Bishops and Priests in the NT


#1

Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that there was no clergy-laity distinction in the early Church. I am currently writing a refutation on their theory of a “great apostasy”, and in the course of the article I am critiquing they go on about the supposed “invention” of that distinction.

They say that the terms episkopos and presbyteros are synonymous in Scripture. Some verses given include Acts 20:17, 28 and Philippians 1:1.

Do we have any Scriptural argument against that claim?

The Witnesses also go and say:

Just a decade or so after the death of the apostle John, Ignatius, “bishop” of Antioch, in his letter to the Smyrnaeans, wrote: “See that you all follow the bishop [overseer], as Jesus Christ follows the Father, and the presbytery [body of older men] as if it were the Apostles.” Ignatius thus advocated that each congregation be supervised by one bishop, or overseer, who was to be recognized as distinct from, and having greater authority than, the presbyters, or older men.

How can a Catholic reply? :shrug:

Thanks. :slight_smile:


#2

First, check the actual letter of Ignatius, it seems there is a slight difference in their translation of the quote. It does not seem correct.

newadvent.org/fathers/0109.htm

Chapter 8. Let nothing be done without the bishop

See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.

Try this from Jimmy Akin:

ewtn.com/library/ANSWERS/PRIEST3.HTM

Insight #2: The word “priest”

Now that was the first insight I wanted to share with you that led me to conclude there is a New Testament priesthood. The second is something I discovered when pondering the different offices in the Catholic Church. In my Protestant congregation, we had elders and deacons. I knew that the Catholic Church had deacons, but I had never heard of a Catholic elder. “Why was that?” I wondered. The answer involves a little lesson in translation.

  1. The origin of the word

In Greek, the word for elder is presbuteros. That word was transliterated into Latin as presbyter, which then in English became shortened to priest. That’s why you never hear about “Catholic elders.” It is because Catholic priests are Catholics elders. That’s what the word “priest” means; it is simply a shortened English form of presbuteros. You can check any dictionary you want to confirm this. So obviously we can say that there is some kind of priesthood today because there are elders today.


#3

The titles do appear to be used interchangeably in some places. In Acts 20, for example, St. Luke calls “presbyters” (20:17) those whom St. Paul calls “bishops” (20:29). This can be explained in that the office of bishop contains and continues the office of presbyter, and because formal clerical titles as such were not yet fixed. One popular book on the subject (Fr. Jules Lebreton, The Emergence of the Church in the Roman World, New York: Collier Books, 1942) cites St. Jerome (In Tit. i, 5, Migne, P.L., xxvi, p. 562) and St. John Chrysostom (Hom. I, in Phil, i) as believing the titles were used indifferently for the same office.

But if JW’s are claiming there is no clerical office at all, that is non-biblical. To the Apostles alone Christ gave power to confect the Eucharist (1 Cor. 11:24), absolve penitents (Jn. 20:22), and teach and govern with preeminent authority (Mt. 28:19; Acts 2:37; 5:1-11; 15:29; I Thes. 2:13; I Cor. 5:1-5; 7:12). The ministerial offices in the Catholic Church are simply a fanning out of that Apostolic office.

For more on this, see the Catholic Encyclopedia articles: Apostles, Priesthood, Hierarchy of the Early Church, Bishop.


#4

:thumbsup:

(At this point, I want a “Like” button.)


#5

That would be a handy feature. :slight_smile: what exactly would you wish to “like”?


#6

Ad Orientem’s comment.


#7

CutlerB 31
Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that there was no clergy-laity distinction in the early Church.
They say that the terms episkopos and presbyteros are synonymous in Scripture. Some verses given include Acts 20:17, 28 and Philippians 1:1.
Do we have any Scriptural argument against that claim?

As already provided, yes.

In the Acts of the Apostles (14:23) Saints Paul and Barnabas “appointed presbyters (=priests) for them in every church.” Paul and Barnabas were bishops who had received at ordination the power to ordain others. In Greek the words used were presbyteros for priest, elder, presbyter, and episcopos for bishop, overseer, supervisor, or guardian. By the time of St Ignatius of Antioch (d. 107) he speaks of the bishop as one who has “acquired his ministry, not from himself, nor through men”, and that he is to be regarded “as the Lord Himself.” (Ep. Ad Philad., 1; Ephes. 6).

St. Ignatius was the third bishop of Antioch and was martyred in Rome in approximately 107 A.D. His letter comes from about 96 A.D. Even at this early date, the threefold hierarchy of bishops, priests (presbyters in Greek), and deacons is present and the practice of celebrating the Holy Eucharist is clearly a long-established practice.

“The substance of the record contained in the Ignatian epistles is this:
While the Christian communities of this period (c.100-110) have many presbyters and deacons, they have only one bishop….there are bishops and the faithful are to obey both the bishops and the presbyters.” The New Biblical Theorists, Msgr George A Kelly, Servant Books, 1983, p 78].

“It is a matter of seeing not simply words as such, but the facts, the realities: seeing the Church live – and as far back as the New Testament.”

Cardinal Lawrence Shehan says that the NT is not a book of neat linguistics. He cites the New American Bible, Hinds, Noble and Eldredge’s Greek English Dictionary, the English Jerusalem Bible, Goodspeed’s translation of the Chicago Bible, Kleist-Lilly, Joseph Fitzmer, SJ, and Fr Andre Feuillet’s *The Priesthood of Christ and His Ministers *as all acknowledging priests or priesthood in the NT under a variety of terms – presbuteroi, leitourgos, hierourgos, Leitourgon, Leitourgon hierougounta. “The absence of the use of the one term hierus is evidence merely that this one term was not used, not that priest or priesthood are unacknowledged in the NT.” [See *The New Biblical Theorists, Servant Books, 1983, by Msgr George A Kelly, p 84].

Pope Clement I writing to the Church of Corinth reminds the rebels at Corinth that the apostles ordained bishops and deacons, and unquestionably expects them to respect men: “who had been appointed by the apostles or afterward by other eminent men……The apostles are from Christ…they appointed their first fruits – after having tested them through the Spirit – to be the bishops and deacons of the future believers.” The New Biblical Theorists, Msgr George A Kelly, Servant Books, 1983, p 97-98].


#8

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