Bishops Lists


by Robert Lee Williams. Published by Gorgeas Press  2005

(Reproduced here with the necessary permissions)

Scholars do not expect to find in the New Testament a precursor of the monepiscopacy in succession from the apostles. While bishops are mentioned, they are not clearly single bishops. There are only hints in that direction. No succession seems to be associated with them. Furthermore, what can be said of the possible existence of a line of succession in the New Testament is not based on apostleship. Nevertheless, we do in fact seem to detect the emergence of a position of oversight responsibility for an entire set of congregations in a city. We find, moreover, that there is an approximation of apostolic appointment, which forms the foundation for apostolic succession in the subsequent generation. We shall examine evidence first for bishops and then for succession.

Bishop or Overseer

The term επισκοπος  “bishop” or “overseer,” in the New Testament signifies the role or office held by some or all of those in the dignified patriarchal category of πρεσβυτεποι “elders” or “presbyters.” Use of episcopal terminology is limited to Acts, Philippians, 1 Timothy, Titus, and 1 Peter. Juxtaposition of Acts and Pastorals will repay the effort. The elder as overseer functions in a position of authority associated with that of a shepherd. The basis of this authority is the Holy Spirit. The episcopal function is thought to be related to “tradition” but not “succession”, continuation of apostolic doctrine rather than the apostle’s office. We shall find, however, that the evidence does actually suggest a certain continuation of the apostle’s role by a bishop.

Function of the Bishop

Let us now consider the episcopal function. We readily discover that the term “overseer” is usually employed in connection with elders. Clearly in Acts 20:17, 28 and Titus 1:5, 7 “overseer” specifies the function of the elders (cf. 1 Tim 3:1-2; 4:14; 5:17; 1 Pet 5:2). Campenhausen hypothesizes that Luke and the Pastorals writer are here “fusing” a “Pauline-episcopal” tradition and a “Judaeo-Christian” tradition of elders. (1) Paul never knew of a “permanent seat of command” in a congregation, “official authority,” or responsible “elders.” (2) However, Bengt Holmberg has shown from combining sociological study with theological study in Paul and Power that “we can rightly speak of offices in Paul’s churches,” even if Paul was not the one to institute them.(3).  Furthermore, Campenhausen’s hypothesis of opposing Pauline and Jewish Christian traditions of ministerial office has not stood up to scrutiny (4).

Alastair Campbell has now advanced the discussion by approaching exegesis from further use of social history. From household structure the earliest Pauline churches had a measure of institutional leadership. The leader of each church was the head of the family, the person with “natural authority” in the house where the church met. This person is called an “overseer,” επισκοπος, if being grouped with ones of like position in other house churches (e.g., Acts 20:28). As a group, the leaders who were “overseers” in responsibility could also be called “elders,” a term reflecting their honour in their own households but not used in the singular as the title of an officeholder (5).

The situations suggested in Acts 20 and Titus clarify the need for overseers and subsequently for a monepiskopos in each city. While there is a variety of questions about Pauline authorship of the Pastorals, (6) if Paul is an apostle who acknowledges congregational aiders in his charismatically moved churches (1 Cor 16:15) and if he is not one to disregard Jewish tradition when among Gentiles Cor 9:20), then the coordinate use of the terms elder and overseer need not be considered implausible for Paul. (7) Holmberg proposes that such a “full development” of offices is prevented by the “potential accessibility” to his churches shown by “his (seven undisputed) letters.” (8) “Potential accessibility,” however, is precisely that Paul sees as coming to an end in Acts 20. In von Campenhausen’s memorable words, it is in the form of a “last will and testament” that Paul acknowledges the elders’ appointment as overseers and proceeds to release the leaders from his control by commending them to God (Acts 20:28—29, 32). (9) We can see in Titus too that the “potential accessibility” is at an end. The apostle ‘writes to his lieutenant to appoint officials in light of the apostle’s departure (Titus 1:5). There is no suggestion of a temporary absence or of biding time until he is able to return (by contrast, Cor 16:7). As in Acts 20, but not in Paul’s congregational letters, Paul in Titus anticipates very serious threats to the churches over which he will have no control (Acts 20:29—31; Titus 1:10—16). The apostle has no prospect of returning to set things in order (cf. Cor 11:34; 2 Cor 13:10).

In resuming discussion of the interrelationship of elder and bishop, we have a convenient starting point with J. B. Lightfoot’s long accepted comments in his commentary on Philippians. The terms come to the Church from opposite directions. Presbyters arise from the tradition of leadership by elders in Jewish synagogues. Bishops are directors of religious and social clubs from Hellenistic society.(10)

The distinction to be made between the two terms of leadership is that between a personal status and an institutional office. With its attendant meaning of advanced age the term “elder” signifies “the ‘honoured’ men, the outstanding and normative figures within the congregation.” (11) The term “bishop,” “overseer” by etymology of επισκοπος is an “established” term for office, a term “of a very general and neutral, and entirely non-sacral, origin and nature.” (12) If we wish to know more about the elder appointed overseer than simply the fact of office, we must look beyond the term itself.

