The word "bishop" does not appear in the major new translations of the Bible. Its appearance in the King James Version (KJV) is actually a transliteration of a word from the Latin Vulgate Bible, which in turn is a transliteration of a word from the original Greek New Testament. The original Greek word (epískopos) as written by the writers of the New Testament was a generic word that meant "overseer" or "leader" as opposed to a unique term referring to a church office. However, each time that they used the word, they applied it to the office of elder in the church. Thus, the word "bishop" as used in the KJV translation does not refer to a separate office in the church, but is actually a generic word meaning "overseer" that the writers of the New Testament used to refer to the office of elder.

In these following examples, the New Testament writers use the words elder and overseer interchangeably in the original Greek:

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers - not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve. (1 Peter 5:1-2 NIV)

From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church… Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. (Acts 20:17,28 NIV)

An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless-not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. (Titus 1:6-7 NIV)

In the case of Titus 1:7 the KJV translators chose to use the double transliteration "bishop" instead of the actual meaning, "overseer". In the other two verses the KJV translators used "overseer". Although the KJV is an accurate translation, and although the original language Bible is miraculously consistent, the KJV does suffer from inconsistency. It wasn't possible four hundred years ago to attain the consistency of modern translations in which the efforts of large teams of translation scholars are checked against translation rules by computer algorithms.

In another example from the New Testament in the KJV translation, a variation of the word "bishop" is used in quote of the Old Testament. Since the Old Testament was written in Hebrew (in which the word "bishop" does not exist), we are provided some additional details about the usage of the word in the KJV translation:

For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take. (Acts 1:20 KJV)

At this point, Peter is quoting Psalm 109:8 in the second clause of Acts 1:20:

Let his days be few; and let another take his office. (Ps 109:8 KJV)

In the KJV translation of Acts 1:20, the word "bishoprick" is double transliterated from the Greek word "episkope", meaning "place of leadership". The corresponding word that is quoted by Peter in Psalm 109:8, which the KJV translation represents as "office" is actually the word "pequddah" in the original Hebrew. "Pequddah" also means "place of leadership".

Here are the same two verses in the NIV transation:

"For," said Peter, "it is written in the book of Psalms, "`May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,' and, "`May another take his place of leadership.' (Acts 1:20 NIV)

May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership. (Ps 109:8 NIV)

In summary, the writers of the New Testament simply used two different words to refer to precisely the same office: "elder" and "overseer". The KJV translators sometimes chose to transliterate the word "bishop" from the Latin Vulgate Bible rather than translate the original Greek word into its actual meaning of "overseer", apparently because of church traditions in the Middle Ages. Some denominations of Christianity, including the Catholics for example, use the term "bishop". Others, including most Protestant denominations, use the term "elder". However, any simultaneous application of the two terms "elder" and "bishop" as separate church offices is indicative of lack of understanding of the Bible.

© 2004 William C. Hamer