Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Monepiscopacy and the early Church

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 synonym 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 he 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,


P.S. In "Addendum 2", Ken provided a link to an apologetic contribution by Brandon Addison. I have already published two thread on this, and urge those readers who have read Brandon's treatment to check out the resource I mentioned in this thread, and my own reflections here.


Ken said...

Hi David,
Thanks for your bold critique.

I skimmed over your article and don't have time right now to get into all the details; yet I hope to study it all more in depth and make more comments later.

Off the top of my head, on the main issue - it seems your main argument is that James was the mono-episcopate (one bishop over a college of elders) at Jerusalem. And the later church records seem to read mono-episcopasy back into the earliest decades. (Eusebius, Irenaeus, etc.) Acts, Titus, 1 Timothy, I Peter 5, I Clement, Shepherd of Hermas, and the Didache are all earlier (60s-125 AD) and don't jive with the bishop's lists of 200-325 AD.

Why doesn't Acts 15 say that? Acts 15 does not call James a "bishop/overseer, who is one over the college of elders" in authority. Both he and Peter stand up and give their opinions/judgments and quote Scripture.

It says that Paul and Barnabas came there and reported to "the apostles and elders" (Acts 15:4; and 15:6; 15:22 and "with the whole church").

James, the brother of Jesus is called an apostle in Galatians 1:19 and 1 Cor. 15:7.

What about Acts 14:23 where it says that the apostles appointed elders for every church?

Regarding Peter Lampe and liberal scholarship, we discussed that issue before and I don't recall everything; but I don't see how liberal views of the Pastorals or authorship of Ephesians relates to the issue of mono-episcopacy, since I am conservative and believe that Paul wrote I Tim. and Titus between 62-65 AD after he was released from house arrest in Acts 28; and 2 Timothy around 66-67 AD in prison in Rome before his execution by Nero. The issues are completely separate- the earliest churches had a plurality of elders issue is completely separate from the liberalism issue. (just as your point about mono-episcopasy does not necessarily prove any kind of Papacy. That is what Anglicanism/ Episcopal church structure is all about, right?)

It seems to me that from Ignatius onward, and especially Irenaeus, the mono-episcopacy is read back into the earlier decades. The earlier records don't agree with what Irenaeus, Eusebius, Hegessipus suppossedly say.

There are many other things we can get into, but I have to go to an appointment. I hope to interact with the other material as I have time.

David Waltz said...

Hi Ken,

Thanks much for taking to time to comment; and also a big thanks for publishing my post over at BA. (BTW, when did you guys start moderating comments?)

I have been out of town today, and got back about 20 minutes ago. Do not have the time this evening to do justice to what you touched on in this morning's post. Tomorrow (the Lord willing) I will start work on a new thread dedicated to James' monarchical leadership--there has been a good number of authors who have written on this topic, which has been published in histories, commentaries, and, of course, books devoted to James (the Just/Righteous).

In the meantime, please feel free to comment on the other issues I mentioned in the opening post.

Grace and peace,


Ken said...

James Swan had to put the blog on moderation mode because of a couple of bad commentors, both of whom are Roman Catholic. He has an article up about that now.

David Waltz said...

Hi Ken,

Rather than try to respond to your comments here in the combox (it would have taken at least 3 separate posts), I did so in a new thread (link).

Grace and peace,


Rory said...

I am glad that our adversaries acknowledge that St. Ignatius of Antioch represents a certain exhortation to the dreaded monoepiscopate. Given the date of his writings, at the beginning of the second century, this means that it appeared and quickly predominated over Christendom throughout the era in which the faith of Christians and the blood of the martyrs vanquished Pagan Rome without any ideas at all of congregational ecclesiology.

107 AD, as many scholars place the date for the martyrdom of St. Ignatius is early anyway. The Apostle John nearly outlived Ignatius. But the point I would raise is that it is incredible to suggest that what Ignatius proposed over and over, to each of the seven churches to which he addressed himself as he journeyed to Rome to face death for his testimony of Christ, is that he was promoting a novelty.

