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A Defense of the Episcopacy, part 4: Post-Pentecost

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Series note: This series on the Episcopacy will, Lord willing, be comprised of at least 4 parts, part one can be found here, part two can be found here, part three can be found here. A principle work that has been used for this work is Thomas Bilson's The Perpetual Government of Christ's Church.

Series Introduction

The episcopacy is that which separates Anglicans from other Protestant groups. To convince a Protestant of the necessity of the episcopacy will necessarily draw them to Canterbury. This is what lead me into Anglicanism out of Presbyterianism. Therefore, it is imperative that this form of church government be defended against those of congregational and presbyterian views.

At the center of this debate is the question of whether there is an equality or an inequality of ministers. "In Christ's church are there, by Divine right, levels of ministers by which some rule over others?" To answer this question is to answer this debate. Therefore this series seeks to show this thesis, that, in Christ's church, as seen under the old dispensation, the New Testament, and the history of the church, there is an inequality of the orders of Bishop and Presbyter by which the former rules over the later.

Historically this very question of the episcopacy led to a civil war in England. In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, there were debates raging within the Anglican church over the divinely appointed form of church government. One side pointed to the New Testament account where Bishops and Presbyters (Elders) seem to be the same office, but with different names. They cite St. Jerome to argue for a gradual development of the office of Bishop. The other side pointed to the historic practice of the church, reflected in the writings of the early 2nd century Bishop, St. Ignatius of Antioch to support their view.

This series of articles adds nothing new to that debate. Rather, this series seeks to synthesize in an orderly manner those best arguments which were given in the writings of my Anglican fathers in the faith.

Article Introduction

Part one of this series explored the government of the pre-Mosaic church, arguing that the church before Moses had a clear hierarchical bent to it, with loose "levels" or "grades" of priests. From this,it was argued that this form of church government was most consistent with the episcopal form which is the historical and Apostolic form of church government.

Part two completes what the first part started by looking into the form of church government which was in the remainder of the Old Testament, Mosaic, and post-Mosaic. It investigated the Mosaic and post-Mosaic forms of government, the background to the historic Catholic form of church government begins to become more apparent. We see that Presbyterianism is contrary to it, rather than a development from it.

Part three makes it into the New Testament. It focuses on the gospels, what government was instituted by Christ while he was on earth. From this we see again a "tiering" which takes place between different orders of priests. It also shows the concept of ecclesiastical hierarchy strongly, especially the principle of authority being mediated from the top of the hierarchy to the bottom of it, as is seen in St. Dionysius' Ecclesiastical Hierarchy.

This article covers the Post-Apostolic age. It focuses on the Book of Acts and the epistles, drawing also from the Patristic interpretation of the New Testament. The evidence from the Post-Gospel phase of the New Testament is often the point of attack from Presbyterians, yet, as we will see, there is an Episcopal form of government.


Of first importance is to discover the background meaning of the name "Apostle." It is common to designate an Apostle a "Sent one" from the term's etymology "αποστολος," i.e., from "αποσττελω." While this is truly an accurate account of the etymology of the term, it does not necessarily tell someone of the proper background of our Lord's designation. "Αποστολος" is probably derived from the Hebrew designation "שליח." A שליח is one's representative in a legal sense. The שליח stands in persona. The Apostles, being שלוחים of our Lord, would stand in his person, wield his authority, and so his business. An example of a work that a שליח would do in first-century Palestine is that they would send a certificate of Divorce in the sender's name, and such a sending would carry the same legal weight as if the sender himself was handing the bill of Divorce.

Now, what distinguished these Apostles from other disciples of our Lord? First, it is not that they were with Christ since the beginning of his ministry, for many others were (Acts 1:21). Second, it was not that they were sent by Christ on mission, so were the seventy (Luke 10). Third, it was not that their jurisdiction was universal, so others were (Luke 24:33, 50). Further, St. James stayed in the region of Jerusalem, according to tradition. Fourth, it was not that they were infallibly inspired by the Holy Spirit, so were Luke and Mark. Fifth, it was not that they planted churches, so did Phillip (Acts 8:5). Lastly, it was not that they worked signs and miracles, for so did Stephen (Acts 6:8) and Phillip (Acts 8:6).

