Bishop, Priest, & Deacon


Someone online posted this up, & I was wondering how to best respond:

“I recommend the excellent scholarship ofRaymond Brown “Episkopê and Episkopos: the New Testament Evidence”
Raymond E. Brown from: Theological Studies 41 (1980) pp. 322-338.
It can be read on this site.
It speaks to the fact that the titles were not settled in usage or interpretation of responsibility until probably the late 1st or early 2nd centuries and had various roles including supervising the distribution of goods.
The notions of priestly ordination or the authority of bishops over priests is again an anachronism, reading 3rd or 4th centuries back into the time of Jesus and the”12.””

My understanding is that bishops & priests performed similar roles, which given time, became more defined.

Thanks in advance.


Yes, titles were not formalized until the late 1st or early 2nd centuries, but the hierarchy was. As early as the late 1st and early 2nd centuries AD, you have a clear system of authority and hierachy within the Domus Ecclesiae system of Rome. Even in the time of the Apostles, Paul ordained Linus and Clement as bishops when he visited Rome the first time on his way to Spain to minister to the growing Christian population in the area. Linus served those within the walls and Clement served those outside. Each had a specific flock and deacons under their authority. According to legend, when Peter died, he bestowed his authority upon Linus (the 2nd Pope) as the bishop of the city itself. Anacletus (3rd Pope) was elected from the city’s deacons when Linus died and Clement (4th Pope) was chosen by the deacons to succeed Anacletus because they didn’t think any one of their number were worthy. It is one of, if not the first, instances of a bishop being transferred from one diocese to another. Another bishop was elected from his old see to replace him.

The ordination of priests was an extension of the role of the Bishop when the flock of the Bishop became too large for him to personally oversee the entirety of their spiritual needs. In the first and second centuries, the bishops would ordain a new bishop to administer the needs of a region which had previously fallen under their purview. Eventually, the Church expanded to the point where if this practice continued you may need four or five bishops within a certain city. It was then that specific distinction between Bishop and priest became clear. Up to that point, it was somewhat unclear as to the relationship between the original bishop and those ordained for a specific area’s spiritual needs. In modern terms, it is questioning if they are like a bishop and his priests or a metropolitan archbishop and the suffragan bishops. The biggest piece of evidence that it was, in fact, the latter is that the deacons of the area were put under the direct authority of the new bishop. Their obedience was no longer held by the original bishop. In the case of the ordination of priests which came after this period, they were ordained with the partial role of a bishop (unlike the earlier ordinations which conferred the full authority of a bishop) and the deacons which ministered to the people within his parish were still held under the authority of the bishop, not the priests. Even today, the authority of the deacons is held by the bishop, not personally by the priests. Any authority the priest has over them is simply by virtue of them fulfilling the role of pastor which has been delegated to them by the bishop.


Anything about Fr. Raymond Brown? I think Brant Pitre may’ve mentioned him before regarding textual criticism - if memory serves me…


It is correct that the distinction between bishop and presbyter/priest developed in the first and second centuries as the Apostles passed on and the Church grew. I am not sure what this has to do with women priests. There were never women bishops or priests or ordained deacons.


That has been my understanding, but I take it that this person is for such ordinations. I am not.


Look into the organization women priests. They oppose the Catholic Faith on multiple issues including abortion. This gives you some context.

Fr. Brown did some good work early on, but he later drifted into following mainstream liberal secular interpretations.

If you want a reliable Fr. Brown, check out Chesterton.


I had listened to something Brant Pitre had posted on YouTube that agrees with your comments about Fr. Brown. Did he merge into outright heresy?

Yes, PBS! My husband & I actually like that Fr, Brown! :smile:

Thank you!


I don’t think he went to heresy. But some of his writing for instance on the Gospel of John, leaves a door open for others to go there.

"Detailed 1965 article in the journal Theological Studies [14] examining whether Jesus was ever called “God” in the New Testament, Brown concluded that “Even the fourth Gospel never portrays Jesus as saying specifically that he is God” and “there is no reason to think that Jesus was called God in the earliest layers of New Testament tradition.” He argued that “Gradually, in the development of Christian thought God was understood to be a broader term. It was seen that God had revealed so much of Himself in Jesus that God had to be able to include both Father and Son.” End Wikipedia

Other people may have extended this idea a little farther or taken part of it out of context. Some said Jesus didn’t know He was God, or that he gradually aquired divinity. Sort of.

I don’t mean Brown intended that.


