that’s all.

  2. John says:

    “If a widowed priest wishes to remarry, he can do so, but has to cease being a priest”

    I might add, that this argument contradicts your previous arguments. If you just shrug your shoulders by saying “oh well, he can quit”, then by the time a priest finds someone to marry and realises they have to quit, they’ve already been chasing skirt and supposedly been giving sermons to impress the girls. Letting the priest marry would actually put an end to all that. By putting the impediment to marriage, it encourages the priestly flirting and chasing to continue longer that it might otherwise.

  3. John says:

    ” that’s based on him being the husband of just one wife”

    But the interpretation of this is disputed. So how do you know the practice of priests not remarrying is not merely a discipline, and has anything to do with 1Tim 3?

    Jerome wrote:

    ” To what does all this tend, you ask. I reply; you remember the question that you proposed. It was this. A Spanish bishop named Carterius, old in years and in the priesthood has married two wives, one before he was baptized, and, she having died, another since he has passed through the laver; and you are of opinion that he has violated the precept of the apostle, who in his list of episcopal qualifications commands that a bishop shall be “the husband of one wife.” I am surprised that you have pilloriedan individual when the whole world is filled with persons ordained in similar circumstances” – Letter LXIX

    Apparently the world was “full” of priests who had had more than one wife.

    After some discussion, Jerome concludes: ” Paul knew that the Law allowed men to have children by several wives,and was aware that the example of the patriarchs had made polygamy familiar to the people. Even the very priests might at their own discretion enjoy the same license. He gave commandment therefore that the priests of the church should not claim this liberty, that they should not take two wives or three TOGETHER, but that they should each have but one wife AT ONE TIME.”

    That’s Jerome’s conclusion about what scripture has to say. So I’m asking you how you know this is an apostolic command.

    “It’s not my job to do your homework for you.”

    Uh, you want to make a claim, you need to be able to back it up. No good coming in here, saying anything you like, and then falling back to “do your own homework”.

  4. Lucian says:

    If a widowed priest wishes to remarry, he can do so, but has to cease being a priest (and seek a secular job instead): and that’s based on him being the husband of just one wife, the normal exception made for laity (when widdowed) not applying to him: that’s the apostolic and scriptural teaching: he has to be the man of just one woman.

    Pointing me to entire 7 ecumenical councils is not a very specific reference!

    It’s not my job to do your homework for you. Sorry. (And I’m not Your lackey either, mate, ok?)

    The few references in the Gospels is an argument from silence, but one that does carry some weight.

    No, friend, it does not: the sole reason we did find out (eventually) about either the wedding in Canna or the mother-in-law of St Peter is because Jesus worked miracles there: it wasn’t supposed to (intentionally) offer us a pick into the intimate lives of anyone; or to tell us anything about whether someone can or cannot marry after ordination(!). — Look, I’m sorry, that’s just absurd, and it’s pushing something down the text’s throat that simply isn’t there.

    The issue Lucian, is not about singles chasing skirt, but about widowers who didn’t sign up to be monks, and widowed priests’ children who have no mother to tend to them.

    And I was supposed to be a mind-reader? (The next time You’re interested in something specific, spell it out, ok?).

  5. John says:

    The issue Lucian, is not about singles chasing skirt, but about widowers who didn’t sign up to be monks, and widowed priests’ children who have no mother to tend to them. We’ve all heard of the devastating end results of what happens when priests who apparently are not on board with the whole celibacy thing are forced into that corner. And if the major issue is worries about sermons meant to impress females, then all we need is a furlough whilst the priest finds his wife before resuming duties.

    “… as opposed to the ONE reference in Paul?”


    The few references in the Gospels is an argument from silence, but one that does carry some weight. Paul’s statement is an explicit statement.

    Pointing me to entire 7 ecumenical councils is not a very specific reference!

  6. Lucian says:

    And the FEW references to the apostles’ wives in the gospels would seem to indicate that most of them weren’t married then.

    … as opposed to the ONE reference in Paul?

  7. Lucian says:

    Yes. And what seems to be the problem? Did I say that an Apostle can’t be married? Wasn’t Simon the Zealote the groom at the wedding in Canna? Didn’t Simon Peter have a mother-in-law? (And, in any case, what has this to do with bishops and priests and deacons? They are supposed to be, according to Scriptire, the husbands of one wife: until today, no-one [in the Orthodox church] ordains `singles`, but only serious men: either already married; or commited to life-long celibacy [monks]; no single horny pastors allowed: end of story; the priest’s job is to be fishers of men, hunting souls for the kingdom of heaven, … not to chase or hunt after skirts [delivering some homily to impress his single female attendance, God forgive me!]).

    The ancient and very explicit patristic reference to no-one marrying after ordination, if that’s what You’re interested in… I don’t recall where exactly I’ve read that (most probably here).

