Author Topic: Greek Linguistic Questions, on Bishops, Priests, ἐπίσκοπος and πρεσβύτερος  (Read 273 times)

Offline Xavier

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I have a question in Greek Grammar to those who may be experts on the subject. It also touches on theological issues.

(1) Some scholars (usually liberal) claim Episcopos (ἐπίσκοπος) and Presbuteros (πρεσβύτερος) can allegedly be used inter-changeably. We've always understood them to refer to Bishops and Presbyters/Priests respectively. Some say Bishops/Presbyters are all supposedly one office only. But what is more surprising is Catholic Christian scholars don't say Bishops and Priests are completely different since different terms are used for each; they seem to take this claim seriously: they respond, saying (1) since all Bishops are Priests, even though (2) all Priests are not Bishops, but still, because in times of necessity, like in the early ages of Christianity, (3) Priests could perform some functions otherwise reserved to Bishops, with Episcopal Permission, (as e.g. even today Priests confirm, with Episcopal Authorization), therefore in early Christianity, there were generalized reference to Bishops including both Bishops and Priests, sometimes only to Bishops and then to Deacons (suggesting Priests are equivalent to Bishops since both were mentioned together) etc. Those who hold this idea say that in Titus 1, e.g. immediately after speaking of Ordaining Presbyters/Priests, St. Paul moves ahead to describe Bishops/Episcopal Qualifications. This, to them, means that Priests/Bishops have entirely similar if not virtually identical offices.

Linguistically speaking, how can we evaluate such a claim? I asked one member by PM, she suggested it could be discussed in the forum; hence this thread. But any thoughts from the experts here? :) Personally, it seems to me the two are completely different.

Greek: Tit 1:5 Τούτου χάριν ἀπέλιπόν σε ἐν Κρήτῃ, ἵνα τὰ λείποντα ἐπιδιορθώσῃ καὶ καταστήσῃς κατὰ πόλιν πρεσβυτέρους, ὡς ἐγώ σοι διεταξάμην see https://www.newadvent.org/bible/tit001.htm
Latin: 5 Hujus rei gratia reliqui te Cretĉ, ut ea quĉ desunt, corrigas, et constituas per civitates presbyteros, sicut et ego disposui tibi
Douay: For this cause I left thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and shouldest ordain priests in every city, as I also appointed thee:

Greek: Tit 1:7 δεῖ γὰρ τὸν ἐπίσκοπον ἀνέγκλητον εἶναι ὡς θεοῦ οἰκονόμον, μὴ αὐθάδη, μὴ ὀργίλον, μὴ πάροινον, μὴ πλήκτην, μὴ αἰσχροκερδῆ
Latin: Oportet enim episcopum sine crimine esse, sicut Dei dispensatorem: non superbum, non iracundum, non vinolentum, non percussorem, non turpis lucri cupidum
For a bishop must be without crime, as the steward of God: not proud, not subject to anger, not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre

Some modern translations for e.g. argue for rendering both as "elder", https://biblehub.com/greek/1985.htm and a commentary on the same website says on 1 Tim 3, "If a man desire the office of a bishop.--More accurately rendered, If a man seeketh. In the . . Pastoral Epistles the Greek words rendered "bishop" and "presbyter" or elder (episcopos, presbuteros), are applied indifferently to the same person ... https://biblehub.com/1_timothy/3-1.htm

I had another question. But I think we'll discuss that later as this is enough to begin with. So what do you all think? Isn't the Office of the Episcopate functionally superior to the Office of the simple Priesthood or Presbyterate? Is this distinction clearly evident in Scripture?
« Last Edit: April 29, 2020, 02:16:20 PM by Xavier »
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Offline Vetus Ordo

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There is a copious amount of material written on this subject, Xavier. It would take a dissertation to flesh this out in an appropriate manner.

Simply put, the terms ἐπίσκοπος (overseer or superintendent) and πρεσβύτερος (elder) evolved semantically to signify distinct degrees in the order of ministry. They seem to have been used interchangeably in the first century due to the more flowing nature of the Church's formative period.
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Offline Prayerful

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It is suggested that this vocabulary and range of offices which arose early in the Christian era has a notably Jewish origin, whether from the various ranks of priests and levites in the Temple, and also from the Essenes who espouses both an egalitarian outlook, but were careful in noting rank. The difficulty can be that some priestly titles can be vague. In our time monsignor can refer to a bishop or a priest. Against that, John Bergsma in Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls noting the likelihood of an Essene derivation for the offices, does strongly suggest that the episcopus was the leader among the priests and believers in a city. People who suggest they are inter-changeable can have a very definite agenda.
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Offline Vetus Ordo

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Few are looking at the NT texts from a linguistic perspective and honestly asking whether these terms are being used interchangeably or there is evidence for differentiation. In fact, the OP asked about a linguistic evaluation of the question.

The fact that John Bergsma has to turn to the Jews and the Essenes to argue for a difference in meaning is in fact evidence that the canonical texts themselves do not provide such differentiation.
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