Overseers? Bishops?

A Study of the First Century 'Episkopos'

It seems to me that we've let the King James Version drag us around by the vocabulary for almost four centuries too long.

How many words will we continue to misunderstand be fore we finally realize that, in several areas, the King James is an intentionally misleading book? I urge you to get into a more current translation you can understand.

If simple misunderstanding of a single word was all that this involved, I wouldn't get so upset. Just a single definition can easily be straightened out. However, entire doctrines, contrary to the teachings of our Lord, have been built on King James's deceitful translation. Too many of us have followed along with this delusive denominational handbook for too long. It will be difficult for us to straighten out our thinking.

As an example of the false concept and doctrine we've fashioned around this translation, take the word bishop.

King James instructed his translators to "keep certain ecclesiastical words", such as "bishop, which were in the older Bishop s Bible. He wanted them kept because they reflected a picture of the Church of England of which James was the head.

To the King s translators, ecclesiastical words, meant "church words" or words relating concepts which belong exclusively to "the church" or to "the clergy. With words like these, the organized "church" concept would continue to exist and be perpetuated. Without them, the concept of a "church organization" would die, disciples would overthrow the "ecclesiastical organization" and would return to the simplicity of the first century. The king did not want episkopos to be translated at all as we shall see. When the context of the original language appeared to indicate a "church office," or a "church official", he had bishop and overseer "plugged in" to render the Greek word. King James was so successful at misleading, that during the intervening centuries, even respected expert Greek scholars have been influenced to follow his error. This happened with great subtlety, because the scholars were sincerely attempting to be true to the original language. The sooner we understand that the KJV was devised from its conception to be the Creed Book of the Church of England, the better. Even the term "Authorized Version" which is very commonly used to refer to it, came from the king's preface to the book. The preface said that the KJV had been "authorized to be read in all the churches". What our generation has failed to understand is that King James authorized his version to be read in all the Church of England churches. He did not have any other denominations in mind at all!

Sadly, many have thought that "authorized version" means "authorized by God"! One preacher I know even believes the footnotes and marginal notes were inspired. Thank God, he is an exception! Or is he?

Further, properly translating episkopos would have meant giving up his established church government. The Church of England and its American branch have an episcopal form of government. Episcopal. Episkopos. Get it?

In this form of government, all religious authority is invested in bishops. Individuals have none. Individual disciples are in subjection to the bishops. Under their oversight. Sound familiar?

The king could not afford to have episkopos translated properly. His entire church government and organization would fall. He couldn't have that. Neither can "our" bishops today!

Definitions and Pointy Hats

What do the words bishop and overseer mean to you! The picture they should bring to your mind is the real function of some special people among early disciples (1 Timothy 3:1). Instead of helping us understand, these two words not only hinder us from understanding this function altogether, but they teach us error about these people and their work.

Because of the ecclesiastical connotation, "restoration churches" have avoided the use of the terms "bishop" and "overseer" like the plague, instead, using the term "elder" al most exclusively even to the point of overuse.

When you think of a bishop, do you picture someone with a pointy hat? If so, it's no wonder. My dictionary defines bishop as "an overseer over a number of local churches or a diocese." It says that "in the Greek, Roman Catholic, Anglican, and other churches, he is a member of the highest order in the ministry, a spiritual overseer."

What does a bishop do? Of course, he bishops! Because the verb to bishop means "to function as a bishop". That's not much help, is it? I may "bishop" someone, because the word also means "to appoint to the office of bishop."

A bishop is appointed to the position of bishop or to the bishopric, which is "the see, diocese, or office of a bishop. Bishopric comes from a Latin word meaning "to dominate".

Can you believe that so many have fallen for this stuff? Many problems among the Lord s people today stem from a belief that bishop is in fact over someone or is to dominate someone.

I used to believe a lot of this, but have never believed that a single bishop should be "over a number of local churches. Instead, I did believe that a "plurality" of bishops were to rule over one local church. I believed that there was no higher "office" among God's people -- that this was, in fact, the "highest order in the ministry". Just like the dictionary says.