  8. xpusostomos says:

    Lucian: Where are the early quotes saying the apostles didn’t marry after Pentacost? Paul says that the “rest of the apostles” have believing wives in 1Cor 9:5? That at least sounds like all the apostles save for Paul had a wife. And the few references to the apostles’ wives in the gospels would seem to indicate that most of them weren’t married then.

  9. Lucian says:

    No. His argument is that he could’ve reaped in the flesh if he would’ve so desired, which he did not, but it wouldn’t have been a sin were he to have done that.

  10. Mr. Tundra Man–

    The core of Paul’s argument has nothing to do with him marrying, but rather his right as an apostle to have his necessities provided to him by the Corinthian church. Chrysostom’s homily 21 notes that the mention of Peter (and in the same breath marriage) is a climactic statement, pressing home the main point. Given his admonitions in chapter 7, it would seem rather hypocritical for him to be claiming a right to marry, but as I already said, marriage is not what he is primarily concerned with in this passage.

  11. Lucian, The core of Paul’s argument is that he has a right to get married since the others were married.

  12. A late note: on re-reading Acts 20 it seems that the idea of a regional gathering in Ephesus is wrong because the elders (presbyters) of the local church at Ephesus are called to meet Paul in Miletus rather than elders or bishops summoned to Ephesus.

  13. Lucian says:

    Yes, the argument is traditional: no ordained person ever married, but rather they maintained their state after ordination. As to the Apostles, I’m unaware of any of them marrying after Pentecost. (Simon Peter, Simon the Zealot, James and the Lord’s brothers were family-men; but Paul, John and Andrew, on the other hand, were virgins).

  14. John says:

    Tell me why Lucian, I’ve yet to hear any argument, whether biblical, practical or traditional. You don’t think the 12 were married when they were hanging out with Jesus do you?

  15. Lucian says:


    ordaining married men to the Priesthood is one thing; and allowing Priests to marry is quite another.

  16. John says:

    “is there any evidence at all that bishops, priests or deacons could marry”

    I presume the apostles themselves would be evidence of that.

    IMHO, disallowing priests to marry is even more insane than requiring celibacy. At least if you require celibacy you know what you are signing up for. But if your wife dies and you can’t remarry, being alone is not the lot in life you chose.

    FWIW, this is one reason I would never be a priest.

  17. Lucian says:

    Yes, the evidence is only to the contrary, and explicitely so: no second marriage under ANY circumstance for clerics; and they had to already be married before ordination.

  18. William Tighe says:

    I agree that married men could become deacons, priests and bishops, but is there any evidence at all that bishops, priests or deacons could marry (i.e., after ordination)?

    I certainly know of none. For centuries, the Persian Church (i.e., the “Nestorians”) permitted deacons, priests and bishops to marry and remarry after ordination (and for priests and deacons still do; since the 12th Century their bishops have had to be monks), but their own records demonstrate that their original discipline was for bishops, priests and deacons not to be married, and seemingly never to have been married (at least after baptism), and that this was altered by a council of their bishops meeting at Seleucia in 484, and confirmed by another council there in 496.

    I have read also a local Western Spanish council, at Elvira, in the early Fourth Century, allowed deacons to marry after ordination if they had sought and received permission from their bishop to do so before their ordination, but that a later council a few years later revoked this concession and insisted that deacons, like bishops and priests, could not under any circumstances marry or remarry after ordination.

  19. It seems to me that Bishops and Priests were originally permitted to marry and the instructions are that if so then they could only have one wife not been married twice. I understand that the Scriptures do not prohibit unmarried Priests and Bishops. Apostles Paul and John were single and so were many early Bishops and Priests. It was not until the Council of Trullo in the Seventh Century that Bishops were finally forbidden to live with wives because this was causing a scandal to the people but single Bishops were becoming the norm by then anyway.

  20. MG says:


    You’re right, Apostles are not bishops. The gift of Apostleship is distinct from the gift of the Episcopate. However, both occupy the third tier of ministry.

  21. William Tighe says:

    “And again, I’m curious about whether you see any evidence in favor of primitive presbyterian ordination (or any other kind of ordination, like diaconal or congregational).”

    The only “evidence” of which I am aware (and which has been argued about over and over again) is that concerning the supposed selection and ordination of their bishop by the presbyters of Alexandria down to the time of Bishop Heraclas (c. 232-246). One such scholarly exchange in the 1950s was particularly thorough, if inconclusive. William Telfer, “Episcopal Succession in Egypt,” *Journal of Ecclesiastical History,* III (1952), pp. 1-13 insisted on a presbyteral succession, while E. W. Kemp replied with criticism in the same journal, VI (1955), pp. 125-142.