Picture yourself as Baptist in a congregational setting as required by the Apostles who some of the congregation, even maybe yourself remembered meeting. You know how they intended the churches to be governed. Then out of nowhere you get some letter from some old man claiming to be the pastor of an entire major city, Antioch, who is telling you about your duties to obey some fictional overseer office of the whole province in which you live. Maybe they didn't call it Alzheimer's, but old folks went nuts in post Apostolic days too. I have to ask why Ignatius' writings were so well received, if they were so utterly contrary to the Apostolic doctrines? He emphasized one theme in every one of his letters, and that had to do with obeying the bishop of the province. How do you explain the ready reception of such a strange novelty coming from some delusional old man? It doesn't make any sense to say that monoepiscopates started with Ignatius in the early 2nd Century. He knew that those to whom he was writing had long established ecclesiastical customs that were compatible with his admonitions.

According to the introductory notes of the anti-Catholic editors of Ignatius series of letters translated into English and pubplished by Hendriksen Publishers in 1994, Ignatius was a venerable figure to the Christians both because of his age and his reputation: "The seductive myth which represents this Father as the little child whom the Lord placed in the midst of his apostles indicates at least the period when he may be supposed to have been born."

Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol 1, p.45

So Ignatius was around 80 years old as some kind of leader at one of the congregational churches in Antioch when he was brought to the attention of authorities who decided to make an example of him.

I have a few questions questions to those who hold that this old man opposed apostolic doctrine as it relates to ecclesiology in his writings.

1) What makes you think his ecclesiology begins with the first letters he wrote?

2) Does it seem plausible that he would write to disciples in other cities, full well knowing that they wouldn't be able to relate to his admonitions?

3) Considering this as a second century novelty, how do you explain the apparently ready reception of his message. Instead of being held up for ridicule as a some senile kook, as would be more appropriate if you were correct about him, he is held up for admiration, with legendary stories about him being held in the very arms of Jesus!

Can you not see why it makes no sense to cite Ignatius in the second century as the first appearance of monoepiscopacy? It seems impossible to believe that Ignatius' writings would have been acceptable to disciples of Christ who had been accustomed to an apostolic tradition that requires congregational ecclesiology. Reformed Baptists today have no difficulty disagreeing with Ignatian ecclesiology.

What was the deal in Reformed Baptist congregations from Ephesus to Smyrna to Rome that made letters from this condemned old man acceptable when they were completely at odds with all of their previous church experience?


Ken said...

1) What makes you think his ecclesiology begins with the first letters he wrote?

Because everything before that indicates that each local church has a plurality of elders (presbuteroi)

Acts 14:23
When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

χειροτονήσαντες δὲ αὐτοῖς πρεσβυτέρους κατ᾽ ἐκκλησίαν προσευξάμενοι μετὰ νηστειῶν παρέθεντο αὐτοὺς τῷ κυρίῳ εἰς ὃν πεπιστεύκεισαν

πρεσβυτέρους (accusative plural- object of the verb in Aorist active, "they appointed") , "they appointed") κατ᾽ ἐκκλησίαν (literally, "according to each church")

All the other earlier passages are consistent with this:

Acts 20:17 - called the elders (plural)

Acts 20:28 - tells the elders that the Holy Spirit has also made them overseers (all the elders are also overseers - uses plural there) and they are to do the work of pastoring (verbal form - to pastor, shepherd, feed and guard the flock)

Titus 1:5-7 - appoint elders (Plural) and verse 7 shows the elder is same as overseer, "for the overseer" - the Greek word "for" ( γαρ) proves this.

1 Peter 5:1-4
Again, he speaks to "the elders" (plural)
and says that their job is
to shepherd the flock (1 Peter 5:2)
exercise oversight (verbal form related to episkopos; episkopeo = επισκοπεω

and I Clement 42 and 44 show the elders are the same office as overseer or bishop.

David Waltz said...

Good morning Rory,

Excellent post !!! Your questions and reasoning are spot-on. The only "answer" for the congregationalist is to maintain that the early Christian Church underwent an almost universal apostasy concerning ecclesiology (Gnostics were probably congregationalists) by the middle of the second century. Such a take on history is not a position I would like to defend...