Acts 20:28 indicates the function of the overseer as far as New Testament evidence takes us. Overseers are to “shepherd the church of God.” Paul thus describes the overseer metaphorically as a shepherd responsible for sheep. The shepherd image reinforces the overseer’s permanent superiority over the congregations. If being an elder suggests that deference is paid him by the congregation from recognizing his dignity, being an overseer then suggests that authority is exercised over the congregation by the person in certain areas of responsibility. The area of responsibility intended by Paul in this instance of Ephesian elders is protection of the congregation from false teachers, both from without and from within (vv. 29-30). (13) “The gospel of the grace of God,” “the kingdom,” “the whole purpose of God,” which Paul never hesitated to proclaim to them, will be “perverted” (vv. 24—25, 27, 30). The overseers are expected to be teachers in the specific sense of defending his doctrine against those coming to alter it. At the same time his focus is not mainly on doctrine; it is on the members of the congregations, “the flock,” “the church,” “the disciples” (vv.28-30) The role of these overseers is well summed up in the term “shepherds and teachers” found in the letter to the Ephesians (4:11) which subsequently circulated through the church to which Paul has been referring..

A word of reservation is now in order. We have been examining Paul’s characterization of overseers and his intention of their role. (14) This is not a description of what the elders necessarily succeeded in doing as overseers subsequently in the Ephesian congregations. The account strongly suggests, by the emotional outpouring on Paul by the elders (Acts 20:37—38), that the latter individuals agreed wholeheartedly with Paul’s appraisal of them and their responsibility as overseers. It just as certainly does not mean that the Ephesian congregations submitted to that form of authority. In fact, Paul seems to anticipate defections (v. 30). We therefore conclude that Paul promoted the governing by overseers in some congregations threatened with disunification from external and internal troublemakers, from Paul’s viewpoint, but that these overseers were not necessarily submitted to without reservation by their congregations.

The subsequent situation in Titus seems to mark a further stage of church leadership, conceivably developing from such difficulties as were anticipated in Acts 20. Paul has left Titus in Crete with the responsibility of appointing “elders” πρεσβυτεροι, “in every city” (1:5). In this context, then, a list of qualifications for “an overseer, as God’s steward” follows (vv. 7—9). Campbell proposes that this overseer is an elder appointed to oversee all the house churches in a city, a monepiskopos. (15) From those elders in each city, each of whom oversees a church in his or her (16) household, Titus is to choose one as overseer of all the congregations in the city. This overseer will be required in each city to teach the apostle’s doctrine and to defend it in the face of adversaries. Such a need is envisioned in light of difficulties which have developed similar to the first of the two anticipated in Acts 20:28-30. There Paul warned the overseers, in pastoral terminology, to “shepherd” the church because “fierce wolves” would come, “not sparing the flock.” These concerns have materialized and some, “especially those of the circumcision, … are upsetting whole households” (Titus 1:10—11) by their teaching.(17) The apostle and his co-worker Titus have presumably been external resources for such difficulties. When they become “inaccessible” as external resources for the congregations, an elder appointed by the apostle’s co-worker will be available κατα πολιν, in each city, as overseer to assist each distressed house congregation and its overseer in such difficulties(18).

Paul’s statement of the elders’ worthiness of “double honour” (1 Tim 5:17) sheds light on the role of the monepiskopos. Titus 1:5—7 evidently records the apostle’s desire that an overseer be chosen for each city’s group of congregations. Campbell commends to us a similar understanding of the overseer in 1 Timothy 3:2. The requirement of managing his household well (v. 4) then involves not only his family but also the congregation meeting at his home.(19)   Caring for “the church of God” means not that one needs to be a successful parent to sponsor a church at one’s house but that one must be an effective leader of the congregation at his house in order to care for the congregations in his city that will need outside assistance. Campbell notes that this may well be a “full-time job.” The “double honour” merited in 1 Timothy 5:17 may be understood as the obedience due to all congregational overseers as well as the additional feature of financial support for the one appointed to the citywide responsibility. This overseer of the city’s “church of God” has responsibility to direct in “preaching and teaching” but also in adjudicating charges made against “elders,” which would seem here to mean sponsors of congregations in the overseer’s city (5:17, 19). Care requires that charges be substantiated by “two or three witnesses” and that correction, if required, by done without favouritism or partiality (w. 19-21). This role, particularly with mention of adjudication, implies subordination of the house-church overseers to the monepiskopos. Perhaps at this stage of development the collective term “elders” came to be applied to the overseers of the house churches. (20)

Such citywide responsibility is a dramatic development in the role of overseeing. It involves a single Christian leader in a city, suggestive of the second century monepiskopos in Ignatius’s letters. Furthermore, it indicates appointment of the overseer by one with apostolic authority, albeit delegated. Such apostolic initiative suggests apostolic succession of bishops, the terminology of which emerges at the end of the first century in 1 Clement.