  22. trvalentine says:

    I was taught that the office of apostle was distinct from the office of bishop; that apostles were /not/ bishops. ISTM some here are assuming the apostles were bishops.


  23. MG says:

    Mr Tundra Man–

    All I was trying to show is that its not *necessary* for members of the third order of ministry to be married. I suppose that really, the issue of “husband of one wife” should be dealt with by asking a different question: do you think Paul is ruling out all celibate ministry for the ministers he’s referring to?

    Sure, Chrysostom is making arguments in his speaking and writing. But is he giving an exegetical argument *for* the conclusion “Yet Presbyters would not have laid hands on a Bishop”? Or is he just asserting this because it is something his hearers should already accept, given their own presuppositions? Seems to me like he’s not trying to persuade people with different presuppositions, but to offer an interpretation that is consistent with the presuppositions of himself and his hearers.

    And again, I’m curious about whether you see any evidence in favor of primitive presbyterian ordination (or any other kind of ordination, like diaconal or congregational).

  24. Jnorm888 says:


    I think William Tighe’s quote of the heretic Theodore of Mopsuestia pretty much sums it up perfectly. For that’s pretty much what I see with Titus and Timothy.


  25. Lucian says:

    Who ever told You that apostleship requires celibacy? (Didn’t Peter have a mother-in-law?)

    Bishops are chosen only from among the monks because we can afford it (numerically). The reason we do this is because no-one’s stopping us from raising the bar if we want to, and if it’s also humanly possible to do so. (So the reason is practical, not metaphysical or whatever). [The Catholics would want every Priest to be celibate, but that’s impossible, since the number of monks in any given country would never be able to supply such a huge demand].

  26. MG:

    If Paul states that he has the right to a wife as the other apostles have, then doesn’t that imply that the order of ministry that Paul and the Apostles belonged to did not require celibacy? Hence, why should a modern bishop, if he takes the role of Apostle, not be allowed to be married?

    Of course Chrysostom is making an argument. Isn’t that what writing and preaching are all about?

  27. MG says:

    Mr Tundra man–

    You wrote:

    “1Co 9:5 Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?”

    What are you trying to get at here?

    You wrote:

    “Begs the question.”

    Do you have any clear evidence *for* primitive presbyterian ordination?

    Also, it doesn’t seem to me like Chrysostom is making an argument here. So I’m not sure “begs the question” is an appropriate response. Do you see him making an argument?

  28. “I think Mr Tundra Man has a point”

    Seems unlikely…

  29. “Yet Presbyters would not have laid hands on a Bishop.”

    Begs the question.

  30. MG wrote “This, I think, solves the problem of the Orthodox prohibition against episcopal marriage”

    1Co 9:5 Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?

  31. Has anyone referred to Chrysostom? These quotes may help.

    Homily 1 on Philippians 1:1-2

    “To the fellow-Bishops and Deacons.” What is this? were there several Bishops of one city? Certainly not; but he called the Presbyters so. For then they still interchanged the titles, and the Bishop was called a Deacon. For this cause in writing to Timothy, he said, “Fulfill thy ministry,” when he was a Bishop. For that he was a Bishop appears by his saying to him, “Lay hands hastily on no man.” (1 Timothy 5:22.) And again, “Which was given thee with the laying on of the hands of then Presbytery.” (1 Timothy 4:14.) Yet Presbyters would not have laid hands on a Bishop. And again, in writing to Titus, he says, “For this cause I left thee in Crete, that thou shouldest appoint elders in every city, as I gave thee charge. If any man is blameless, the husband of one wife” (Titus 1:5,6); which he says of the Bishop. And after saying this, he adds immediately, “For the Bishop must be blameless, as God’s steward, not self willed:” (Titus 1:7.) So then, as I said, both the Presbyters were of old called Bishops and Deacons of Christ, and the Bishops Presbyters; and hence even now many Bishops write, “To my fellow-Presbyter,” and, “To my fellow-Deacon.” But otherwise the specific name is distinctly appropriated to each, the Bishop and the Presbyter. “To the fellow-Bishops,” he says, “and Deacons.

    Homily 11 on 1 Timothy 3:8-10

    DISCOURSING of Bishops, and having described their character, and the qualities which they ought to possess, and having passed over the order of Presbyters, he proceeds to that of Deacons. The reason of this omission was, that between Presbyters and Bishops there was no great difference. Both had undertaken the office of Teachers and Presidents in the Church, and what he has said concerning Bishops is applicable to Presbyters. For they are only superior in having the power of ordination, and seem to have no other advantage over Presbyters.

    St Dionysios the Areopagite also notes that a Bishop blesses Myron and consecrates Altars, which a Priest cannot do.

    I believe that the interchange of names in the NT was important to show use the similarity of the two orders to prevent some trying to separate them completely but it is also important that the names later became distinctly applied to each order to maintain the difference.

