Popes and Bishops in the Early Church

Q. If popes and bishops are necessary then why were there none in the early church?

A. In the early Church there were all three ordained offices of the Catholic Church that we have today (Deacons, Priests, Bishops). They were called by different names but the offices were in existence and are designated in Acts 6:5 and Acts 15 at the first Church Council and elsewhere in the New Testament.

Q. Then why have I never seen that in Acts 15 before? I have read it many times.

A. You surely saw it but just missed the significance of the information you were reading.

First, we have Peter at the council who stood up and settled the dispute, made the POPE or Vicar of Christ in Matthew 16:17-19.

Then, also present at the first Church Council were the apostles who became the first BISHOPS ( Gr. Episkopos) in the Church. There are many other New Testament passages that mention the office of bishop or overseer.

Next we see PRIESTS, called elders in the New Testament because this is the strict English translation of the Greek presbuteros. However, our English word Priest is etymologically derived from the Greek word presbuteros.

And finally we have DEACONS. Stephen and others in Acts 6 and qualifications of deacons in I Timothy 3:8-12. There are many other NT passages also that talk about deacons.


6 Responses to Popes and Bishops in the Early Church

  1. Robert says:


    How would you respond to scholarship which suggests that “elder” and “overseer” are used interchangeably in the New Testament text? Perhaps the more serious objection to the Catholic position would be that there is no distinction between the two offices.

  2. Dr. Eric says:

    I will relate an anecdote from the Second Vatican Council. At one point, the Fathers at the Council were discussing an upcoming Liturgy. Pope Paul VI wanted to read the Gospel. The other Bishops responded that the Deacon should read the Gospel. The Holy Father responded: just because I’m Pope doesn’t mean that I am no longer a Deacon!

    Just because one ascends the ladder of Holy Orders doesn’t mean that he loses “the rank” that he had before.

    One can be and is a priest and a bishop at the same time.

  3. Robert says:

    Dr. Eric,

    I completely agree. But the more nettlesome objection would be that there were no separate offices for elder and overseer at the time. I imagine that a response would have to take the very path you took– to claim that the office of presbyter-bishop encompassed the totality of what the later distinct offices of presbyter and bishop encompassed respectively.

  4. Joel says:

    Philippians 1;1: To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.

    Then Ignatius of Antioch wrote in 105 (during the life time of John the Apostle): Being subject to the bishop and presbyters, you may in all respects be sanctified.

    Then again: Obey the bishop and the presbyters with an undivided mind.

    Then again: I exhort you to study to do all things with a divine harmony, while your bishop presides in the place of God, and your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles, along with your deacons.

    I think the writings of Ignatius clearly demonstrate the heirarchy of the Church in the form we recognize today.

  5. bfhu says:

    I just now saw Roberts question. And i don’t have any real slam dunk. Except to say as the Church was first developing the apostles were both priests and bishops and the distinction clarified later…but not much later as Joel points out.

  6. The Apostles and elders were the Bishops of the firsr early church as well..


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: