The Original Bishops: Office and Order in the First Christian Communities Hardcover – 1 Jul 2014
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From the Inside Flap
"Alistair Stewart applies his considerable distinction in the literature of early liturgy and church order to produce an outstanding, scholarly tour de force. Since the work of Ussher and subsequently Stillingfleet, the problem has persisted unresolved of why the two terms "episkopos" and "presbyteros" appear to be used of an identical ecclesiastical office. What form did an allegedly collective government of leaders take both in liturgy and in church organization? Stewart sifts judiciously and persuasively between the complexities of the five-hundred-year-old discussion and material that has more recently come to light. He has produced a major contribution to the study of church order in early Christianity that will form part of the foundation for future research."
--Allen Brent, King's College, London
"This book is a master work. With massive erudition, Alistair Stewart elaborates here a bracing hypothesis revising several standard views about the origin of bishops, presbyters, and deacons in the first Christian centuries. Future histories of early Christian ministry will have to take into account the impressively wide scope of Stewart's evidence as well as the arguments he builds on that evidence. The book is valuable for the vast amount of modern scholarship that it gathers on this question as well as for the fresh proposals it brings to the interpretation of numerous ancient Christian sources."
--Joseph G. Mueller, SJ, Marquette University
""The Original Bishops" is a must-read for those interested in the debate over the church order of the early centuries. While there have been numerous studies on the topic in recent decades, Alistair Stewart challenges preconceived notions that view "episkopoi" and "presbyteroi "as synonymous terms as well as the idea that bishops arose out of the presbytery. While the challenge is not new, the meticulous reengagement with the historical facts sets the stage for a new approach to understanding the role of bishop in the early church as the primary office from the very beginning. Whether you agree or disagree, Stewart's thorough historical approach will enrich your understanding of the early church orders and inform the church's continuing discussions on ecumenism and ecclesiology."
--Joel C. Elowsky, Concordia University Wisconsin
From the Back Cover
"Brilliant and breathtaking! With a commanding and encyclopedic knowledge of all the primary sources--Christian, Jewish, and pagan alike--and centuries of scholarship at his fingertips, Alistair Stewart has turned the kaleidoscope of evidence in such a way that the pieces fall into a coherent, comprehensive, and compelling picture. Stewart, coalescing the best of contemporary scholarship into an epochal new consensus, shows how the role of the bishop (and presbyters and deacons) developed as Christian communities moved from the house church, through association, into federation with the appearance of the "monepiskopos.""
--John Behr, St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary
"Building on a number of new trends in scholarship and grounded in impressive mastery of the sources, this study drives a coach and horses through the long-standing consensus that presbyters and bishops were once the same and early church governance was collegial. Its challenge to anachronistic reading of the sources should finally undermine contemporary claims to historical precedent in debates about ministry, whether those claims be denominational, ecumenical, or feminist, highlighting as it does the 'otherness' of the socio-cultural order within which the emerging church developed an organization suited to its own needs yet indebted in terminology and practice to its historical context. "The Original Bishops" is a tour de force, creating a coherent yet complex narrative that, despite its frequent acknowledgement of ignorance given the scrappy nature of the evidence, is sure to be contested. Future discussion of the issues, however, will be unable to ignore this book."
--Frances Young, University of Birmingham (emeritus)
"Stewart shines fresh light on a pivotal theme in late Christian antiquity--the emergence of ecclesiastical offices under the rubrics of presbyter and bishop. He explains with vigor the rise of each category within the framework of individual churches throughout the Roman Empire, from the advent of the apostle Paul to the turn of the third century, challenging age-old views offered by Lightfoot and others of his generation. This book is carefully written and demands vigilant reading. Its clear and resourceful analysis of the maze of data from ancient authors--ever a focus of intrigue among contemporary scholars--will engage readers at every level, from the introductory student to the polished specialist!"
--Clayton N. Jefford, Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Publisher: Baker Academic
Reading Level: Very High
Pages: 508 (ePub in Adobe Digital)
Alistair Stewart has written a behemoth in The Original Bishops. Let me be frank up front, Stewart's level of writing is fairly beyond me. Theology is my specialty. This is a scholarly evaluation of church history, extra-Biblical documents and Biblical texts concerned with church authority and leadership. The end result, The Original Bishops is an overwhelming amount of condensed information to challenge long held presuppositions concerning church leadership and how this authority developed historically.