    I think Mr Tundra Man has a point about Acts 20 referring to a regional council. Paul goes through Asia, a Roman region, and he does not want to spend much time there so he summons the Bishops of that region to the chief city of the region, Ephesus, as it was both then and later, to talk with them. That is why he refers to spending time with then since first arriving in Asia, the region, not Ephesus, the city.

    James has been held by Orthodox Tradition to be the Bishop of Jerusalem even when the Apostles were still there. It would seem from this that the office of Bishop is not only something to replace the Apostles but also something constitutive of each local church itself. Thus, even when the Apostles were staying in a place for some time they are sometimes said to have taken the office of Bishop, such as St Peter in Antioch and Rome.

    Reading Ignatius, I cannot see him arguing for congregations or groups of elders(presbyters) to establish a monarchial Bishop but rather defending this already established institution and ensuring that the people understand the importance of adhering to it. The NT is clear that the ordination is top down, ie from the Apostles or those appointed by them, and there is no evidence of congregations coming together apart from an already established leadership to set up a leadership. Titus is sent to appoint elders (Bishops), not to tell the local congregations to pick on by lot or some other method with this alone being sufficient to ordain an elder or Bishop. (This does not preclude the congregations consent to the appointment rather ordination.) Also, there is already not only a Bishop in each city but these Bishops are organised into regional hierarchies because Titus, a Bishop, appoints other Bishops in each city of Crete, which is the task of the Metropolitan Bishop of a region. It is unlikely that he was the sole Bishop of all Crete and many cities and only ordaining presbyters.

    Finally, the First Ecumenical Council did not establish Sees as Patriarchates, rather it confirmed “ancient customs” of Sees with Patriarchal authority. If these customs are ancient in the early fourth Century then they must go back at least to the early third and much more likely to the first or second Centuries. Even some form of primacy of Rome goes back at least to the third Century, see controversy with Cyprian of Carthage, if not even earlier.

  32. MG says:


    Thanks for the comment.

    The Apostles did act like monarchical bishops often, but they were different because they had universal jurisdiction, were directly commissioned by Christ, and were given divine revelation. Also, not all of them became localized in their ministry.

    Yes, Timothy and Titus don’t just seem to be members of the second tier of ministry. Timothy is said to have the ability to make demands as an Apostle, (1 Thess 2:6) which seems to mean he has Apostolic authority. Yet he was ordained to his office by Paul. Something similar seems to be said of Titus’ authority (Titus 2:15).

    Though I agree that all elders are bishops, and not all bishops are elders in Scripture, I’m not 100% sure we agree on exactly what that means, based on your recent blog post.

  33. trvalentine says:

    Jason, I don’t blog, but my web pages are being slowly rebuilt at


  34. Jason Loh says:

    Thomas (TR Valentine),

    Is your blog still online??

  35. jnorm888 says:

    Didn’t the Apostles act as if they were “monarchial bishops”?

    It sure seems like they had authority over other elders.

    Also, it would seem as if some of the people the Apostles personally appointed had a similar authority to handle problems in their absense. We see this very thing with Timothy and Titus!

    They were givin authority to ordain, judge, and hear complaints about other elders…..just as the apostles did.

    Timothy 1:5:17-22
    “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear. I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality. Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people’s sins; keep yourself pure.”


    Titus 1:5-6
    “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you— if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination.”

    So eventhough the language of “elder & overseer” may seem like generic inter-changable words in the NT, it would be a mistake to assume that all elders were the same because of this.

    And this is why I say that all bishops are elders, but not all elders are bishops….at least not in the apostolic sense.


  36. It should be kept in mind that monarchial episcopacy doesn’t entail that there is only one bishop in a given locale. What it entails is that only bishops ordain and that they are the source of the other two offices, as the apostles were the source of deacons and presbyters.

  37. Don Bradley says:

    Monarchial episcopacy is not a stand alone issue in ecclesiology. It’s not just about power, rule, and exigesis of scripture. The issue isn’t unrelated to the consecration of the Eucharist or the unity of the One Church, but all are uniquely bound together.

  38. MG says:


    You wrote:

    “I’m not sure how you can say the verses I bring up don’t prove that every elder was a bishop.”

    Even if all the elders mentioned in Acts 20 are bishops, there may be elders mentioned outside of Acts 20 that are not Bishops. And that’s where the arguments from 1 Peter and 3rd John come in. If Apostles are elders, and all elders are bishops, then are Apostles bishops? Are Apostles members of the (local, collegial) second tier of ministry?

    You wrote:

    “However, when you start imagining that maybe Ignatius meant a different bishop than the ones in Scripture, I can’t see the least basis for that.”