This takes us beyond the function of overseers, now to consider their authority.

Basis of Episcopal Authority

What authority do overseers have? From what do they derive their authority as overseers? It is from the “Spirit,” of course, if they are God’s ministers with God’s enablement But, as Bultmann notes, “The real question is just this: in what form will the rule of the Spirit, or of Christ, realize itself in history?” (21) We shall find below that this is a helpful way of addressing the Sohm-Harnack debate.(22)

Again our starting points are Acts 20 and Titus 1. Only there are the sources of authority for the overseers explicit. In Acts 20:28 Paul attributes the appointment of the overseers to the Holy Spirit. In Titus 1:5, 7 Paul directs Titus to appoint elders in every city, meaning, we have suggested, to appoint an elder in each city as overseer for the congregations in the city. The abrupt shift from “elders” to “the overseer” is probably to be understood as introducing a person selected from those sponsoring the house churches in a city. This person, already effective in his own household (vv. 6—9), must be able to help other church sponsors in difficulties that tax their leadership (v.11). (23)   


What group and activity indicated to Paul the Holy Spirit’s appointing of overseers? Evidence has been taken to suggest that the Spirit’s appointment was implemented by the apostle Paul. Luke claims that leaders he calls by the same title as he uses in Acts 20:17, “elders,” were “appointed” by “the apostles Barnabas and Paul” when returning from the first missionary journey (14:14, 23). Everett Ferguson demonstrated long ago, however, that the term for appointing, χειποτονεω, is properly understood as blessing or commending in a context of laying on of hands and prayer. (24) Campbell notes that this accords well with the commissioning of Paul and Barnabas in the church at Antioch (13:1) and with Paul’s commending the Ephesian elders to God (20:32, 36). “In this way it is possible to see how the elders could be both ‘in place’ already, as household leaders, and also set apart for their ministry of leadership by the departing missionaries.” Luke is then referring to elders who have “emerged” rather than been “appointed.” Furthermore, by κατ εκκλησιαν he apparently means the several house-congregations collectively (cf. 13:1), in contrast to the individual congregation signified by κατ’ οικιαν  (2:46).(25) Luke is describing Paul’s approval and encouragement, not his appointment, of the group who were leaders of the house congregations in each city. The author of Acts considers Paul and Barnabas apostles, but the term, appearing only twice (14:4, 14) is not of primary importance regarding Paul.

We also have evidence that Paul might consider his own judgment an extension of the Holy Spirit’s. Luke’s perspective is that the Spirit was active through a prophet in the initial selecting of Paul as “an apostle” for the Antioch church (Acts 13:1—2; cf. 14:4).(26) At the Jerusalem Council Paul was present when James’s viewpoint (15:13, 19) was characterized as that of the Spirit in the explanatory letter attributed to the group (v. 28). Paul had good reason to remember this event and the resultant letter. Conditions to be placed on his and Barnabas’s Gentile converts were the central issue (w. 2-6, 12, 19—20). Paul, Barnabas, and others took (he letter to Antioch (w. 22-23), and Paul and Silas delivered it to the cities of the previous missionary journey (v. 40; 16:1-4). Paul may well have sensed that he and his colleagues, Titus in particular, are qualified to make appointments under the Spirit’s guidance (cf. 1 Cor 7:40).

We conclude from an examination of Acts 20:28 that the overseers for the Ephesian church were commended by Paul or others associated with his missionary team. Then for churches in Crete Paul directs his assistant Titus to appoint from elders a monepiskopos, an overseer for each city (Titus 1:5—7). Use of the terms “elders” and “overseer” (vv. 5, 7) in proximity to each other suggests that the term of dignity and the term for the role could be interchangeable but that the former was typically a term for a group and the latter, a term for an individual of the group in his ecclesiastical responsibility. We have also found it plausible that the household congregational leaders “emerged” from their voluntary sponsorship of congregations at their houses and are appropriately termed “overseers,” in the sense of a single overseer, not multiple ones, for each congregation. Then by contrast the monepiskopos, the overseer for each city, is “appointed,” at Paul’s instruction, from the “elders,” the group of overseers of the house congregations in the city. Such a scenario brings us to observe that the congregational overseers have a function that is permanent, in sponsoring house congregations, but is not “official” in terms of being from an “appointment” to an office. The monepiskopoi, the overseers of the “church” in each city, by contrast, are “official.” They have been appointed to their position at the direction of Paul. It thereby seems appropriate to term these latter overseers “officials,” deeded as they are with continuing the apostle’s role of oversight, a role including “troubleshooting” on behalf of individual congregations in times of special difficulty.