I also believed that the bishopric was the office of a bishop. And I believed, just as the dictionary says, that bishop has something to do with dominion over others!

At the same time, I believed that Christians are not to have dominion over each other, but that we should be servants of each other instead. Please do not ask me how I reconciled this in my mind. I don't really know, because I now recognize that while believing this, I was inconsistent.

With little questioning, we have also accepted the word overseer King James's synonym of bishop.

An overseer is "One who oversees; a supervisor, a minor official of a parish in England."

What does an overseer do?

To oversee is "to direct the work or workers; to supervise; to manage; to survey; to watch."

So, according to these definitions, an overseer is some one who is "over" someone or some activity to "see" that work is done properly.

Is it any wonder that we think of overseers whether we call them elders, pastors, shepherds, bishops or presbyters as the ones who run the church? In today's terminology, of course, we could say they manage the church.

Modern Scholars

Some students of the original language of the New Testament have attempted to define the words bishop and over seer by breaking down the Greek word into its component parts. Even this honest effort causes us to see the wrong picture of what the word meant in Paul's writings. The KJV has strongly influenced some of our scholars who broke the word apart in order to arrive at the "authorized" definition: If you use Strong's Concordance, you'll find: "from epi and skopos; a superintendent, that is a Christian officer in general charge of a (or the) church (literally or figuratively) bishop, overseer."

The respected W.E. Vine says it is "literally, an overseer (epi, over, skopeo to look or watch), whence English 'bishop,' which has precisely the same meaning. The term 'bishop,' or 'overseer,' indicates the character of the work under taken."

Even Thayer, one of the principal translators of both the Revised Standard and the American Standard versions of the New Testament fell into the King's trap with "episkopos an overseer, a man charged with the duty of seeing that things to be done by others are done rightly." Arndt and Gingrich say: "overseer persons who have a definite function or a fixed office within a group, including a religious group."

We have been led down the primrose path by old King James. Actually, by the Devil. While we have earnestly believed that we are following The New Testament Pattern, in stead we have set up demi-gods over God's house. Unintentionally, we patterned them after the bishops of the Church of England in the 1600's. Is that what God intended?


Now that we have seen how others define the words, let's do our own study of episkopos to see why the Holy Spirit chose that word..Epi is a Greek preposition, meaning upon or over. Skopos is a noun meaning one who sees or one who looks.

However, in Greek as n English, when a preposition is combined with another word, the definition of the new com pound word is rarely the sum of the two original words. In this case, the combined word, episkopos does not mean one who sees from above.

However, that is just the mistake I (and many others) have made. That was the function King James saw in the Catholic Church and in his own Church of England. Those "officers" in the church did indeed look down from a superior position. They looked down from above upon the "ordinary (lay) people", to see that those "under their oversight" did the right things in the right way. They did "manage" the people in the pews.

It seems to me that there is no question but that Satan certainly had a hand in blinding the eyes of so many well-intentioned people for so long!

Rendering the word episkopos as bishop or overseer is wrong. It was wrong when it was done. The intervening centuries have not made it right. The error was born in the corrupted organization of religious people that existed for a long time before 1611.

Thus, I believe that the "church organization" did not come from the definition of this term. Instead, the definition of the term. came from the already corrupted "church organization". The "church" had been corrupted already by an "organization" which had been in place for several hundred years when episkopos began to be rendered "bishop" and "overseer." Those definitions have been confusing us a long time.

Let Scripture Define

Let's study some other uses of this same word-family. The scriptures themselves define the term. When it referred to something other than the "ecclesiastical office", the translators actually translated it. They don't put in the pointy hat!

For example, forms of the word are used in the following:

Mt. 25:36, 43 - Jesus said, "1 was sick and you visited me ..." describes watching over someone to care for them.

Acts 7:23 - "to visit his brothers, the sons of Israel ..." Moses near age 40 decided he should look in on his fellow Israelites to see how they were faring under their heavy work load. His actions when he saw one being mistreated indicate that the purpose of his "looking" was to take action based on the needs he saw.