    Well, the fact that the bishops in the NT are collegial ministers that collectively rule a local congregation and the Ignatian bishop monarchically rules a local congregation seems to indicate they are different. An Ignatian presbyter, however, seems like a plausible equivalent for a NT bishop (both are local, collegial, 2nd tier).

    You wrote:

    “It seems to make much more sense that John’s churches had a monarchial bishop; Paul and Peter’s did not. Thus Polycarp, a monarchial bishop in one of John’s churches, writes to Greek Philippi, one of Paul’s churches, and never mentions a monarchial bishop.”

    (1) Do you think John ordained the bishops at his Churches? If so, the monarchical episcopate is an Apostolic institution. If you say that John didn’t ordain and it developed by human invention in John’s Churches, why do early Christian writers represent him as ordaining bishops all over Asia minor?

    (2) Even if that were so, that wouldn’t prove that the monarchical episcopate was not there. And even if it was not there, this would not imply it was a post-Apostolic development—just that not every congregation had a bishop. And believing that every congregation had a bishop isn’t necessary for belief that the monarchical episcopate is essential for Church government.

    (3) St. Ignatius was the bishop of a Pauline Church. The Church later claimed that he was a successor of St. Peter. Regardless of whether or not one accepts this, Ignatius was bishop at Antioch very early on—by a little after the turn of the first century. Why was Ignatius able to so thoroughly and systematically ensure the perpetuation of his episcopacy if monarchical bishops were alien to the Church of Antioch in its Apostolic infancy?

    (4) What explains Ignatius’ dual beliefs that the monarchical episcopate was universal in the Church, and that it was essential for being the Church? These beliefs, when combined, imply that Ignatius thought that the Pauline and Petrine Churches either had monarchical bishops themselves, or were overseen by monarchical bishops. Why does Ignatius seem so confident about these two beliefs?

    (5) Paul ordained Timothy, who seems (on biblical grounds and early Christian testimony outside the New Testament) to be the monarchical bishop of Ephesus. This seems like a counter-example to the idea that Paul’s Churches did not have a monarchical bishopric.

    You wrote:

    “Ignatius mentions monarchial bishops in all his letters except the one to Rome–Paul and Peter’s church. Rome had no monarchial bishop, as Clement’s letter suggests.”

    (1) Ignatius doesn’t mention any presbyters or deacons in that letter either. Does that imply there were no presbyters or deacons? Seems like Clement’s letter would imply otherwise. So just because Ignatius didn’t mention something at Rome doesn’t mean it didn’t exist at Rome.

    (2) How does Clement’s letter suggest there were no monarchical bishops at Rome?

    (3) If there were no monarchical bishop in Rome, this would imply the early succession lists for the papacy in Irenaeus etc. are clearly unreliable. If this is the case, why is Irenaeus so confident about these lists as to make many of his major arguments against the Gnostics rest on them?

    (4) Ignatius says there are bishops to the ends of the earth. If there were bishops in the West, then there was probably one at Rome.

    (5) Clement’s letter itself does bear witness to an awareness of monarchical bishops as the means of Apostolic succession. They are referred to as “other eminent men” in 1 Clement 44. It would be surprising if he thought Rome was run in a different way from the normative way he thinks that other Churches were run.

    (6) Also, if the Church at Rome did not accept the Episcopate, wouldn’t Ignatius, who thought it was necessary, chastise the Romans?

    (7) Why do so many earlier Christian writers attribute a monarchical status to Clement if it is ahistorical?

    You wrote:

    “If the issue is to prove a pre-Nicene pope; that’s hopeless.”

    I’m not sure I understand. As Eastern Orthodox, we admit that the later doctrine of the papacy is an illegitimate development from the primitive monarchical episcopacy of the Bishop of Rome.

  39. MG says:

    William Tighe–

    The transfer of titles that Theodore postulates makes sense. It also fits, it seems to me, with Clement of Rome’s explanation of the origin of the monarchical episcopate. However, Jerome did not think that bishops evolved upwards from among the presbyters without aposotolic institutuion:


  40. William Tighe says:

    I cannot locate it at the present time, but Theodore of Mopsuestia’s views (expressed in a Commentary on the Epistles to Timothy and Titus) is that while the apostles were alive “episkopos” and “presbyter” denoted the same men holding the same office. When the apostles, he continues, began to appoint men as successors to *their own office and ministry* these men, deeming themselves to be unworthy of the title “apostolos” took for themselves the name “episkopos,” leaving the old “presbyter episkopoi” with the title of “presbyter.” I find this not without some problems, but far more plausible than what is taken to be St. Jerome’s view, that bishops evolved upwards from among the presbyters.

