Back on January 28, 2015, Ken Temple published a thread at the Beggars All blog (link), wherein he made some pretty bold assertions concerning the government/ministry of the Christian Church during the apostolic (i.e. NT) and early post-apostolic (i.e. late 1st century-early 2nd century) periods. Ken wrote:
...the earliest writings affirm that a college/plurality of elders and the office of bishop is the same office. The names of elder and bishop is interchangable[sic] in the NT and earliest writings of the early fathers.
After citing 5 passages from the NT and Apostolic Fathers, Ken then posted:
Also, James Swan pointed out that the evidence for Rome is that it did not have a mono-episcopate until much later. ( I Clement, Shepherd of Hermas, Peter Lampe's book and work; John Bugay wrote a lot in this area also, both here and over at Triablogue. see at the Addendum below)
Moreover, NONE of the earliest churches had a mono-episcopate. They all had a plurality of elders at first.
Ignatius (writing around 107-117 AD, ?) is the first evidence of the mono-episcopate, and seems to be where that custom/practice started.
Pretty much every assertion made by Ken in the above quotes is either irrelevant, problematic, or an error.
First, though the terms elder/presbyter (πρεσβύτερος, presbuteros) and bishop (ἐπίσκοπος, episkopos) are certainly both used for individuals who filled the 'office' of what later came to known exclusively as that of the elder/presbyter; this fact does not address whether or not three distinct 'offices' existed in the Apostolic period which later came to be known as bishop/overseer, elder/presbyter, and deacon; as such, it is irrelevant. [FYI: I believe that four distinct 'offices' existed in the Apostolic period, and that the highest of the four—represented by the Apostles appointed by Jesus (plus Matthias)—became non-existent after the death of the Apostle John.]
It must be kept in mind that a number terms which later developed into limited and exclusive usage, had much broader application in the NT and early CFs. Not only were the terms elder/presbyter (πρεσβύτερος, presbuteros) and bishop (ἐπίσκοπος, episkopos) at times used for the same individual/s, but also the terms apostle (ἀπόστολος, apostolos) and deacon (διάκονος, diakonos). Peter is called an apostle and elder/presbyter; John an apostle and elder/presbyter; Paul an apostle and deacon; Timothy is designated as an apostle and a deacon. All four terms may be used of an 'office', but also have much broader usages.
Second, the purported "evidence" that Rome "did not have a mono-episcopate until much later", is based on presuppositions and theories from liberal scholars of the higher-critical paradigm—those presuppositions and theories have been fully addressed by more conservative scholars.
Third, the assertion that, "NONE of the earliest churches had a mono-episcopate", is just wrong. Fact is, the earliest 'church', Jerusalem, had one individual designated as it's leader: James. (The terms church and churches need to be qualified for THE Church at Jerusalem was comprised of numerous 'house-churches', with each individual 'house-church' having an elder/bishop in charge.)
And fourth, "Ignatius of Antioch is most certainly NOT "the first evidence of the mono-episcopate". As noted above, "the first evidence of the mono-episcopate" was the Jerusalem Church under the leadership of James.
So much for my counter-assertions. Now, before I offer support each of them, I would first like to provide a working definition for the term, monepiscopacy (or monarchical episcopate):
The view that in addition to the elder/bishop who presides over a single, local church (originally a 'house-church')—who is supported by deacons—there exists a third office held by one who has authority/jurisdiction over a plurality of local churches and their elders/bishops. Example: the early Church at Jerusalem, led by James.
First assertion -
The fact that the terms elder/presbyter (πρεσβύτερος, presbuteros) and bishop (ἐπίσκοπος, episkopos) are certainly both used for some of the same individuals who filled the 'office' of what later can to known exclusively as elder/presbyter has virtually no bearing on whether or not there was a third office which was above it/them. I can think of no better representative of this view than the man who established beyond any reasonable doubt that those two terms were used interchangeably in the NT and early CFs: J. B. Lightfoot. His Saint Paul's Epistle to the Philippians (1868), The Christian Ministry (1868) and massive 5 volume work, Apostolic Fathers (1885-1890) established him as one of the top scholars who has written on this topic. And to my knowledge, there is not one scholar who has successfully questioned Lightfoot's monumental contributions on this issue.