Jas. 1:27 - "to visit the fatherless and widows ..." watching out for the needs of the fatherless and widows to see that they are supplied.

Another demonstration of the King James's translators' intentional inconsistency shows up when they translated the same word in two different ways in the two following verses.

In Hebrews 12:15, they translated the word as "Looking diligently lest any man ..." Notice especially how this word is translated here. This is its real meaning. Then contrast that concept with how the same word is rendered in the ecclesiastical sense in 1 Peter 5:2. There the subject is elders and their function of shepherding. To make sure that future generations got King James's version instead of the apostle Peter's version, they did not say "Looking diligently", as they did in Hebrews, but rather "taking the oversight". Think what a different model we would have had for nearly four hundreds years if that one had been translated properly! We would have a picture of elders "looking diligently", instead of being authoritative. Disciples would not be putting them selves "under the oversight" of these men, but would have been entrusting their souls to their diligence, advice, guidance and tender, loving care.

Is there any way that I can honestly say that the translators of the KJV did not intend to deceive us? That their purpose was to perpetuate their church organization, along with its officials, by writing them right into the scriptures where they had never been before the Bishops' Bible?

So then, just what does our word mean? Certainly not "over-seeing" as you and I have had ingrained in us. No, episkopos means carefully looking into someone's needs with the purpose of supplying what is needed.

Proper use of the word does not teach us that "pure religion" is to manage, or oversee widows and orphans, does it? Nor to have them in "subjection" to us?

"Ridiculous!" you say? That's true, but, which is more ridiculous: A child of God trying to fulfill his or her responsibilities to the sick, imprisoned, naked, hungry, widows or orphans by "overseeing" them? Or an elder person attempting to manage, oversee, or keep a group of Christians (a "local church") in subjection? Each concept is just as foreign to God's thinking as the other.

The Work - "Be On Guard"

The responsibility or work which God gave to the episkopos is best described and summed up by Paul in Acts 20:28-31.

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you careful watchers, to shepherd the assembly of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.

Paul's instruction here certainly convinces me that their work is not "managing" nor "overseeing," but "carefully looking" after individual disciples. Notice the concept conveyed by the words I have emphasized in these verses. What were they to watch so carefully? They were to watch themselves, the flock, and (by inference) to watch for wolves that would tear into the flock.

This concept, held by disciples in the first century, existed for many hundreds of years until King James changed it for his "episcopal" church, run by its bishops. In the beginning, there was not a hint of anyone being business manager for the saints! But the KJV changed all that. As a result, we have today's organizations, misunderstandings and divisions.

The responsibility of being a careful watcher is a real job, a work, a tough assignment. But, to perpetuate his concept, King James called this an "office" instead. Perhaps that's what the term office meant in 1611, but it certainly does not today. Today's office is a position, carrying with it some degree of authority, power and prestige. That concept of authority, power and prestige is what has been brought forward into today's churches. The episkopos is not to be the boss nor the manager of the flock, holding an office or a position above others, with authority to run their lives, but rather he is to be a servant of the flock who keeps on watching carefully on their behalf and supplying what they need.

The Hebrew writer said of them (13:17):

Obey those who lead you, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.

With our new understanding of the responsibilities of these persons, isn't it much easier now to know the meaning of "submit to them"? In other words, allow them to watch for you, follow their instruction and example, willingly. In scripture, there is no picture of one "joining a 'local church' and 'submitting oneself to the oversight' of its bishops.

How could we ever have begun to interpret "they keep watch over your souls," as meaning that they are our "bosses", and that they "manage" us, that they "rule" over us or "have dominion" as King James said? What a crying shame that we have misunderstood for so long!

Oversee the Sick?

Whatever one is to do to widows and orphans (Jas. 1:27), and whatever Jesus meant that we should do to our sick brothers and sisters (Mt. 25:36, 43), is what the episkopos should do for the flock.

If you believe it means "to manage" or "to boss" the flock, then the devil in King James has been more successful than he imagined.

What will you do about this?