"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Problem of Bishops

It has been well known among scholars since at least 1970 that the office Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and some Lutheran Christians call "bishop" is a relatively late development, that is, the idea that there is one figure with exclusive "jurisdiction" (to use a notoriously slippery term) over a discrete and delimited territory is probably a late second-century development, if not later. Such a phenomenon--the so-called monepiscopate--is, as far as we can see, something that predates our more customary understanding of the episcopacy--one man to one city. But a new book, released this summer, looks like it will challenge some of these understandings: Alistair C. Stewart, Original Bishops, The: Office and Order in the First Christian Communities (Baker Academic, 2014), 416pp. 

About this book we are told:
A leading authority on early Christianity provides a new starting point for studying the origins of church offices, offering careful readings of the ancient evidence. This work provides a new starting point for studying the origins of church offices. Alistair Stewart, a leading authority on early Christianity and a meticulous scholar, provides essential groundwork for historical and theological discussions. Stewart refutes a long-held consensus that church offices emerged from collective leadership at the end of the first century. He argues that governance by elders was unknown in the first centuries and that bishops emerged at the beginning of the church; however, they were nothing like bishops of a later period. The church offices as presently known emerged in the late second century. Stewart debunks widespread assumptions and misunderstandings, offers carefully nuanced readings of the ancient evidence, and fully interacts with pertinent secondary scholarship.

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