Interestingly enough, though countless authors have cited Lightfoot concerning the use of the terms elder/presbyter (πρεσβύτερος, presbuteros) and bishop (ἐπίσκοπος, episkopos) in the NT and Apostolic Fathers, it is quite rare to find an author who also points out that he believed the monepiscopacy (and the three-fold Christian ministry) had an Apostolic origin. Please note the following from his The Christian Ministry, one of three disertations which were printed with his commentary on Philippians:
If bishop was at first used as a synonyme for the presbyter and afterwards came to designate the higher officer under whom the presbyters served, the episcopate properly so called would seem to have been developed from the subordinate office. In other words, the episcopate was formed not out of the apostolic order by localisation but out of the presbyteral by elevation : and the title, which originally was common to all, came at length to be appropriated to the chief among them.
If this account be true, we might expect to find in the mother Church of Jerusalem, which as the earliest founded would soonest ripen into maturity, the first traces of this developed form of the ministry. Nor is this expectation disappointed. James the Lord's brother alone, within the period compassed by the apostolic writings, can claim to be regarded as a bishop in the later and more special sense of the term. (Pages 196-197.)
The evidence for the early and wide extension of episcopacy throughout proconsular Asia, the scene of St John's latest labours, may be considered irrefragable. (Page 214.)
It has been seen that the institution of an episcopate must be placed as far back as the closing years of the first century, and that it cannot, without violence to historical testimony, be dissevered from the name of St John. (Page 234.)
If the preceding investigation be substantially correct, the threefold ministry can be traced to Apostolic direction ; and short of an express statement we can possess no better assurance of a Divine appointment or at least a Divine sanction. (Page 267.)
Interestingly enough, even during the lifetime of Lightfoot himself, some folk were evidently attempting to twist Lightfoot's own words, for in the preface of the sixth edition of Saint Paul's Epistle to the Philippians he penned:
The present edition is an exact reprint of the preceding one. This statement applies as well to the Essay on the Threefold Ministry, as to the rest of the work. I should not have thought it necessary to be thus explicit, had I not been informed of a rumour that I had found reason to abandon the main opinions expressed in that Essay. There is no foundation for any such report. The only point of importance on which I have modified my views, since the Essay was first written, is the authentic form of the letters of St Ignatius. Whereas in the earlier editions of this work I had accepted the three Curetonian letters, I have since been convinced (as stated in later editions) that the seven letters of the Short Greek are genuine. This divergence however does not materially affect the main point at issue, since even the Curetonian letters afford abundant evidence of the spread of episcopacy in the earliest years of the second century.
But on the other hand, while disclaiming any change in my opinions, I desire equally to disclaim the representations of those opinions which have been put forward in some quarters. The object of the Essay was an investigation into the origin of the Christian Ministry. The result has been a confirmation of the statement in the English Ordinal, 'It is evident unto all men diligently reading the Holy Scripture and ancient authors that from the Apostles' time there have been these orders of Ministers in Christ's Church, Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.' But I was scrupulously anxious not to overstate the evidence in any case; and it would seem that partial and qualifying statements, prompted by this anxiety, have assumed undue proportions in the minds of some readers, who have emphasized them to the neglect of the general drift of the Essay.
September 9, 1881.
Second assertion -
The position that monepiscopacy was a very late development in Rome (many liberal scholars have speculated that it did not appear before the middle of the 2nd century), is based on highly questionable presuppositions, theories, and a subjective interpretation of archeological data. The beginnings of this position are found in the late 19th century higher critical works of Harnack, Hatch and Sohm. The higher critical presuppositions, methods and theories that were being applied to the NT for decades in Germany, were now also being unleashed on post-NT period. I have touched on the infiltration of higher criticism into 20th century scholarship in a number of threads under the "Peter Lampe" label - LINK.
Some of the most troubling issues of the higher critical paradigm for me are: 1.) treatment of the NT as any other literature of the same period; 2.) the assumption that many of the NT writings were not written by apostles and/or immediate associates of the apostles (e.g. Paul did not write the Pastorals, nor some of the other epistles attributed to him; John did not write the Gospel attributed to him, nor the 3 epistles, nor Revelation; Peter did not write either of the epistles attributed to him; et al.), which means that those who did write a number of the NT contributions were liars; 3.) the men who wrote the early bishops lists were either liars or ignoramuses (or both); 4.) the unwillingness to seriously interact with conservative scholars who have addressed many of the issues raised by the higher critical paradigm.