To what ultimate source can we trace the authority of the overseers? The existence of authority from God is suggested in Paul’s speech in Acts, attributing their appointment to the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28). Beyond that, nothing explicit is said about the power by which they fulfil the role to which they have been appointed by God. However, χαρισμα a gift of God, accounts for this power to carry out the responsibilities of office in 1 and 2 Timothy. It is the apostle’s assistant Timothy who has received this gift in connection with prophecy and the laying on of hands (1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6). (27) The presence of this gift with the elders of 1 Timothy is generally, and reasonably, assumed. It was in a meeting of elders, with their laying on of hands, that Timothy received his χαρισμα (1 Tim 4:14).(28) This χαρισμα will presumably be given with the responsibility he will, in turn, entrust to men who are equivalent to elders-overseers (and perhaps the monepiskopoi are primarily in view), “faithful men who will be able to teach” (2 Tim 2:2; cf. 1 Tim 5:17).

Charisma versus Office

The endowment of the χαρισμα raises issues which have been vigorously debated since the interchange between Rudolph Sohm and Adolf Harnack at the end of the nineteenth century’. Sohm held that all appointment was made by the “Spirit,” through “inspiration,” and that “offices” such as those of bishops and deacons had no “legal” value. The bishops and deacons had no legal power over the congregation by virtue of their office. Harnack responded that while even bishops and deacons served by means of a “charisma,” they had, as well, a “legal claim” on their congregation because “ecclesiastical law was always there.”(29) In contrast to Sohm we have seen from Holmberg’s discussion that Paul definitely commands the congregation to obey certain leaders. Whether the relationship between official and congregation is in Sohm’s absolute sense legally binding is less to the point than the fact that Paul considered the official’s authority’ binding on the congregation. On the other hand, that “ecclesiastical law was always there,” as Harnack claims, is less clear than that it was a development organically arising from the Church’s self-understanding. Bultmann notes that “regulation” of a congregation is created by the Spirit.(30) Holmberg’s contribution to this discussion is to show that Paul, as the prime exponent of “spiritual” Christianity, contributes to “development of the offices in the church” by his “theology of charisma.” He supports local officeholders “primarily on the ground of their usefulness” in “building up the church.” Coming to our specific issue, he further explains: “Functions of responsibility and leadership that are not extraordinary are given a ‘spiritual’ meaning.” Theologically this can be characterized as “charismatization” of the incipient institutionalization of authority. Holmberg draws these conclusions only from the undisputed Pauline letters. However, to my mind we have another aspect of the same theological framework regarding church office when 1 Timothy states that the   χαρισμα for a ministry comes with appointment to the office requiring that ministry (4:14; cf. 2 Tim 1:6). Holmberg refers to this as “the separation of charisma from charisma-bearer.” It is more accurately a “joining of charisma with office-holder,” or, in a slight modificadon of Holmberg, “the charismatization of institutional authority.” (31)

Prophecy and Laying On of Hands

The reception of χαρισμα is associated with prophecy and the laying on of hands in the letters to Timothy (1 Tim 4:14; cf. 1:18; 2 Tim 1:6). We shall consider first the prophecy and then the laying on of hands.

Was prophecy necessary for the marking out of those to receive the χαρισμα for office? Not necessarily. The Holy Spirit is the source of episcopal appointments (Acts 20:28). The Spirit’s direction is understood by human agents through prophecy but also through other processes. In what Goppelt calls a “pneumatic principle” selection of people for leadership takes place in a variety of ways.(32) Twice a choice of leaders is made by prophecy, the selection of “Barnabas and Saul” in Antioch (Acts 13:2) and the choice of Timothy (2 Tim 1:18; 4:14). Harnack implies that the clement of prophecy was considered a necessary attestation to the involvement of the Spirit, with “prophet-voices from the congregation” preceding “the laying on of hands.” (33) While this is found for the sending of missionaries, Barnabas, Paul, and Timothy, Paul expresses no expectation of prophecy in the selection of elders-overseers by Titus (1:5, 7; cf. Acts 15:19, 28), nor is prophecy mentioned in other selections (Acts 6:2, 6; cf. 15:22, 28).

Laying on of hands was customary’ in appointing individuals as elders or overseers. Timothy receives the χαρισμα enabling him for his task “with” (μετα an accompanying circumstance, not a means) the imposition of hands (by “the presbytery,” 1 Tim 4:14; by Paul, presumably at the same time, 2 Tim 1:6). That such a gesture represented ordination of elders and overseers is assumed, on the basis of such verses as Acts 14:23 and 1 Timothy 5:22, without much discussion.(34) Imposition of hands is associated with spiritual power beyond die contexts of office (Acts 8:17; 9:12, 17; 19:6). Goppelt states that die imposition of hands in the Pastorals transfers χαρισμα in an installation that is in a special sense an ordination.(35) This special sense is based on the transmission of “apostolic tradition” in 2 Timothy 2:2. To the extent that such a transmission of doctrine involved a continuity in role or responsibility which would not apply to ever)’ person installed in a position, Goppelt’s designation of ordination here is accurate.