How then were they distinguished? Principally, it goes back to their status as שלוחים of our Lord. They stood in the fullest measure in persona Christi, thus they had supreme authority and jurisdiction in the Church. With this designation, they had four powers above the rest of the ministers of the church. First, they had the power of the laying on of hands, both confirmation (Acts 8:17-18) and Ordination (Acts 6:6). Second, they had the power to command laity and lower clergy alike (1 Thess. 4:11, 2 Thess. 3:6, 12, Philem. 8, Col. 4:10, 1 Cor. 14:37, 2 Pet. 3:2, Titus 1:5, 1 Cor. 7:6, 17). Third, they had the ability to countermand (Acts 15:24, 1 Tim. 2:12). Fourth, they had the ability to censure false teachers and forgive sins (1 Cor. 4:21, 2 Cor. 13:10, Gal. 5:12,1 Tim. 1:20, 1 Cor. 5:5, 11, 2 Thess. 3:14, Matt. 16:19, with 18:18, and John 20:23).

Further, a שליח can make שלוחים of oneself by making of "copy" through the laying on of hands. Just as an Apostle stands supremely in persona Christi, the Bishops who succeed the Apostles stand in persona Apostoli and therefore possess that same fullness of the ministry. They are "copies" or "representatives" of the Apostles; therefore, they are "copies" and "representatives" of Christ. This is taught by the Fathers of the Church. St. Ireneaus of Lyon writes,

It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times; those who neither taught nor knew of anything like what these [heretics] rave about...we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops...The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. (Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 3)

Tertullian writes,

But if there be any (heresies) which are bold enough to plant themselves in the midst of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [that first bishop of theirs] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men, — a man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the apostles...In exactly the same way the other churches likewise exhibit (their several worthies), whom, as having been appointed to their episcopal places by apostles, they regard as transmitters of the apostolic seed. Let the heretics contrive something of the same kind. For after their blasphemy, what is there that is unlawful for them (to attempt)? But should they even effect the contrivance, they will not advance a step. For their very doctrine, after comparison with that of the apostles, will declare, by its own diversity and contrariety, that it had for its author neither an apostle nor an apostolic man; because, as the apostles would never have taught things which were self-contradictory, so the apostolic men would not have inculcated teaching different from the apostles, unless they who received their instruction from the apostles went and preached in a contrary manner. To this test, therefore will they be submitted for proof by those churches, who, although they derive not their founder from apostles or apostolic men (as being of much later date, for they are in fact being founded daily), yet, since they agree in the same faith, they are accounted as not less apostolic because they are akin in doctrine. Then let all the heresies, when challenged to these two tests by our apostolic church, offer their proof of how they deem themselves to be apostolic. But in truth they neither are so, nor are they able to prove themselves to be what they are not. Nor are they admitted to peaceful relations and communion by such churches as are in any way connected with apostles, inasmuch as they are in no sense themselves apostolic because of their diversity as to the mysteries of the faith. (Prescription Against Heresies, Chapter 32)


At first, the entire weight of the ministry fell on the Apostles. They were responsible for the distribution of the sacrament (Acts 2:42), the government of the church (Acts 5:3), and for teaching. Due to this weight of ministry, many suffered neglect. To remedy this issue, they instituted the order of Deacon to distribute aid and the sacrament (Acts 6:1), although the consecration of the sacrament was not in their hands. Thus there is the dual role of the deacon, liturgical and physical. This is witnessed by the earliest writers of the church. For example, St. Justin Martyr,

And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion. (1st Apology, 65)


There was a need after the persecution which came from the death of St. Stephen to institute another, temporary order. Their function was to preach the gospel from place to place. As Eusebius witnesses,