Grace and peace,


Ken said...

You still never deal with Acts 14:23 or any of the other verses I put forth.

David Waltz said...

Hi Ken,

A bit earlier today you wrote:

== You still don't deal with Acts 14:23 and don't comment on the other verses either.

You just ignore them, and build your case on the fact that the Apostles are the high office, but later ceased (agreed).

Answer the question - Why did they appoint elders for each church in Acts 14:23 ?? (and no mention of mono-episcopacy)==

If you had read my posts a bit more carefully you would have discerned that I have answered the import of your question. I pointed out that in the time period of Acts 14:23 three primary offices existed: apostles, elders/bishops and deacons. The monespicopacy, apart from James (the Just) in Jerusalem, did not yet exist. There was yet no need to appoint apostolic successors, for the ministry of the apostles was still in full swing. As such, the apostles Barnabas and Paul, appointed elders in each of the various cities mentioned in Acts 14. And further, just as the Church at Antioch was composed of numerous house churches, so too the other cities mentioned in Acts 14. So, each of the house churches in each city Church had an elder appointed, which, of course, means that each city Church had multiple elders appointed by Barnabas and Paul; and all those elders appointed by them, were under their authority.

But, as the apostles began to pass off of the scene, successors were being appointed to overseer the house church elders of each city Church, with the Church at Jerusalem, serving as the model. James (the Just) was not an apostle appointed by Jesus Christ, nor was he a mere elder of a house church. His was in a position below 'the Twelve' but above the elders of the house churches. No precise name for this position is given in the NT, that came later.

Grace and peace,


E. Reyes said...

I can not leave this blog without making this comment. I do understand this is a blog a year old but I have to comment for the use of people who might read it after. Ken said on Feb 16 answering the 1st question of Rory from Feb 15: What makes you think his ecclesiology begins with the letters he wrote? and Ken's answer was "Because everything before that indicates that each local church has a plurality of elders (presbuteroi)"
I would have to ask, if this was the first time this topic was ever address, and never known about before, why does Ignatius himself in his letter to the Magnesians says "through Damas your most worthy Bishop" and ends with Polycarp, the Bishop of the Smyrneans?" It seems to me that there were bishops all over by them. I do not think this could have happen all of a sudden. They did not go to sleep one night and the next morning woke up and decided to order Bishops over all the regions. This must have developed throughout the time, and by the time of Ignatius it was very clearly stablished. Of course, it was not already in place by the time of the Apostles, and therefore when the Scriptures of the N.T. were written they could not have been presented in that way, even if by the time when they were actually written, the offices of Bishop, Presbyter and Deacons were already stablished. If they were writing books about what happened during the time f Jesus and the early Church they had to write them as they developed. This does not mean that what they describe of the early Church, in the N.T., was not the beginning of what we now know as the offices of the Church, it just means it was not developed as of yet, in its entirety. Neither was the dogma of the Trinity. John talked in the beginning of his Gospel about the word that was at the beginning of creation with God and that was God and without whom nothing would have been created, but he never mentions the word Trinity. Trinity is not mentioned any were in the Bible at all. Does this make the Dogma of Trinity untruth? No, they new that Jesus was God, but they did not know how to explain it, they were still developing the theology behind it. The same thing happened with the offices, they were forming and been defined until they became what we know today. All we have to do is let the Holy Spirit guide the Church as Jesus promised he would, and we follow it, because Jesus will never break his promises, let us just believe in his promise "I will be with you until the end of times", He is in the Church, he has proved it over and over again through out the centuries, why do we doubt Him so much?

David Waltz said...

Hi E. Reyes,

Thanks much for taking the time to post your thoughts. I pretty much agree with everything you wrote.

BTW, I have pointed out a number of times to Ken that he is quite inconsistent to allow for the development of the doctrine of the Trinity, while rejecting development for other doctrines and ecclesiastical issues.

Will be looking for further contributions from your pen in the near future.

Grace and peace,