Understood. Thank you.


BISHOP. A successor of the Apostles who has received the fullness of Christ’s priesthood. His most distinctive power, that of ordaining priests and other bishops, belongs uniquely to a bishop. Moreover, m spite of some disputed cases in history, it is highly probable that a priest would not be authorized by the Holy See to ordain another priest. A priest certainly cannot consecrate a bishop.

In the ordination of a bishop the “matter” is the imposition of hands on the head of the bishop-elect by the consecrating bishops, or at least by the principal consecrator, which is done in silence before the consecratory prayer; the “form” consists of the words of the consecratory prayer, of which the following pertains to the essence of the order, and therefore are required for the validity of the act: “Now pour out upon this chosen one that power which flows from you, the perfect Spirit whom He gave to the apostles, who established the Church in every place as the sanctuary where your name would always be praised and glorified.” (Etym. Greek episkopos , a bishop, literally, overseer.)

PRIEST. An authorized mediator who offers a true sacrifice in acknowledgment of God’s supreme dominion over human beings and in expiation for their sins. A priest’s mediation is the reverse of that of a prophet, who communicates from God to the people. A priest mediates from the people to God.

Christ, who is God and man, is the first, last, and greatest priest of the New Law. He is the eternal high priest who offered himself once and for all on the Cross, a victim of infinite value, and he continually renews that sacrifice on the altar through the ministry of the Church.

Within the Church are men who are specially ordained as priests to consecrate and offer the body and blood of Christ in the Mass. The Apostles were the first ordained priests, when on Holy Thursday night Christ told them to do in his memory what he had just done at the Last Supper. All priests and bishops trace their ordination to the Apostles. Their second essential priestly power, to forgive sins, was conferred by Christ on Easter Sunday, when he told the Apostles, “For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained” (John 20-22, 23).

All the Christian faithful, however, also share in the priesthood by their baptismal character.
DEACON. A man specially ordained to the service of the Church’s ministry. In the ordination of deacons the “matter” is the imposition of a bishop’s hands on individual candidates, which is done before the consecratory prayer; the “form” consists of the words of the consecratory prayer, of which the following pertain to the essence of the order and therefore are required for the validity of the act: The role of deacons is to assist priests in preaching, the conferral of baptism, performance of marriage, the administration of parishes, and similar duties. (Etym. Latin diaconus ; from Greek diakonos ; a servant, a deacon.)

Fr. Hardons Catholic Dictionary


In addition to what others have posted on this thread, Titus 1:5 is Scriptural evidence of a two-tier hierarchy. Paul entrusts Titus with the job of appointing elders in every town in Crete. Titus is not given the title episkopos, which in the Epistles usually designates the same people also called presbyteros. But he was evidently placed in a position which some years later, probably not until after AD 100, came to be labeled “bishop.”


Actually, what he did was use historical-critical method, which was approved both by Pope Pius 12th in Divino Afllate Spiritu, and which was further approved by Vatican 2.

The charges against him are from some traditionalist theologians who in essence reject both Pope Pius" document, and Vatican 2 in its acceptance of the use of the historical-critical method.

Stating that he “drifted” into mainstream liberal secular interpretations is simply a slur on his name. Other theologians who did not accept that method have criticized him, some strongly. The Church to the besyt of my knowledge never censured him nor criticized his work.

And having read some of his work, it is generally above the comprehension level of most of the laity, as they have neither training in upper level theology nor critical thinking. As in, I would not recommend reading him unless you have a thorough understanding of what his objectives were in any particular work.


After Vatican 2, Paul VI reorganized the Pontifical Biblical Commission so it would contain

teachers in biblical sciences coming from various schools and nations, who are distinguished ‘for their learning, prudence and Catholic respect for the ecclesiastical Magisterium’

Raymond Brown was appointed to the commission in 1972 and again in 1996. Since he died in 1998, that does not leave him with much time to drift” away from the heart of Catholic biblical scholarship.

People who attack Brown may have legitimate points on various issues, but if they give you an impression that he was not “distinguished for [his] learning, prudence and Catholic respect for the ecclesiastical Magisterium,” you should avoid them unless you have a thorough understanding of their objectives.


I don’t think the authority of bishops over priests is as much as an anachronism as Fr. Brown thought. Writing about the year 107, St Ignatius of Antioch mentions the presbyters of the Church at Magnesia submitting to their bishop. (St Ignatius, Epistle to the Magnesians, Chapter 3)

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