  41. Perry,
    An example from our own experience might suffice to illustrate. The first generation leader (let’s call him Chuck for the sake of illustration) is a strong leader who is generally known as a man of good character. The second generation much less so. The power of charisma that the first had becomes the power of coercion in the next generation. People don’t like it and go down the street. Few speak out against it (no Internet then), but when they do they are known as other groups (montanists, etc).

    There were plenty of “down-the-streets” then as there are now. How long did it take a well intentioned movement like “Chuck’s” to be come a corrupt organization bent on protecting it’s own? Certainly watching the top level of the Eastern Churches shows that to be the case even now. People like +Philip were known as one thing at the beginning and something quite different at the end of their reigns.

    In this case the evidence is quite early. Ignatius tells us that alignment to the church consists of being in fellowship with the Bishop. Not too much unlike the “if you don’t like it, there’s the door” used by Chuck and his crowd. Chuck tried various experiments in control from setting up regional pastors (which didn’t work) to having control through doctrinal statements (Distinctives) and issuing position papers.

    It will be interesting when Chuck dies to see what happens to the power. In any event, there’s nobody complaining about power being infused in one monarch as long as they believe the monarch to be just.

    Sorry for my rambling. I appreciate your many years of patience with me.

  42. Doug,

    Certainly that argument from silence has a limit. But on the other hand there are clear cases where you accept “the shouting down” such as in the Arian controversy or including Hebrews or Revelation in the canon.

    Secondly, we have an episcopal structure in churches beyond the reach of the Roman empire which had no meaningful contact after the second century. Why did they endup having the same structure do you think?

  43. Lucian says:

    the evidence shows people complaining all the time about various doctrines and then being shouted down by those claiming apostolic authority.

    Which implies traces in the historical record of people trying to prove just how wrong other people were. So, still a complaint (though of those who tried to “shout down”, and not of those “shouted down”; but, in any case, still counting as evidence of a controversy).

  44. trvalentine says:

    Sorry, irony is difficult to get into writing. My bad.

    I think you need to get a better grasp of the history of Christian doctrine. There are actually relatively few someone-would-have-complained situations over the centuries, but those which did arise were robust. For starters, ignore the stuff from outside the Church (like gnosticism).


  45. Lucian says:

    I don’t buy into this “someone would have complained” argument

    Well, You should. (Judaizing controversy; Baptism controversy; Easter controversy — all early, all practice-related; icon-controversy; papal-primate-controversy; calendar controversy — late, but still practice related; etc). In a tradition-oriented church, nothing “gets by”, believe me.

  46. I don’t buy into this “someone would have complained” argument when the evidence shows people complaining all the time about various doctrines and then being shouted down by those claiming apostolic authority. Paul himself gave the warning that even from among those selected in the first generation there would be leaders that would go astray.

  47. MG says:

    Don Bradley–

    Excellent argument (Cirlot actually makes that point too). Given the Church’s conservatism, it would be surprising if no one loudly objected. And its not just that we don’t have evidence for this kind of a schism (which, in itself, would just be an argument from silence and would not prove the non-occurrence of such a schism). Rather, we would *expect* to have evidence of such a schism if it happened. The absence of such evidence makes it very unlikely that such a schism occurred, and therefore very unlikely that monarchical episcopacy was a development that supplanted a primitive presbyterian government.

  48. MG says:


    You wrote:

    “Also another (perhaps irrelevant) detail: your usual Orhodox parish doesn’t have deacons: but the cathedral church (where the bishops has his seat) does: maybe this has something to do with the expression being “bishops and deacons”; or maybe not; I don’t know.”

    Perhaps. Personally, I think Cirlot’s explanation of the names of ministers is the best. Your explanation might run into problems because one still has to explain the plural “bishops” in the NT texts. By identifying NT episcopos with the second tier of ministry, Cirlot’s explanation doesn’t run into this problem.

    If it could be argued that a bishop’s monarchical role is not necessary to his ministry, and that bishops can share local ministry, then one could harmonize the New Testament texts about bishops with the Ignatian title “bishop”. But I think its necessary to the episcopal office that a bishop be the monarch of at least one parish.

  49. MG says:

    Mr. Tundra Man–

    Though it could be a regional synod, this will not explain the fact that in other places in the NT, episcopos seems to refer to a local collegial ministry. This is why Cirlot concludes that “episcopos” is the title given to the second tier of ministry in the New Testament.

    This, I think, solves the problem of the Orthodox prohibition against episcopal marriage. For the NT is affirming that what we now call a *presbyter* or priest is to be the husband of one wife. And that doesn’t imply that those we now call bishops (which did not have that title in the NT) are to be the husband of one wife.

  50. Lucian says:

    Thomas Ross Valentine,

    that’s also the reason that in Orthodoxy only baptised people can baptise other people: “no-one gives what he himself does not possess”. That’s also the reason we believe the Son is God: if He weren’t, then how can He engod us? (Since the purpose of Baptism, just like the purpose of any other sacrament of the Church, is ultimately engodment).


    my point exactly. (Same for the functions of Timothy and Titus).