Was the ordination a “sacramental” act? Does the imposition of hands transfer to the elder-overseer the χαρισμα required for the responsibility? Goppelt says no. Ordination was not “a legal credential meaning that the one ordained stands now in a line of succession, knows the tradition and is capable of making doctrinal and disciplinary decisions in keeping with the tradition … but he (Timothy) was to be certain of the charisma which was imparted to him through the ordination … i.e., the work of the Spirit which calls and equips one for service.”(36)  While it does not create a “line of succession,” with which sacramental office is often associated, Campenhausen insists that it is sacramental. It “imparts to the recipient effectual grace appropriate to his office.” (37)Certainly the χαρισμα was not “a legal credential” but “the work of the Spirit which calls and equips one for service.” Ferguson, however, has since shown that “there was no automatic transfer of the Spirit through touch.” (38) The overlooked feature in ordination texts is “the centrality of prayer.” As noted above, the passages in Acts and I he Pastorals on appointment and ordination arc properly understood as involving not transmission of   χαρισμα  from an appointing person or group but blessing, both a “personal benediction” of approval and a request for “divine blessing” of the person. The imposition of hands was “an outward symbol of the prayer,” (39),  or, perhaps better, a gesture complementing the (presumably) audible prayer.

Paul considers that Timothy “knows the tradition” (2 Tim 1:14) “and is capable of making doctrinal and disciplinary decisions in keeping with the tradition” (1 Tim 5:1, 17; 2 Tim 2:2). The gesture in ordination signifies that an official is equipped by the Spirit for the responsibility he is assigned by the Spirit. We have shown earlier that Paul considered that the judgment of Christians, usually Christian leaders, reflected the judgment of the Spirit in selecting leaders. Holmberg, in turn, has demonstrated it as eminently Pauline that the leader who serves a congregation evinces God’s χαρισμα, be the task ever so ordinary’or “uncharismatic.”

We conclude two things from our examination of the development of episcopal authority in the New Testament. Where appointments to episcopal positions or functions are mentioned, Acts 20 and Titus 1, the appointment is attributed to the Holy Spirit and is confirmed by Paul or his assistant, who acts on Paul’s orders. The power to discharge the responsibilities of the overseer comes from a χαρισμα which is given to the person being ordained and is confirmed by prayer and the laying on of hands.


Evidence of a concept of succession in the Christian movement prior to 1 Clement  is minimal. New Testament writers suggest such a concept but do not speak of it in the customary terminology. Where there is possible evidence of succession in a New Testament church, post-New Testament writings are more explicit than any New Testament writing.

Absence of “Succession” in the New Testament?

Luke knows succession terminology, but he never applies it to Christian leaders. He uses διακονος “successor,” in an institutional sense in naming Festus “successor” of Felix as governor in Caesarea (Acts 24:27). In the only other use of such terminology, where the participle διαδεξαμενοι employed in Stephen’s speech (7:45), Jewish forefathers receive the tent of testimony, with no relation to any office or institutional position.

Ehrhardt proposes that Luke saw no reason to use succession terms in his account of the Church (40) This observation is pertinent with respect to the process of institutionalization. Luke’s record is concerned more with expansion of Christianity and beginnings of churches than with continuity within the churches. Even where he mentions leaders in Jerusalem (Acts 6:1—6; 11:1-18; 15:4—22; 21:17-18), Antioch (13:1-4), Iconium, Lystra, Derbe (14:23), and Ephesus (20:17-38), the leaders are only in the first generation of the church’s existence. He would no doubt be sensitive to issues of succession if he were speaking of church developments twenty-five years later. By such time there would have emerged patterns regarding the transfer of leadership not from an itinerant apostle or evangelist to a resident group of leaders (cf. 14:23; 20:28) but from the first resident leaders to subsequent ones replacing them (cf. 7 Clem. 42).

