Episkopos and presbyteros


Is there a difference between a bishop and presbyter? Titus 1:5-7 seems to indicate there is a difference yet my NAB (St.Joseph edition) text notes seems to claim there is but when I read from the council of Nicaea, they seem to seperate the terms? :eek:

This great synod absolutely forbids a bishop, presbyter, deacon or any of the clergy to keep a woman who has been brought in to live with him… (Council of Nicaea in 325AD)

…appoint presbyters in every town, as I directed you, on conditions that a man be blameless, married only once, with believing children who are not accused of licentious or rebellious. For a bishop as God’s steward must be blameless, not arrogant… (Titus 1:5-7)

The terms episkopos and presbyteros (bishop and presbyter) refer to the same person. Deacons are not mentioned in Titus. (NAB text note in Titus 1:5-9)


In the early Church titles were more fluid, and became more solidified around 100 A.D.

Forget the NAB footnotes. They’re terrible, full of trash.




Episkopos denotes bishop and presbyteros denotes priest?
That’s how I would see it. Although a bishop is a priest but a priest is not necessarily a bishop.

Maybe I’m wrong…right…? Someone who knows the original language will probably give you a better answer.


I have always understood that in the early church almost every parish (or equivilant to that) had a bishop due to the distance between Christian communities and the underground nature of the Church. So the positions were essentially the same if the community only had one priest, he was their bishop too. As the network of communities became more solidified, then the positions became more identifiable seperate because local churchs could now be formed into a group under one bishop with each local church having a priest.

I could be wrong, but that is how it has been explained to me.


Yes. To this day, a priest to celebrate Divine Liturgy in the Orthodox Church must have the permission of the bishop in the antimensis (“instead of the table/altar” i.e. instead of the bishop’s, the word is Latin, btw), as he stands in stead of the bishop. Such a situation also obtained in the early days. Note, Acts 15 issues it’s encyclical in the name of the Apostles (whom the bishops succeed), Elders (those being groomed to succeed the Apostles, and the priests who assisted them) and Brethren (the Faithful).

Btw presbyteros means elder, and so translated in the English NT. It becomes the Christian word for priest (a pagan one is hieros in Greek, sacerdos in Latin), because in the Greek speaking synagogue (if not a majority, a very large minority at the time) the term meant the authorities in religion, eg. the Sanhendrin. At a gathering of bishops the elder meant the most senior (origin of the patrirachate), in a monastery the Abbot (e.g. the Abbot of Mt. Sinai is the head of the self governing Church of Sinai). The priest or elder was ordained as such to be the senior or elder of the congregation in the bishop’s absence. The bishop remained the overseer (Greek epi-skopos) and the term elder became associated with his designees.


The terms were used interchangably for a long time. Peter calls himself a presbyter in his epistle. Paul calls himself both. We see the term used interchanged until the times of Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp when the episkopos is becoming the bishop, the monarchical bishopric we think of today. These offices were not set day one. They evolved. It's interesting to note that the Didache only provides for Bishops and Deacons, never any mention at all of presbyters? In Clement's letters he uses bishop and presbyter interchangeably.


I'm not sure I understand the question: All Bishops are priests, not all priest are bishops.

Do you have an example of someone clearly not being a bishop referred to as an "episkopos"?



Yes, episkopose means “overseer” and persbyteros means “elder.”

The Council of Nicea was about 250 years later, so we can’t say the terms meant the same thing then as they did in the first century.

The NAB notes are very helpful.


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