  51. trvalentine says:

    [blockquote]It’s an absurdity to say that a superior order emerges from an inferior one, because “no-one gives what he doesn’t have”: the laity doesn’t ordain deacons, deacons don’t ordain priests, priests don’t ordain bishops, fallible cardinals don’t/can’t ordain an infallible pope, etc.[/blockquote]

    I was following this until I got to the last one — Papal Christians certainly think that fallible cardinals create an infallible pope. (Of course, they also think that non-Christians can baptise — which has never made sense to me.)


  52. xpusostomos says:

    I’m going to have to read this about five times I think to see if it makes sense.

    The way I see it is easier to explain – episkopos and presbyter are merely generic terms in the NT and obtain their theologically specific terms later.

    The theological question at hand is whether the early churches had one presbyter who was the head presbyter. Judging by the position of James in Jerusalem as described in the NT, I would say yes. Whether we call the head presbyter “bishop” or not, is mere terminology.

    That only the bishop confers new presbyters could be seen as a convention imposed for the sake of good order in the church and not a theological restriction. If all the bishops were killed, the presbyters could elect a new bishop.

  53. Paul Pavao says:

    I’m not sure how you can say the verses I bring up don’t prove that every elder was a bishop. (Why use presbyter, thus leaving presbuteros untranslated, when we know that it means elder???) Paul calls for the elders of the church. They arrive, and he tells them they’ve been appointed bishops by the Holy Spirit.

    It doesn’t say anything there about all bishops being elders. It does say–if we stick to precise grammar–that all elders are bishops.

    Being precise with grammar is always dangerous. We weren’t there; there’s some context we’ll never know.

    However, when you start imagining that maybe Ignatius meant a different bishop than the ones in Scripture, I can’t see the least basis for that.

    It seems to make much more sense that John’s churches had a monarchial bishop; Paul and Peter’s did not. Thus Polycarp, a monarchial bishop in one of John’s churches, writes to Greek Philippi, one of Paul’s churches, and never mentions a monarchial bishop. Ignatius mentions monarchial bishops in all his letters except the one to Rome–Paul and Peter’s church. Rome had no monarchial bishop, as Clement’s letter suggests.

    Since that’s so simple, why start inventing something new?

    If the issue is to prove a pre-Nicene pope; that’s hopeless. We know the history of the pope. Metropolitans developed in the 3rd century, patriarchs were recognized at Nicea in the 4th century, and the Roman bishop made himself the lone patriarch over all others after politics separated eastern and western Rome.

  54. Don Bradley says:

    If, as Presbyterians suppose, the leadership structure of the Church was so radically altered by monarchial Bishops; where was the outrage of the faithful during this supposed changeover from a Presbyterian form to an Episcopal form? Why would they stay silent for so many centuries? It seems that it is the rise of a novelty that causes turmoil and debate. Where is that debate prior to the 16th century? Usually novelties appear locally and then spread, and then amidst much heated debate. How is it that the rise of monarchial Bishops came about universally and without schism if episcopal government is the novelty?

  55. Lucian says:

    Also another (perhaps irrelevant) detail: your usual Orhodox parish doesn’t have deacons: but the cathedral church (where the bishops has his seat) does: maybe this has something to do with the expression being “bishops and deacons”; or maybe not; I don’t know.

  56. Lucian says:

    P.S.: my comment above doesn’t deny that the two *words* might’ve been used interchangeably for a period of time: actually, I think they were (even in Eusebius’ church-history). But we can also see from these writings that there’s always one presbyter-bishop which heads the council of the other presbyter-bishops (for instance, “*priestly*” succession always says “X succeeded Y”, not “X1 and X2 succeeded Y1, Y2 and Y3”; and so on; and there are other instances a well).

  57. I think there’s a smoother way to solve the multiple bishops at Ephesus problem. It may have been more of a regional synod rather than a gathering of the in-town clergy. I don’t see anything in the context prohibiting that possibility. If Paul was coming to town to set things in order I could see them coming from a distance.

    To me the modern prohibition against married bishop is more problematic given the scriptural indication that they should be the husband of one wife. One can argue that this was an expedient adopted due to hard times, but wouldn’t the reverse be the truth as well?

  58. MG says:

    (yikes, I mistakenly posted this at first under my friend’s account name)


    If bishop and presbyter are interchangeable as names only for the second tier of ministry, then do you think that the Apostles were members of the second tier of ministry? If not, how do you interpret 1 Peter 5:1 and 3 John 1:1?

    The verses you bring up just prove that every bishop was a presbyter, not that every presbyter was a bishop. Cirlot admits this in his treatment of those verses above.