Similarly, the Pastorals refer to appointments of resident leaders by itinerant individuals (2 Tim 2:2; Titus 1:5) without interest in succession terminology. Again, the churches involved are in their first generation. Ehrhardt’s viewpoint on the Pastorals is thought-provoking. He is confident that “in the Pastoral Epistles the attempt was made to establish a succession after St. Paul through Timothy,” though he cannot determine “what sort of succession was envisaged.”(41) Ehrhardt fails to distinguish continuity of function from succession, which is a continuity of office. The Pastorals provide officials to continue protecting their churches (Titus 1:5, 7, 9-14; cf. 2 Tim 2:2) but not to continue the office or position held by the apostle or his lieutenant. Titus and Timothy are not to appoint leaders to succeed Paul as an apostle or them as his assistants, “delegates,” as they are sometimes called. However, we have seen reason earlier in this chapter to conclude that the appointments noted in the Pastorals (1 Tim 3:1—5; 5:22; Titus 1:5—9; ? 2 Tim 2:2) refer to overseers,  monepiskopoi  each of whom is to take responsibility for an entire city’s house congregations. This responsibility is evidently being transferred from the apostle’s assistant to one of the “elders” in each city, that is, an overseer of one of the house congregations in the city. The newly appointed monepiskopos, then, is from “apostolic” appointment—at least “apostolic” one step removed—but is not “succeeding to” the office of apostle since such involves, by definition, itinerancy. He is the overseer of the house churches in the city by apostolic appointment. He assumes the apostle’s role to that extent in the city but does not “succeed to apostleship.” The situation is equivalent to that sequence read in Irenaeus: Peter and Paul “founded” the church in Rome, then they “committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate,” and only then was there “succession” within the episcopate, next, to Anacletus and “in the third place from the apostles, Clement” (Haer. 3.3.3).

Possibility of Succession in a New Testament Church

Succession seems to be absent from the Christian churches of the first generations until we read of the Jerusalem church from Hegesippus. First “there succeeded to the church with the apostles James the brother of the Lord” (Eusebius, Hist, eccl. 2.23.4) (42), then after James’s death Simeon,  his cousin, the Son of Clopas was appointed bishop, Whom they all proposed because he was another cousin of the Lord” (4.22.4). This Constitutes a claim that the Jerusalem  church was led by a succession of Jesus’s Kin, (43) a royal succession based on their Davidic lineage (3.11-12). Granted that Hegessipus was a century removed from the period, the claim deserves examination in view of the  prominence of James in the first thirty years of  the Jerusalem  Church (Acts 12:17; 15: 13-21; 21:18; cf.1:14; Gal 2:9, 12).


The citing of the Amos prophecy by James in the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 gives reason to consider possible a succession from Jesus to James. In support of Peter at the council James is quoted as saying,And with this the words of the prophets agree, as it is written,

And with this the words of the prophets agree, as it is written,
“After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the dwelling of David,
which has fallen;
I will rebuild its ruins,
and I will set it up,
that the rest of men may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
says the Lord, who has made these things known from
of old.” (vv.15-18)

Whom to credit with choosing Amos is disputed. Haenchen, who attributes much of Acts, especially the speeches, to Luke’s literary composition rather than to his sources, thinks that Luke chose the Amos text simply to “adumbrate” Jesus’ ministry.(44) However, the prophecy fits more particularly the interests of James in leading Jewish Christianity in Jerusalem. Telfer has correctly pointed out that the quotation holds prospects for the Jerusalem “mother-church” to be the centre of a “restored Davidic kingdom.” (45) It is the σκηνη of King David (v. 16) which will turn Gentiles to the Lord. That Gentiles are turning to the Lord indicates that the Jewish institution involved, the Jerusalem εκκλησiα indeed the revived Davidic government.

 We find support for attributing this speech to James in the appearance of Septuagint wording in the mouth of James. The much debated use of the Septuagint text to assuage an uncompromisingly Jewish constituency (Acts 15:5) can be reasonably attributed to James in this context. (46) The Hebrew text of Amos 9:11—12 makes no link between Davidic restoration and Gentile conversion. Its point is Davidic conquest of Gentiles. “I will restore David’s fallen tent … so that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that bear my name” (9:11-12 MT). The contemporary phenomenon James addresses before the council is not recent re-conquest of the Gentiles by Jews but recent seeking of the Lord by the Gentiles.(47)


Upon closer examination we find that the Davidic character of the government suggests a royal succession in the leadership. Other Old Testament references to Gentile conversion under Jewish influence could have been cited. (48) James’s use of the altered text from Amos is designed, it would seem, to demonstrate to the Pharisees that the influx of Gentiles, which is causing them such concern, is the very indication that in them God has restored the promised Davidic rule. James turns their attention from a difficulty they have with the Gentile movement to a benefit they derive from it. The benefit is that they have a basis on which to claim to replace the temple cult and the high priesthood as the government of the Jewish nation. David’s kingdom was “of this world.” Telfer reasons that the restored Davidic rule was over a “kingdom not of this world” from the later testimony of “the grandsons of Judas … of the family of David” when they were brought before Domitian (Eusebius, Hist. eccl.. 3.20.1, 4), late in the first century. However, we can hardly be certain that such testimony is reflective of the beliefs of the Jerusalem church in A.D. 48. First century Jews, which included some Christians, were not without their hopes of deliverance from Rome by God and of subsequent rule by him. Telfer acknowledges that the Maccabees had brought together the offices of king and high priest,(49)  a fact we noted in the previous chapter’s discussion of Josephus’s high priests.

