Showing posts with label bishop. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bishop. Show all posts

16 September 2012

Keeping watch

We consider the Koine Greek word 'episcopos' and see how Luke uses it in Acts as he records how Paul spoke to the Ephesian elders on his way to Jerusalem. It seems that Paul was most concerned with preventing misleading teaching from confusing and scattering the believers.

A flock of sheep
Let's take a look at another Greek word used in the New Testament and usually understood as a leadership term. The word is ἐπίσκοπος (episcopos) and is variously translated bishop, overseer, ruler or supervisor.

It literally means someone who looks around, or across, or on. Does it have the sense of governing others in some way, or might it rather have the sense of keeping watch and staying alert as a way of serving others?

There is a widespread perception and presumption that New Testament authors intended it in the former sense.

We can rule out 'Bishop' in the formal sense used by Anglicans, Catholics and others. The early church had no hierarchical structures anything like those of these groups. Nor is the term 'episcopos' understood in this way by methodists, baptists, or most other more recent church groups. They usually retain some form of structure and government, but often limited to the management of local congregations. Terms like overseer, elder, deacon, pastor, moderator may be employed, but are not normally used to denote hierarchical position.

To understand 'episcopos' properly we need to examine how it is used by the original authors and how readers at the time might have understood it. There are five passages where it's used in the New Testament. We'll check them out one by one. (Note that the word ending varies in Greek, depending on context and the rules of grammar.)

Saying goodbye to the Ephesians - ἐπισκόπους is used in Acts 20:28. To properly understand this passage we need some context, I recommend reading Acts 20:13-21:1. Paul has called the elders from Ephesus to meet him on the coast before he sets off for Kos on his journey to Jerusalem. (We'll look at the term 'elder' in a later article.) It's an emotional meeting, a final farewell. For Paul it's a short pause on a long journey.

In verses 17-21 he reminds them how he lived when he was with them. He was humble and severely tested, but he spoke only what was helpful and taught in their homes about repentance and faith.

In verses 22-25 he explains why he's leaving and that he won't be back.

In verses 26-36 he reminds them again of his teaching and tells them to keep watch and act as shepherds. They have a duty to keep watch, and it's very clear that this means guarding against wrong teaching. They are to be on their guard against the things he warned them of over and over again.

They were appointed by the Spirit (not by men, not even by Paul). They are called not to govern but to be alert for error and to be shepherds. In other words their responsibility is to be aware of the right way and trustworthy in walking it so the sheep will be safe in following them.

Paul commits them to 'Elohim and the word of his grace'. They are to be built up by the Lord, set apart for him, helping the weak by working hard to supply their own needs, giving not receiving.

ἐπισκόπους evidently has a sense of being vigilant and guarding against wrong teaching. There's an emphasis on bearing in mind the dangers and pitfalls, and on humbly serving and leading by example so that the sheep remain safe.

Next time we'll look at  the use of this word in Philippians 1:1.


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