    Granting that there were multiple bishops at Ephesus, this does not undercut the Apostolic institution of a monarchical episcopate being taught in Scripture or the truth of Apostolic Succession. The bishops of Ephesus were members of the second tier of ministry. As Cirlot points out, episcopos refers to a local ministry that can be had by more than one person per Church in the New Testament. What this shows is that St. Ignatius of Antioch and the New Testament use different words for the second and third tiers of ministry. When the New Testament uses “bishop” it refers to what Ignatius called “presbyter”. So if there is a monarchical episcopate in the New Testament, it is not found under the Ignatian label “bishop”.

    Mr. Tundra Man–

    What does Acts 20 demonstrate that is incompatible with Cirlot’s understanding of the titles of ministry?

  59. Interesting solution to the problem. The Acts 20 objection seems hard to overcome.

    Re-reading the Acts 20 passage I noticed that even from among the bishops there would be false teaching:

    Act 20:30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.

    How true.

  60. Lucian says:


    (1) It’s an absurdity to say that a superior order emerges from an inferior one, because “no-one gives what he doesn’t have”: the laity doesn’t ordain deacons, deacons don’t ordain priests, priests don’t ordain bishops, fallible cardinals don’t/can’t ordain an infallible pope, etc.

    (2) It’s a complete non-sense to say that Christian presbyters emerged from the one bishop, because the Jewish synagogue was already headed by a group of elders, and this was later inherited by Christianity.

    (3) The existence of a single leading bishop among his presbyters should be clear to anyone who is even remotely familiar with the Holy Scriptures: the seventy elders had Moses; the priests had an arch-priest; the judges of Israel had the King of Jerusalem; the Twelve had Peter; the Seventy had Paul; the Seven had Stephen; deacons have an Arch-Deacon or Proto-Deacon; etc.

  61. MG says:


    As a matter of fact, Cirlot thinks that the third order (or what we now call the monarchical episcopacy) is of Apostolic origin, and that it did not originate from the second order. Instead, it came straight from the ordination of the Apostles. The idea that it came from the second order is based on presbyterian assumptions about the meaning of various passages from the New Testament and Apostolic Fathers. It assumes that the monarchical episcopate is a post-Apostolic development, and that presbyters could originally ordain. Admittedly, there are some arguments for these two views; but Cirlot’s arguments present a significant (decisive, I’d say) challenge to them, as we will see in future posts.

    On Cirlot’s view, the existence of monarchical bishops was probably a response to the waning of the numbers of the Apostles. Local and regional ministers were needed to take over the functions that the Apostles themselves had (oversight of areas, ordination of presbyters and deacons). It seems like it would be natural to extend the third tier of ministry to people who could take over this role, even though they themselves did not see the risen Christ (this is what Clement of Rome seems to suggest about the origin of the monarchical episcopate). However, what you’re talking about with people appointed to serve the Eucharist could be a likely explanation for how the Apostles themselves originated the presbyterate.

  62. Paul Pavao says:

    It’s an interesting thought that bishop and presbyter weren’t interchangeable in the NT. If we are going to go with simple grammar, that thought is wrong; however, I at least am willing to try to depart from strict adherence to grammar in order to try to understand a writer’s thoughts.

    The reason I say what I do is because Paul not only called for the elders of Ephesus (Acts 20:17), he told them that they are bishops (Acts 20:28).

    In 1 Pet 5, Peter addresses his “fellow elders” and tells them to “episcopate,” for lack of a better word. It’s the verb form of bishop, and he certainly seems to be talking to all of them.

    So maybe “elder” generally included all leadership. I’m not sure that Paul or Peter necessarily included “deacon” in leadership, though, since the word just means servant. Paul doesn’t appear to have called for any deacons from Ephesus, just elders, who are told they are bishops.

    The other thing that seems very clear is that no matter what later writers say, Luke seems to state clearly that there were multiple bishops in Ephesus. I can’t imagine any other way to interpret Acts 20:28.

  63. Thanks, this is quite helpful.

    I’ve seen not a little ink dedicated to the topic of the precise definition of presbyter/espiscopos. It is quite interesting to me that many of these writings seem to suggest that the third order develops out of the second order. Cirlot seems to agree. Yet in each of the cases where this is stated, I’ve not seen a cogent argument, but mere assumption.

    Yet it always seemed to me, from my reading of the sources, that it was in fact the second order which emerged from the third, not the third from the second. Namely that there was a dynamic practice in the apostolic age of the bishop appointing someone temporarily to serve the Eucharist on his behalf and that this dynamic service emerged as a static office as the growth of the Church required its more frequent use. This seems to me to fit tightly with Cirlot’s theory on the early definition and development of presbyter.

    Any thoughts on this?

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