Did James, then, choose the Amos quotation because he considered himself in a royal and high priestly line from Jesus restoring Davidic rule and fulfilling the ancient promise of an eternal rule for David in 2 Samuel 7:13, restored in Jesus and maintained by him in the Davidic line until Jesus’s return? Let us not dismiss it because of its great variance with Christian history. Maurice Goguel has flatly stated, “We can justifiably say that a dynastic Christianity supplanted apostolic Christianity at Jerusalem in 44.” (50) Short of direct evidence, we find considerable indirect evidence for such a royal family succession. In a variety of texts New Testament writers preserve statements against dynastic leadership. This polemic suggests the currency of dynastic thought in the churches of the writers’ times. In the same Gospel that underlines Jesus’ royal lineage from David (Matt 1:17; 13:55) (51) the Church is built around Peter (16:18). Foakes-Jackson and Lake interpret this as an attempt in Antioch to diminish James’s power in Jerusalem. (52) All the Gospel writers disparage Jesus’ kin and characterize them as unworthy, in comparison to the Twelve, of leading Jesus’ followers. His family misunderstands him (Mark 3:21; John 7:2—5). His intimates become those outside his family who follow his understanding of God (Mark 3:31-35; Matt 12:46-50 Luke 8:19-21). Future authority will go to the closest followers, the Twelve (Matt 19:38; Luke 22:28-30).

We conclude that a royal family succession begun with James probably was an actuality to some in the Jerusalem church, perhaps to James. If there was such a succession, it was not “apostolic” in the later ecclesiastical sense. Of course, Paul records that James saw the risen Lord (1 Cor 15:7) and perhaps that he was thereby considered an “apostle” (Gal 1:19). However, even if he led the Jerusalem church on the basis of an “apostolic call” by his brother, which is never stated in the New Testament, James’s position in a succession depended on kinship. Only members of the Davidic family would qualify. Those knowing of the succession attributed it to Davidic lineage. They did not attribute it to “apostleship,” whether the sense of the term be the apostleship of the Twelve as the earliest and closest followers or, more similar to James’s case, the sense be the apostleship of Paul as a person with a special call from an appearance of the risen Lord.

The concepts of monepiscopacy and apostolic succession of bishops are more clearly developed a generation later, specifically in Ignatius’s letters and 1 Clement, and to these writings we now turn.

(1) Campenhausen, Ecclesiastical Authority, 77, 81, 107, 116. Rudolf Bulimann, Theology of the New Testament (trans. K. Grobel; repr., New York: Macmillan, 1980), 2:102. Martin Dibelius and Hans Conzelmann, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (trans. P. Buttolph and A. Yarbro; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1972), 56-57.

(2)  Campenhausen, Ecclesiastical Authority, 64, 70-71.

(3)  Bengt Holmberg, Paul and Power The Structure of Authority in the Primitive Church as Reflected in the Pauline Epistles (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980). 112, 188.

(4) Ibid., 13 n. 90.

 (5) R. Alastair Campbell, The Elders: Seniority within Earliest Christianity (Studies of the New Testament and Its World, ed. John Riches; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994), 120-27, 129-31, 238. See E. Dassmann, “Hausgemeinde und Bischofsamt ,”JAC, 11 (1984): 90..

(6) The perspective here suggests that Luke’s often discounted record of Paul’s meeting with Ephesian elders is reliable and that the Pauline authorship of Titus (as well as the other two Pastorals), though customarily considered pseudepigraphic, is conceivably genuine. However, perspectives on elders and overseers would be understood comparably even if the letters were considered deutero-pauline and in that sense not historical.

(7) Holmberg, Paul 106 n. 56. Campenhuasen acknowledges Paul’s addressing bishops and deacons together with the congregation  in Phil 1.1 . but he insists that the episcopal positions are “in some sense ‘official’. There is, however, no question of offices in the strict sense, and absolutely none of the sacral offices on the lines of the later ‘hierarchy’” (Ecclesiastical Authority, 68-69)

(8) Holmberg, Paul, 116;  cf.3-4 n. 8.

(9) Campenhausen, Ecclesiastical Authority, 80. Cf. “encomium” in Martin Dibelius, Studies in the Acts of the Apostles (ed. H Greeven, trans.M. Ling; Mifflingtown.:Penn.:  Sigler, 1999)

(10) Joseph Barber Lightfoot, Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians. (12,th ed.; repr., Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1956), 95-6.

(11) Campenhausen, Ecclesiastical Authority, 76. Dibelius and Conzelmann, Pastoral Epistles, 77-78. Bultmann, Theology, 101—2.

(12) Campenhausen, Ecclesiastical Authority, 68.

(13) Ernst Haenchen, The Acts of the Apostles: A Commentary (14thcd., trans. B. Noble and G. Shinn; Oxford: Blackwell, 1982), 593.

(14) This perspective I owe to Holmberg (Paul, 120-21), who made a similar assertion about Paul’s discussion of χαρισματρα in 1 Cor 12-14.

(15) Elders, 195-99.

(16) Ibid., 126-27.