1. Among those that were celebrated at that time was Quadratus, who, report says, was renowned along with the daughters of Philip for his prophetical gifts. And there were many others besides these who were known in those days, and who occupied the first place among the successors of the apostles. And they also, being illustrious disciples of such great men, built up the foundations of the churches which had been laid by the apostles in every place, and preached the Gospel more and more widely and scattered the saving seeds of the kingdom of heaven far and near throughout the whole world. 2. For indeed most of the disciples of that time, animated by the divine word with a more ardent love for philosophy, had already fulfilled the command of the Saviour, and had distributed their goods to the needy. Then starting out upon long journeys they performed the office of evangelists, being filled with the desire to preach Christ to those who had not yet heard the word of faith, and to deliver to them the divine Gospels. 3. And when they had only laid the foundations of the faith in foreign places, they appointed others as pastors, and entrusted them with the nurture of those that had recently been brought in, while they themselves went on again to other countries and nations, with the grace and the co-operation of God. For a great many wonderful works were done through them by the power of the divine Spirit, so that at the first hearing whole multitudes of men eagerly embraced the religion of the Creator of the universe. 4. But since it is impossible for us to enumerate the names of all that became shepherds or evangelists in the churches throughout the world in the age immediately succeeding the apostles, we have recorded, as was fitting, the names of those only who have transmitted the apostolic doctrine to us in writings still extant. (Church History, Book 3, Chapter 37)


Once there were many churches planted by the Apostles and Evangelists, there was a need for Priests to watch these flocks and to feed them with the word and sacraments. In each church were appointed Priests for this duty (Acts 14:23), this was done with the laying on of hands (Acts 11:30).


Last of all, there were Bishops appointed to take their place in the general oversight of regional areas of the church. This interpretation is denied by the Presbyterians in favor of combining this office with that of the priests. Their job was to strengthen and establish what was already done by the Apostles (Acts 14:22). These are usually called "επισκοποι," but St. John calls these the "αγγελοι" of the churches (Rev. 1:20). Bishops were given the Apostolic powers of the laying on of hands, commanding, and reproving (as is seen in the examples of Ss. Timothy and Titus).

The reason for establishing the episcopacy seems twofold. First, after the typology of the law (as was shown in parts 1 and 2 of this series). Second, for the prevention of Schisms. This is witnessed by the fathers. John Calvin admits this much as a historical fact (although we disagree with him on the specifics),

"And the ancients themselves admit that this was introduced by human agreement to meet the need of the times. Thus Jerome, commenting on the letter to Titus, says: “Bishop and presbyter are one and the same. And before, by the devil’s prompting, dissensions arose in religion and it was said among the people, ‘I am of Paul, I of Cephas’ [1 Cor. 1:12; cf. ch. 3:4], churches were governed by the common counsel of presbyters.” Afterward, to remove seeds of dissensions, all oversight was committed to one person. Just as the presbyters, therefore, know that they are, according to the custom of the church, subject to him who presides, so the bishops recognize that they are superior to the presbyters more according to the custom of the church than by the Lord’s actual arrangement, and that they ought to govern the church in co-operation with them. Jerome, however, tells us in another place what an ancient arrangement it was. For he says that at Alexandria from the time of the Evangelist Mark to that of Heraclas and Dionysius, the presbyters always elected one of their number and set him in a higher rank, calling him “bishop.” (Institutes, Book 4, Chapter 4.2)

If this function was necessary for the Apostles' time, how much more in our time of frequent schism? God would not burden his church with unnecessary offices, yet this office is truly a grace that natural law shows us to be the most orderly form of church government (that is, a monarchy). God cares no less for the continuing care of His church than he did for its establishment. Therefore, he gifted us with the episcopacy to repress schism and remedy abuses.

Bishops in the New Testament

The chief type and first holders of the office of the episcopacy were the twelve Apostles. While their authority and commission extended to all nations to fulfill Christ's mandate, each Apostle took to himself an area of the world to preach the gospel to. By tradition, we know that Peter preached to Pontus, Galatia, and Cappadocia; John to Asia and Parthia; Andrew to Scythia, [Pontus] Euxinus, and Byzantium; Philip to upper Asia and Hierapolis; Thomas to India, Persia, and the magi; Bartholomew to Armenia, Lycaonia, and India; Matthew to Ethiopia; Simeon to Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt, Africa, and Britany; Thaddaeus to Arabia, Idumea, and Mesopotamia; and Matthias to Ethiopia.

