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Now it needs to be noted from the outset that by the end of the second century, most churches were ruled by a single bishop. For whatever set of reasons, monepiscopacy had won the day. Many scholars attribute this development to Ignatius pictured above. But, what about earlier? Was there a single-bishop structure in the first and early second century? The New Testament evidence itself seems to favor a plurality of elders as the standard model.

But, what about the church after the New Testament? Did they maintain the model of multiple elders?

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Three quick examples suggest they maintained this structure at least for a little while:. It is noteworthy that the author mentions plural bishops—not a single ruling bishop—and that he places these bishops alongside the office of deacon, as Paul himself does e. A letter known as 1 Clement c. The author is writing to convince not command the Corinthians to reinstate its bishops elders who were wrongly deposed.

This is an echo of the Didache which indicated that bishops were elected by the church. The Shepherd of Hermas c. In sum, the NT texts and texts from the early second century indicate that a plurality of elders was the standard structure in the earliest stages. But, as noted above, the idea of a singular bishop began to dominate by the end of the second century. What led to this transition?

Most scholars argue that it was the heretical battles fought by the church in the second century that led them to turn to key leaders to defend and represent the church. The presbyter is the same as the bishop, and before parties had been raised up in religion by the provocations of Satan, the churches were governed by the Senate of the presbyters.

But as each one sought to appropriate to himself those whom he had baptized, instead of leading them to Christ, it was appointed that one of the presbyters, elected by his colleagues, should be set over all the others, and have chief supervision over the general well-being of the community. Without doubt it is the duty of the presbyters to bear in mind that by the discipline of the Church they are subordinated to him who has been given them as their head, but it is fitting that the bishops, on their side, do not forget that if they are set over the presbyters, it is the result of tradition, and not by the fact of a particular institution by the Lord Comm.

While the single-bishop model might have developed for practical reasons, the plurality of elders model seems to go back to the very beginning. Fantastic summary here Dr. Given the hierarchical structures of priests, rabbis and elders among 1st C. Certainly the Apostles acted as supervisors of Elders in the 1st generation, and it would be natural for them to appoint supervisors-of-Elders-with-lesser-authority-than-Apostles, Bishops, as their successors.

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Ralph, The biblical pattern in the entire N. Your arguments make assumptions that are not supported by the actual texts. But what we see, and not see? While Peter is manifest as the street-level, non-exalted leader among the 11, and of the first organic church, Acts 5 and as the second listed among those who seemed to be pillars, Gal.

Added to this conspicuous absence is the lack of even regular prayer for Peter being exhorted, and the overall rare mention of Peter in the NT after Acts 15, and the utter absence of any mention of Peter even in Romans, not even among the 34 individuals named as acquaintances of Paul in Rm. Finally, the only apostolic successor was that for Judas, in order to maintain the original number of 12, Rv.

Acts ff. Catholic scholarship as well as others provide testimony that the NT church did not look to Peter as the first of a line of infallible popes reigning supreme over all the church. Recently I wrote and defended successfully thankfully a dissertation on the leadership structures of the earliest Christian communities, looking specifically at external influence and controls.

Part of that research necessarily dealt with the nature of leadership in local churches. In general it should be noted that pluriformity is the rule through the end of the third century. That is to say, there are many kinds of local ecclesial structures and leadership patterns within the early Christian communities.

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It is likely that, at least initially, the first Christian communities lacked authority patterns in their local congregations but that, particularly following the Apostolic Age, these began transitioning to more established forms that represented the communities and cultures in which a particular church would have existed. Some took on more Jewish-centric forms, others in the model of the Greco-Roman Voluntary Associations, and still others some blend of these or another kind of system. Some communities had a plurality of elders, others the Johannine for instance likely a singular elder, and even others had no formal leadership structure a very Sohmian view.

Only after the first quarter of the second century do we begin seeing formalization happening and it is precisely for the reasons you mentioned above…to reply to heretics and false teachers. Let me send you an email with it attached.

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The Greek speaking churches would reflect the more democratic ideals modified by the Apostle Paul with synagogue practices. The Apostolic appointments of the Early Church reflect the authority as emmissaries of Christ. Once the Apostles died, then their type of authority passed away. Each of the churches founded by an Apostle or known associate would clearly be in the line of succession of the gospel as reflected by Tertullian NOT as the Roman Catholic Church understands it. Thus, the elders were responsible for the accuracy of the Apostolic Doctrine of the Gospel.


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Michael, please keep it up! Nicely written summary here. There is no doubt that a good case can be made for presbyterial church government as the earliest model. However, there are other points that complicate the issue. The earliest churches were governed by local presbyters under the pastoral authority of the apostolic college, the earliest episcopate Acts b. So there was a three-tiered structure of apostles, presbyter-bishops and deacons.

We also know that a three-tiered structure of ministry was the norm in Christendom at the end of the second century: bishops, presbyters and deacons. The question is how to account for the transition in terminology from apostles to bishops. The evidence from Ignatius is key, as you noted, because Ignatius shows that at the very beginning of the second century, episcopal church government was already the assumed norm, at least in Syria and Asia Minor.

And this strongly suggests that the origins of this transition reach back to the first century, and thus within the lifetime of people who had direct contact with the apostles. Ignatius himself almost certainly knew the apostle John, given their geographic proximity. The question then becomes what weight we give to the Ignatian model of the church. Anglicans follow the Ignatian model, whereas Presbyterians generally see this development as a departure from the apostolic pattern of government.

Yes, very helpful summary, thanks. For instance,. Secondly, they were often elected by members of all the churches of a city, not just fellow ministers. That understanding relieves any tension between the modern connotation and the actual practice of the time. Before we think of this profound question what really the New Testament demands from its readers or Christians as a whole.

The present scenario is post Pentecost and simply a believer is not the doctrine of JESUS as his word invalidate rest of the scriptures in the past as far as position of a Christian is concerned. Jerome needs to be understood in the context of his day. Eamon Duffy writes:. Th[e] Romanisation of the Church was not all a matter of worldiness, however. The bishops of the imperial capital had to confront the Roman character of their city and their see. They set about finding a religious dimension to that Romanitias which would have profound implications for the nature of the papacy.

Pope Damasus in particular took this task to heart. He would Latinise the Church, and Christianise Latin. He appointed as his secretary the greatest Latin scholar of the day, the Dalmatian presbyter Jerome, and commissioned him to turn the crude dog-Latin of the Bible versions [currently] used in the church into something more urbane and polished.

So, Jerome did not explicitly write in papal language, but he knew of the importance [in his own world] of the bishops of Rome of the 4th century. Hi John. Thanks for your comments. Are you suggesting that Jerome believed the bishop of Rome was the supreme pontiff, the supreme leader of the church, and bishop of all bishops as Vatican I defined the Papacy?

No one had a Vatican I concept of the papacy at that time, and to suggest so would be anachronistic. And in context, he seemed to be sucking up to the hand that fed him. More is required. Vatican I of course says that their view of the Papacy has always been the constant view of the church throughout its history which of course is false. To go along with Dr. Essentially a bishop in the modern sense.