(17) Plausibly the οικους “households,” being upset are not simply “families” (RSV, NASV) but house churches. In such cases the overseersof these congregations have been overwhelmed, unable to provide the protective shepherding urged earlier by Paul in his farewell to the leaders of the Ephesian congregations, termed elders by Luke (Acts 20:17) and overseers by Paul (v. 28)

(18) Paul played a similar role for Chloe and the letter writers in the internal problems in Corinth (1 Cor 1:11-13; 7:1).

(19) Perhaps the “children” kept “submissive and respectful in every way” has a double entendre, with both the family offspring and the congregational members in view.

(20) Ibid., 201-5.

(21) Bultmann, Theology, 2:99.

(22) Adolf Harnack, The Constitution and Law of the Church in the First Two Centuries (trans. F. L. Pogson; New York: Putnam’s Sons, 1910), 283 n.

(23) The singular articular form of επισκοπος here, as in 1 Timothy 3:2, is used generically, as noted by Dibelius and Conzelmann (Pastoral Epistles, 56, 132—33) and Leonhard Goppelt  (Αpostolic and Post-Apostolic Times [trans. R. A. Guelich; Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977], 190). However, the perspective taken here departs markedly from that derived by those writers from the generic use of the term.

(24) “Jewish and Christian Ordination,” HTR 56 (1963): 15-16. See Campbell (Elders, 167) for use of the term in other relevant literature.

(25)  Elders, 170-71.

(26)  Haenchen, Acts, 395-96.

(27)  Holmberg has already explained that Paul contributed to the development of offices in the Church by his “theology of charisma” in 1 Corinthians (Paul, 191).

(28)  Paul was present (2 Tim 1:6)

(29) Harnack, Constitution, 196-97, 222-23, 241.

(30)  Bultmann, Theology, 2:98.

(31)  Holmberg, Paul, 3-4; 190-92.

(32) Goppelt, Apostolic and Post-Apostolic Times, 199.

(33)  Harnack, Constitution, 107.

(34) Bultmann, Theology, 2:107. Goppelt, Apostolic and Post-Apostolic Times, 200-201. Ehrhardt, Apostolic Succession, 33-34.

(35) Goppelt, Apostolic and Post-Apostolic Times, 200.

(36)  Ibid., 200-201.

(37) Campenhausen, Ecclesiastical Authority, 116.

(38) Laying on of Hands: Its Significance in Ordination,” JTS 26 (1975): 6-7.

(39) Everett Ferguson, “Ordain, Ordination,” ABD 5 (1992): 39. Campbell, Elders 168- 70.

(40) Ehrhardt, Apostolic Succession, 33.

(41) Ibid., 34.

(42) Hegesippus’s meaning is ambiguous. James’s succeeding to “the church” suggests that he became head of it as a philosopher becomes head of a philosophical school. In such case the Hegesippan fragment does not tell us whom he succeeded as the previous head. Furthermore, the text includes “with the apostles.” This would seem to indicate leadership of the church by the whole group or perhaps James as the chief leader with the apostles as his colleagues, along lines of a bishop and college of elders, found in the second century. We shall discuss Hegesippus’s view of succession in detail in chapter five below.

(43) Robert M. Grant, “Early Episcopal Succession,” SP 2 (Oxford Congress Papers of 1967; TU 108; Berlin: Akademie, 1972): 179-84.

(44) Haenchen, Acts, 448

(45) Telfer, Office, 10.

(46) Luke’s preference for the LXX is certainly well known (Jacob Jervell. The Theology of the Acts of the Apostles [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996], 5). We shall show, however, that James is evidently speaking at this point of a revived Davidic rule to which the church in Jerusalem has legitimate claim. Luke, by contrast, seems to view the Davidic rule as related to Jesus’s present activity as Lord, seated at the right hand of God in “the heavens” (Acts 2:30-36; Jervell, Theology, 111- 13).

(47) Other differences between the Greek text of Acts and the Hebrew text of Amos were less consequential, “mankind” (LXX) for “Edom” (MT) and “who makes these things known” (LXX) for “who will do these things” (MT). Keil has made a strong case for the similarity of thought in The Hebrew and the Greek texts (Carl Friedrich Keil, The Twelve Minor prophets [Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament,; by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch; trans. J. Martin; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949], 1:334 n.1).

(48)  e.g., Isa 49:6, cited in Acts 13:46-47.

(49) Telfer, Office, 11.

(50)  Maurice Goguel, The Birth of Christianity (trans. H. C. Snape; New York: Macmillan, 1954), 113; cf. 110-18.

(51) cf. Robert Horton Gundrv, Matthew: A Commentary on his Literary and Theological Art (Grand Rapids: Lerdmans, 1982), 19, 283.

(52) F. J. Foakes-Jackson and K. Lake, ed.. The Beginnings of Christianity: The Acts of the Apostles (repr., Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 1:330.