After this, many of the Apostles "settled down" into a geographic diocese wherein they would rule. This is the form that the episcopacy would eventually take. St. James settled down at Jerusalem, as Eusebius witnesses,

Then James, whom the ancients surnamed the Just on account of the excellence of his virtue, is recorded to have been the first to be made bishop of the church of Jerusalem. This James was called the brother of the Lord because he was known as a son of Joseph, and Joseph was supposed to be the father of Christ, because the Virgin, being betrothed to him, was found with child by the Holy Ghost before they came together, Matthew 1:18 as the account of the holy Gospels shows. (Ecclesiastical History, Book 2, Chapter 1)

St. John settled at Ephesus, as Eusebius witnesses,

Listen to a tale, which is not a mere tale, but a narrative concerning John the apostle, which has been handed down and treasured up in memory. For when, after the tyrant's death, he returned from the isle of Patmos to Ephesus, he went away upon their invitation to the neighboring territories of the Gentiles, to appoint bishops in some places, in other places to set in order whole churches, elsewhere to choose to the ministry some one of those that were pointed out by the Spirit. (Ibid., Book 3, Chapter 23)

The apostles chose "Co-workers" such as Timothy, Titus, Clement, Apollos, John Mark, Luke, etc. These assisted them in their labors, and in their absence, took their commission upon themselves. This is seen chiefly in Timothy and Titus. They had the same powers as the Apostles. First, they had the power to appoint priests (Titus 1:5). Second, they had the power to ordain priests themselves by the laying on of hands (1 Timothy 5:22, 2 Timothy 2:2). Third, they were to preserve the Apostolic deposit (1 Timothy 4:14, 20; 2 Timothy 1:14). Fourth, they were to command others not to teach if need arises (1 Timothy 1:3; Titus 3:9; 2 Timothy 2:16). Fifth, they had judicial power (1 Timothy 5:19-21), Sixth, they were to correct doctrine (Titus 1:5). Seventh, they were to judge heretics and execute punishment (Titus 1:11; 3:10; 1 Timothy 6:5; 2 Timothy 3:5)

These persons acted in the person of the Apostles as their שליח. So too, these persons followed the Apostles in their ministry after their death, just as they did before their death. There is no reason to believe that at the death of the last Apostle, their function ceased that they were already partaking in.

But, Bishop is used for Priests?

The screaming objection that is going to come now from the Presbyterians follows thus: "In the New Testament, the title of 'Bishop' seems interchangeable with the office of the Priest, as is witnessed by St. Jerome and Psuedo-Ambrose." While some Jure Divino Episcopaalians shutter at this and argue that this title is not used for Priests, this seems to go against the clear witness of the Biblical text and later ecclesiastical usages. It only needs to be argued that this is the case with all ecclesiastical offices. The titles that became standardized are given to others, and those of this office are called by the titles of other ecclesiastical offices. It makes the most sense with Bishops that this would be most prominent because they came on the scene last of all.

One must only take the case of the title "Apostle." Apostles were called "Presbyters" (1 Peter 5:1), "Deacons" (1 Cor. 3:5), "Teachers" (1 Timothy 2:7), "Bishops" (Acts 1:20), "Prophets" (Rev. 22:9), and "Evangelists" (1 Cor. 9:16). Further, others who were not "Apostles" in the proper sense were given this title. Examples of such are Barnabas (Acts 14:4, 14), Andronicus (Rom. 16:7), and Titus (2 Cor. 8:23). Presbyterians, is the office of Presbyter and Apostle the same? How about Deacon and Apostle? Bishop and Apostle? With this hermeneutic, one could piece by piece remove all ecclesiastical distinction!

The Function of the Bishop

There are various analogies used in scripture for the office of the Bishop. They are the shepherd of the flock, the captain in the camp, the master of the ship, the steward of the house, and the magistrate of a commonwealth.

It is his duty to care for the churches under his charge (2 Cor. 11:28; Phil. 2:20), to visit his churches (Acts 9:32; 15:26), to confirm what is good (Acts 15:41; Rev. 3:2), and to cast out from his churches that which is evil (Tit. 1:5).

He has the solemn duty to ordain (Tit. 1:5), to enjoin (1 Tim. 1:3), to act as judge (1 Tim. 1:3), to correct (Ibid.), and to appoint fasts (Tertullian, On Fasting, Ch. 13)


As my grandfather used to say, "all good things must to an end," and so too must this series on Polity. In this article, we saw that the Presbyterian argument from Sacred Scripture rests on shaky ground. There is no "equality of ministers" present at any point in the text but is a clear hierarchy that will remain until the second coming of our Lord.

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