Third assertion -
The view James was the first Bishop of the Church at Jerusalem has such a broad spectrum of supporters (Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, conservative, moderate, liberal), those who reject this position need to present overwhelming evidence to the contrary (this to date has not been done).
Bishop Lightfoot himself was a supporter (see above), and the following are a few selections from modern scholars who also affirm that James was the first Bishop of the Church at Jerusalem:
In the traditions recorded by Eusebius (Hegesippus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen), James was the first bishop of the Jerusalem church. His election to this position is located at the beginning of the life of the Jerusalem church. He was thus the first bishop of the leading (mother) church of the growing Christian movement. The account in Acts portrays the key role of the Jerusalem church, and even the letters of Paul confirm the importance because they show Paul contested and struggled against that leadership. But according to popular understanding, in Acts Peter is at first portrayed as the prominent leader among the twelve, giving way to James only when he is forced to leave Jerusalem (Acts 12:17). The account of the Jerusalem assembly (Acts 15) portrays James "presiding." and this position of leadership is consistent with the remaining narrative of Acts. (John Painter, Just James - The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition, Univ. of South Carolina Press, 1997, p. 4.)
The earliest leaders of the church [Jerusalem] were the Twelve, whom Luke calls 'the apostles'. At some point in the first ten or fifteen years of the church's existence an office of elder was created similar to that of the Jewish synagogue, either to succeed the Twelve, whose members began to leave Jerusalem in order to preach the gospel, or as assistants to the apostles in the administration of the church. James replaced Peter as the leader of the church and the elders took the place of the apostles. (R. Alistair Campbell, The Elders, T & T Clark International, 1994, p. 160.)
In 2001 book, The Brother of Jesus - James the Just and His Mission, co-authors, Bruce Chilton and Jacob Neusner, present solid evidences that James was clearly the leader of the Jerusalem church by the time of Acts 15. Less convincing is their view that he was already the leader of the Jerusalem church when Peter was arrested by Herod. Note the following:
Against this background [Gal. 2:1-10] we may read Acts 12:17. It is normally taken to mean that, after Peter's arrest by Herod (12:1-3), he was miraculously released from prison but forced to flee from Jerusalem. Before leaving he came to the house of the mother of John Mark, where the church used to gather. There he passed on a message, "Tell this [news of his release and forced departure] to James and the brethren." How is this message to be understood? It is commonly understood as a cryptic message from Peter, the leader, to James, indicating that James must take over the leadership in absence of Peter. This is less than clearly the intended meaning. More likely we should understand Peter's message in the context of his report back to James, the leader of the Jerusalem church. Nothing is more natural than that Peter should report to the leader. (Page 31.)
In pages 32-35, the authors present numerous quotes from post-apostolic sources (e.g. Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, Hegesippus) which clearly affirm that James was the first Bishop of Jerusalem. They begin with the following:
The role of James as leader of the Jerusalem church is uniformly found in early tradition. (Page 32.)
And then conclude the section with:
Nevertheless this tradition is unanimous that James was the first leader of the Jerusalem church, and this emphasized by the numerous references to the throne of Jesus. (Page 35.)
Before leaving Chilton and Neusner, I would like to provide one more informative selection:
James died in the year 62 C.E., so that his example had been there to influence the emerging model of episcopal hierarchy within the church attested within the Pastoral Epistles for some three decades before the Pastoral Epistles themselves were written. James was clearly a local leader, who made decisions on the basis of Scripture, and the exercise of his authority—owing to his familial relationship—brought with it a personal link to Jesus himself which was reinforced by his own martyrdom. The personal model of James as bishop was evidently sufficient to elevate that office above other possible contenders for what was to be the predominately authority within the church by the end of the first century. (Page 157 - bold emphasis mine.)
I could add many more examples, but the above is sufficient to demonstrate that Ken's assertion is in error.
Fourth assertion -
Ken's fourth assertion is directly related to his third; as such, I see no need to provide further documentation to show that it too is in error.
I shall end here with a couple of important notes: first, this thread is by no means intended to be an attack on the person of Ken. I like Ken, and consider him a brother in Christ. Yet with that said, I at times feel compelled to address some of the views that defends in his internet publishing. And second, this post is neither a defense, nor attack, of the Papacy. Though monepiscopacy is certainly an important component in any debate on the Papacy, monepiscopacy itself can be, and is, a 'stand-alone' issue, and has been treated as such in this thread.
Grace and peace,