In light of my limited knowledge, I chose to focus on Stewart's contention that most scholarly works "repeat the same `facts'" (23) in defense of their ecclesiology. These "facts" are the basis of most evangelical and conservative works that I have read and dealt more directly with the Biblical text. The major (and familiar) points Stewart strives to show as "baseless" include "the synonymy of episkopos and presbyteros, the emergence of a monepiskopos from a collective presbyterate, and the origin of presbyteroi in the synagogues" (23). As a result of this focus, I will focus this review to the first three chapters of The Original Bishops.
Chapter 1 argues against the synonymy of presbyteros (typically rendered "elder" in English) and episkopos (typically rendered "bishop" in English). Stewart qualifies his position by declaring the terms overlap but that "overlap is not the same as identity" (29). Instead of synonymy Stewart proposes a city-wide federation of delegated presbyteros ("elders") from local congregation. These presbyteros may have also been the ruling episkopos of a congregation. Admitting there is a "prima facie case" for any rejection of synonymy Stewart steps through the pertinent chapters of Scripture and extra Biblical accounts to demonstrate how the federation view makes sense and offers clarity in the cities of Rome, Corinth, Ephesus (29-43). Though his opinion of Scriptural authenticity will bother conservatives, Stewart's treatment of Acts 14:23, Titus 1 and other pertinent passages is relevant and formidable to many modern arguments over the Biblical role of elders. Stewart demonstrates how a "synonymy of episkopos and presbyteroi" is sometimes a viable reading but in others, a presupposition brought to the text.
In Chapter 2, Stewart addresses the economic functions of the terms episkopoi and diakonoi. The wealth of information is staggering but helpful to understand how the role of episkopos would naturally lend itself to the owner of house in which the church met. Effectively, the episkopos role was substantially more focused on money, alms-giving and other financial ministry concerns. Stewart provides strong arguments from the Didache, 1 Clement and other ancient texts to demonstrate the contextual validness of these term (67-72). The resulting implication for the relationship of episkopoi, oikonomoi, and patronage makes sense of Stewart's argument (86-95) as well as Philippians 1 and Acts 20 (71-74).
Stewart splits chapter 3 into two major sections. In the first, he presents the evidence against foundational "consensus of collective leadership" for local congregations (120). Addressing both purposed Jewish and non-Jewish origins of presbyters/elders (120-137), Stewart convincingly demonstrates "there is no evidence to support the oft-repeated assertion that presbyters are found within the synagogue, and so none to support the position that Christian churches were managed by presbyters along a synagogue model" (136). The conclusion of the chapter (and The Original Bishops) consists of Stewart proposing his view on "the formation of the threefold order in early Christianity" (138). It is here that Stewart addresses 1 Timothy and argues "presbyters are simply older men" (140). Stewart insightfully notes "if 1 Timothy were read without reference to Titus or to other contemporary documents, nobody would suppose that presbyters held office" (141). Stewart demonstrates how the "presbyters kata polin" of Titus are not synonymous with the elders in 1 Timothy (143-157). Instead, at the foundation of the church, "the episkopos is the steward (oikonomos) of the household and the diakonoi are the servants" (157).
In chapter 4 Stewart begins to describe the expanding role of episkopos in the emerging church. It is here that Stewart addresses 1 Peter 5, an important text in in the synonymy of episkopoi and presbyteroi. Stewart does so because he attributes a late dating to 1 Peter contra many conservative scholars. So for Stewart 1 Peter is an example of the emerging post-apostolic church whereas for many evangelicals 1 Peter remains an example of apostolic church instruction. Despite this difference, the discussion and results from 1 Peter 5 are important nonetheless (186-191). Stewart demonstrates that this key text does "not necessarily demonstrate synonymy between episkopos and presbyteros" (187) and even affirms "ministry exercised by local episkopoi leading to localized federation" (191).
In conclusion, Alistair Stewart does a magnificent job of laying out his case in The Original Bishops. This is a highly technical work and much of it was well past my knowledge or ability to render scholarly judgment. The Original Bishops is significantly beyond the reading level of laymen and will likely interest only graduates interested in the subject. Far from a detriment, this is solely a warning to readers who may find themselves bowled over by this immense work from Stewart.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."